Pretty fair review IMnsHO, with no embedded sales pitch…….
An attractive female is sitting across the table from me in one of Sydney’s fashionable, underground bars. She’s chatting to a handsome young man to her right, and, apparently, she’s chatting to me as well.
I can tell she’s including me in the conversation because from time to time she turns to look at me, and her lips keep moving while she does this.
I smile at her, nodding agreeably, but I can’t really make out what she’s saying. The sound of her voice drifts in and out, like in a dream.
When it drifts in, I can hear a woman’s voice that definitely belongs to her, but I can’t hear it well enough that I have a good sense of what she’s rabbiting on about. Something about Tinder versus Bumble, I think.
The inner lights indicate the charge on the earbuds, the outer lights the charge on the case itself.
The inner lights indicate the charge on the earbuds, the outer lights the charge on the case itself. Supplied
When it drifts out, I can hear someone else’s voice, a man’s, but I can’t hear it loud enough to make out what he’s saying, either, or even work out which man it is. The voice is disembodied in a most peculiar fashion.
I pull the Nuheara IQbuds out of my ears, wondering whether I can hear the woman any better without them, and instantly I am HIT BY A TSUNAMI OF SOUND THAT WOULD SURELY DAMAGE MY HEARING if I had much hearing left to damage.
Chic to shout
I cannot hear the woman’s voice one bit any more. There is just a HUGE WALL OF SOUND.
When I say this is a fashionable bar, I mean it’s a bar frequented by people in their 20s, who believe they need to YELL AT EACH OTHER in order to have a good time. (Surely I wasn’t this way when I was their age?)
They’re visible, but not too visible. This is Justin Miller, CEO and co-founder of Nuheara, wearing a pair.
They’re visible, but not too visible. This is Justin Miller, CEO and co-founder of Nuheara, wearing a pair. John Davidson
This underground bar, I have discovered, represents the upper limit of the IQbuds, a very nifty pair of Bluetooth earbuds invented by the Australian company Nuheara.
Under the most trying of circumstances – which is to say, when surrounded by people in their 20s – the IQbuds do remarkably well at blocking out unwanted noise, but unfortunately that’s only half their job.
The other half of their job, picking out and amplifying the voice of people sitting near you so you can hear them but not the background noise, they can do only up to a point. Beyond that, the voices you want to hear start to drift around and disappear, and you start to feel like you’re dreaming.
But still, if you’re “pub deaf” like me, if you know what it means to sit there smiling serenely at people who are talking to you when you have no idea what they are talking about, the IQbuds could well be the most exciting gadget to come out in 2017.
In the face of SCREAMING 20 YEAR OLDS, they can’t work miracles, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth having.
Work in progress
Not miracles yet, at any rate. The IQbuds have only just been released, and like most firmware-upgradeable devices on the market they’re something of a work in progress.
They’re a little like Apple’s AirPods, except that in addition to being Bluetooth earbuds you can use them to listen to music and to make calls, they also contain a powerful digital signal processor that can be used for a number of things, including: in-ear music equalisation (though that’s one of the undeveloped features that should get better over time); for active noise cancelling (which was amazing in the pub test, and very good in our other tests); and for picking out and amplifying the human voice over the din, for people who are pub deaf or who have some sort of auditory processing disorder that makes it hard to focus on one source of sound.
That last feature is the genius of the IQbuds, and it works very well in pretty well every place we tested it except in the one place I most desperately needed it to work: the very, very, VERY loud bar.
Nuheara calls that last feature “SINC” (Super Intelligent Noise Cancellation), though until it can work the pub miracle I’m going to call it VINC (Very Intelligent Noise Cancellation) or maybe even QINC (Quite Intelligent Noise Cancellation).
Now, VINC isn’t exactly easy to get the hang of. You control it with an app on your phone, and you adjust it to suit your hearing and your surroundings by dialling in or out three separate parameters: the VINC’s overall volume, the balance between the background noise you wish to eliminate and the foreground noise you want to amplify, and the rough frequency (high, medium or low) of the sound you want to separate out from the background.
Difficult to master
I’d estimate I spent two or three hours just getting the hang of the settings for QINC. It’s hard to think of a gadget that’s quite so difficult to master (and after five days of using the IQbuds I still don’t think I have mastered that last frequency setting), but at the same time it’s hard to think of a gadget that I would even bother with for half that long. It says something about the very exciting promise of the IQbuds that Nuheara even dared to make its settings so sophisticated.
(And, indeed, the settings on the prototypes I saw late last year used to be much harder. Nuheara actually had to hide a lot of the IQbud’s features from the user just to come out with the user interface that they have, complex as it is. It augurs well for new features being added to the earbuds over time, once the company beds down the current user experience.)
In surroundings where you can almost but not quite hear the people you’re talking to, VINC does a very good job, and being able to fiddle with those first two settings, at least, comes in very handy.
When the background noise isn’t too loud, you can just separate the foreground voices from the background noise a little bit, and voices come in loud, clear and very naturally. Until the batteries run out (after roughly four hours in our tests) you can even forget you’re wearing the IQbuds.
When the background noise is starting to get loud, you can just dial up that separation, which (as far as I can tell) increases the active cancellation on the background noise while increasing the processing on the voices you want to hear. Past a certain point, voices no longer sound natural, but start to sound very processed, a little like the vocals in the Buggle’s classic, Video Killed The Radio Star (a song reference that would be showing my age except I’m pretty sure you’ve already guessed by now I’m a deaf old fart).
But as any old fart could tell you, hearing a slightly over-processed voice is infinitely better than hearing one you can’t make out at all. Hell, if Nuheara can tweak the IQbuds so miracle of miracles they can even work in the loudest of underground bars, I wouldn’t even care if they made people sound like robots.
As long she was saying something nice about me.
Read more: http://www.afr.com/technology/nuheara-iqbuds-review-a-dream-come-true-for-the-pub-deaf-20170217-gufk7p#ixzz4ZGn6ow25
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