The above video is a review of IQbuds BOOST by Juan Carlos Bagnell, known to his 117,000+ followers on YouTube as SomeGadgetGuy. In the video, he describes his experiences during an in-depth test of the wireless earbuds. Despite some areas he identified for potential improvement, Bagnell went as far as describing the experience of wearing IQbuds BOOST as being akin to “superhuman hearing”.  Read the full transcript below.

My name is Juan Carlos Bagnell, and I have hidden hearing loss. Before we jump in, I have an interview with one of the top audiologists in the country. And part of that conversation explains the concept of hidden hearing loss.

So the classic patient with hidden hearing loss comes into the clinic and says, I feel like I have a hearing loss. And we do a hearing test, and we tell the patient, ah, your hearing tests normal. Then they come back and say, but I have difficulty hearing, I have difficulty hearing a noise, I’m missing conversations. And then if you sort of scratch the surface a little bit, come to find out this is a person who’s maybe had quite a bit of noise exposure.

So we know it’s happening, it’s happening probably at the junction of the hair cell and the inner ear to the primary auditory neuron of the eighth cranial nerve. So when people have hearing tests, our hearing tests are very gross, hidden hearing loss is very fine, we’re just not picking it up. But these are people who have difficulty hearing speech and noise, that’s one of the primary complaints.

There’s a lot to dig into it technology and hearing help. I have a link in the description below this video for the full half hour conversation with Dr. Grimes if you would like to learn more. I resemble that issue. My ears do great in controlled spaces. But for years now, I can’t hear anything in busy environments. I’ve been lip reading to have most conversations. The Nuheara IQbuds Boost aim to fix exactly that.

Features of IQbuds BOOST

Following the popular trend of true wireless earbuds, these aren’t just for the audio on your phone, they’re also sophisticated hearing assistance, not quite hearing aids. This is a product aimed at consumers before they need a more medical grade solution. They look like totally normal wireless buds, maybe a touch on the thick side. But the design is very well considered.

Instead of clicking buttons, the outside casing is a light tap touch sensor. Controls are highly customizable. Smart features are mapped to the right ear, volume controls mapped to the left. Music and phone calls, Google Assistant or Siri, and the toggle for noise reduction with the ability to cycle through a trio of environmental presets, that’s a ton of control without ever having to pick up a phone. The case is a bit chunky, but it has a backup battery to charge the IQbuds on the go.

Now, Nuheara claims eight hours of streaming or 12 hours of audio processing on the website. With the case, they rate the buds for 20 hours of media and 30 hours of audio processing. I did not quite get that. It was closer to 6 hours of music and almost 8 hours of audio processing. Still, that’s pretty solid performance for true wireless earbuds, especially considering how much more stuff they’re doing than your average headphones.

IQbuds are pulling double duty. And they’re respectable performers for playback. And we’re not looking at the top audio file headphone solution. These are daily lifestyle companions– packing a balanced armature, wonderfully tuned to cover the middle of the EQ spectrum with a decent amount of punch for the base. Balance arms typically don’t cover as much transonic range as a dynamic driver. So hearing a bit of roll off in the highs, that makes sense.

We lose some air and some sparkle, but it also prevents pop tracks from getting shrill. The low mids have a great type punch to them, but there’s not a lot of sustained to the bottom end. These won’t be Skull Ramblers. But that’s also not really the point. A balanced arm is a perfect choice here. We want a quick, tight, accurate representation of the frequencies of sound where the human voice lives and balanced arms don’t need as much air.

So we can also more easily seal up the casing to block more environmental noise while making these buds more sweat and weather resistant. Very well considered designed for protecting your hearing. And that brings us to the fun technology, microphones and advanced audio modeling scan the sound around you, try to reduce environmental noise, and boost human voices. And it works decently well.

Real-World Test of ‘Superhuman Hearing’

Taking them out to busy restaurants, out for walks around the neighborhood, I did a photo walk with the tech leads. And I was using these to hear them while we were out on Ventura Boulevard. The core claim is executed really well. It’s like fancy noise reduction for conversations.

I haven’t really heard someone’s voice in a crowded cafe in a while. Kind of felt like superhuman hearing, even though that’s how less damaged ears probably really aren’t supposed to work. Real time noise reduction like this is complicated. It’s not a perfect effect. Cutting out frequencies of noise will also cut into and reduce the fidelity of the human voice. So conversations can sound a bit AM radio, kind of thin, a little hissy.

But I ran into very few situations where the buds couldn’t elevate speech for me to hear the conversation better. Like other noise reduction headphones though, the IQbuds are better at constant noise than incidentals. A clack of plates at dinner was surprisingly amplified, just a bit of a shock there. Microphones are boosting elements to try and replace what you’ve lost.

Directional Hearing Control

Now, what makes these handy is the ability to swap mic profiles, between a more focus range in front of you or a more omni-directional pattern. And I preferred the more focused profile. It was just a bit too distracting when sound was firing all around me. And picking up conversations behind me felt kind of strange. But I know some folks that will really like that situational awareness.

Other premium sport earbuds often have an option to turn noise reduction mics on to hear the world around you. The IQbuds function a bit like that, but there’s that heavier focus on reducing noise in the environment. If you’re out on a workout, you will hear traffic, but it’s going to be muffled. It’s not the same kind of pass through or accuracy is what you’d hear on some Jabra, for example.

And the Boost version of the IQbuds also come with a few other nifty tech perks. An app on your phone gives you a hearing test, and that will tailor the audio sampling from your phone. It’s an area I’ve had a hard time judging on these kinds of products. Like I said, in quiet conditions, I do really well on these kinds of frequency sampling tests. So I don’t think they’re tuning much for my hearing profile.

Adjusting World Noise on the Fly

The app is also where you’ll find the list of environments you can preset on the buds, different noise rejection algorithms for different locations. You can dial in how much or how little world rejection you want. And you can also customize what settings are controlled by what taps on the buds themselves. This is a really well considered package.

There’s only one manufacturing gripe I can point to in operation. Because the buds work on a light touch, handling the Nuheara can be fiddly. It was really easy to activate the microphones while I was putting them in the case. And the first day I had them, I’d hear these squawking feedback sounds coming from the case because the microphones were on. Now once they started charging, they’d shut off. But it was a bit distressing just in those early moments.

Improved charging case with magnetized connections for the all-new IQbuds² MAX earbuds

And there’s also one minor social gripe. They can look kind of rude. When you meet up with someone, it’s customary to take out your earbuds to chat. Every time I’ve worn them in public, there’s been a bit of an explanation, lots of skeptical or quizzical looks. And I’ve just given up on brief interactions, like grocery store checkout lanes.

But this review has gone on long enough. So let’s wrap this up. The Nuheara IQbuds Boost are not cheap. $499 is at the higher end of the true wireless earbud price backdrop. But this also represents the bleeding edge of consumer hearing protection, way more sophisticated than some of the wearable microphones of years past or the AirPods mic boost trick on the iPhone.

It’s a wonderful effect, being able to hear things that I thought I’d lost. But they’re also not magic. It’s important to understand the limitations of microphones and noise reduction technology. And they are not a replacement for an assessment from a trained medical professional or real hearing aids if that’s what you need. Of course, real hearing aids cost significantly more than the IQbuds.

Rates of hearing loss or on the rise, with significant jumps in younger populations. Increasingly, clinicians are finding more people in their 20s and 30s who might benefit from some hearing assistance. So let’s see if we can protect more people’s hearing before they need to jump on more medical grade solutions. Nuheara gets a thumbs up from me for being a part of that conversation.

I’ll have a link below where you can find more information on the Nuheara IQbuds Boost. Maybe shop these buds online. As always, thanks so much for watching, sharing these videos, and subscribing to this channel.

More than just buying some fancy earbuds, we want to try and make sure you’re getting the right fit audio kit for you. And if you’d like to help support the production of those conversations, there are links below, or you could consider joining the list of names scrolling by on your screen– a growing community of fun like minded tech pals and an incredible resource for my future videos and reviews. I hope you’ll check it out.

September 29th, 2019
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