From the moment it first appeared on the market, NuForce’s late, great NE-7M in-ear headphone/headset become one of Playback’s favorite “go-to” products in the world of affordable in-ear headphones. Now the delightful NE-7M has passed from the scene, but the great news is that it has been replaced by something—well, actually two things—that are even better: namely, NuForce’s all-new NE-700X in-ear headphone ($65) and NE-700M in-ear headset ($79).
Since I’ve been focusing on other classes of headphone products of late, it had been a while since I had taken out my trusty pair of NE-7M to give them a critical listen. Before jumping into this review to evaluate NuForce’s newest affordable yet still high performance offerings, I decided to go back to the fountainhead, as it were, to re-familiarize myself with the original NE-7Ms. And when I did so, they certainly did not disappoint; I’ve felt from the beginning (and still feel) that the NE-7M offered a wonderfully natural, reasonably detailed, and surprisingly full-bodied sound—a sound few other in-ear ‘phones in or near their price class can equal. Imagine my surprise, then, when the new models proved to sound better in every way than their predecessors, and with only a very modest increase in price.
Has NuForce got a new pair of budget-priced classics on their hand? We think that they do.
Consider this in-ear headphone/headset if: you seek an in-ear headphone that arguably represents the point of diminishing returns. Relative to the already quite good NE-7M, the new NE-700X and -700M offer better resolution and definition, more extended treble response, and more accurate and thus more neutral tonal balance overall. To state things bluntly, we’ve yet to hear better for less, which means that—by definition—this NuForce pair offers terrific value for money.
Look further if: you were hoping for world-class in-ear headphones for chump change; while the NE-700X and -700M are very good, today’s best mid- and top-tier designs are better still (though in terms of value these new NuForce models are hard to beat). Also look further if you want ‘phones that, like the original NE-7M’s, offer an extra touch of bass enrichment; the NE-700X and NE-700M dispense with extra bass “oomph” in order to produce a more accurate sound overall.
Ratings (relative to comparably-priced headphones)
•Tonal Balance: 9.5
•Frequency Extremes: 9.5
Below, we’ll list features that apply to both the NE-700X and NE-700M, with a small section to highlighting additional features provided by the NE-700M
•Machined aluminum earpiece housings (or “chassis,” as NuForce would call them), said to “minimize vibration and resonance.”
•Earpiece signal cables feature subtle, color-coded collars to indicate which is the left or right earpiece (red collar = right earpiece; black collar = left earpiece).
•8mm, titanium-coated “wide-range” drivers.
•Fitted with three-pin (stereo) 3.5mm mini-jack.
•Fitted with inline omnidirectional mic equipped with a multifunction, single-button call answer/end switch.
•Call answer/end switch functions during phone calls:
⇒ Press once to answer the call.
⇒ Press again to end the call.
•Call answer/end switch functions during music playback:
⇒ Press once to pause playback.
⇒ Press twice to skip forward to the next track.
⇒ Press thrice to resume playback.
In my original review of the NuForce NE-7M I wrote that it was “balanced just slightly to the warm side of neutrality” and offered “an audible, though relatively unobtrusive, touch of bass forwardness.” I also ventured the opinion that those familiar with headphones on the NE-7M’s price range would “immediately be struck by how smooth and nuanced the NE-7M sounds.” I then went on to say, “Don’t be fooled by the NE-7M’s modest price; its overall sound would put it right in the hunt with many models twice its price.” Well, the simple fact is that the new NE-700X and NE-700M preserve everything we loved about the NE-7M, while improving upon their predecessor in several musically important areas.
First, lets consider tonal balance. The NE-700X and -700M more or less eliminate the -7M’s touch of bass forwardness, yet without making the new models sound thin or “bass shy” in any way. Instead, the low-end of the new models sound taut, well defined and powerful—but never overly “thick” or too heavily weighted Next, the new models make an improvement at the other end of the audio spectrum, with upper midrange and treble response that is more fully fleshed out than in the NE-7M, yet without making the new generation ‘phones sound overly bright or edgy. On the contrary, the NE-700M and-700M simply sound more open, transparent and revealing—especially in terms of capturing the admittedly difficult-to-reproduce sense of high frequency “air” surrounding instruments and voices.
Second, the NE-700X and -700M offer audibly finer levels of top-to-bottom resolution than the NE-7M did. As you listen to recordings that are rich in subtlety and detail through the NE-700X and -700M, you may find as I did that they offer a noticeably more focused and fully resolved sound than the NE-7M did. Thus, textural and transient details that were only rendered in part by the NE-7M suddenly become clearer, more fully realized, and more explicit through the new models. In short, you have the sense—and it is no mere illusion—that the new models are now conveying aspects of the music that were subtly obscured before.
What this all ads up to is the fact that, now more than ever, the NE-700X and -700M invite comparisons with models that carry much steeper, three-figure price tags. That’s an impressive achievement for what are, after all, budget-priced ‘phones.
As long term Playback readers already know, I am fond of using Christopher Roberts’ album Last Cicada Singing (Cold Blue) as a litmus test, of sorts, for an headphone’s ability to reproduce subtle yet highly significant low-level sonic details. The NE-700X and -700M did not disappoint. Last Cicada Singing features compositions that are performed on an unusual and somewhat ethereal sounding Chinese stringed instrument called the qin (which some have described as a “Chinese zither”). From what I’ve read on the subject, I gather that by tradition music for the qin is thought to include not only the actual notes that are played, but also all—and I do mean all—of the incidental sounds that occur as the instrument is played. In short, the fine points count, including everything from the “click” of the plectrum sweeping across strings to the squeak of fingertips gliding over the strings and fingerboard to bend notes upward or downward. As I listened, then, to the album’s opening track, called “Remote Stories,” I found the next-gen NuForces did an unexpectedly great job of retrieving most of the delicate low-level information this disc has on offer. The acid test, really, is to see if the headphones convey at least something of the sense of real human hands delicately sweeping over the strings and fingerboard of a real instrument. This, I’m happy to report, is a test the NuForces passed with flying colors. Could I have heard even more finely-resolved detail through expensive top-tier ‘phones? Yes. But for under $100, I felt the NuForces sounded much more refined and accomplished than they had any right to for the money.
To give the NuForce’s an even more vigorous “live music” workout, I put on the late Eva Cassady’s Live At Blues Alley (Blix Street), focusing on the classic R&B track “Take Me To The River.” What makes this particular track such a challenging test is that it offers up the nuanced yet deceptively powerful sound of Eva Cassidy’s vocals while simultaneously presenting a very energetic electric backing band, all captured in the intimate confines of a small-ish club. Two things impressed me with the NE-700X and -700M’s performance. First, they really nailed the “petite person with a very big voice” qualities that make Eva Cassidy’s singing so evocative, while also giving a sense for both the sheer driving force and deft musicianship brought to the party by the backing band. In particular, I was struck by the power and depth of the plunging electric bass line that helps to open the song, and by the crisp, propulsive shimmer and sizzle of the percussionist ride cymbal (which is very realistically recorded on this track). Again, what floored me was the sense that the NuForces simply didn’t sound like “budget-priced” models at all, but rather sounded much like higher-class headphones. In particular, I appreciated that the NuForces could capture the inherent power of “Take Me To The River,” and could do so without lapsing into the overly brash, raw-edged sound that plagues some low-priced headphones on this track.
To give you a clear idea of the progress NuForce has made with these two new models, let me compare the NE-700X/NE-700M against the original NuForce NE-7M
NuForce NE-700X/NE-700M vs. NuForce NE-7M
•The MSRP of the NuForce NE-700X is $64 while the NE-700M sells for $79, whereas the NE-7M sold for $49. Obviously, prices have crept upward in the transition to the new models, but the good news is that performance has pushed forward as well (so that the new models arguably represent an even better value than the original did—which is saying a lot).
•The new models offer machined, solid aluminum driver housings said to resist unwanted vibration and resonance, and also provide light, rigid, and responsive 8mm titanium-coated drivers.
•In terms of tonal balance the two new models are simply more accurate than the original NE-7M, offering more extended (but not overly bright) treble response, bass that is better balanced (no longer overly-prominent, as in the NE-7M) and that offers better pitch definition, superior transient speed, and a more finely resolved sound from top-to-bottom. In every meaningful way, the NE-700X and NE-700M take significant sonic steps forward relative to the already very good NE-7M.
•Caveat: We could see some listeners—especially those who listen in environments where there is a lot of low-frequency noise present—wishing for a return to the more bass-forward sound of the NE-7M. Be that as it may, there’s no getting around the fact that the NE-700X/-700M are the more natural and accurate-sounding design.
•The NE-7M was already quite comfortable to use and wear, and the new models follow in the same path. We found, however, that the slightly larger diameter, ribbed housings of the new models are somewhat easier to grasp (typically between your thumb and index fingers) should you need/want to adjust their positioning on the fly.
NuForce’s NE-700X and NE-700M’s come with the following accessories:
•A fabric drawstring-type carrying pouch.
•A variety of eartips including three pairs of single-flange eartips (sizes S, M and L), and one pair of triple-flange sleeves.
•The earpieces of the NE-700X and NE-700M are mechanically identical, though the 700X is finished in Aqua Silver (a pale, bluish-gray shade of silver), which the -700M is finished in Smoky Bronze.
•The NE-700X signal cable is fitted with a three-pin (stereo) 3.5mm mini-jack.
•The NE-700M signal cable is fitted with an inline, omnidirectional microphone equipped with a multifunction call answer/end button (see FEATURES, above for further details), and with a four-pin (stereo + mic), 3.5mm mini-jack.
•Compatible with iPhone 2G/3G/4G, iPod Touch, BlackBerry Storm.
•Works with iPhone 3GS/4G without volume control on mic button.
•Works with most devices that support stereo via 3.5mm three-pin (700X) or 4-pin (700M) mini-jacks.
•Not compatible with iPhone 1st generation, with Creative Zen, or with any device requiring a 2.5mm plug.
The NE-700X and -700M are easy to handle and to insert, and the multiple eartips should enable the vast majority of users to achieve a comfortable, airtight seal.
If you own an iPhone, iPod, or other device that’s compatible with 3.5mm plugs, and are still using box-stock earbuds or headsets, you owe it to yourself to step up to a set of NE-700X’s ($65) or NE-700M’s ($79), which will give you a quite substantial step up in overall sound quality.
No other in-ear headphones or headsets we know of can provide more (or even as much) performance for so little, meaning these models are bargains, pure and simple.
SPECS & PRICING
NuForce NE-700X In-Ear Headphones
Type: In-ear headphones with single, titanium-coated 8mm drive unit.
Accessories: See above
Frequency response: 20Hz – 20 kHz
Weight: 15.4 grams
Impedance: 16 Ohms
Warranty: 1 year, parts and labor
NuForce NE-700M In-Ear Headset
Type: In-ear headphones with single, titanium-coated 8mm drive unit. Includes in-line omnidirectional mic module with multifunction call answer/end button.
Accessories: See above
Frequency response: 20Hz – 20 kHz
Weight: 15.4 grams
Impedance: 16 Ohms
Warranty: 1 year, parts and labor