Nuheara earbuds work like the bionic ears you always wanted [Review]

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Nuheara IQbuds 2 Max review
Nuheara IQbuds 2 Max are a bit larger than many rival earbuds, but they do much more.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Nuheara IQbuds 2 Max aren’t typical wireless earbuds. Sure, they let you listen to music and podcasts, but that’s just the start. They have active noise cancellation when you want quiet. Or they help you hear in-person conversations better by filtering out background sounds.

I did real-world testing of these in-ear headphones designed for people whose hearing isn’t quite good as it used to be.

Nuheara IQbuds 2 Max review

After few too many concerts over the years, maybe your hearing isn’t as sharp as it once was. Perhaps you have trouble following conversations in restaurants or crowded offices. But you’re decades away from needing a hearing aid.

That’s where IQbuds 2 Max come in. These earbuds help you hear what people are staying by filtering out non-conversation noise. That’s a more complex task than just making everything louder.

Or they can make the world go away with active noise cancellation. And then you can really enjoy music or podcasts from your iPhone.

Hardware and Design

Nuheara IQbuds 2 Max do more than ordinary earbuds, even AirPods Pro, so it’s not surprising they’re a bit bigger. Each is 1.0 inches by 0.75 in., and 1.2 inches thick, including the piece that fits deep into your ear. The part everyone sees is about the size an olive.

When wearing them, it’s fairly obvious you have something in your ear. Most people just assume they’re a usual pair of headphones. But expect friends and co-workers to ask about them if you wear them while talking to them. You can explain it helps you hear them better, not block them out. (That said, IQbuds 2 Max excel at blocking people out.)

The fit is comfortable. It’s comparable to standard in-ear headphones. Nuheara provides a collection of spongy tips in a range of sizes.

But they are not suitable for strenuous exercise. They can handle a brisk walk or mowing the yard, but the relatively large external portion makes it easy for them to slip out with too much jarring.

The top of the IQbuds 2 Max is a flat surface, and this functions as control buttons. They can detect single taps, double taps and long taps.

The black charging case measures 3.0 inches by 2.3 in. by 1.1 in. It’s relatively pocketable, which is important as you’ll probably want to bring it with you whenever you’re wearing the earbuds.

Nuheara IQbuds 2 Max performance

Like standard truly wireless headphones, IQbuds 2 Max plays music and podcasts from your iPhone. It uses Bluetooth 5.0, which gives these considerable range. They don’t have to be connected to an iPhone for voice filtering or active noise cancellation, though.

But that’s just the beginning of what Nuheara’s earbuds can do. Each has a pair of microphones that take in nearby sounds. A set of filters strip out the noise the wearer doesn’t want, and magnifies the sounds they do, such as the person they’re talking to.

While I’m decades away from needing a hearing aid, my hearing isn’t as acute as it used to be. IQbuds 2 Max makes it much easier for me to hear conversations in noisy environments thanks to Nuheara’s proprietary Speech in Noise Control (SINC). My tests show that it can focus in on the person I’m talking to in a noisy restaurant. It’s kind of amazing.

And Nuheara created a variety of filters besides the one for restaurants. The Home filter assumes you want to hear everything, but louder. The Driving filter screens out road noise. There’s an office filter that works much like the Restaurant one.

You switch between filter by tapping the earbuds. Single tap and long press work well for me. Double tap… not so much. I get the single tap function almost every time.

Part of the IQbuds 2 Max setup process involves taking a NAL-NL2 hearing test administered by an iPhone app. This discovers what frequencies the wearer has trouble hearing so the headphones can make those louder. It seems to work quite well for me.

Just so there’s no confusion, you can listen to music or a podcast while also hearing ambient sounds. Audio quality for music and podcasts is very good. This newest version includes 9.2mm drivers to improve sound quality, especially bass.

But remember, these are tiny, in-ear headphones. You can get better sound out of large, over-the-ear headphones that cost the same. Music sounds great with Nuhera’s product — just don’t expect a miracle.

Nuheara IQbuds 2 Max
The charging case for IQbuds 2 is a bit bulky, but it can recharge these earbuds two times.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Active Noise Cancellation

IQbuds 2 Max are the first truly wireless headphones from Nuheara with Active Noise Cancellation. It makes use of three microphones to analyze sounds both inside and outside the ear, then uses an audio trick to erase all sounds. At least in theory.

In practice, these earbuds are mostly successful but not 100%. In my tests, everything around me is much, much quieter. But it’s not completely gone. Still, it’s a lot easier to work without all the distracting noises.

Battery life

With ANC or one of the audio filters running, IQbuds 2 Max is good for a full workday. But add in Bluetooth audio streaming and that figure cuts in half. I get 4-to-5 hours on a single charge.

That means you’ll need to keep the charging case with you whenever you’re using these headphones. It has its own battery that can fully recharge these earbuds three times, with each taking about an hour and a half. After that, it’ll need a wall charger.

You can always check the battery level of the earbuds on your iPhone. Simply use the battery widget.

Nuheara IQbuds 2 Max final thoughts

There are millions of people in the same place I am: a true hearing aid is completely unnecessary, but occasional help would be welcome. IQbuds 2 Max can be that help. They do everything any other pair of in-ear headphones can do, and also let the wearer understand conversations better when there’s too much ambient noise.

Pricing

IQbuds 2 Max cost $399 on the Nuheara website.

That’s considerably more than Apple AirPods Pro, which at $249 also offer Active Noise Cancellation. But Apple’s earbuds can’t filter conversations out of ambient noise like IQbuds 2 Max.

Nuheara provided Cult of Mac with a review unit for this article. See our reviews policy, and check out more in-depth reviews of Apple-related items.