Review of the Nuheara IQbuds2 Max
Nuheara's IQbuds2 Max true wireless buds with active noise cancellation are arguably the best-sounding true wireless buds for both music and conversation. Three related features set the IQbuds2 Max apart:
- Ear ID, a listening test that molds the buds' sound output to match each user's individual hearing idiosyncrasies
- IQbuds2 Max's wide variety of situational sound presets and customizations for ambient listening – being able to hear what's going on around you without removing the buds
- Enhanced hearing – IQbuds2 actually boost the volume and clarity of voices to make conversation clearer with the buds still in your ears
Neither Ear ID nor its ambient listening modes are necessarily unique to the IQbuds2. But the IQbuds include arguably more customizable features than any other true wireless buds, their Ear ID and ambient listening functions are more extensive and expansive, and the ambient sound settings transform the IQbuds2 Max into a hearing assistive device.
But most of all, the iQbuds2 Max are among the best-sounding true wireless buds of any stripe. Only shorter-than-usual battery life and a high price tag of $399 (on Nuheara and Amazon) mar the IQbuds2 otherwise impressive features.
Setting up the Nuheara IQbuds2 Max
At the heart of the IQbuds2 aural abilities is Nuheara's Ear ID, which is actually the clinical NAL-NL2 test from the National Acoustic Laboratory (NAL) used by audiologists to tune hearing aids that make "speech intelligible and overall loudness comfortable." Practically, Ear ID finds out what you can hear, then molds the IQbuds2 Max sound output to help compensate for age-related high-frequency hearing loss, improving overall aural performance for both conversation and music.
As with past iterations, Nuheara's Ear ID test needs to be conducted in a dead-quiet room. Various tones at various frequencies and various volume levels are emitted for each ear; you indicate in the app when the tone becomes audible. The whole Ear ID process takes less than 10 minutes.
The IQbuds2 Max are not the only true wireless buds that include a hearing test; the Soundcore Liberty Air 2 ($99) buds, for instance, include a similar "Hear ID" test. The Air 2 buds lack the IQbuds2's expansive noise canceling and ambient sound capabilities, however, amongst other attributes. The forthcoming Olive Pro (April, pre-order $199, $299 regular price), which are both an FDA-registered hearing aid and true wireless buds, also will include a five-minute app-based hearing test.
Onboard controls and fit of the Nuheara IQbuds2 Max
To enhance the IQbuds2 Max's noise-canceling capabilities, Nuheara includes six sets of ear-sealing ear tips, three silicone, and three foam, in small, medium, and large sizes. Medium silicone tips are already attached.
The buds themselves slip easily into your ears but protrude a bit, which is not uncommon for true wireless buds. In this age of Covid mask wearing, however, you have to be careful when donning or removing a mask's ear straps so their elastic doesn't accidentally catch and snap the buds and send one or both flying. The ear tips are the IQbuds2 Max's lone means of support within your ears. These fit relatively firmly without feeling constrictive or uncomfortable during hours-long listening jags. However, with no other lobe support such as hooks or wings available on some other more sports-oriented buds, the IQbuds2's fit could become looser during a jolting, sweaty workout. Nuheara says the IQbuds2 are IP54 "sweat and rain resistant."
To toggle between listening modes and options, IQbuds2 provides a broader set of custom on-bud tap-touch controls than any other wireless buds. Within the app, you can specify what functions or controls operate on each bud via a single tap, a double tap, or long tap, including favorite ambient-sound environmental presets, track back or skip, volume up/down, or Siri. On the right bud, you can assign a single tap to toggle between ambient mode on/off or simultaneously pause the music and activate ambient mode. This is convenient for quickly switching between noise-canceled music listening and engaging in conversation or hearing a PA announcement.
Sound quality of the Nuheara IQbuds2 Max
The sound quality of the IQbuds2 Max, especially for music listening, is excellent. You get clean, full-bodied, bright, airy, and natural sound with a wide soundstage, with, thanks to the Ear ID, a full range of frequencies, as well as excellent balance between treble and bass.
But it's their situational ambient sound capabilities that make the IQbuds2 Max's worth their elevated sticker price. Three external microphones on each bud allow you to hear what's going on around you. All noise-canceling true wireless buds offer a similar configuration with varying effectiveness, but the IQbuds2 Max handle ambient sound better than anyone. For conversation, voices are emphasized, noticeably sharpened with enhanced volume both in live conversation and phone calls. Not only do the IQbuds2 Max enable you to conduct clear conversations without removing them, but the Nuheara IQbuds app offers more situational and volume level ambient sound customization than any other true wireless model. Only the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro do a slightly better job at pure ambient sound amplification.
Within the Nuheara IQbuds app, you get seven ambient, what Nuheara calls World, environmental EQ presets – workout, street, home, office, restaurant, driving, and plane. You can pick up to four environmental favorites, which you can then toggle through onboard controls on the buds.
In addition, the Nuheara IQbuds app provides four ambient sound settings for all their environmental presets:
Volume: You can toggle between three volume modes: World On, the IQbuds2 Max ambient mode; World Off, all aural processing turned off and simply relying on the IQbuds2 Max's ear tips to seal your ear canal to block ambient noise; and ANC (active noise canceling), which dampens noise as effectively as any noise-canceling buds I've tested. With World On, you can adjust ambient sound volume levels.
SINC (Speech in Noise Control): Instead of amplifying every, often insignificant sound, SINC control allows the IQbuds2 Max to filter unnecessary ambient sound and focus on voices. With World On, this feature gives you sliding scale control over how much ambient sound or how much speech you hear. The difference between the two is stark. When set at the "speech" end of the SINC scale, ambient sound is dampened while voices are amplified, sharpened, and words are easier to discern, such as when you're conducting a personal conversation in a crowd (if that problem ever rises again), or when trying to watch to TV with a loud air conditioner humming in the room.
World EQ: With World On, you can highlight bass or treble tones on a sliding scale; filtering treble minimizes otherwise amplified incidental sounds such as keyboard key clacking, light switch clicks, water spritzing from faucets, door hinge creaks, zippers, keys jangles, floorboard creeks, et al.
Focus: Allows you to switch between hearing either only what is right in front of you or to hear everything going on all around you, although I could detect little difference between the two settings.
Charging case and battery life of the Nuheara IQbuds2 Max
IQbuds2 Max's one performance disappointment is battery life, especially considering IQbuds2 Max's eye-popping price. You get five hours of music listening with World off – no aural processing at all, 4.5 hours with either ambient sound "world on" activated or ANC on, all of which is well below average for noise-canceling true buds. There are a plethora of less expensive noise-canceling bud models that provide far longer noise-free listening battery life. The Sony WF-SP800N ($199), for instance, play for nine ANC-enabled hours. The Cleer Ally Plus ($149) let you groove ambient-sound-free for 7.5 hours. Even the $119 Edifier TWS NB supply five hours of ANC music enjoyment.
You do get 80 minutes of listening (with World modes off) after a 15-minute charge and 8.5 hours of battery life if you use the IQbud2 strictly for hearing assistance with World modes on – no music playing.
At 3 x 2.25 x 1 inches, the IQbuds2 Max's charging case, which provides three full recharges, is of average size, nearly twice the size of Apple's AirPods Pro case but smooth and rounded, so it's relatively flat and easy on the pockets. One major improvement Nuheara made in the IQbuds2 Max was building in magnets so the buds snap into place, which is how most other true wireless cases are designed. A now old-fashioned microUSB jack, rather than the new-fangled USB-C, is used for recharging the case.
Using the Nuheara IQbuds2 Max with the IQstream TV accessory
For private or enhanced TV listening, Nuheara sells the small IQstream TV ($99 on Nuheara and Amazon) Bluetooth attachment, which streams stereo TV sound to any pair of Nuheara IQbuds. Thanks to Ear ID tuning and the IQbuds2 Max's extensive aural settings, you'll get enhanced dialog volume and clarity.
Unlike Bluetooth headphones paired directly to a TV, you can listen through your IQbuds while the TV volume remains normal and adjustable for anyone else in the room. And with the IQbuds2 Max's ambient sound settings, you can still engage with other people in the room, or, by activating World Off noise canceling, listen without being disturbed by those around you.
IQstream TV runs on an AC connection or for eight hours on its rechargeable battery – even though the IQbuds2 only run for five hours ANC TV listening.
In addition, for some reason, the Bluetooth StreamTV disconnected from the iQbuds2of its own accord multiple times during a multi-hour listening session. This random disconnection occurred with two different test sets of IQbuds2 Maxes.
The bottom line
Yes, the Nuheara IQbuds2 Max are more expensive than any other noise-canceling true wireless bud available. But they also are arguably the best-sounding true wireless buds for both music and conversation. Thanks to their Ear ID tuning, the IQbuds2 Max include the best and most customizable listening of any true wireless buds. Their combined ear tip seal and noise-canceling rank among the best for stifling ambient noise. And, the IQbuds2 Max are unique among true wireless buds acting as a hearing assistive device.
I can't give the IQbuds2 Max a perfect score, however. Their fit doesn't really make them suitable for active workouts, I expected longer single-charge battery life, and did I mention they cost 400 freaking dollars? And, they may be usurped by the upcoming – and less expensive and FDA-registered – Olive Pro ($299), which we selected for our Techlicious Top Picks of CES 2021 Awards.
But if you can afford them, and if you've got aging ears, the IQbuds2 Max enhance nearly everything you want and need to hear.
[Image credit: Stewart Wolpin/Techlicious, Nuheara]