NuForce NE-770X Earphone (Hi-Fi+)

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Nuforce NE-770X
NuForce NE-770X Earphone (Hi-Fi+)

In 2010 and writing in our digital publication Playback, I described NuForce’s then-new NE-700X and NE-700M earphones, which sold for $65 and $79, respectively, by saying that, “no other in-ear headphones or headsets we know of can provide more (or even as much) performance for so little…” More recently, however, NuForce has tried to work similar sonic magic at a significantly lower price point with its new NE-770X, which is priced at a very manageable $34.95.  I can’t say for sure, but I suspect there may be some sort of marketplace “tipping point” at or near the $50 price point. My hypothesis is that for some prospective buyers, earphones priced comfortably below $50 register as being “affordable,” while models over that point might be considered “pretty expensive.” NuForce hopes the NE-770X will connect with price conscious buyers who represent the lion’s share of the market, yet without sacrificing the firm’s sound-quality-first brand identity. Does the NE-770X pull this off? In several respects I think it does.

NuForce says the NE-770X “features design principles similar to those of the … NE-700X, but with a somewhat different sonic personality.” Two obvious differences involve the fact that the NE-770X uses a polycarbonate body (whereas the NE-700X used metal earpiece housings) and the NE-770X uses “wide-range non-metallic drivers” (where the NE-700X uses titanium-coated drivers). Published specifications for the two models are similar, but of course specifications alone do not always tell the whole story. What we really want to know is how (or if) the NE-770X differs sonically from the NE-700X. Let’s find out.

In tackling the “How does it sound?” question, it might be helpful to take a look back at past NuForce earphone designs. One of NuForce’s earliest and most successful earphones was the NE-7M, which was very well liked for its warm, comfortable, accessible, and yet reasonably accurate sound. Later, when the NE-700X and NE-700M came along, overall sonic accuracy took a noticeable step forward with the NE-700-series ‘phones offering tighter and deeper bass, more extended highs, and a generally more articulate sound from top to bottom. So, where does the new NE-770X fit in the picture?

On the whole, I would say the NE-770X is to a degree a throwback to the warm, comfortable sound of the original NE-7M, but with much—though not all—of the improved articulacy of the NE-700-family ‘phones. While there is certainly some family resemblance between the NE-700X/M and the new NE-770X, there are significant differences, too, so that the two models definitely are not twins. Relative to its big brother, the NE-770X has considerably more prominent bass (especially low and mid-bass), sounds a bit more midrange forward, is somewhat less extended and airy-sounding in the treble region, and is a little more softly focused both in the low end and across the whole audio spectrum.

One of the biggest factors you’ll have to weigh is the NE-770X’s low-end. Is it a bit (maybe even a lot) over the top? Yes. But, is it also great fun to listen to (in a “guilty pleasure” kind of way) and in fact a welcome factor if you listen in environments where there is a lot of low-frequency noise present? Also, yes.
One thing that definitely helps is that the NE-770X’s bass, though undeniably enriched, is also fairly well defined—not loose, wild, or wooly. So, you’ll have to form your own opinion on the bass question. Think of the original NE-700X as shaded more toward purist tastes and of the NE-770X as falling more in the “C’mon, let’s boogie!” camp.

A word of caution: with the NE-770X or other NuForce earphones it is important to resist the temptation to think, “well, these NuForce’phones are good, but not quite as good as earphone ‘X’…” only to remember later that the competition is often more expensive than the NuForce models under evaluation. It’s a credit to NuForce that listeners so often feel an instinctive urge to compare their earphones to pricier competitors, but it is also important to make fair and balanced comparisons. While the NE-770X is admittedly not the equal of the best models you might find in the $50 - $100 price bracket, it more than holds its own with like-priced competitors in terms of resolution, detail, and relative freedom from major colorations.

Ergonomics: The NE-770X offers a modicum of noise isolation, though it is not really a benchmark performer in that area. Fit and comfort are good, too, and the NuForces come with three pairs of rubber ear tips, though some might wish they came with both rubber tips and the very popular Comply-brand compressible foam ear tips. Note, please that one factor that works strongly in the NuForce’s favor is that it is almost ridiculously light (just 12 grams total), meaning you are almost never aware of the weight of the ‘phones tugging at your ears. These babies are real featherweights that can be worn for hours at a stretch.

A useful track for evaluating the NE-770X is “Joanni” from Kate Bush’s Aerial: A Sea of Honey [Sony Legacy], which opens with a slow-building percussion groove complemented by sweeping, soaring string synthesizer washes. As the energy of the groove and the synth washes build, Bush’s voice arrives with a flair that somehow exhibits, in equal parts, reverence, majesty, and a heroic kind of confidence—or at least that’s what happens with top-tier earphones.  The groove, which is carried in part by some very low-frequency percussion instruments, should be insistent and almost hypnotic, but not overblown—never claiming the spotlight for itself.  The synth washes are there mostly to define chord progressions and to establish mood, while Bush’s voice is, or at least should be, the luminous focal point for the listener’s attention.

With the NE-770X, though, what actually happens is that the deep bass “thwoomp” of the lowest-pitched percussion instruments presses too far forward in the mix, to a degree overpowering both the string synthesizers and even the lower register of Bush’s voice, thus making the voice less balanced and wide-ranging than it normally would. Because the NE-770X does have a touch of midrange forwardness the middle and upper registers of Bush’s voice are much more easily heard and sound pretty appealing at that. Highs in general and especially the higher frequency vocal and percussion overtones heard on this track are present, but not as extended or as sharply focused as they would be in a more accurate (and presumably more expensive) earphone. The bottom line is that the NE-770X’s rendition of the track is powerful and appealing in its own way, but not as balanced, accurate, or complete is might be the case with some higher-priced earphones.

I am of divided mind on the NE-770X; on one hand, I could build a case that it is one of the most accomplished and fun to use ‘phones in its ever-so-modest price class. At the same time, I think some of the liberties the NE-770X takes with tonal balance (especially in terms of bass emphasis) show why it might be worthwhile to step up to the next higher price class—roughly the $50-$100 class—in pursuit of greater accuracy and resolution.
 

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

NuForce NE-700X In-Ear Headphones
Type: In-ear headphones with single, non-metallic 8mm drive units housed in polycarbonate earpieces.
Accessories: Three pairs of ear tips (size S, M, and L), and a drawstring-type carrying bag.
Frequency response: 20Hz – 20 kHz
Weight: 12 grams
Sensitivity: 102 dB/mW
Impedance: 16 Ohms
Warranty: 1 year, parts and labor
Price: $34.95

Manufactured by: NuForce, Inc.
001 408 890 6840
www.nuforce.com

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