/Turn off the world with Nuhearas IQbuds2 MAX

Turn off the world with Nuhearas IQbuds2 MAX

We’ve tested it on a 14-hour flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, next to a noisy fan, under an air-conditioner, in a noisy workplace and in a very noisy bar. And without hesitation, we can say the noise-cancelling betters any earbuds or headphones we’ve ever reviewed.

Once you fit them properly in your ears, they are exactly as good as a pair of Sony WH-1000XM3 or Bose QuietComfort 35 Mark II headphones squeezed tight against your head.

Which is to say that, under normal usage of those Sony or Bose headphones, without the gaffer tape or the headband, the IQbuds² MAX earbuds are better. They’re astonishingly good.

Each earbud uses three microphones and sophisticated audio processors to analyse the ambient noise.

That’s not to say you should ditch your over-the-ear headphones, of course. Like all fully wireless earbuds, the IQbuds² MAX have only a limited battery life: five hours of Bluetooth streaming per charge, compared with the 30 hours you get out a single charge of Sony’s amazing headphones.

Also, being fully wireless, you can’t use them with an in-flight entertainment system without also using a Bluetooth transmitter, which we’ve always found fiddly and easy to leave behind on the plane.

At a pinch, though, if you absolutely had to use the IQbuds² MAX on a plane, you could try taking Nuheara’s IQstream TV transmitter with you and using that. It’s not designed for connecting to an in-flight entertainment system – it’s not battery-powered, for starters – but it is much easier to use than any other Bluetooth transmitter we’ve ever tested and it’s slightly larger (it’s about the size of a deck of playing cards), which means it’s less likely to get lost.

IQbuds2 MAX

The IQbuds2 MAX are easily comfortable enough to stay in for the five hours that their battery lasts. 

(We haven’t tested the IQstream on a plane, mind you, but we can’t see why it wouldn’t work well.)

But, for the record, the IQstream is actually designed as an adjunct for the IQbuds² MAX, so that hard-of-hearing people can watch TV at home without having to turn the volume WAY UP LOUD and disturb everyone else in the house.

Which gets me to the main point of the IQbuds² MAX, as it happens. Though they are without doubt the best, most comfortable active-noise-cancelling earbuds we’ve ever reviewed, and worth buying just for that alone, that’s not what they’re actually designed for.

Like the IQbuds we reviewed previously, they are designed for people with less than perfect hearing. They’ve got all sorts of technology built into them, which helps you hear what people are saying to you while blocking out other noises, such as the racket in a noisy restaurant, the sound of traffic or the hum of aeroplane engines.

We tested those features, too, and our results are slightly more mixed than the results of our tests of the IQbuds² MAX in “World Off” mode, which blocks out everything, including voices.

Most importantly, they don’t cancel out the voices of flight attendants when they come to offer you another scotch.

Depending on which mode you choose, each earbud uses three microphones (up from two on the previous model) and sophisticated audio processors to analyse the ambient noise and suppress some sounds while amplifying others.

If you put the earbuds into “Driving” mode, for instance, either by tapping on the right earbud or selecting it in the IQbuds app on your mobile phone, you’ll hear all the ambient sounds of the street and then, over the course of perhaps 10 seconds, you’ll hear the traffic noise fall away, leaving you only with other sounds, like footsteps. It’s quite remarkable.

The same goes for “Plane” mode. When you first put the earbuds into that mode, you can hear everything going on around you, including the hum of the engines. But then, as the earbuds figure out which sounds to cancel, the hum of the engines slowly disappears. Not completely, but enough so it stops bothering you.

Most importantly, they don’t cancel out the voices of flight attendants when they come to offer you another scotch.

In this regard, “Plane” mode is quite like the “Ambient” mode on Sony’s headphones, except you don’t have to quickly activate it when you see the bottle of scotch appearing on the horizon. You can just leave the IQbuds² MAX earbuds in Plane mode the whole flight (or, at least, for the first five hours, until the batteries run out), and get fairly good noise cancellation (not as good as the full “World Off” but much better than no cancellation) while still being able to converse with those around you.

Where we didn’t have quite so much luck was in “Restaurant” mode, which is designed to cancel out the tedious chatter of other patrons while leaving you able to hear the fascinating person sitting next to you.

Obviously, it’s technically more difficult to cancel out some voices and not others, and that showed in our tests. Even with the IQbuds² MAX set to a mode where they amplify voices directly in front of you and cancel out others all around, they gave us only a slight improvement in hearing compared with not using them at all.

Still, you can’t have everything. You can’t expect something so small and affordable to be completely perfect.

Perfection, as everyone knows, requires gaffer tape, and plenty of it.

Nuheara IQbuds² MAX
Likes Great sound, brilliant noise cancellation
Dislikes Only four hours’ battery life, limited use in pubs
Price $499, available from March