This is one of the oddest tech products I’ve reviewed this year. Yet it may potentially be the most useful to the market it’s intended for.
We’ve all seen AirPods and other small wireless earbuds hanging from people’s ears. Some even purport to be ‘noise-cancelling’, using tiny microphones to reverse-engineer the external noise against itself. But what if a similar system combined those tiny microphones with subtle speakers inside the earphones? Wouldn’t this make a decent attempt at a hearing aid?
This is the basic pitch of Nuheara’s IQ Buds Boost, a cleverly designed set of in-ear wireless buds that aim to boost your hearing. Proper hearing aids can be very expensive. Can these off-the-shelf buds really be a replacement?
I tried them out sporadically over a couple of weeks. They definitely amplified the audio levels around me.
To put into context my level of hearing, it’s mostly fine. In a loud bar, I’ll struggle to hear what someone is saying to me, forcing a certain amount of lip-reading.
I know this system is aimed at people a little harder of hearing (though short of being designed for those who have a more advanced level of deafness). The advantages to the IQ Buds are their clever set-up and use of on-ear touch commands, combined with deeper technical controls using a smartphone app. At a simple level, this varies from being able to change mode by tapping the outside of the right earpiece, to varying the levels of bass and treble (and overall audio level) between each earpiece.
At a more advanced level, a double tap brought up Google Assistant.
There’s also a nice degree of modernity in how the design has borrowed from the AirPods’ use of a pillbox-style recharging vessel for the buds. Like AirPods, you stick the buds in when the battery is running low and it will recharge them in about 25 minutes. The box itself is then chargeable by a MicroUSB cable.
You get a ton of rubber ear tips with the initial pack. I found that they generally stayed in my ears when walking. Watch out for rain, though; these are sweat-resistant but not water-proof.
One thing the IQ Buds shouldn’t be confused with is a rival headphone system for AirPods or any other wireless in-ear product. While the buds will play your music or radio from Spotify, TuneIn or anything else you have on your phone, the audio profile is very tinny. I tried to boost the bass, with no joy.
For speech, it’s passable, but for music it’s like listening to a tiny radio from the 1970s. But if you’re the type who’s always saying, ‘sorry, could you repeat that?’, the IQ Buds may be worth a punt.