NuForce has been a popular name among budget conscious audiophiles for their line of DACs and headphone amps for a long while now and has released a few decently popular low and midrange IEMs that performed well in the midrange market. Now, NuForce is taking its first shot at the higher end market with their newly released NE-700X IEMs for a decidedly midrange price.
I’ve been listening to a pair of pre-production samples for the last couple of weeks, comparing them to other earphones in my collection as well as simply leaning back in my office chair and relaxing, listening to music through these IEMs. So, has NuForce created a new force to be reckoned with in the NE-700X (bad pun, I know) or does it fizzle out? Read on to find out.
Design and Build Quality
NuForce stated that they have engineered these IEMs to last and I believe them. The all metal shells feel incredibly solid without being overly weighty. Extending down from a rubber sheath around the housings is a nice strain relief, leading into a thick, very durable feeling cable, a nice metal y-splitter (no chin slider though) and ending in a very well relieved straight jack emblazoned with the NuForce logo. Microphonics are an issue when wearing these straight down and aren’t totally eliminated by wearing them over the ear but I didn’t find them to be a big problem overall.
Comfort and Isolation
Being straight barrel IEMs, the resulting comfort and fit were in line with my expectations, very typical. The metal housings, while large, aren’t too large to fit comfortably nor heavy enough to pull down on my ears when wearing them straight down and cause discomfort and generally didn’t bother me during my listening sessions and were comfortable enough to listen to for more than an hour and a half of non-stop listening.
Isolation is average, as these are vented, like most dynamic driver IEMs. When using Sony Hybrids or Comply foam tips, isolation was increased but still nothing special. If isolation is a top priority then these probably won’t satisfy you but for most users, myself included, the isolation was adequate enough to attenuate the ambient noise in my university cafeteria while listening to music at comfortable listening volumes.
Burn-in: These IEMs were given upwards of 50 hours of burn in time prior to review and, while they sounded good right out of the box (or bag in my case), they did need about a dozen hours or so to settle in to their final sound character.
This is (unsurprisingly) the area where the NE-700X really shines. These boast a full, warm and robust sound that’s immediately attention-grabbing and energetic. These are a “fun” sounding pair of IEMs, no doubt about it, but they don’t fall short when it comes to revealing finer details.
The low end is very prominent and surprises with its power and authority without sounding uncontrolled or bleeding into the midrange. There’s plenty of impact and volume to go around but it doesn’t gloss over finer bass detail. There’s a nice rumble in the bass that conveys it an equally nice texture. It’s a low end that doesn’t compromise but doesn’t overwhelm either, stepping up when called for and backing off when it needs to. It hits a nice sweet spot for me in terms of the amount of bass I want to hear from an earphone.
The midrange is slightly forward in its presentation and nice and smooth. Vocals are front and center, with instruments sitting a bit farther back in the sonic stage. The smoothness cuts down ever so slightly on overall clarity and resolution but not enough to where I’d call it a legitimate flaw. The upper midrange/lower treble almost reaches the point of being sibilant or harsh but never actually gets there which makes these a rather non-fatiguing listen. Treble is laid back almost to the point where I’d call it recessed but not quite. Finer detail is there but there isn’t much in the way of sparkle.
The soundstage is actually rather deep, competing with the best earphones I’ve heard in that category. Lateral width is slightly above average which leads to good positioning. The thickness of note that I mentioned earlier does hamper the transparency and occludes the sense of “air” in the soundstage which does impact the perception of individual instrument separation but not too much. All in all, these are a very musical and enjoyable pair of IEMs to listen to for long periods that, despite their low end emphasis, are still well balanced in their sonic presentation.
Left to right: HiFiMan RE-ZERO, MEElectronics M11P+, NuForce NE-700X, Thinksound TS02+Mic
Comparisons to Other Earphones
MEElectronics M11P+: The M11P+ IEMs are bass monsters in comparison to the NE-700X. Featuring head-rattling levels of impact, they make the NE-700X almost sound “polite” when listened to side by side. The bass has a tendency to shroud the midrange and high end which are both present on the M11P+ and decently well resolved but lack the balance and detail of the NE-700X. Plus, the M11P+ are prone to sibilance where the NE-700X has none so the NE-700X automatically gains points from me, given my sensitivity to such sibilance.
It’s worth noting that the M11P+ needs an amp to sound its best, which calms the bass down slightly and tightens it considerably, lending them a more balanced sound signature but not enough to give them the edge over the NE-700X, which does not need an amp to reach its full potential.
Thinksound TS02+Mic: The NE-700Xs have a more “in your face” presentation with a more forward midrange and slightly weightier bass but the TS02s sound more “natural”. I imagine that this is an effect of the wooden housings of the TS02s but they have a natural sense of timbre and tonality with nice reverb in the bass and great performance with stringed instruments. The NE-700X is the more technically proficient IEM and perhaps even more fun but the TS02+Mic sounds more natural due to its more laid-back and smoother sound signature.
Winner: NE-700X by a hair
HiFiMan RE-ZERO: One of the sub $100 heavyweights (even if it is only by 1 dollar), the NE-700X definitely faced stiff competition in comparison with the RE-ZERO. The RE-ZERO boasts a significant advantage when it comes to transparency and smoothness/liquidity of the midrange, making the NE-700X sound a tad dry purely by comparison but everything else is not so clear cut. The NE-700X has the weightier low end presence while not quite able to match the RE-ZERO in terms of detail and its treble is about on par with that of the RE-ZERO (that is to say devoid of sibilance and reasonably well extended), perhaps giving a bit away to the RE-ZERO. The NE-700X’s soundstage and presentation slightly edge out the RE-ZEROs with its wider and deeper soundstage but lags behind somewhat in terms of detail and resolution but considering that the RE-ZERO is about $35 more expensive than the NE-700X and is one of the reigning kings of the bang-for-your-buck category, that’s to be expected.
NuForce has built a very compelling pair of IEMs in the NE-700X. These IEMs are built to last, are very comfortable over longer listening sessions and feature sound quality that competes far better than its $65 price tag would suggest. Without a doubt, these are the most enjoyable and technically proficient IEMs I’ve heard in their price range and are an exceptional value for their $65 asking price. The NE-700X is an earphone that just sounds right to me. It’s not meant to appeal directly to connoisseurs of analytical, bright or “thin” sound signatures and doesn’t try to, either. Its sound signature is warm, musical and very entertaining and when combined with their midrange price, these aren’t hard to recommend.