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The Hi-Res Audio certified NuForce HEM2 earphones offer audio enthusiasts, gamers and...

NuForce HEM2 Reference Class Hi-Res In-Ear Headphones with Balanced Armature Drivers

Rating:
4.25/5,
  • The Hi-Res Audio certified NuForce HEM2 earphones offer audio enthusiasts, gamers and professionals the sound quality of reference-class, high end, full-size speakers. These luxury and high-quality earphones are perfect for those who demand balanced sound with crystal clear highs and explosive bass, at home or on the go. Like professional large speakers, the advanced technology embedded in the HEM2 uses a set of high resolution micro drivers that produce incredibly spacious sound and rich bass. The balanced armature drivers in each earphone deliver a smooth, fatigue-free sound regardless of the device to which they are connected.

Recent Reviews

  1. genclaymore
    Very Good sounding IEM
    Written by genclaymore
    Published Jun 23, 2016
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Replaceable cables and eartips ,Carrying case
    Cons - Eartips can be uncomfortable depending on earshape.
    WIN_20160623_00_46_48_Pro.jpg WIN_20160623_00_30_16_Pro.jpg
    Since I receive the HEM 2, I been enjoying them a lot, more then what I thought I would. These are really my first IEM that I ever used. The sound quality coming from them when I listen to them was very good. I tried an couple of the different tips,the isolation tips does a very good job at blocking out my loud house fan to the point that you barely hear it. While they do an good job at that,I found those foam ear-tips to be a little uncomfortable after a while of use. The silicon ear-tips felt more comfortable to my ears while going in with ease but at the cost of sound isolation. I don’t know if it was just me, but I found the isolation tips to add some freq to the bass over the normal ones.
     
     
    The major thing that I love about the HEM 2 besides their sound is the fact that the cables are replaceable which is an plus to me. Being able to replace the cable if something goes wrong,It does come with an second cable in the case with an built in mic. That cable is useful for those who are on the go and using these with an smart phone, so they can answer calls while enjoying music. I feel the cable labeling needs to be a bit clear as the directions on the box confused me causing me to connect the cable in reverse. An carrying case comes with the HEM 2 which is handy when you need to carry the IEM’s around without doing any damage to them while having access to the other tips.
     
     
    Setup
    I’m using the Nuforce U-Dac 5 dac/amp as the source with music bee with it set to Asio. I am using the foam ear tips and not the silicon ones so lets get down to business.
     
     
     
    Sound
    I listen to an wide range of different song genres. I found the bass depending on the song to have a tad of an impact while being controlled and other's it was tight. It did not bleed into the rest of the song. Worked pretty well for songs that had a lot of bass such as dubstep and DnB.
     
    The sound stage comes off as being medium, the separation between all the instrument and the voices is very good, I can tell every thing apart from each other. While the sound stage was small, I could hear the music outside my heard, I would say it was spacious while small if that make sense. The voices had the feel of being projected out in front of me like the singer was sitting on my desk singing to me personally.
     
    When I listen to songs with snares in it, I can hear the snares along with the hit hats, the snap of them is so clear, Including the tap of the drums. The high end is good nice and clear with the right amount of detail while not being too much.
     
    Besides song’s I watched an movie called goosebumps with the HEM2’s and the movie was wonderful, all the same qualities as the songs, The voices and the bass came out great. Felt like I was in the movie and jack black character was yelling at me. I think I will use these more when I watching movies.

    During the time I spent with it, the most important thing is getting an good seal and making sure it’s is inside your ears good, other wise it won’t sound right. I found that out when my results was different then my original results.
  2. Jackpot77
    Nuforce HEM2 - warm clear sound in a bulletproof casing
    Written by Jackpot77
    Published May 8, 2016
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Excellent ergonomics, accessory package, surprisingly musical and balanced sound for a single BA with good warmth, black background, good texture
    Cons - Slightly dark if you are looking for treble, average soundstage, not a basshead IEM
    20160508_105219.jpg
     
    Nuforce HEM2 – initial impressions
    I recently acquired these IEMs from Massdrop – I have never owned a BA-only earphone before, so I was very intrigued to hear what the entry level IEM in the new Nuforce HEM range has to offer compared so the budget and mid-fi single dynamic drivers and hybrid setups I have listened to so far. To be clear, I have no affiliation to Nuforce, so the views expressed are 100% my own with only my own questionable judgement and listening bias having a bearing on the final verdict.
    About me: newly minted audiophile, late 30s, long time music fan and aspiring to be a reasonably inept drummer. Listen to at least 2 hours of music a day on my commute to work – prefer IEMs for out and about, and a large pair of headphones when I have the house to myself and a glass in my hand. Recently started converting my library to FLAC and 320kbps MP3, and do most of my other listening through Spotify or Tidal HiFi. I am a fan of rock, acoustic (apart from folk) and sarcasm. Oh yeah, and a small amount of electronica. Not a basshead, but I do love a sound with some body to it. My ideal tuning for most IEMs and headphones tends towards a musical and slightly dark presentation, although I am not treble sensitive in general. Please take all views expressed below with a pinch of salt – all my reviews are a work in progress based on my own perceptions and personal preferences, and your own ears may tell you a different story.
    20160508_105227.jpg
    Tech specs (from the Nuforce website)
    Frequency response: 20-40KHz
    Sensitivity: 110dB +/- 3dB
    Cable: 1.38m
    Impedance: 26 Ohm
    Maximum input power: 2mW
    Maximum input sound level: 113dB
    20160508_105252.jpg
    Unboxing
    The HEM series all share a similar packaging design and accessory load-out, and it is (to put it mildly) pretty impressive at this price point. The outer packaging carries a nice glossy picture of the headphones overlaid on a matte background, with all the usual technical info and schematics you would expect, including the ubiquitous “Hi-Res Audio” logo. Inside the cardboard insert is a black presentation box that is held closed with a magnet and opens book-style to reveal the contents. All very understated and classy. The actual contents of the package keep up the theme: one large transparent waterproof case with foam padding inside (including a moulded foam insert holding the IEMs), and another smaller semi-hard zippered case which fits inside that containing the selection of tips (both silicon and Comply in various sizes), two detachable 2-pin cables, a cleaning tool and nice gold plated stereo adapter. The waterproof casing is reminiscent of various Otterbox cases used by other brands, and has (just) enough room to fit a DAP inside, which gives it comfortably enough to house the IEMs and a few selected accessories. The zipper case is also a nice size, being slightly thinner and longer than the average case churned out with IEMs at this price point, making it very pocket friendly. Considering this is the entry model in the HEM range, the accessories are well thought out and very plentiful, and certainly adds an impression that this is a high-value item. Other nice touches include the addition of an “audiophile” silver coated copper cable (braided, of course) to complement the standard rubberised cable with in-line microphone.
    20160508_105712_HDR.jpg
    Build quality and ergonomics
    The HEM2 comes in a crimson red colouring, with a small teardrop design which hugs the inner contours of the ear very well. There is an almost industrial design motif with the shells due to the acoustic modelling that Nuforce have done on the internals, with the outer shell holding multiple ridges which make it reminiscent of the world’s smallest bicycle crash-helmet. The shells themselves are made of Lexan, a light polycarbonate used to make bulletproof glass – while I haven’t broken out the in-laws shotgun to test out if they would survive a trip to the front lines, there is definitely a sense that despite the lack of weight, these are not a fragile piece of kit. Another useful property of Lexan is the fact that it apparently resonates at a frequency higher than the human ear is capable of hearing, meaning it should reduce unwanted sonic interference inside the driver housing from shell vibration. In terms of fit, the light weight allied to the small teardrop size of the enclosures make these IEMs extremely comfortable to wear for extended periods, practically disappearing into the side of your head once settled. The nozzle of the IEM is also worthy of mention, as this is one of the thinnest and longest nozzles I have seen on an IEM to date, taking Comply T-100 tips. Nuforce claim that this is done to aid the tuning and delivery of the sound – in practice, this doesn’t seem to have an effect on wearing comfort for me as I have large ear canals, but might be a plus point for wearers who normally struggle with wide-bore earphones. Due to my cavern sized ears, I found that the best fit and isolation was achieved with the enclosed Comply tips, but there are a few mods that have already been suggested on the forums to fit larger bore eartips onto the casing, so that shouldn’t be a problem if you wish to go “off piste” with your tip selection. The IEMs are designed to be worn over-ear, but due to the use of heatshrink rather than memory wire on the main braided cable, they can if needed be worn “down” as well. With reference to the cables, they are both light and pliable, with the braided cable exhibiting no major memory recall and minimal microphonics – I haven’t used the microphone cable yet so can’t really comment on that. The overall build quality also extends to the connectors, where the right-angled Nuforce connectors are finished in a sturdy metal shell with just the right size to tuck in nicely underneath a mobile phone or DAP audio slot. In fact, the only element of the whole package that doesn’t scream “come see how good I look” in true Ron Burgundy fashion is the heat shrink tubing acting as the cable splitter, and the smaller sliding piece of tubing acting as the cable cinch. The splitter is functional at least, but the cinch on my cable is loose enough to slide over the splitter and down towards the connector without any problems at all – a strange choice considering the high level of finish on all the other elements of the package (the cables even come with their own mini-cable tidies made out of Velcro). It doesn’t detract in a major way, but just leaves the impression that there are some beautifully designed splitters sitting in the Nuforce factory somewhere gathering dust because someone forgot to add them to the production line.
    20160508_105721_HDR.jpg
    Sound quality
    Test gear:
    LG G Flex 2 (via Neutron Player)
    iBasso DX90 (with Cayin C5)
    Sansa Clip+ (Rockboxed)
    Microsoft Surface Pro 2 (straight from the output jack)
    Main test tracks (mainly 320kbps MP3 or FLAC/Tidal HiFi):
    Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – S.O.B. / Wasting Time
    Blackberry Smoke – The Whipporwill (album)
    Slash – Shadow Life / Bad Rain (my reference tracks for bass impact and attack, guitar “crunch”)
    Slash & Beth Hart – Mother Maria (vocal tone)
    Richie Kotzen – Come On Free (bass tone)
    Otis Redding – various
    Elvis – various
    Leon Bridges – Coming Home (album)
    Foy Vance – various
    Blues Traveler
    Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (album)
    Sigma - various
    Rudimental – various
    Rodrigo y Gabriela – various
    Mavis Staples – Livin’ On A High Note
    20160508_105727_HDR.jpg
    General impressions on the sound signature
    As a single balanced armature is providing the grunt for this IEM, I was expecting to hear something fast and accurate, but maybe a bit clinical and almost certainly lacking in bass. The sound the Knowles BA driver actually produces is surprisingly warm and full-bodied, with a very engaging tonality and decent bass and treble presence. Compared to other IEMs I have listened to or own, the sound is a little less meaty, but has a very satisfying texture to it and an engaging mid-range that makes this a very easy listen. Extension at the low and high end isn’t spectacular, with the IEM losing some substance in the sub-bass area and the high treble compared to the mids, but in real terms, it isn’t spectacularly blunt or lacking in either.  As there is only a single driver, the HEM2 also benefits from the lack of need for any acoustic crossovers as one armature is handling the whole frequency range, which makes the overall presentation very cohesive sounding. Overall, warm and smooth is the overriding feeling you get when you slip these in.
    20160508_105756_HDR.jpg
    Highs
    The highs are usually an area that balanced armature headphones feel most comfortable in, and the HEM2 is no great exception to that rule. The overall balance of the IEM sits just a little on the warm side of flat, and there is a nice clean projection of higher frequencies which loses a bit of sparkle as it hits the top registers but still manages to give a nice clarity to proceedings. This lack of sparkle or ultra-sharpness lends itself well to smoothing off the rough edges of more sibilant tracks without dropping too much of the underlying detail, and leaves this sitting quite squarely in the non-fatiguing bracket for extended listening sessions. Feeding the HEMs “Starlight” by Slash, which contains some very high dissonant guitar and Myles Kennedy’s stratospheric vocals, there is enough extension to pick up the slight echo in the singer’s mic on the quieter passages and the epic high notes in the louder sections without ever grating. Cymbals sound clean but never splashy, coming across a little muted due to the tuning. Actually, the tuning at the topmost end reminds me somewhat of the Aurisonics Rockets (although it is a little while since I have owned that particular IEM now, so that is a subjective recollection rather than a straight comparison) – clean, not overly bright or full of “fizz” but not feeling veiled. The smoothness of the treble does mean that there isn’t a great sense of air with these IEMs, so the sound never feels particularly expansive. Serious treble-hounds will probably want to pick their Grados or Ultrasones back up after listening to these, but for users like myself who generally prefer a darker and more musical sound, the treble is more than adequate.
    Mids
    While the tuning may be reasonably flat, the mids definitely exhibit a smooth and slightly warm tone that adds a little substance to male and female vocals, and works well with guitar led music. The sound is not quite full enough to be described as lush, but it has a sinewy musicality that is very pleasant on the ear. The lack of thickness to the midrange does help bring out the more delicate textures in the music, with the notes having space to breathe on the impressively black background of the overall musical landscape rather than blending into a larger wall of sound. The easiest way to describe the way I hear these is to think of a guitar and amp setup – a typical full bodied mid range IEM would be a rock guitar riffing away on full power, with the chords being thickened up by the distortion. The HEM2 would be the same guitar rig with the distortion down a few notches so it almost starts heading towards acoustic territory, so you start getting more of a feel for the individual notes making up those chords. This isn’t to say that the IEM is hyper-separated (far from it), but just highlighting the more neutral nature and lack of “fat” on the notes bringing out different aspects of the music you are listening to. As mentioned, guitar based rock music sounds excellent through these, with the speed of the driver keeping up with the most testing of riffs, and the tonality bringing a good chop and crunch to the more technical guitar sections. Switching to acoustic music, the HEM2 handles “Tamacun” from Rodrigo y Gabriela with ease, the fast finger-picking of the duelling Spanish guitars never feeling rushed or muddled, and the clean tones of the acrylic strings sounding crisp and natural against the backdrop of the drum sounds being made on the guitar bodies. Resolution wise, these are a reasonably detailed sounding IEM for their price bracket, but don’t sound overly analytical. Compared to IEMs in a higher bracket, there is a “final” layer of detail that is obscured by the warmness of the presentation and the limits of the single BA driver, but overall you aren’t left feeling short-changed by the amount of information on offer. They do particularly well with textural cues, picking up things like the smoky rasp in Kelly Jones’ voice when listening to some Stereophonics without making it the main focus. One strange quirk is that while being generally a smooth sound, the “grain” it picks up in the detail can leave a very slightly fuzzy after-impression on certain passages of music. Whether this is some very low level distortion or just highlighting some deficiencies in my lower-resolutions recordings is difficult to tell – I am leaning towards the latter, as I have only noticed it a few times during almost a week of extended listening, and only with my older or non-Tidal tracks.
    Bass
    The bass presentation was one of the more surprising elements for me when I first picked these up – tilted ever so slightly higher than neutral, with a decent presence in the mid-bass area and a light smattering of sub-bass underneath it depending on the song listened to. In line with the mids, the bass is on the lean side of lush, with a realistic sound to the drum head impacts without some of the shock and awe that sometimes goes along with it. These are by no way a bassheads dream, but there is a speed and texture to the notes and drum hits that makes for a very engaging lower end soundscape for rock and acoustic style music. My favourite bass testers (“Bad Rain” by Slash and “Hello, It’s Me” by Sister Hazel) both roll along nicely, with the sound of the bass guitar strings vibrating giving a nice clean take on the Slash track, and the liquid bass of the Sister Hazel number rolling around the lower frequencies with control and texture. Compared to some of my other daily drivers (past and present) the bass does lack a final dash of slam and sheer animal presence, but that is only to be expected due to the different amount of air being moved by the single armature compared to a 14.2mm dynamic driver (in the case of my ASG 2.5s). For EDM and other sub-bass heavy tracks some may find the presentation a bit thin and lacking, but for more mainstream music there is a nice laid back sound which allows you to put your feet up and savour the notes like a fine cigar rather than being dragged out of your seat onto the dancefloor to bounce around in the middle of it like a madman by the slam and power. That analogy is a good description of the overall tone of these IEMs too – they are built for relaxed enjoyment of music, rather than in depth analysis or fist pumping adrenaline sessions.
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    Soundstage/separation
    Soundstage is average for an IEM in this price bracket – there is a decent stage width inside your head, but the music never leans far outside what you perceive to be the inside of your skull. The imaging is good, with instruments clearly placed across a fairly flat 2d axis with just a hint of forward or backward depth. Separation is good but not great, getting notably more congested on busier tracks. For tracks with less going on, the positioning and space between instruments is noticeably better, so I suspect the size of the overall soundstage comes into play here.
    Isolation
    Due to the size of my ear canals, I have been using the accompanying Comply foam tips, which provide an excellent seal and therefore excellent isolation. The shape of the shell inserts quite well to block the opening of the ear, and the lack of venting in the shell casing due to the all-BA design does help to keep external noise out. These are easily good enough to block out most external travelling noises or family arguments, so wear with care if you actually need to hear what is going on around you.
    20160508_105903_HDR.jpg
    Amping
    The IEMs aren’t hyper-sensitive (which contributes to the black background and minimal to zero hiss) – that being said, the relatively low impedance makes them easy enough to drive unpleasantly loud out of my mobile phone or DAP without the need for further amping. Adding a Cayin C5 to the mix does bring a little perceived and finesse to the presentation, but nothing radical so may well be a placebo effect on my part.
    20160508_105737_HDR.jpg
    Comparisons
    Aurisonics ASG-2.5 – these are my current “at home” listening pair, and to be fair sit in a different price bracket to the HEM2 so not really a like for like comparison. The bass on the ASG 2.5s wins comfortably over the HEM2, with both deeper extension and far greater power due to the 14.2mm dynamic driver being used. The midrange on the 2.5s are more forward than the HEM but are more coloured and vocal-centric compared to the more neutral take of the Nuforce IEMs. In terms of the highs, the 2.5s have a sharper and airier overall presentation, with a bit more “etching” and feel of airiness from the dual-BA setup being used for the high end, whereas the HEMs sound more like the Aurisonics Rockets with their smoother and less extended feel. Separation and soundstage are definitely won by the ASG.
    Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H3 - I have spent some time with these underrated IEMs recently, and they sit in a similar price bracket when purchased new. The H3s are quite open, with a similarly warm take on neutral in terms of signature. Detail wise the IEMs are similar, with the H3 having a more open and airy sound than the HEM2. In terms of bass, the H3 has slightly more presence, but this comes at a cost of control and speed, with the HEM2 sounding more controlled and quicker across the bottom end of the frequency range. Mids are both comparably relaxed, with the H3 sounding slightly more diffuse and airy up top. Separation is similar despite the difference in “air”. Honours even across most of the spectrum, with the HEM2 winning for those who need a quicker BA-type response and the H3 being preferable for those who like a bit more “air”.
    Aurisonics Rockets – This is done from memory as I traded the Rockets some time back, but the HEM2 does share some good similarities in sound with the Rockets. In terms of mid-range the Rockets have a more forward and engaging sound for vocals (an Aurisonics trademark), but the overall tuning and roll off towards the high treble is very similar. If you are a fan of the Rockets tuning but are looking for something a little leaner and don’t mind sacrificing a little lower-bass extension and soundstage/separation, the HEM2 are definitely playing in a similar ballpark (again, this is from memory so no direct A/B unfortunately - YMMV).
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    Overall conclusion
    As a first foray into single-BA earphones, the HEM2 has left a good impression on me, and helped blow away some preconceptions and misgivings I have had about all-BA setups in the mid-fi price bracket. The sound signature is welcoming, warm enough to win over the neutral with nice texture to the sound but not emphasised enough to move away from the underlying strengths of the armature driver. There is an enjoyable space between notes and quickness to the response which makes these very easy to pick up and listen to, and just enough bass to stop them becoming too mid and treble centric. The overall relaxed vibe and non-fatiguing nature of the sound married to the excellent fit makes these an ideal IEM for popping into your ears when you just want to shut your brain off and relax with some sounds for as few hours, which is something not all IEMs can manage. They play very firmly in my preferred tuning range of slightly dark treble, so work well for me – people looking for emphasis at either end of the spectrum can find more fitting solutions for the same price, but if neutrality with a little bit of character is what you are aiming for, the HEM2 would be a strong contender among its peers. One final point regarding price range – the accessory package that comes with these IEMs is possibly the most impressive and well thought out I have seen in any IEM at this price (even just beating the Trinity Audio offerings, which are always legendarily packed with goodies). That, combined with the beautiful engineering of the shells and quality of the cable really make this feel like a great deal for the asking price, so well done to the team at Nuforce for making this a “complete” package.
      Dsnuts, mgunin, B9Scrambler and 2 others like this.
    1. mgunin
      Sounds like an interesting model, thanks for reviewing! I guess Flare R2A was also quite warm and bassy, how would you compare HEM2 to it?
      mgunin, May 10, 2016
    2. B9Scrambler
      Great review. Really like the design and accessories provided with this new lineup from Nuforce. Pretty impressive. Now to get my ears on a set, haha.
      B9Scrambler, May 11, 2016
    3. Jackpot77
      @mgunin Sorry for the late reply! From memory, the Flare is more "organic", with better bass extension down low and a bigger soundstage. If I can steal my girlfriend's pair at some point this weekend will try and pop an updated comparison on the review and come back to you.
      Jackpot77, May 13, 2016

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