Disclaimer: I purchased the PSAPs that I’m reviewing here. I plan to send back all but the ones I like the best. Each has at least a 30 day trial period. I'm just doing these reviews because I'm interested.
As a birder, I use my ears to identify birds. I’ve always been better at birding by ear than by sight. However, recently I’ve noticed that I can’t hear as well as a 17-year old. But I want to! I wan’t to hear better than humanly possible! And, why not? You use binoculars for seeing better than humanly possible, why not use technology to hear better, too? So, I’m on a quest to find a relatively inexpensive option that will give me bionic ears. In the last post I reviewed the Sound World Solutions CS50+. This post I’ll tell you about the Nuheara IQbuds Boost.
I really wanted to like these the best because I thought they were pretty cool. They look like a bluetooth phone device and are kinda big sticking out of your ears - there’s no mistaking that you are wearing a “hearable.” But, they quickly hooked up to my phone via bluetooth and I could easily listen to podcasts or music through them. I could also just touch one of them and talk to Siri - “What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?” And she answers in your ear, “The last person that asked me that ended up in a crevasse.” Pretty fun.
Like the CS50+, the IQbuds have an app. Unlike the CS50+, the IQbuds connect with your phone super easily every time. The app runs you through a hearing test and gives you a visual representation of your hearing. Mine showed a minor loss in high frequencies mostly in my left ear. The buds then amplified sounds based on my profile. The aspects of the amplification that you can change are fewer than with the CS50+. There are a few typical profiles, I kept mine on Home. You can set the buds on “focus” where sounds from the front are amplified more than sounds from behind. I kept mine on that setting in a (in vain) attempt to use them to help me find the birds that I heard singing. And, you can also turn “the world” up or down. I mostly had the world turned up, because the world included “background” noise like bird songs.
Do they help you hear birds? Absolutely yes! In the field and in tests (I’ll talk about in a future post), they allowed me to hear many more birds than with my bare ears. While on a bird walk with others, I heard several Warbling Vireos, a Yellow-throated Vireo, and a Scarlet Tanager that others didn’t hear. However, on the same bird walk, I felt cut off from everyone and a bit ostracized because I had these weird bluetooth devices in my ears. Also, like the CS50+, some of the bird sounds didn’t seem quite right to me. I was listening to a Carolina Wren, for example and it sounded a bit auto-tuned. This may just need some getting used to.
They come with a case that acts as a battery charger. This is necessary because the batteries only last for 5 hours or so. This was never a big deal for me because I never wore them for that long. In fact, they were uncomfortable enough that I didn’t want to wear them that long. Especially if I wasn’t birding. Their comfort was ok for a while and I didn’t mind them as long as they were helping me hear birds I couldn’t otherwise hear. Again, the comfort might be something that just needs getting used to.
I really wanted to love these things because of their cool and easy bluetooth capabilities. I loved it that while I was out birding with them one day, my daughter called and I was able to tap my ear to answer the phone and talk to her while walking down the trail. However, I was constantly frustrated by my inability to actually find visually the birds that I was hearing. Don’t you love the feeling of making an ID call via song, then having that call confirmed by sight? I could hear the birds, I knew what they were, but I had a terrible time finding them.
So, for $499 for the pair, the Nuheara IQbuds Boost absolutely help you hear birds. They have fun bluetooth capabilities. But, they might lead to you being ignored by other birders because they look weird (for a birder). Plus they might give you the constant frustration of not being able to find the birds that you are hearing. These are only potential drawbacks based on you and how you happen to feel about it these issues. They ended up being important enough to me that I didn’t choose to keep these (really cool) devices.
Next time I’ll review the PSAPs that I’m still using daily, the Etymotic Beans.
Top of page photo by Randy Patrick
David Benson Ph.D.
White-tailed Ptarmigan researcher and National Park Service Ranger Naturalist in GNP since 1995. "The Bird Ranger"