Nuheara IQbuds² MAX vs. Bose Hearphones

[Update: I pointed to this post in a comment on the Bose Community forum, wherein I mentioned the lack of Bluetooth in their Sound Control hearing aids. It seems “Posts on any board, including Hearphones, on the Bose Community regarding the Bose SoundControl Hearing Aids will be removed by our moderators”, so they edited out those paragraphs. Fair enough: it’s their playground, so they set the rules’]

Having recently bought a set of Nuheara IQbuds² MAX hearing assistance buds, I get “So, what do you think?” invitations to leave a review. As expected, the third-party company handling the reviews will strip-mine my personal bits for their own ends; I see plenty of upside for them and none for me.

So these brief notes, compiled before I read the Okendo TOS, should serve the same purpose as an actual review, minus the nonsense of providing even more of my sensitive bits.

Bose discontinued their Hearphones last year. While I’m reasonably happy with how mine work, they seem to last about a year before something fails. Bose replaced the first unit after its covering delaminated, replaced the second unit when a wire failed in the left microphone, and the third unit is now approaching one year of steady use.

The Hearphone necklace curled around the IQbuds charging case:

Bose Hearphones - Nuheara IQbuds2 MAX
Bose Hearphones – Nuheara IQbuds2 MAX

Comparing the IQBuds² MAX to the Bose Hearphones:

  • Heavier in the ears, but without the necklace
  • Poor battery runtime, both have non-replaceable batteries
  • Poor ear seal with silicone tips, OK with Nuheara’s foam tips
  • Immediate access to “World off” mode!
  • “World off” mode seems noisier, even with ANC on
  • Better dynamic noise control / filtering

The tradeoff for not having the Bose necklace is, of course, carrying a smaller battery in each ear. Everybody’s claimed run times are optimistic, but after a year the Hearphones still last the better part of a day, while new IQbuds generate range anxiety after a morning and must then spend a while recharging in their case.

The stock IQbud silicone tips exert entirely too much pressure on my ear canals. The foam tips produce a much better seal and were easier to wear for more than a few hours. The Bose “Stayhear” shaped silicone tips fit much better and suppress external sound just as well as the IQbud foam tips.

Replacing the stock IQbuds foam tips (described as “Comply memory foam”) with actual Comply memory foam tips directly from Comply was a definite step up that should not be necessary; they are similar, but visibly different. According to Comply’s online fit selector, you need their Isolation T-167 Sennheiser-specific tips, even though Nuheara hardware appears in Comply’s selector.

The IQbuds tap controls, except for the simplest single tap, barely work. I cannot perform a double-tap, because the bud registers the first tap as a single tap and either discards the second tap or registers it as another single tap. Long taps generally work, except when they don’t, having nothing to do with tap duration or force. Tech support tells me the buds use the audio signal to determine when a finger taps the bud, but AFAICT tap sensitivity is much too high and the discrimination entirely too unfussy.

Amusingly, nibbling dark chocolate can produce exactly the correct audio signal to trigger the “World off” tap in the right bud and, occasionally, the “Play / Pause” tap in the left bud. I rest my case.

For someone requiring far more audio gain than a typical hipster, firmly tapping an ear bud is an … uncomfortable … user interface.

Fortunately, a single correctly executed tap on the right bud mutes the microphones and turns on Active Noise Cancellation; the Hearphones bury that vital function on a tiny icon inside the Bose app, requiring many seconds to start and activate.

The IQbuds app (and, presumably, the bud firmware) does not allow assigning any tap function to any bud + tap pattern. For example, there’s no way to access both “change location” and “change focus” by tapping, because both those functions can be activated only by the right bud’s long tap: you may select one or the other. Weirdly, volume and media controls appear nearly everywhere and, if double taps worked, they’d be useful.

The Hearphones are much better at muting relatively quiet ambient sound, to the extent that I thought the IQbud “World off” function didn’t work. It does, even though it seems tuned to suppress much higher noise levels. Both do a surprisingly good job suppressing loud yard tools, perhaps due to my inability to hear frequencies over a few kHz.

The IQbud noise suppression exhibits horrible gain pumping in noisy environments and windy conditions. It rolls off the overall gain and filters the higher frequencies as the ambient noise increases, then restores them in a rush as the noise subsides: repeating the cycle as the noise level changes. This is very unpleasant and, AFAICT, there is no way to forcibly set a specific gain / bandwidth other than turning the suppression completely off, which misses the point.

Bottom line: I use the IQbuds and they definitely help my hearing, but I don’t particularly like them.

To be fair, I don’t like the Hearphones necklace very much, either, even though, overall, Bose did a better job with the actual earpieces.