Over the last several years, I’ve noticed my hearing slowly deteriorate. I find it difficult to hear conversations in noisy rooms, which makes each successive trade show more challenging. And my family is always turning the TV down because it’s too loud for them. That’s because I’ve raised the volume so I can hear every word. So I turned to smart wearables for a solution.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been using the Nuheara IQ2 Buds Max, which cost me $399. They’re Bluetooth earbuds with some smarts that both analyze my hearing deficiencies and boost sound frequencies that are specific to my situation. They may sound expensive when compared to regular wireless earbuds but they’re far less expensive than traditional hearing aids. And they have far more functionality.
Each earbud has a three-microphone array which is used to monitor sounds around me. They come in handy for phone calls too: Yes, these act like any other Bluetooth earbuds that connect to a phone. You wouldn’t know these are “hearing buds” by looking at them.
A small DSP, or digital signal processor, inside tunes the outside world sounds based on algorithms, letting me hear better in different environments. In fact, there are seven different environments to choose from, so I can adjust the sound quality depending on where I am: In a restaurant, for example, or in a car or simply walking around outside.
The entire experience starts with a hearing test, called EarID that’s part of the IQ Buds mobile app. Essentially, the app plays tones at six different frequencies and you tap your phone display when you hear a tone. Each tone is repeated several times, quieter with each playback. Nuheara says EarID is a “clinically-validated NAL-NL2 hearing test—a neural network-driven system that optimizes the hearing augmentation engine to the user’s personal preferences.”
I’m not an audiologist, nor do I play one on the internet, so I can’t speak to the validity of Nuheara’s technical claims. I can, however, tell you that for me, they definitely help me hear conversations better and I don’t need to raise the TV volume beyond the “normal” levels that my family uses.
Here’s an image of my EarID results, showing that both ears are challenged in the upper-frequency ranges. That would explain why I can’t pick out a conversation in a noisy, crowded room.
From a usage standpoint, you don’t have to keep the Buds connected to your phone. And I generally don’t because battery life drops from about 7 hours of better hearing to roughly 4 hours due to using the phone to add more advanced sound processing features. The earbuds go into a charging case that holds three additional charges and it takes about 90 minutes for a full recharge if the batteries are empty.
However, if you want to use the full functionality of these hearing buds, you will need that Bluetooth connection to your phone. The main reason is one of the best reasons: A double-tap on either earbud brings up either the Google Assistant or Siri from your phone, depending on which you use. And you can switch between all seven of the environmental modes with an earbud tap if you’re wirelessly connected to your phone. If not, you can switch between four modes of your choice when setting up the earbuds.
I find the IQ2 Buds Max earbuds relatively comfortable but only for around four hours of continuous use. These are the kind of buds that seal into your ear canal, which some people aren’t fans of. You do get a half-dozen tips in various sizes and two materials: Silicone and foam. So you can get a personal fit and feel that you hopefully like.
This approach of sealing the ear brings you passive noise blocking, which is helpful. However, these buds are smart enough to have active noise cancellation (ANC) as well. This too uses more battery life so I use it sparingly while reading at night.
And if that wasn’t enough “smarts”, you can even choose to have the microphones focus on sounds in front of you, which helps block out ambient noises. I use this during dinner conversations with my wife because I don’t need ambient sounds outside or behind me to interfere.
All of these settings, including EQ adjustments for finer control, can be configured for different locations and your preferences are saved to the earbuds. A long-press on the right earbud quickly switches between the location modes so you don’t need to go into the app for each change.
Overall, I’m very happy with my purchase. I admit I was leery of making it because I previously used a similar product from Nuheara from two generations ago in the IQ2 line.
They worked well for hearing, although these new ones are better, but had a super annoying issue. When the older earbuds were near each other, particularly in the charging case, they would emit a high-pitched feedback squeal. It got so bad, I eventually stopped using them. Luckily, that seems to be fixed with the new Buds Max.
Should you buy them? Having a professional check your hearing is probably the best bet, just to be safe. However, I didn’t think I was quite ready for that, nor for traditional hearing aids. So I took the chance and I’m definitely able to hear better with this product. Even my wife notices the difference since the TV volume isn’t as high and she doesn’t have to repeat herself to me any longer. And I can stream music or take calls with these, plus access the digital assistant on my phone.
If you’re like me and appear to have mild hearing loss, particularly in certain scenarios, I definitely recommend giving these a try.