I've spent a bit of time listening to the new Nuforce NE-700X over the past few weeks, and wanted to post my impressions of them. (The NE-700M have a microphone)
As many people know, in the budget earphone category I have been a fan of the Nuforce NE-7M and NE-6 earphones, which when upgraded with Shure E2c silicone tips or Complys T400 foam tips sound pretty good for their price. The NE-8 were not bad, but they were very difficult for me to obtain a good fit for the best sound, and the stock tips didn't seal for me at all. With a lot of effort towards a good fit I could appreciate their increased detail and soundstage, but I had to press them to my ears with my hands to get the right bass.
The NE-700X are a step up from their previous entries, both in terms of build and sound. They are using a new manufacturer for these, with machined aluminum driver housings, titanium drivers, and upgraded cables, connectors and ear tips. With the NE-700X I have not needed to upgrade or replace the stock tips with other brands to get good sound and isolation. The increased quality and material did push the price up higher to $65 for the non-mic version and $79 for the mic version. In my opinion this price is too low, but who am I to complain about low prices!
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: When I first got them I took notes about what I heard and wrote, "On their own, just based on their sound alone, the new IEM sound very nice right out of the package without burn-in. I am listening to Eva Cassidy "Ain't no Sunshine" and "The Letter" and I like what I hear. Vocals are beautiful, and sound fairly transparent. Detail and speed seems to be a little above the NE-7M/NE-6. Guitars seem very crisp, pianos sing, cymbal ring. Bass is not bloated nor recessed or light, with a good punch (such as when listening to Live At Blues Alley "Stormy Monday" or "Fine and Mellow"). Soundstage is not small, nor huge. The stock tips are nicer than the ones I got with my NE-7M (where I had to use Shure E2c tips or Complys T400), so isolation is also better than with NE-7M. Pushing the IEM in deeper gives me a nice boost to the bass, while increasing isolation, and yet not killing the highs. I can play them quite loud with no distortion, clipping or signs of stress from the drivers." That could have been all I wrote, and it would have said it all.
After that I gave them several hundred hours of burn-in and play time after that, listening un-amped and amped, trying to figure out where they stand in relation to the competition (such as the the $80 Sunrise Audio Xcape, and the $89 Brainwavz M3). For listening I used my Macbook Pro iTunes > Amara Mini > uDAC-2 or HDP, Pico DAC/Slim Combo, or iPhone 4 with and without Pico Slim. I listened to a wide variety of lossless 16/44 and 24/96 music as well as 160-320K MP3 and AAC.
BASS: I like the bass of the NE-700X, which is well balanced and has nice impact and presence without over-doing it or lacking. It's speedier and more detailed than the bass in my C700, and more present and punchy than the RE-2, Maximo iMetal iP-HS5, NE-8, or IM716 (with 33 or 47 ohm pod). I'd have to say the quality is also better than my NE-6/7M. The Nuforce pick up some extra bass if I tighten my jaw closed, but my nose is always stuffy due to allergies and I have to breathe through my mouth, which slightly lessens the bass in the NE-700X to more normal levels. If I insert the Nuforce into my ears as deep as they will go then the bass increases, but then the metal housing is hitting the opening of my ear canal and it becomes uncomfortable after an hour or two. The bass is not as present as that of the Brainwavz M2 and M3, but most people would agree that the M2 bass is fairly boosted and the M3's is slightly boosted above normal. I did my computer listening initially with the Nuforce uDAC-2, but with test tones I was finding the bass to be maybe 1-2 dB down at 25Hz and about 3-4 dB down at 20Hz. Switching to the Nuforce HDP I found bass extension to be very good and I stuck with the HDP or Pico DAC/Slim combo. The uDAC-2 sounds great, but they have better synergy with some of my other gear.
MIDRANGE: In comparison to the new MP4nation Brainwavz M3 the NE-700X are more transparent and natural sounding in the mids, with a little better controlled bass and bass detail. The M3 are even warmer in comparison, but they had a slight "cupped hands" sound to the mids even after 30 hours of burn-in (at the time of my first comparisons, which improved by 100 hours but is almost still there). The Nuforce mids are more laid back than the M3 or Xcape which are more forward sounding, but I don't think that the NE-700X mids could be called recessed. I wanted to say that it's more like comparing the mids of the Triple.fi 10 Pro to the Monster Turbine Pro Gold which are more forward than the TF10 - but while the M3 sound more forward than the NE-700X, upon listening to test tones I found that the M3 were recessed at 2,500 - 3,150Hz where the NE-700 are flat. Strange, but I think there is a lower midrange bloom in the M3 which make them seem more forward, while there is an upper-mids tilt to the Xcape which does that for them. With test tones I am not hearing any big holes or peaks in the Nuforce frequency response anywhere, and they actually sound fairly flat and extended from 20Hz to the 16Khz limit of my 48 year old ears.
TREBLE: The NE-700X treble is fairly smooth, sparkly, and extended; without the excess grain or harshness that I heard for the first 100 hours on the Xcape. While the Xcape improved greatly with 100-150 hours of burn-in, the NE-700 remain ahead of them in terms of a smooth and non-fatiguing treble. My complaint about the Xcape treble is similar to my gripe with the Maximo iMetal, where you get a more Grado-esque forward upper mids and treble like in the SR-60, although the Xcape is maybe closer to the MS-1. The M3 in comparison seem to feel a very slightly rolled off in the highs, but with a slight bump in the lower treble as part of a resonance or echo that added to the cupped hands coloration I sometimes hear. There is an audible 8Khz peak in the M3 that the NE-700X doesn't have, and with the M3 the 12-16Khz tones are noticeably reduced in comparison to the Nuforce. The Xcape also have a mild 8Khz peak, but unlike the M3 they are more extended to 16Khz like the Nuforce. I'm not surprised that the NE-700X sounds better with audience applause than the others.
In terms of sonic characteristics, the NE-700X have more in common with the Sunrise Audio Sw-Xcape than the M3. The two have similar levels of detail which bests the M3; but the Xcape brings the mids a little more forward than the Nuforce and brings out background detail a little better, while the NE-700X is a little more laid back in the mids and gives you more of an "audience point of view" rather than "on stage" like the Xcape. In terms of sound signature and tone (not performance), The NE-700X is different from the Xcape in the same way that the Westone 2 is different from the the Fischer Audio DBA-02, with a little warmer, fuller, smoother tone. Both are good performers, but bring a different perspective to the music and may appeal to different tastes. Likewise, the M2/M3 would be more like the Monster Turbine Pro Gold in it's bassy, rich and rounded liquid character that gives up a little detail in exchange. It goes without saying that none of these $65-$80 earphones are on the same level as the above mentioned high-end phones; but they don't fare too badly in comparison, and beat all the other sub $100 IEM I've tried or owned. I can enjoy any of them depending on my mood, source and amp, and encourage you to give them a try.
Edited by HeadphoneAddict - 12/4/10 at 11:12am