Nuheara IQbuds² Max VS Apple Airpods Pro
Comparing two leading hearing-assistance hearables
05 January 2021
The Nuheara IQbuds² Max (IQbuds) and Apple Airpods Pro (Airpods) are the two leading hearable products on the market, providing customized amplification tuned to your specific hearing loss. If you’re someone with a mild-to-moderate hearing loss looking for an affordable option to hear better, one of these devices may be right for you.
To cut to the chase, I personally preferred the Airpods over the IQbuds despite the fact that they lacked some of the IQbuds’ advanced controls and features — because the Airpods just worked. If you’re an Android user, or someone who likes more granular control, the IQbuds may be a better option for you. This being said, I found their controls and usability quite confusing.
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In this review, we will be comparing five main features: look and feel, ease of use, music quality, battery life, and performance as hearing aids.
How do they compare?
Look and Feel
The look and feel of the Airpods and IQbuds are quite different. The Airpods are smaller in your ear, but come with the trademark Airpods stem that protrudes down from your ear. The IQbuds are effectively large black plugs in your ear that resemble more traditional true wireless earbuds. The Airpods come with three eartips (S, M, L) while the Airpods come with eight rubber domes and three foam domes to accommodate for a wider range of ear sizes. Depending on the size of your ear and ear canal, one may provide a better fit.
One drawback to all the earbud ear tips I’ve tried, when compared to traditional medical-grade hearing aid domes, is they can’t be customized to your ear shape and hearing loss. After wearing hearing aids for months now, I just forgot how heavy and bulky normal earbuds feel. Behind-the-ear hearing aids seem weightless in comparison.
Ease of Use
The IQbuds can be set up and controlled on both Android and iPhone through the IQbuds App, while the Airpods can only be set up and controlled on an iPhone. If you’re an Android user, you can set up the Airpods on a friend or family’s iPhone, however you won’t be able to control amplification volume on the go. So Android users, the IQbuds may be a better option for you.
The Airpods are easy and intuitive to use, with great Bluetooth stability and a single squeeze button on the stem. A short squeeze will play/pause music or answer/hang up a call, while a long squeeze switches between transparency and active noise cancellation modes. It does lack additional controls like directionality and speech-in-noise, which available on the IQbuds, but I found just having volume control was adequate.
In contrast, I found the IQbuds quite confusing to use. Their controls and interface were not intuitive, requiring both buds to be inserted to use the hearing aid mode. If you removed one earbud from your ears, it would mute both but not pause music and overall I found the experience quite unrefined. This, in conjunction with a number of other issues we will discuss, makes them hard to recommend, especially given the Airpods for the most part, just work!
Music playback sounds fantastic on both earbuds, with the Airpods packing a bit more bass and the IQbuds bringing better mid and high clarity. In my opinion, you will be happy with the sound quality either one you go for, and further adjustments to the sound profile can be made in the equalizers. Because of the more occluding fit and larger driver sizes (on both sets of buds), they definitely sound better than any traditional hearing aid for music playback.
Additionally, although the Airpods Pro do customize your music playback to your hearing loss, the IQbuds Max do not. Meaning you may get better music clarity and fidelity out of the Airpods if you have a hearing loss.
Battery Life and Charging Case
Nuheara claim the IQbuds last around 5 hours with streaming and 8 hours without. The Airpods last 3 to 5 hours and therefore require more regular charging. Both charging cases hold 3 to 4 charges, allowing you to go without plugging in for 1 to 2 days. Due to this battery limitation, both buds aren’t appropriate for all day use and don’t completely replace hearing aids. Hearing aids, like the Signia Styletto X and Phonak Paradise, last anywhere between 18 to 24 hours (rechargeable) or 5 to 7 days (button cell battery). If you have a mild-to-moderate hearing loss and need extra speech clarity when at the restaurant or bar these hearables may be helpful, but hearing aids are likely to help more — and provide all day performance.
From testing done by Dr Cliff, AuD and Hearing Tracker, both the Airpods and IQbuds amplify sounds well for mild-to-moderate hearing losses. Unfortunately, they lack the power to amplify sounds for hearing losses greater than this, so if you have a more severe or profound hearing loss, you’ll want to look at more traditional hearing aids. In terms of pure sound quality, I preferred the Airpods Pro with their more natural sound and reduced boominess. In comparison, I found the IQbuds were very speech heavy in the higher pitches, sometimes sounding a bit shrill and boomy.
In summary, I was very impressed at Apple's implementation of amplification on their Airpods Pro, providing a natural sound in a neat and intuitive package. If you’re an iPhone user who wants a simple solution to help you hear better, I would highly recommend checking these out! But if you are tech savvy and like having more granular control, the IQbuds may be the right solution for you.