Updated: Aug 31, 2020
Look, the headphone and ear bud market is competitive. There are loads of brands out there doing similar things, perhaps with slightly different hardware and software features as points of sale difference. So why are hearables better? And why is Nuheara a technology company you should watch?
One of the reasons Nuheara is nudging the top spot in the hearable market is the robustness of the wireless ear buds and personalised listening experience. These ear buds aren't your stock standard ear buds and that's why you won't find them on your stock standard websites or stores.
Would I recommend these Nuheara MAX to my family, friend's and clients?
You bet I would & here's a quick summary of why:
- By incorporating software such as EarID and the National Acoustic Laboratory - Non Linear 2 (NAL-NL2) formulae, Nuheara delivers a personalised user experience that you can't get with any other hearing or hearable device.
- Excellent Active Noise Cancellation (ANC).
- Voice integration (hands free for when you are driving, if you are doing the dishes, breastfeeding or taking notes and want to send/receive text messages, listen to lectures or take calls).
- Tap touch feature.
- Sound quality is phenomenal.
Following on from my previous post about wearable technology (specifically the Apple watch and iPhone 11 Pro, check out the post here) I have been lucky enough to get my hands on some of the latest hearable technology, the Nuheara MAX ear buds. I've been giving these ear buds a solid work out over the last 2 months.
This post summarises my first impressions of these beauties and how they've worked over the last 2 months. Essentially, you can think of the Nuheara Max as your ultimate in-the-ear personalised audio listening experience.
The ear buds in the above pictures are obvious enough to be seen and comfortable in form and fit making them a good balance between comfort and cool. For me, they felt secure in my ears and had a robustness that gave me confidence when using these for working from home and taking phone calls, my wind training bike sessions and going out for a brisk walk or run. I was using these buds for periods of up to 2 hours during my day.
The biggest positives when working out included the ease of tap touch thus not having to reach for my phone and not being an over the ear style. In comparison to over the ear style headphones this meant my head stayed cooler for longer, an important factor given I sweat a lot during my training sessions. You can see this in the picture above and this was only a 45 minute wind trainer session!
Similarly, when working from home once the ear buds are paired to my phone they would automatically reconnect when I took them out of the case. The audio clarity, tap touch feature and wireless ear buds allowed me to roam around my study and seldom did I need to use my phone when listening to my audio content or taking calls.
So what is hearable technology?
Hearables are quickly trending as THE piece of technology to own, and here's why. The ear is the new wrist (Hunn, 2014). Biometric technology is being built into hearable devices as the ear allows for better measurement of body temperature, movement and heart rate. The new standard for hearable devices, for example, will be to collect health data. This can be the ability to detect falls and measure heart rate.
Additionally, hearable technology has seen the convergence of improved bluetooth technology, battery life, digital signal processing (DSP) technology and audio quality (fidelity). Nuheara are an Australian based technology company that have developed a robust and luxurious set of ear buds that offer, in my opinion, understated features. They are leading the hearable field in the user experience and features of wireless ear buds so far. As the smartwatch sits on the wrist or other wearable technology on the body, hearable technology has the potential to sit in the users' ears and wirelessly transfers data to/from your smartphone app.
By incorporating the EarID and NAL-NL2 software across Nuheara technology, they have elevated the personalised hearable standard.
First impressions count
Like a tinder profile - image, branding and packaging matter. Nuheara MAX have stepped up their game and gone with a sleek black on black theme with the packaging. This certainly adds a luxurious vibe to the product and brand steering away from a clinical white on white theme. The packaging is considered, there aren't any unnecessary bits in the box or packaging and everything that is included you will use. First impressions of the buds during unboxing: are their robustness and neat design.
The features in the Nuheara MAX are really compelling. My top 4 include the EarID screening tool, incorporation of the NAL-NL2 formulae, world on/off tap touch feature and the user experience of the Nuheara App (available for both android and iOS platforms).
The overall set up straight out of the box is quick and straightforward: choosing the ear tip to fit your ear canals, pairing them up to your phone, personalising your hearing and then the tap touch features has, in my opinion, confirmed them as a leader in the hearable technology space. I'd swipe right for that!
What I liked most about these buds:
The case is compact and flat: which makes it nice to place on the table or in your pocket or handbag.
The buds are similar to the previous IQbuds BOOST and the tips are easy enough to change to fit your ear canals.
The size and feel of the ear buds are smooth. On a side note, I value the shape and size of these ear buds. They are obvious enough to been seen (and a bit of a conversation starter) and stay in place if you've chosen the correct ear tip and pushed them firmly into your ear canal.
At the same time the ear buds are robust and sturdy (read: sweat/water resistance NOT water proof). Making them reliable to use for walks and whilst doing stationary wind trainer sessions.
Some of my favourite technical features (for the full list check it out here):
The sound quality is 10/10. When I put them on and listened to music my first reaction was 'wow!'
The updated app has a smoother flow and feel to it: taking the user on a more intuitive and natural experience.
The pairing of the earbuds to the app and smartphone is straightforward.
The ability to choose what 'tap touch' features you want each earbud to do.
The ANC is excellent.
Turning on/off world feature is handy and useful.
The ease and smoothness to play my music and podcasts straight away is intuitive.
The prescriptive formulae developed NAL-NL2
Focus = Directionality of the microphones. Nuheara uses beam formations to focus on speech in noise.
The options to choose what situation you want to enhance speech recognition.
Rechargeable via the case.
Understated features you need to know about!
Focus and praise needs to be paid to the EarID software that Nuheara has developed. Unlike a traditional air conduction test in a sound proof booth (you know the ones, where you sit inside those uncomfortable padded booths and press a button) the EarID has an intuitive, smoother and more appealing experience.
Everyones hearing is different. Some of us have hearing loss, auditory processing issues and tinnitus to name a few and if your headphones or ear buds don't allow for a screening tool you aren't getting the most out of your technology. I'd hedge a bet to say in the near future that all hearing technology will have the ability to screen your hearing to some extent and track it.
This hearing screening tool removes the anxious and heightened emotions that may loom pending a hearing or audiological appointment. It's one reason I recommend these ear buds. It's a great introduction to the world of personalised hearing and listening without having to sit in a sound proof room. You are in control.
During the EarID assessment there are prompts along the way that will help you gain the best user experience and results. For example, if the ear tips you have chosen aren't the best fit for your ear canals a message pops up alerting you to try another tip. Similarly, if the seal for the hearing screening isn't right you will be alerted to adjust this.
Further, I like the prompts during the screening. If you are a 'false button pusher' a message will pop up to indicate how you are going. The screening tool is designed to give you the best outcomes, sort of like having a digital coach in your ear, if you are automatically tapping away when there isn't a stimulus, the app will let you know about it.
The EarID results are impressively accurate and within the test-retest rates of accuracy that we (audiologists) use for our diagnostic assessments. EarID is a great way to start your hearing health journey. The screening tool is by no means a diagnostic tool, you still need to visit an audiologist to gain a comprehensive assessment of what is happening if a hearing loss is detected. However, the results EarID deliver are immediate, accurate and straightforward to interpret. I have to say, it's one of my favourite screening tools out there.
Caveat! This screening tool does not excuse you from getting a diagnostic audiological assessment if your medico (General Practitioner, Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, Neurologist or the likes) has recommended you get one. This screening tool should be viewed as:
1. A stop gap measure between you and your best hearing experience.
2. A good way to monitor your hearing levels over time.
3. A wake up call.
Coupled with EarID, Nuheara have incorporated NAL-NL2 to ensure the results you record truly give you a personalised hearing experience. At this stage, this is a unique feature that only Nuheara are offering in their ear buds.
National Acoustic Laboratory - Non Linear 2 (NAL-NL2):
The biggest feature of Nuheara products!
When fitted correctly, NAL-NL2 can improve speech intelligibility and make loudness comfortable for the hearing experience. So what? This formulae (yes, evidence based and developed in Australia and used world wide) helps to maximise the EarID screening results. If your results indicate a hearing loss, then Nuheara Max will do something about it. Other products may indicate a hearing loss, but they don't necessarily do anything about it.
The image on your left shows a complete circle which indicates normal hearing, whilst the images in the centre and on the right show incomplete circles. This depicts a hearing loss in both ears. Is this depiction of your results better/easier or more natural to interpret than a standard audiogram? You tell me. Personally, I find it quicker to interpret than an audiogram but also not as clear visually in regards to the colours of the rings.
What's great about the Nuheara MAX buds is that once you've completed the EarID screening the software will apply the NAL-NL2 formulae. This means if you have results showing incomplete rings like the ones on the right, by having the NAL-NL2 applied you will hear these pitches better. Stock standard ear buds that don't have this formulae won't have the same application. NOTE: Some ear buds will have an equaliser format. This is not the same as the NAL-NL2 and a big reason Nuheara stands out from the crowd.
The real question is, does NAL-NL2 in the Nuheara MAX accurately and capably meet the needs of those who have a hearing loss? See the image below.
Let's get nerdy with these measurement graphs
This is the best part - the Nuheara MAX do a stellar job of meeting the needs of those who have a mild-moderate hearing loss. The images above show a thin solid line depicting the target (where we want the ear buds output to reach). The output of the ear buds is shown across various volumes. The image on the left (in red) highlighting an output shows a pretty good match to the target when NAL-NL2 is applied after using the EarID. Then the image on the right (in blue) highlighting the maximum volume position shows how much over the target range the output is. We did this to see if there was a difference when using the volume range. As you can see, it's pretty good at reaching the target range.
Standout features of Nuheara MAX
For a full list of features check them out here: Nuheara MAX. Here are a few of my favourite ones:
World On/Off or ANC = Ability to turn on/off the world around you allowing some ambient noise to flow through or none at all or completely blocking out the world.
Tap touch feature of each ear bud = James Bond-esq cool feature of the 21st century
Voice first access = Access to information via your voice assistant, ease to take calls, dictate messages and keep hands free.
Low energy bluetooth connectivity = longer audio play time and access to phone features and the ability to change settings via the hearable in the ear.
EarID screening feature = A personalisation of hearing experience = Listening the way you hear, rather then assuming your hearing is the same as everyone else's (if your hearing devices don't have this feature, you're missing out!)
NAL-NL2 and Wide dynamic compression range (WDCR) = Once you've completed the EarID screening you will have access to WDCR to enhance your hearing of certain pitches
12 channel processing, directional microphones and NAL-NL2 prescription is a golden standard used world wide to set hearing thresholds to a prescriptive target. Hearing loss doesn't work on a linear scale and by incorporating this feature the audio quality played back to your EarID = Next level clarity and speech, additionally adding the ability to improve speech clarity.
Near Field Magnetic Induction (NMFi) = Allowing both ear buds to wirelessly communicate with reduced latency.
The magnetic points to place your ear buds onto in the case. A thoughtful detail when placing your ear buds back into the case. Allows for peace of mind knowing your ear buds will be secure and recharged (don't forget to plug your case in to charge!).
The list is truly impressive given the size of these devices! Nuheara are paving the way for the new standard in hearable devices.
The set up offers a intuitive and natural user experience:
Down load the Nuheara app
Ensure your bluetooth setting is turned on in your mobile.
Unbox your Nuheara MAX and take them out of the cradle (mine were delivered with enough charge to use straight away!!)
Select the best ear tips for your ears. I had to use a small on one side and a medium for the other ear. That's right, no one is symmetrical so you may need to try out a mixed tip combination to get the best fit in your ear canals.
Put them in your ears and follow the prompts on the Nuheara app.
The instructions via the app offer ease of set up and use.
The buds will connect to your mobile automatically. If not, hold each bud for 5 seconds to activate bluetooth pairing. Check for bluetooth pairing via your mobile's setting.
The ability to immediately personalise your hearing via the EarID screening tool is efficient and accurate.
The app will tell you if the earbuds are not inserted to your ears correctly and inform you how to improve your set up.
Areas to improve upon
No ear bud is perfect, but the Nuheara Max come pretty close to serving up everything I need. Here are some area's I felt needed improvement:
When listening to music via my Spotify app and scrolling through my Facebook app, I went to play a video off facebook and I couldn't hear the audio content of the video. The video played but the audio content off Spotify didn't pause or swap to the Facebook audio.
The double tap touch feature didn't activate for me. The ear buds would bypass the double tap touch feature and go straight to my long tap touch feature. I tried different ways of double tapping to see if it was the way I was doing this and the feature I had selected never came on. A possible solution could be a different tone between touch features to allow the user to know which feature they are enabling.
Allowing full access to the Nuheara app when MAX buds are not connected would be handy. Sometimes I wanted to have a play around with the in app features when not using the ear buds and found it annoying that I could only access the app when ear buds were connected. I'd imagine that if any changes were made, when I reconnected the ear buds there would be a prompt in my ear saying 'would you like to update your ear buds with the changes you've made in the app?' then you would tap both buds to enable the features or use voice control to accept or decline the changes.
So, as you can see these ear buds are jam packed with great features that go above what you'd find in your local hi-fi store or standard tech website (and these are just my favourites). Whilst the Nuheara MAX buds have not incorporated biometric sensors as I mentioned earlier, the purpose of the MAX buds have delivered on what they promise and more!
I'm keen to learn more on what drives you to choose your wireless hearing technology? What features do you value? Why you use the ones you use? Do you disagree or agree with what i've said above? Shoot me an email or comment on the thread.
Hears 2 ears,
Cheers Kat Penno
Digital technologist and Audiologist
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