Nuheara, an Australian-based hearing technology company, introduced its 3rd-generation product, the IQbuds² MAX, in early 2020. MAX is a smart, rechargeable, Bluetooth-compatible, hearing-enhancement wireless earbud. MAX is classified as a Personal Sound Amplification Product (PSAP), which is a type of hearable.
Officially, MAX is not a hearing aid and isn’t considered a medical device. As a PSAP, MAX is intended to help people without hearing loss in certain difficult listening situations, like noisy restaurants. But unofficially, MAX may serve as a good entry-point for addressing milder hearing loss, especially if you aren’t ready for the cost, or potential stigma, typically associated with medical-grade hearing aids.
You can think of the MAX as a wireless earbud with some hearing aid features. Let’s discuss some of those features and what to consider if you are thinking of purchasing these earbuds.
- 12 channels
- Wide Dynamic Compression (WDRC)
- Feedback management system
- Ear ID™ customizes settings to your hearing
- SINC™ noise reduction
- Directional microphones—3 in each earbud with Focus control via app
- World EQ equalizer
- 7 programs via smart phone app (4 available via tap control on device)
- Bluetooth® 5.0
- Built-in rechargeable battery and portable charging case
- 30-day return policy
Like a hearing aid, but not
MAX incorporates several features that are consistent with conventional digital hearing aids including multiple processing channels, wide dynamic compression, feedback management and noise reduction. These are common features of current hearing aids on the market today. However, you (or in the case of a hearing aid, the professional) don’t have as much control over the processing and are limited to what controls are available within the smart phone app. Regardless, the features likely provide improved listening compared to a less advanced set of earbuds.
Setting up IQbuds² MAX
Setting up MAX begins with a hearing test through the earbuds themselves via a feature called Ear ID. You will first choose good fitting ear tips from the included supply. The hearing test is conducted in quiet and assesses your hearing at 6 different frequencies from 500-6000 Hz. The app then uses these results and applies a well-researched hearing aid fitting formula called NAL-NL2 to adjust the settings of the earbuds. This formula is like a hearing prescription and is used by many hearing care providers (HCPs) to fit digital hearing aids. With the hearing test results and the fitting formula, the earbuds “calibrate” themselves to your unique hearing status. If you hearing changes, you can re-take the hearing test as needed.
Speech in Noise Control (SINC)
Another feature within MAX is SINC or “Speech in Noise Control”. SINC allows you to adjust within the smart phone app and via a sliding scale or “action bar”, the level of ambient noise. The intent is to make speech easier to hear in noisier situations like a restaurant. SINC is a frequency control which works in conjunction with active noise cancellation to minimize background noise and enhance frequencies with speech information.
Directional hearing with Focus
Another control, called Focus, is available to help improve speech understanding in noise. Unlike SINC which relies on a noise reduction algorithm and frequency shaping, Focus uses beamforming to fine tune the sensitivity of the 6 microphones within the two earbuds. MAX utilizes Nearfield Magnetic Induction (NFMI) wireless communication between the 2 earbuds to synchronize the directional mics as well as to align such things as programs and volume in both devices. Within Focus, you can, again via the app, point the microphones forward or choose to pick up sound from all around you. This is also useful in noisy situations like a restaurant where you want the microphones to be more sensitive to speech in front of you as opposed to noise from behind you.
Adjusting pitches with World EQ and Locations
World EQ, another control available within the app, is an additional frequency control option allowing you to alter bass or low frequency sounds as well as treble or high frequency sounds. This works via an action bar within the app where, for example, moving the slider to the left will increase treble and minimize the bass. This may be useful in situations where high frequency sounds such as clinking dishes can be annoying when amplified. Move it to the right and you have the opposite effect.
If you prefer to choose from a collection of preset listening profiles, called “locations” within the app, these are also available including restaurant, home, workout, and several others. There are 7 location presets in all each with different parameters tuned for that location. These can be accessed via the app or you can choose 4 preferred locations to be stored in the devices. That is, without the app, you can change between 4 different locations by tapping the earbud.
A good fit makes all the difference
Keep in mind that the fit of the earbud will play a factor in how well these sound treating features work. That is, if the ear tips don’t fit well and seal the ear properly, then noise and other sounds will enter the ear without the benefit of being treated by the device. So, a good fit is required to achieve the best hearing results.
The tap feature is also used for other functionality like starting/stopping streaming and how the device is tapped will tell it what change to make. In the case of a program or “location” change, you can cycle through them with a long, 2 second tap. The earbuds will provide you with an announcement of the location type as you change them.
MAX incorporates Bluetooth 5.0 for wireless connectivity and is compatible with both Apple® and Android™ phones. They also support hands-free calling which means that unlike some hearing aids where in order for the caller to hear your voice you need to speak into the phone, the earbuds also act as a microphone. You’ll hear the caller in both earbuds during the call. You can accept or reject a call by tapping the earbuds or via the app.
The MAX smart phone app is available for both Android and iOs smart phones and you can, of course, stream music from your compatible phone or other compatible Bluetooth device such as a laptop or tablet.
The earbuds also support Siri® (Apple) and Google Now™ (Android) virtual assistants and can be accessed via a double tap on the earbuds.
If you would like a closer look, take a look at the technical data sheet.
Wearing & Fit
Nuheara notes that the MAX is both sweat and water resistant which is beneficial when wearing the earbuds during a workout or where moisture is an issue. This third-generation device also incorporates a smooth casing with the intent of improving wearing comfort.
As mentioned above, it’s important to get a good fit with the earbuds in order to take full advantage of the available sound processing. The earbuds will ship with a set of 3 Comply™ (foam) tips and 3 silicone tips of varying sizes. It’s likely that these choices will provide a comfortable and sufficient fit for most ears, however, for very small or large ears the physical fit may be too tight/loose to accommodate wearing all day.
Charging Case—is included with the purchase of MAX. The internal lithium-ion rechargeable batteries will last approximately 5 hours if streaming or up to 8 hours for “hearing processing”. The charging case is portable and once fully charged holds up to 3 additional charges. Charging time is reported to be 90 minutes for a full charge. The charger utilizes magnets to guide the earbuds into proper position which should make practical use of the charger easy for most people. There are also color-coded indicator lights to let you know when the earbuds are properly placed and charging and when the charge is complete.
IQstream TV—is an additional accessory that can be connected to your TV to provide stereo sound at your preferred listening volume.
BT transmitter—is available should you need to connect your earbuds to a non-Bluetooth device. For example, an older laptop without Bluetooth or audio devices utilizing a standard 3.5 mm jack.
Warranty & Cost
The earbuds come standard with a one-year warranty for any “defect in materials and workmanship”. It should be noted that you can purchase MAX directly from the Nuheara website or from other retailers online. Both Walgreens and Best Buy are authorized retailers but the product appears to be currently available only online and not physically in stores. Crutchfield, an electronics retailer, also sells Nuheara. Regarding the warranty, if you purchase from a retailer other than Nuheara, the devices need to be returned to that retailer. There are some reports of this causing difficulty with getting the products replaced/repaired during the warranty period from at least one of these retailers so you may want to consider this when purchasing the device.
At the time of this writing, a pair of MAX earbuds are $499 from the Nuheara website with similar pricing at other sites. The TV streamer is an additional $129 if required but can be bundled with the earbuds at BestBuy for $554.34. The BT transmitter is priced at $49 from Nuheara. Replacement pieces are also available. For example, if you lose one earbud a replacement will cost $250 from Nuheara and a replacement or additional charger is $129.
Why you might consider purchasing IQbuds² MAX
- Low-cost choice for hearing assistance compared to conventional hearing aids
- 30-day money back guarantee
- Apple and Android compatible with hands-free calling
- Easy to use charging case
- Reported good sound quality including bass
- Connects to Siri & Google virtual assistants
- Tap control
- Online support is useful including chat
- Clearly marked L/R for ease of use
Potential Drawbacks of IQbuds² MAX
- Not appropriate for more severe hearing losses or for children
- Cannot be precisely tuned to your hearing loss
- Hearing test through earbuds does not cover all frequencies and does not consider other audiological factors such as uncomfortable loudness levels
- High cost compared to other in-ear, Bluetooth, noise cancelling headphones
- Potential difficulty with warranty fulfillment from retailers other than Nuheara
- Only available in one color—black
- Not cosmetically discreet but isn’t intended to be
- Likely not comfortable enough to wear all day
- May not fit properly for unusually small or large ears
- Short battery life compared to conventional hearing aid and even other earbuds
- Tap feature may be confusing to some
The Nuheara IQbuds² MAX earbuds provide rich stereo quality sound and allow wireless connectivity to many devices in your environment. They can serve as an entry-point into hearing assistance if you note difficulty hearing in some situations. However, these are not hearing aids and will not be able to treat your hearing loss as well as a professional hearing care provider (HCP) and conventional digital hearing aids can. IQbuds² MAX earbuds are an electronic device which can provide convenience and some hearing assistance but they were never intended to completely address a hearing loss.
However, if you are tentative about wearing hearing aids or cannot afford the cost of one (or prefer not to) and suffer from a mild hearing loss, these devices may provide some help. Keep in mind that it is doubtful that you will want to wear them all day as you would with well-fit hearing aids. This means that you will likely only wear them when needed in limited situations. As always, we recommend that you consult with an HCP and have your hearing fully evaluated prior to making any decision about your hearing healthcare.
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HearAdvisor partners with HearingTracker to provide objective laboratory performance data. All hearing aids are fitted and performance-tested for mild sloping to moderate hearing loss. All audio samples cutoff above 10kHz. *Specific model tested: Nuheara IQbuds² MAX.