IQbuds Boost Review

IQbuds Boost Review
As I've got older, I've definitely caught myself saying, "I beg your pardon" and "Sorry, what?" more often. I tend to avoid loud bars and I sometimes find large gatherings difficult since the din can become overwhelming.

I'm not sure if my hearing isn't quite what it used to be, or if my tolerance for cacophony has gone down with age. Either way, I sometimes wish I had a little help in the ears department.

Well, that help has arrived in the form of the IQbuds Boost. These wireless earbuds appear to be exactly what I'm looking for: a "true wireless" pair that doesn't just play music, but also improves your hearing. Unlike the original IQbuds that the company released last year, the Boost has a different demographic: folks who are in the early stages of hearing loss — not at the point where they'd need a hearing aid, but might be getting there.

Nuhera, the company that makes the IQbuds, lent me a Boost pair to try out. I came away liking them a lot — and impressed with how they handled their chief function of hearing improvement — but they weren't comfortable enough to wear as often as I'd like to.

Setup and design

At £214.00, the IQbuds Boost are a not cheap, as wireless earbuds go. But if you compare them to actual hearing aids, which tend to run in the thousands of pounds, they're quite a bargain. Well, a bargain if they actually work. More on that in a bit.

Nuhera is quite generous with the number of rubberised buds that you get: The box contains 10 pairs total — four round pairs, four oval ones, and two that "shape" to your ears, like earplugs. I went with a medium-size round pair that sealed my ears well.

I wouldn't say the IQbuds are comfortable. They didn't hurt at all, certainly, but I was very aware I had earbuds in my ears at all times while wearing them. On top of that, for whatever reason, the right earbud left my ear quite sore for a few minutes whenever I took it out. There's clearly some work to do in the comfort department.

Like AirPods, the IQbuds come with a case that doubles as a battery. The Nuhera case is quite a bit larger than the dental-floss-container-size AirPods case, though; it's roughly the same size and shape as a small eclair.

The case holds a few extra charges for the buds within, which is nice, but the chambers for the individual buds aren't as snug as they should be. On two occasions I put the earbuds in to charge, but later found that one earbud didn't charge up at all — probably because I had put the case in a pocket or bag, and it got jostled around. Understandable, but it shouldn't happen.

Setting up the Boost fully is a bit of a pain. First you have to download the app and pair your buds over Bluetooth (so far so good), but then you need to create your own unique "EarID," which requires you to sit in a quiet room for about 10 minutes and tap your smartphone again and again as you listen to multiple test tones in both ears.



Nuheara IQbuds Intelligent Wireless Earbuds £214.00 at Amazon

To be fair, this is far less than you'd have to go through to get fitted for a real hearing aid. And you can just skip the EarID setup altogether and just start using the buds with all the default settings, but then the hearing enhancement likely won't be as effective for you.

Be sure to give yourself 10 minutes for EarID setup.

Be sure to give yourself 10 minutes for EarID setup.

Once you're done, you'll get a profile of your hearing.

Once you're done, you'll get a profile of your hearing.

Comfort-wise, the IQbuds sat in my ears just fine, and the seal ensured they stayed put (a big shortcoming of AirPods, at least for me). I was still terrified of losing a bud when I was out and about, but that didn't happen. 

One thing the IQbuds need to do better is power management. On evenings when I forgot to charge them overnight, I woke up to a pair of dead buds — even when I knew there was still battery power in them when I took them out and no music was playing. I would hope the buds would be smart enough to know when to power down for the night if I'm not wearing them. This is the kind of thing Nuhera should be able to fix with a firmware update, so I'm hopeful they will.

Sound and Enhancement

As a straight pair of wireless earbuds, the IQbuds boost are very good. The can play quite loud without distortion. From the aggressive hand claps and horns of Portugal.The Man's "Feel It Still" to the lighter piano chords of "Woods of Chaos" by Rob Costlow, the entire frequency range felt like it was coming through loud and clear.

Connectivity wasn't perfect. When I put my phone in my pocket, sometimes the connection to the IQbuds would cut out briefly. Not a disaster, but it also doesn't happen with my regular wireless headphones — and it shouldn't with any model, considering we're talking a distance no longer then 3 feet.

Now to the nitty-gritty: how well the Boost actually improves hearing.

The earbuds do this via a feature called World. Once you turn it on (either via a tap on the right bud or via the well-designed app), you can pick from one of seven modes, including Street, Office, Driving, Home, Restaurant, Workout, and Plane. Each mode lets in a different amount of ambient noise (the "world"). Each mode also treats the "world" differently, favouring either more speech enhancement or more ambient sound, plus a different overall EQ.

You can adjust all this stuff pretty easily to your liking, and the app will remember your preferences. I found myself returning to the app often to tweak my mix. Sometimes, in Office mode, I wanted to completely isolate myself so I turned turning the world (noise and speech) down to the lowest level.

The Boost comes with several presets the optimize sound for various environments.

The Boost comes with several presets the optimise sound for various environments.

The slider for more or less isolation is very easy to use.

The slider for more or less isolation is very easy to use.

Things got interesting when I did the opposite, and turned up the ambient sound all the way. Suddenly I could hear conversations all around my desk, all slightly louder than before. I could (mostly) follow a conversation in normal voices about 30 feet away whereas without the buds I could make out maybe every fourth word.

The clackety-clack of my keyboard was suddenly much clearer, and although background noise was turned up as well, I found speech and noise definitely stood out much more than before.

Once you choose how much of the "world" you want to hear, you can choose whether ambient sound is speech is enhanced the most.

Once you choose how much of the "world" you want to hear, you can choose whether ambient sound is speech is enhanced the most.

The World EQ really lets you drill down in your preferences.

The World EQ really lets you drill down in your preferences.

I wore the earbuds to a meeting (with no music playing). Everyone's speech was definitely louder, which helped me hear people on the other side of a long conference room table, although when one of my many clever colleagues cracked a joke, the laughter was almost deafening. Interestingly, the Boost completely garbled the audio for people calling into the meeting — I guess processing already processed sound is never a good idea.

Outside, I found the Boost even more useful. I'm always wary of using headphones on the busy streets of London, but with Street mode engaged I felt prepared. Listening to the Greatest Generation podcast while walking up Oxford Street, I could also hear cars, bike bells, the speech of people around me, and more as well. That may sound chaotic, but the earbuds did a good job of keeping me aware of my environment while ensuring I could still enjoy the podcast.

When I got close to home (a suburb outside the City), I paused the podcast and just listened to the neighbourhood sounds with ambient sound turned up to the max. I could suddenly hear my footsteps, birds singing in the trees around me, and a couple of teenagers across the street talking (though not the conversation itself). Cars that passed by me were very apparent and their movement and how close they were to me was very clear from the sound.


Nuheara IQbuds Intelligent Wireless Earbuds £214.00 at Amazon

Hearing things

In short, the IQbuds Boost work. Part of that, though, is what they do to your own speech. They don't enhance your speech as much as they muffle your hearing of it via the ear seal. That's a weird thing to get used to, and I just didn't have the patience. Whenever I had to actually converse with someone, I took the buds out, which defeats a lot of the purpose. It's not a deal-breaker, but using these in your daily life, as intended, is a commitment.

Out of curiosity, I asked a relative who uses a hearing out to try out the Boost earbuds. He said he they were definitely better than having nothing at all, though he also said his hearing aid did a considerably better job at enhancing sound — pretty much exactly the expectations IQbuds is trying to create with this product.

If you think you have hearing problems, you should of course see a doctor. But even after you do that you may not want or need to get a hearing aid: the threshold for needing them is quite high, and they're obviously expensive. And let's be honest — there's a stigma attached, too.

The IQbuds Boost provide a neat way to end-run all those issues, and although they're not exactly cheap, if you're starting to be concerned about hearing loss, you'll find them invaluable.

#earphones

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