NuForce HEM8 Reference Class Hi-Res In-Ear Headphones with Quad Balanced Armature Drivers


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Good balance between musicality and detail. Very ergonomic. Good accessories package.
Cons: Mid-bass hump. No wide bore tips.


NuForce made its name under Jason Lim's leadership developing high-performance audio products that didn't break the bank. Jason Lim has moved on, but the NuForce brand is still going strong under the new Optoma NuForce brand name. Optoma is a well-known projector company that decided to diversify into the home and portable audio markets with its acquisition of NuForce. Recently, @jyri at Optoma NuForce reached out to me and asked if I'd be interested in reviewing their new HEM IEM lineup. This is an expansion of the work NuForce did with the Primo8 quad-BA IEM, with HEM2 single-BA, HEM4 double-BA, HEM6 triple-BA, and HEM8 quad-BA. I'd already heard their single-driver titanium-coated dynamic IEM, the NE800M. While that was an enjoyable IEM, it had more bass than I typically look for in an IEM. While well-received, I got the impression that I'd probably have similar thoughts about NuForce's Primo8. Would the new HEM lineup be more of the same? I'm here to tell you that in my opinion, the answer is a resounding no. Beyond just expanding the lineup, each of these IEM have their own character to satisfy the varying needs of music lovers. If the HEM lineup is any indication of things to come, I'd say the future is bright for NuForce. In this review, I'll let you know what I think of the HEM8 and also touch on the other IEM in the HEM lineup. And a big shout-out to @jyri from NuForce for letting me test these out!
Optoma NuForce Website: LINK.
Dedicated NuForce HEM thread: LINK.


There is no financial incentive for writing this review, and this is my honest opinion of NuForce's new HEM IEM lineup. I hope my feedback is useful for my fellow Head-Fi members as well as for NuForce. 

[size=17.03px]ABOUT ME[/size]
I'm a 44 year old father who listens to a lot of electronic and metal, although I do listen to a wide variety of music. I'm primarily a portable audio enthusiast and have been in the game since the venerable Shure E2C was first released. Bought one, plugged it into one of my many MD players, and have been hooked ever since. I do enjoy listening at home and am becoming increasingly interested in building up a nice desktop setup. As with a lot of people my age, my hearing isn't perfect but I've be listening for a long time and feel confident in assessing audio gear.




*Please click for a larger, easier to read table.


This is the basic package you're going to get with each of the IEM in the HEM lineup. You'll get a larger pelican-style case that you can stash everything in plus a smaller semi-hard fabric case that you can use when you only need the IEM. Of course, you get the actual IEM which come nestled in protective foam. You get two cables to choose from. Both use standard two-pin connectors. There is a more "boutique" SPC quad-braid cable with shrink wrap y-splitter and cinch. There's also a more conventional OFC non-braided mic cable. I'm glad NuForce gives you the choice because, being mainly a DAP user, I always choose to use a non-mic if given the choice. I'm sure there are plenty of you who'll want to use them with a smartphone, so you'll probably put on the mic cable and never look back. Both cables come with a relatively low-profile 3.5mm L-plug that's smartphone case friendly. NuForce includes two sets of S, M, and L narrow-bore silicone tips. One set is softer, and the other is firmer. They also throw in M and L Comply tips. Rounding out the package, you get a 1/4" adapter, cleaning tool, and shirt clip. Again, you get all of this regardless of which HEM IEM you purchase. What's missing? Wide bore tips. As @Dsnuts pointed out, you can coax a different presentation out of the HEM IEM by using a wide bore tip. Something along the lines of SpinFit tips would be a welcome addition to allow user to fine-tune the sound to their preference.


Here's a close-up of the HEM8. The same shells are used across the HEM lineup just varying in color as shown at the top of the specs chart a couple sections up. HEM2 is a nice red color, not overly bright which is appreciated. HEM4 is a nice shade of blue that shifts in color to a dark purplish blue as you move it around, which reminds me of the pics I've seen of the Primo8. HEM6 and HEM8 are both a classy matte black. The lightweight polycarbonate shells feel tough and are very ergonomic, making it easy to listen to them for extended periods of time. The connectors are color-coded. White lettering and line for the left side and dark yellow for the right side. It's subtle yet helpful. Another subtle yet helpful addition is the knurled texture on the connectors, making them very easy to grip while inserting and removing the cables. Finally, you can see that the cable is shaped to fit over your ear. That's not memory wire. Instead, there's a shrink wrap coating that helps the cable maintain that form. While it's not as form-fitting as memory wire can achieve, it is much slimmer, comfortable, and glasses-friendly than most memory implementations. I like it. And as a bonus, this makes it easier to wear the HEM IEM either up or down. I tried out both successfully. The only caveat with wearing down is that the knurling on the connectors has the potential to rub a bit. I didn't find that to be a problem, but it might bother those of you with more sensitive ears. I bet most of you will just end up wearing them over ear anyways.
Here's a close-up of the HEM8 with the mic cable. The cable is supple and the strain reliefs are very soft and bendable. As you can see, the mic module contains a single-button remote to take/end calls and play/pause, ffwd, and rew music. Again, I have no use for those, as I listen with DAPs.


As mentioned in the intro, I've had these for a long time and as such have given them plenty of listening time with DAPs from various manufacturers. I've also listened to all the typical music I enjoy, mainly electronic and metal with a smattering of jazz and modern composition thrown in for good measure. As I'm writing this review, I've been jamming them with the brand spanking new Shanling M5 DAP and my trusty Cayin N5. Neither combination doesn't disappoints. And if it wasn't obvious from up above, all listening was done with foamies which might make my impressions differ a bit from others who I've noticed tended to use the silicone tips that just wouldn't stay in my ears. For this review, I thought I'd give you an overview of the lineup from HEM2 to HEM8. I'll start with HEM2 and work my way up to HEM8. As I've been writing this review, I've also seen some reviews come in and think it'll be interesting to see how my thoughts on these align or differ from others. Okay, so here we go...
HEM2 are the entry-level, single-BA IEM. I'll be honest with you and tell you upfront that these clicked with me right from the start, whereas the others grew on me. HEM2 has a nicely-balanced sound signature on the warm side of neutral. There is a bit of roll-off on either side of the frequency range. This is more apparent on the upper end, where they lack sparkle. This helps cover up any sibilance in recordings but also makes HEM2 feel restrained / polite. Soundstage is fine but feels held back by the warm sound signature, coupled with a lack of sparkle. I'm left wondering how much a bit of sparkle up top would help out here. It would add a bit of excitement and spaciousness to an otherwise relaxed / polite listen. All that said, I quite enjoy these. They remind me a bit of one of my favorite configurations of the FLC8S IEM (red, gray, gunmetal). And by remind me, I don't mean they sound the same. I mean they're reminiscent of the sound. The FLC8S is a triple-hybrid known for fantastic separation, imaging, and soundstage. FLC8S in my preferred configuration also has very linear, visceral bass, perhaps even skewed a bit towards sub-bass. Being a single-driver with a bit of roll-off on either end, HEM2 can't quite match up as far as spacial cues or bass extension and impact are concerned. I can't hold that against the HEM2, though. The mere fact that I really liked them on first listen and was reminded of one of my all-time favorite IEM is pretty damn impressive in my book. This isn't your dad's single-BA IEM!
Stepping up from the HEM2, we come to the HEM4 double-BA IEM. These stick out as the more "reference" sound signature in the lineup. In comparison to the rest, HEM4 has the leanest bass and is more upper-mid focused to my ears. Again I'll be completely honest with you and tell you that I didn't like this one much at first listen. Compared to the others, it lacked the full, rich, organic sound. They made HEM4 sound a bit too lean and a bit bright. As I've spent more time with it, my thoughts have changed. In fact, I've come to really like HEM4. Like I said, coming from the others it sounds lean, but when I take some time away from the others and just listen to HEM4 in isolation it sounds really good. In fact, the more I spend time with it, the more I realize it's giving me what I was looking for in the HEM2. While the bass quantity is less, the bass quality is improved and isn't quite as soft. There's a noticeable increase in upper mid presence and sparkle up top. As such, it can be a bit more revealing of sibilance than HEM2, which is a sibilance killer. It's not accentuating sibilance like some IEM I've tried recently, just revealing what's there. Spacial cues are kicked up a notch, a noticeable improvement. Yes, I'm liking this one more and more with each listen. Funny how that happens sometimes. In fact, if you look over my initial impressions of HEM4 in the HEM thread, you'll see I was ready to write this one off as a loss in my initial impressions. Not that it was bad, I just didn't think it suited my taste on first listen. Given some time, they're growing on me. And that's why I like to listen for awhile before judging anything...
Stepping up once again, we come to the HEM6 triple-BA IEM. These strike me as a marriage of the HEM2 and HEM4 sound signatures. You get the fuller, warmer bass + mids of HEM2 coupled with the upper end sparkle of HEM4. Despite the similar sound signature, the overall sound quality is beyond a mere marriage of those two sound signatures. While reminding me of the HEM2 bass, HEM6 bass is higher quality. It reaches deeper and conveys more detail. Mids on HEM2 were nicely balanced, and HEM6 follows that lead instead of getting more energetic in the upper mids like HEM4. The upper end retains the crispness and sparkle of HEM4 that was lacking in HEM2. Again, this means HEM6 will reveal (but not accentuate) sibilance rather than cover it up like HEM2. Spacial cues and soundstage are better than HEM2 but fall behind HEM4, which has the most open, airy sound of the three discussed so far. In fact, moving from HEM4 to HEM6 is a bit shocking. At first HEM6 sounds closed in, but after acclimating for a bit HEM6 starts to open up. This is another in the lineup that I wasn't immediately taken with but has grown on me the more I listen to it.
And we finally arrive at HEM8, NuForce's new quad-BA flagship IEM. These take all the good points I've talked about so far and marry them all together into one fine-sounding IEM. Bass is extended and conveys good detail. To my ears, it sounds like it combines the reach and detail of HEM6 bass but backs off a bit in quantity and sounds nicely tighter as a result. Mids are the most balanced of the bunch. Not as full and warm as HEM2 and HEM6, but not skewed towards upper mids like HEM4. The upper end sounds crisp and has good detail retrieval but isn't as sparkly as HEM4. Sibilance isn't as prominent with HEM8 despite the upper end sounding nicely detailed. Spacial cues are very good. That's probably the first thing I noticed about these when moving up from HEM6. And despite being a fuller sound than HEM4, HEM8 blows them out of the water when it comes to imaging. Doing a lot right with no obvious deficiencies, HEM8 are easily my favorite IEM in the lineup.
I hope that walk through the lineup gives you a good idea of what I think of them. Each of them is unique and earns its place in the lineup, however this is definitely a case where the flagship is the clear winner. That's not always the case. I've listened to lineups where I end up preferring the mid-tier IEM over the flagship. Not here. HEM8 is the clear winner as the most balanced, musical IEM of the bunch. If you prefer a bit more bass quantity, I could see you preferring HEM6 over HEM8. If you like things a bit leaner, HEM4's your IEM. Not quite ready to spend that much, HEM2's got you covered as one of the better tuned single-BA IEM I've heard to date. One thing I've always liked is having a couple different sounds signatures, energetic + relaxed. Along those lines, I could see buying HEM2 (relaxed) + HEM4 (energetic) to fulfill those roles quite nicely without breaking the bank.
As an aside, @Dsnuts pinged me and suggested I try the tip mod he covered in his Primo8 and HEM8 reviews. I did try that mod and was impressed with how much it opened up the soundstage. It really helped me see the potential the HEM lineup had while I was waiting for them to burn in. Now that they're burned in, I don't feel the need for the tip mod any longer. It's still nice to have the option for sonic variety, though, which is why I have a pair of modified tips sitting in the case of whichever HEM IEM I'm listening to at the time. You know, just in case the mood strikes me. Please head over to his excellent HEM8 review for more details (LINK).


NuForce has done a great job with their new HEM lineup. The lightweight, ergonomic shells ensure comfortable listening sessions. The accessories package with two cables, two cases, and three kinds of tips is generous, although including some wide bore tips to further open up the sound would be appreciated. Speaking of sound, as I hopefully very clearly conveyed up above, it's easy for me to pick a clear winner here and it's HEM8. The other IEM all have their strengths, but HEM8 is the most nicely balanced sound. Couple that with the impressive imaging, and we've got a winner on our hands. But don't let that dissuade you from looking at the others in the lineup. Depending on your sonic preferences and budget, one of the others might just end up being the winner for you.
Oh yeah, as of the time I wrote this review, there's a NuForce HEM "Blue Box" ovdr on Massdrop. Go take a look (LINK).
To wrap, I'd again like to give a big thanks to @jyri for providing me with review loaners of the HEM lineup. It was fun taking them for a test drive! 
Top work - very clear explanation of the differences between the models. Great read.
Great review.
I just received a pair of the HEM2 today from the latest Massdrop, and was a bit dissapointed at first, but seeing your article and reading a bit about the mod here and elsewhere that you mentioned, and not having the JVC silicone (I'm not a big fan of silicon tips anyway) I had a spare pair of Comply Tx-400s around and used the same mod, and wow!  It was an amazing difference right away.  I am hoping they will sound even better once I get them broken in a bit more, but certainly the mod with any larger bore tips will likely work.  Since some people have indicated they don't like the isolation that is lost with the silicone vs the memory foam, this may be yet another way for people to get the mod with a combination of the two.  I think the biggest impact so far I noticed was an improvement in bass impact.  The highs as others have indicated are a bit rolled off anyway, so I don't think this really hurt much, but didn't seem to impact the mids. Would like to know other's thoughts if you try it out!


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Solid package w/2 higher end cords, well made, comfortable, above average isolation, deserving of hi-res moniker, stupendous with right source.
Cons: Not the best tip selection, BA bass
I would like to first give a hearty thanks to Jyri of NuForce for giving me an opportunity for sampling these marvelous earphones. I have seen NuForce emerge though the years as a premiere audio manufacturer and with the change to the new parent company Optoma the question came about to if these guys will continue the excellence of NuForce audio design.
The consumer audio market now a days is a buzz with the latest earphone designs capturing the collective imagination of what makes better audio for what we hear. These new earphones encompass a lot of newer design by NuForce and I feel they have achieved something that is truly special in the earphone realm.  So lets take a look as what I feel is NuForce's new bench mark in earphone design.
This is what you get at a package.
Some highlights:
- Newly designed, Knowles Balanced Armature Drivers
-Acoustically calculated, vibration free Lexan earpiece
-NuForce Linear-Phase crossover, seamless driver integration
-Two replaceable cables: Mic'd OFC and non mic'd silver plated OFC copper
-Comply foam tips, 6 pairs of  S,M,L silicone tips
-Custom otterbox like foam lined water/dust proof clear plastic case
-Inner case for tips, cables, and tips.
-4 BA driver per shell
-Max sound output- 122dB
-impeance - 32 Ohms
-Max input power 2mW
-Freq response 10-40KHz
-Sensitivity 124dB
The overall package is actually pretty standard fair for a higher end earphone. I think the win here is that these come with 2 nice cables. No need to look for an aftermarket cable with this package. The many earphones I have owned in the past I found myself needing to replace the cable for higher end one just to get that little bit of extra sonics out of the eaphones. Not so with this package. The 2 cables is an excellent idea as you can use the mic'd version for on the go use with your phones. I really like the non mic'd version pictured here.
This cord is not only hearty but also has a much welcomed L plug. The Mic'd cord is nice as well but is a bit springy and holds more memory.  I have no doubt these will last a long time on the earphones. Connecting the cord needs a solid push to get flush onto the ear pieces themselves. The clear plastic case is pretty slick and the included foam lining has some slots for the ear pieces . The inner smaller case is only large enough to carry the cords, clip, adapter and tips. Carrying your HEM8 in this manner is nice but will make for a bulky package. I would have liked to see a smaller carry case or a nice pouch included for every day use.  The not so good with this package is the tip selection. Just standard, in fact the one negative and something NuForce should pay attention to more so in the future is in fact their included tips.

I think just about everyone that loves them some nice sounding earphones have a box of earphone tips they have amassed throughout their audio journey. All you have to do when reading any of the earphone threads is to see how many guys try this tip or that tip just to get that right fit/sound for them. Earphone tips makes a difference in sound it is the very first mod that guys will do  to optimize the sound for them. Some of the better earphone packages I have owned includes more tips than you could possibly choose but to me that tells me the manufacturer is thinking of what tips might work for you.
NuForce has included some Comply tips that fit the narrow nozzle of the HEM8 perfectly and some may like the sound from the Complys but for me I was a bit underwhelmed with not only the Complys but also their included silicones. The Silicone tips have a narrow opening which lines up with the narrow nozzle. To my ears the narrow opening of these tips actually restrict and hold back some of the dynamics of the earphones. Earphone veterans will know what I am talking about here but the very first thing I try is using wider bore tips to see if the sonics expand in my ears. I will get to this aspect more later. Now onto the sound.
I am gonna tell everyone that reads my reviews that I am 100% a burn in fanatic. Yes I am nuts about burn in, for good reason. There is and always will be a debate if burn in is needed for BA earphones. Many guys will see me as crazy when I say. Not only do dynamic earphones and headphone need burn in but so does BA earphones. Through my own experience all my BA earphone sounded much better after running music through the earphones. Every single one. No they do not sound the same from open box listen to when I get done with the burn in. BA burn in is a bit different from hybrid or dynamic earphone burn in. BAs don't need hard thumping bass mixed with colored noise. Nope BAs are much more simpler. They just need music run through them and that is it.
I took notes of how these HEM8 sounded out of the box. They actually sounded horrible out of the box. I was looking at my Son who was doing his homework across from my computer hooked up to my Centrance mini dac when I took the very first listen, completely perplexed. The upper frequencies were weird, somewhat neutered which made vocals sound nasal and unnatural. It didn't take long for the treble to start blooming. It took exactly 5 tunes actually. Then the sound opened within the hour of listening. The mids and bass started to open up as well.  On open listen the sound was warm and kinda not so coherent. But that all changed in a hurry.
The fist hour of listen. I found myself thinking how bad it sounded to how fantastic. The clarity was on point. The mids was fantastic, layered and complete, I remember the bass being a bit bigger than how I hear the bass now but all the aspects of a complete sound was there. I kept on listening for another hour through a wide range of genres. In the end the first listen was a quick turn around from horrible to fantastic.
A weeks worth of listening/ burn in and now I have a good understanding of their sonics.  I read many a reviews on the threads and some have a love hate relationship with BA earphones. Some say it is unnatural, some say more digital sounding, many hate the bass, hence the increasing popularity of hybrids. For me I care about engaging, natural sound. If it sounds right, there must have been some nice design involved. On 2nd day of listen I found myself drawn to the imaging of the earphones.
One of the strong suits of BA based earphones done right. Well recorded tracks just pop with imaging. These earphone bring out not only detail in your tracks but image them so well. Yes they sound holographic. You can shut your eyes and drift away to vocals, strings, guitars and drums. Precision is also the strong suit of these earphones. These passed all my test tracks with ease in this regard. Live recordings capture the atmosphere perfectly, you can tell where vocals and instruments are placed in the recording. Every emphasis in the drum stroke, pitch tone and macro detail of the high notes are represented with fantastic detail.
Vocal clarity, the height and depth of vocals are represented with the utmost authority. On the 3rd day of listen I felt the mids of the earphones was a touch more expansive and even more dynamic than the previous day of listen. I ran a test album with well recorded female vocals from Aretha Franklin to Norah Jones to Alison Krauss.  Yes I was smiling from ear to ear when I went through track after track and not only did vocals shine on these but you can hear the emotion in the vocal performance, every breath that was captured.  Even better were male vocals. I don't think I have heard the sweet vocals of Smoky Robinson as good as I have heard on these. To me if vocals sound unnatural than I will give the phones a pass. Not only were vocal performances excellent but the imaging of the instruments in the back ground each had their own space to shine with the vocals. 
NuForce choice of included cables are excellent. It makes no sense to have all this technical detail on producing this state of the art sound and not have the right cables to optimize that sound. Clarity is the end result. Macro details on your favorite tracks are easily heard on these. And while some might think it takes an analytical sound to get the details correct. NuForce house tuning has come along and showed me you can have your cake and eat it too. These phones have the clarity detail of top analytical sounds but also has a very musical tilt to the house tuning. NuForce to me has always been about fantastic full blown mids. This is true in just about every earphone and or amp I have ever heard from the company and these are no different. The mids of the HEM8 is their strong suit.  Full bodied and agile the center bands of the HEM8 are top notch. Every sound and nuance is where it should be, perhaps done better than a lot of earphones I have heard. Many phones have a compressed mid band that limit vocal and instrument range. Not so with these. The stage of the earphones are average for width but what make these stand out is the height and depth of the sounds. As tall and deep as the recording calls for. Depending on the tip selection.( Will get to this a bit later.) Due to the quality of how the stage is set in your ears the best word to describe the sound scope of the HEM8 is engaging. Full blown mids mean more quality mid section complete with all the music detail you want but ends up sounding intimate which is not a bad thing.
Using stock tips the stage is decidedly average/ medium in width and depth. With a simple wide bore tip mod much more expansive.
Tip Mod:

The stock nozzle of the HEM8 is about 2mm which is very narrow. In fact on this picture you can see the end of the nozzle at the center of the tip. I did this same tip mod with NuForce previous flagship the Primo 8s with great results. Considering these HEM8s are actually physically smaller than the Primo 8 I did the same mod but with even greater results.
Stock sound using the stock tips is definitely worthy of your attention but with this easy tip mod it brings the sound of the HEM8 into another level of sound. It is very similar to how a phone sounds when you add an amp to your source. So the mod is very simple. Using the smallest included silicone tip I put the tip on backwards on the nozzle of the HEM8 you can see on the first picture. Then I installed one of my JVC Spiral Dot on top of the now thicker nozzle of the HEM8. I am now able to use much wider bore tips. The results.
In fact it was after this little mod that I felt the tip selection both the silicone and the Complys were limited in optimizing the sound in the ears. It is tough to hear these earphones using the stock tips after this configuration. This mod basically expands the high quality sonics of the HEM8 into every direction. If you have never tip rolled with any of your earphones before I encourage every single person reading this review about these earphones to give this a try with your HEM earphones.  I feel this little mod is pretty substantial. It definitely gives the user another take on the great sound of the HEM8.
Treble and Bass:
It is no secret that treble is a concern for BA fans.  The treble frequencies of the HEM8 are done very nicely here. The treble went from being muted to peaky and then settled down to how I hear them now. There was at one point slight graininess on the upper frequencies but has now turned into an accurate detailed cohesive treble that has no issues picking up the upper detail. The HEM8s will show sibilance in recordings that have them but at the same time does not enhance it. Compared to the Primo 8 which was a warm sounding earphone due to some treble roll off.  The one aspect about an update to the Primo8 was in fact the treble. Treble region is not overly bright or overly enhance. To my ears it has the right amount of energy, attack and relevance to your tune. An earphone with not enough treble energy is kinda boring. While treble is not neutral here it has just enough energy to bring out the top end with every detail you would expect in a complete sound. Sparkle and shimmer without being overboard. What not to like.
Bass on the HEM8 is also done very well for a BA based phone. Bass to me is very important to an overall sound. The rhythm and heart beat of the tune your listening to has certain emphasis it is trying to portray and be it hip hop, EDM, Jazz to rock. Bass notes while not the strong suit of the BA based earphone these have been tuned the right way. They do have some mid bass emphasis but is a bit north of neutral but for good measure. The bass is clean tight accurate and agile. Metal guys will love the sheer speed of the bass here. Where the Bass end falters a bit is in the lowest of the lows. I did not expect the HEM8 to have a strong sub bass and I was right. The sub bass region starts to roll off around 40hz down and this means sub bass on some tunes can sound a bit soft. Still defined and textured well but a touch soft. This is to be expected for BA phones and here is where I will suggest to NuForce something they should consider. The treble and mids of the HEM8 with a micro HD dynamic for your next earphone? 
In the end:
I am encouraged with the direction of NuForce's newest offerings. The ultimate question comes up when reviewing any earphone. Are these worth your hard earned cash? The answer my friends is and astounding YES. Out of all my earphones I have heard these encompass the best of BA technology yet tuned to be absolutely engaging and musical. That makes for a fantastic listening experience. Sure it takes a bit of fiddling with the tips to achieve how I am hearing these but the foundation and quality of the sound is on point.
A​gainst the Primo 8: first off the HEM8 is much more efficient than the Primo8. Higher volumes from the same level of power on all sources tested. Which means the HEM8 is much easier to drive. AB testing has the HEM8 being more fuller and more engaging in the mid ranges. Mids have more reach it seems and imagery of the HEM8 is better than the Primo 8. Primo 8 seems more flatter sounding and not as dimensional. Treble also has better definition on the HEM8. Bass is about equal on both. Physically the HEM8 is smaller than the Primo8 which is not that large to begin with. The HEM8 is more tear dropped shape vs the slightly larger oval football like shape of the Primo 8 making the HEM8 much more comfortable and will fit more peoples ears much better. Winner here is the HEM 8.
Against the DN2000J: The mids of the DN2000J is much more leaner here vs the HEM8 and even the Primo8 and also has some brighter and a bit more treble emphasis over the HEM8. Efficiency is similar to the HEM8. I love the sound of my DN2000J but after getting used to how full and engaging the mids of the HEM8s are the mids of the DN2000J just takes a step back for me. Bass is awesome on the DN2000J and here is where the Dunu earphones win. The titanium coated dynamic bass driver of the DN2000J absolutely shines on the earphones. Otherwise the HEM8 not only has just a good of resolution as the DN2000J but has a much fuller more richer sound over the DN2000J. Winner again HEM8
Against the ATH- IM03 w/ upgraded cable. These are one of ATs finest BA earphones on the market. The IM03s are the closest to the sonics of the HEM8 but once again, imagery and fullness is not quite HEM8 level. Sound tuning is the closest out of the 3 I compared to here. Maybe on stock form the sound signature might be even closer to each other. Treble is not as emphasized on the IM03 as the HEM8 so the overall tone is a bit warmer on the IM03. Bass wise these are very close to emphasis, punch and extension with the IM03 having just a touch more sub bass but very similar in bass emphasis. To my surprise the HEM8 is also more efficient over the IM03. Imagery wins on the HEM8. Comfort wise there is no comparison. The IM03 has a much larger squarish housing shape that will not be comfortable for smaller ears. Winner again HEM8.
And with that I leave you one image.

Oh yes! These get my highest recommendation. Absolutely fantastic sounding earphones!
The metal filter is not removable as far as I can tell.
Now thats one hell of a review! Nice work!
does anyone know aftermark cables with volume control for the HEM8?
Unfortunately the support from Optoma cannot help. Optoma Thailand has an original HEM cable with this function. Otherwise not found worldwide. In my opinion, the HEM8 is very underrated.

Dobrescu George

Reviewer: AudiophileHeaven
Pros: For all NuForce IEMs in general:
- Good build quality
- Comfortable
- Isolates well from the outside noise
- Good overall price/performance ratio
- Clear, detailed, vivid, dynamic sound
- Generally good options for those who have an acquired taste for the specific signatures they sport
- Crossovers are done well, and you can't notice any kind of group delay or issue with HEM8, although it has a large number of drivers
Cons: - HEM Dynamic is hard to drive
- HEM8 lacks treble bite and presence
- One of the cables HEM8 comes with is very frail
- HEM8 is midrange forward, extremely detailed, extremely well textured, can be a little fatiguing
- NuForce BE2 has the issue of having a rather poor built-in microphone
NuForce Dynamic, BE2, HEM8 - Optoma In-Ear Experience

NuForce IEMs have always been a love it or hate it experience among music lovers, and today we're going to take a look at their best-known IEMs, the NuForce Dynamic, BE2 and HEM8.


NuForce doesn't really exist anymore as a company, being part of Optoma at this moment, which makes it a little complicated to acquire their products, as well as to get proper warranty and information about their products. From our understanding, NuForce has been acquired by Optoma a while ago, but Optoma isn't an expert in audio products, but rather in imaging products, so NuForce products are generally a niche in this niche hobby, being something of acquired taste.

It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with Nuforce or Optoma, I am not receiving any incentive for this review or to sweeten things out. This review is not sponsored nor has been paid for by Nuforce or Optoma or anyone else. I'd like to thank Nuforce or Optoma for providing the sample for this review. The sample was provided along with Nuforce or Optoma's request for an honest and unbiased review. This review will be as objective as it is humanly possible, and it reflects my personal experience with Nuforce HEM8, Dynamic and BE2. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in Nuforce HEM8, Be2 and Dynamic find their next music companion.

About me


We need to start by saying this, NuForce needs to employ someone else for doing their package. The package for BE2 and Dynamic is complicated to open and quite unsatisfying generally as an unboxing experience. HEM8 has a much simpler package design, and works really well, but for Dynamic and BE2, the way you need to unbox them is really not in line with other audio products.

The package contents, though, are great for all of those IEMs. NuForce includes a good amount of cables and tips with HEM8, Dynamic comes with enough tips to make it last, while Be2 comes with tips, and a USB cable for charging them.

HEM8 comes with a beautiful carrying package that will also protect them during transport, and have enough space to take a smaller DAP inside. This being said, the package is quite large if you're planning to just take HEM8 inside, and they're going to be jumping around, good thing Nuforce also includes a soft material pouch for keeping them safe.

HEM Dynamic also comes with a nice pouch, which offers a nice level of protection.

NuForce also relies heavily on Comply foam tips, which work nicely for comfort, but since their IEMs are generally tuned towards a softer, smoother tuning, Comply doesn't work quite that well with their IEMs, unless you really like smooth presentations.

What to look in when purchasing an entry-level In-Ear Monitor

Technical Specifications

Build Quality/Aesthetics/Fit/Comfort

Starting with the build quality of NuForce IEMs, they are generally build very well, they look gorgeous, they feel safe, and the connectors on HEM8 and HEM Dynamic are solid, click right in place, and they feel trusty. There have been reports of the cables breaking on HEM8, and while we didn't test this, we trust those reports, and we feel that most users would be better of purchasing aftermarket cables for HEM8.

HEM8 is a black, plastic shell, IEM, with a fine texture on them, similar to the texture found on Nikon Cameras. Other highlights include detachable cables based on the 2-Pin connector, over-the-ear wearing style, and 4 BA drivers per ear, for a total of 8 BA drivers in total, thing which also gives them their name.

The comfort is good with HEM8, they isolate really well from the outside noise, and they rely on a thinner bore IEM, specific more to BA IEMs. The other highlights of HEM8 are the fact that it comes with two cables, but we would recommend against using the thinner braided cable, as there have been multiple reports of it breaking quite easily.

There are a large number of tips included with them, including some specific tips with NuForce's logo etched on the rubber. We don't dislike this, but we aren't fans of it either, as it may impose negatively on the comfort, rubber tips being perfect if they are as smooth as possible. HEM8 has a small vent, which helps a lot with them not creating void in the ear, but we feel you need to be careful when plugging them or taking them out.

Left and right earpieces have clear markings on them, in both L and R letters, but also in colors, left being white and right being yellow, a very uncommon color scheme for left and right earpieces.

All in all, HEM8 is fairly well build, comfortable, isolates fairly well, but we recommend looking for a third party cable for best experience.

HEM dynamic is also a gorgeous-looking IEM with a semi-transparent shell, which flaunts their beauty. HEM dynamic relies on a dynamic driver, and this is visible, as they have a large amount of driver flex. It is evident that NuForce's strong point is Balanced Armatures rather than dynamic drivers.

Other than the driver flex, we can't fault HEM Dynamic's build quality, they are well made, well put together, they feel comfortable, and they isolate fairly well from the outside noise. They come with a large number of tips included in the package, and they have detachable cables, once again with a very uncommon color scheme for Left and Right. HEM Dynamic are ridiculously hard to drive, especially for a IEM in this price range. This is shocking, especially given how easy to drive HEM8 is, so please keep in mind that those need a lot more power than you'd expect a IEM to require.

All in all, they are fairly well made, and we can't complain about their build quality.

NuForce BE2 is one of Nuforce's Bluetooth IEMs, part of a large selection of upcoming Bluetooth IEMs. In all honesty, they did a great job with the Bluetooth IEM, and it is our favorite from their current offerings. They don't flaunt a large amount of information about the drivers, or the technology within, but rather about its Bluetooth abilities. This indicates that BE2 is aimed towards a Bluetooth-loving public, and they are meant to be more of a commercial IEM rather than an audiophile one. Ironically, BE2 is the one that sounds best of their offerings, and would appeal to the largest number of music lovers.

BE2 does not have detachable cables, and they rely on their built-in battery to provide their playtime, but it has a large capacity, and we haven't found any issues with it lasting up to 8 hours of usage.

Happily, BE2 also gets loud enough, thing which is important to mention with Bluetooth IEMs, as some of them are underpowered, and may sometimes be too quiet for an enjoyable experience. Although BE2 comes with a rather uncommon tip shape, they are fairly comfortable, and we haven't noticed any issues with them, they aren't uncomfortable, and they sit well in one's ears.

BE2 has a very uncommon voice for its bluetooth tones, with a strong british accent, we like it quite a bit.

All in all, NuForce packages are questionable in design, but they include a good amount of accessories, and NuForce makes a nice overall experience for their customers with the actual build quality, comfort and design of their IEMs. There are some uncommon elements in their design, but this isn't bad, just something they did differently.

Sound Quality

We need to start by saying that those 3 IEMs have nothing in common. There's no NuForce or Optoma house sound, all three have a really distinct and different sound.


HEM8 is an IEM based on the midrange. They have everything that stories tell about BA drivers, the speed of the driver is unimaginably fast, the detail and resolution is amazingly profound, the bass is rolled off and so is the treble, making for an interesting, ergo a tad smooth and unexciting experience.

HEM8 is not a IEM you'd want if you like to be impressed and excited, this is a IEM that lets you appreciate the depth and detail of every song, with a speed that is one of the fastest I had the chance to hear to date. Extremely snappy is a great term to describe its bass, and while the bass can be big if called for, it really need to be called for to get big, the bass is usually lower in amount than the midrange, although its textures are incredibly clear and its resolution is much better than one would expect.

The Midrange is incredibly detailed, with layers over layers of textures, the speed of the BA drivers being as good as all the stories about BA drivers have been telling you, but that speed isn't quite what we'd recommend with a glass of wine or Jazz music, unless you'd want to hear every single little detail in every song, and every micro texture expressed there. This being said, the tonality is on the less exciting side, the upper midrange being a little lower in amount than the lower midrange, female vocals and violins lacking a bit of dramatic approach, especially if you're one to prefer a sad song.

The treble is extremely smooth, and if you're one to like smooth treble, with smooth added over smooth with a total roll off after about 11k kHz, then those are a perfect match for you. This means that they won't be bright or exciting, the sound with metal and rock music lacks treble and cymbal sparkle, but it works well for electronic, jazz, classical and music where you'd like a little less treble, including sweet-voiced J-Pop music. In fact, HEM8 works well with almost anything, if you have an acquired taste for this type of sound, and they are fairly dynamic when the song calls for it.

HEM Dynamic

HEM Dynamic is something else entirely, compared to HEM8. The bass and the mid bass is slow this time, really slow compared to the quick and snappy driver of HEM8. This works well if you prefer a slower, more rounded and natural bass, but somewhere in between is where the sweet spot would be. The bass of HEM Dynamic is also fairly explosive and impressive, meaning that those aren't the kind of IEMs you'd use if you'd be planning on listening to quaint music only, as they work really well with electronic, metal, rock and upbeat music.

The midrange is pretty neutral, and once again, doesn't have quite that much drama or emotion in it, instead, being detailed, dynamic and surprisingly good for the price paid. The sound is warm and sweet, like a sunny day at the beach, but it lacks sadness and drama in the upper midrange, so if you prefer listening to sad music, those aren't for you.

The treble, on one hand, is pretty sparkly in the lower treble, which means they are much more exciting than HEM8, making them more versatile, especially with metal and rock, on the other hand, lacking a bit of extension in the upper treble. Even so, they are very enjoyable with any music we've tried them with.

All in all, their sonics are amazing for the price point of HEM Dynamic, and we consider them to be a very interesting offering from NuForce.


BE2 is one of the first Bluetooth IEMs from NuForce, but we've been informed that they're working on a large number of other Bluetoth IEMs, which we hope we'll have the time to cover in the near future.

In a few words, BE2 has the most versatile, most balanced, best suited for a large public sonic signature from NuForce. If they keep working on this kind of sound, they surely are on the right road. Of course, this is a mildly V-shaped IEM, which seems to make the most popular signature for entry-level IEMs.

The bass is neither too slow, nor too fast to be unnaturally fast, like HEM8 and BA bass can be at times. The bass is on the warm side, but the impact is quite excellent, the best from NuForce's offerings, and the resolution of the bass is quite good considering the price BE2 comes at.

The midrange is slightly recessed compared to the bass and the treble, but it has a good amount of emotional impact, as well as a good amount of drama (good upper midrange presence). This makes them less smooth than the other NuForce IEMs, but this also makes them more versatile when it comes to presenting violins, sad songs, and female vocals. Guitars are especially sweet, and crunchy guitars are quite crunchy, with a good amount of textures, without being harsh or too much.

The treble is fun and sparkly, the texture is on the smoother side, without much grain, Be2 having the most natural and versatile treble presentation of Nu Force's line. This treble is quite enjoyable, because it doesn't get very hot either.


The three NuForce IEMs have similar size to their soundstage, along with similar instrument separation and imaging, which is amazing on all 3 of them. The one note we'd like to make about the soundstage, is that it feels extended differently, layered a little better, and with a little more instrument separation on BE2 which leads us to believe that NuForce have employed a DSP effect inside BE2, as we noticed a similar shape and similar separation on a few other Bluetooth IEMs before. To describe it, it is a characteristic way the instruments are well layered, but not presented quite in layers, like Sennheiser IE800 or Ultrasone Signature DXP would, but rather made in a few layers. At any rate, the overall experience is enjoyable and fun, Nuforce passes our Soundstage and Instrument separation with flying colors.


The ADSR and PRaT (Texturization) is different among the three IEMs.

HEM 8 has a very fast driver, for bass, midrange and the treble. This can be felt in their textures, which feel surgical, precise, detailed, really, an incredible experience that matches, and even outdoes the kings of textures and speed, Etymotic. Of course, HEM8 costs quite a bit more than the most expensive IEM from Etymotic, and HEM8 has 4 BA drivers taking care of their sound, but HEM8 could be described as a really musical, improved everywhere Etymotic ER4XR.

HEM Dynamic is rather slow, especially in the bass, making a very different kind of texture than HEM8. Where HEM8 is really fast, HEM Dynamic is quite slow, being best with slow music, rap, house, things where the bass doesn't need to be quick or snappy. Where HEM8 would do a great job with complex technical death metal percussion drums, HEM Dynamic would be best at speeds of Jazz, House and such. The midrange and treble are natural in speed, making a rather natural experience otherwise.

BE2 is rather strange, as they are actually quicker in speed than HEM Dynamic. In fact, BE2 seems to be the most balanced of the three, neither too slow, nor too quick, being a great one for its asking price. With BE2, Bass, Midrange and Treble all have the same speed, which is rather normal.

Portable Usage

The portable usage is excellent, at least for HEM8 and BE2.

All IEMs isolate well from the outside noise, neither doesn't leak very much, and all are comfortable to wear for long periods of time.

This being said, HEM Dynamic is ridiculously hard to drive, making it a less likely IEM to be used portably, as most people don't carry the kind of power necessary to make it go loud enough to be satisfying.

As for the other factors, happily the cables are not microphonic for any of the NuForce IEMs, they generally isolate really well from the outside noise, especially with the help of their deep fit, and the tips are generally good for long hours of usage.


We will try to compare each of those IEMs to something that is close in terms of pricing and performance, so you have an idea how they sound compared to something that could be considered an equal peer to them.

HEM8 vs Etymotic ER4XR - We feel we should make this comparison because HEM8 has a really similar signature to ER4XR, and if you are considering one or the other, you want to know more about how they compare. Starting with the comfort, HEM8 is much more comfortable than ER4XR's deep fit, with a much easier process of placing them in your ears and pulling them out. The build quality is marginally better on ER4XR, but HEM8 is not shabby either. The sound is really really similar. Even so, HEM8 feels like an upgrade in every way possible, compared to ER4XR, with even more detail, an even faster overall sound, and with even more clarity. This could easily be attributed to the larger number of drivers, which are well integrated, and given their really specific tuning and resolution, we're leaning to believe that HEM8 and ER4XR have something in common in their drivers as well, like having the same OEM. It is clear that ER4XR is a great deal at this moment, and that it will be for a long time, but if you really like their signature, and if you're looking for a more comfortable IEM, that is an upgrade over ER4XR, but with the same signature, and if you're not afraid to shell out a larger budget, then HEM8 is a really amazing performer.

HEM Dynamic vs FiiO F9 - We're comparing HEM Dynamic to F9, considering HEM dynamic's launching price, rather than their current price, which is much lower as it is on sale quite a bit lately. Comfort, package contents, isolation, and build quality is really similar between the two. The sound is really different though. F9 is tuned to be much more neutral, much more mature and serious, revealing more detail, and being more tuned towards a closer sound, while HEM Dynamic is warmer, more emotional, having a larger bass, having a more musical sound, and being tilted towards a more friendly overall presentation. If you're looking for a pretty linear and neutral experience, then F9 is still a top choice, and we feel they'll keep being a top choice for a while, while if you're looking for a slower, warmer, more fun sound, HEM Dynamic is a great choice as well.

Nu Force BE2 vs Advanced Model 3 - Model 3 is quite a bit more expensive, but we wanted to compare Be2 to a IEM we reviewed before, and Model 3 is one of the closest in terms of tuning and design, since both are bluetooth IEMs. Now, there are some differences at the level of build quality, Model 3 being clearly better equipped in terms of bluetooth module, as they sport a much much better microphone for phone talks, but otherwise, the two are comparable. The build quality, comfort, fit and isolation are comparable and similar, without any of them standing out too much from the other. Model 3 is an upgraded version of BE2 in terms of sound, but it is also considerably more expensive, and given the difference in price between the two, you may want to consider getting BE2 if you fancy Model3's sonic performance, and tuning, but want to spend a little less, as the two aren't quite that far apart in terms of sound. If phone conversations are important for you though, kindly keep in mind that BE2 has a pretty poor microphone, while Model3's microphone is considerably better, although Model3 costs almost double the price of BE2.


NuForce Be2 doesn't change with its source, being a bluetooth IEM, so we'll skip it from this list. HEM8 is easy to drive and doesn't really change its sound much with the source, although it is sensitive to resolution in the midrange, so its sonic performance improves with a better source, especially those which have a better resolution (high-end sources). HEM Dynamic is a ridiculously hard to drive IEM, being at the level of a hard-to-drive headphone in terms of how much power it eats in practice. We aren't sure how this is possible but this is something we noticed when we played with both.

HEM8 + iBasso DX200 (AMP1) - Here's an interesting one, because DX200 with AMP1 is incredibly detailed in the midrange, and this is the pairing that gives HEM8 one of the most detailed and layered presentations it can have. We are amazed to notice just how many layers and textures HEM8 is able to pull from simple songs, although this isn't quite the most natural presentation of most songs, and texturization may be a little too strong for those faint of heart, especially if you were looking for something a little more typical. The pairing is musical, detailed, clear, vivid, and very quick and punchy. There's very little to complain, and any listener would be immediately amazed, but this one pairing is a little of an acquired taste.

HEM Dynamic + iFi xDSD - This is an interesting and fair pairing, but we ran almost the full volume of xDSD for properly powering HEM Dynamic, and we didn't make it sing quite that loud. This is rather strange, considering that it doesn't feature that large of an impedance, nor it has that low of a sensitivity, but still, the pairing is very musical, detailed, clear and fun to listen to. There is a certain sense of depth and width in music with xDSD powering HEM Dynamic, and we feel it does a great job at being their partner.

NuForce BE2 + Samsung T580 - Here, the sound will be the same from all sources, but one thing we wanted to note is how good the connection with Be2 is. We managed to get a perfect connection, while walking, running, or even dancing, BE2 having what we consider a really great Bluetooth module inside, and being a pleasure to use and listen to. If you're looking for something truly impressive as a bluetooth IEM, look no further, as this one really stays in pace with our forever speeding world.

Value and Conclusion

At the end of our review, you surely have a much clearer image about which NuForce model would be the best fit for you.

This company isn't small by any means, and we may have been a little rough with them. Lately, they've been doing a lot of interesting decisions, although some of them may be a little questionable. One of them would be the really questionable packages they place Be2 and HEM Dynamic in, and the other one would be how reliable their products really are. We know that NuForce has been acquired by Optoma recently, but we can't say what this means for the company. Optoma has been and still is a rather successful company in their own niche, which is home theaters. There, Optoma can be said to be one of the largest titans, and we hope they will also grow as an audio company, as NuForce had and still has loyal fans who really love their sound and even some of our friends are rocking NuForce IEMs and were asking us for a while to do this one review.

Starting with the package, NuForce generally includes a good amount of accessories with their IEMs, each IEM having a good selection of tips, cables, and carrying packages for their respective price points.

The build quality for the IEMs is great for all of them, and although they all have full plastic bodies, they should be okay for a long time, as long as you don't drop them too hard, and as long as you take a little care of them. Dynamic and HEM8 also have detachable cables, and the cables they come with from the factory are pretty good as well.

The comfort is also great, and with the large number of tips included with each, you'll have an easy time finding a sweet spot with either of the NuForce IEMs. Happily, they also went for ergonomic bodies with smooth shapes, so the comfort really isn't an issue in any way with any of those.

As for the sound, we should start by stating as clearly as possible that HEM8 is clearly the most detailed of them, followed by HEM Dynamic, followed by BE2. Even so, BE2 is our favorite in terms of overall music presentation, and we feel they make the most balanced, easy to swallow signature, while HEM dynamic and HEM8 are both more of an acquired taste that is quite specific, and some will really love, while some won't.

HEM8 is the analytic in the NuForce family, with a really detailed, layered, dynamic, and quick / snappy sound. They have a good amount of body, a smooth treble, and if you're looking for something that really pushes the details in the midrange outside of the typical boundaries, HEM8 is great at that. The smooth treble does make them work better with certain kinds of music, especially music that doesn't rely heavily on treble, otherwise, being amazing, if you like a smoother treble presentation.

HEM Dynamic tries its best to showcase a Dynamic Driver sound, and we feel that as much as HEM8 showcases a BA sound, HEM Dynamic manages to show how a Dynamic driver is always told to be by audiophiles, slower than a BA, with a larger bass, more musicality, less detail, less texturization (given by the slower speed), but with a more natural overall presentation. It is still rather smooth, but it is a great IEM for its price, and nothing sits out as a glaring issue, making HEM Dynamic a very nice overall choice.

NuForce BE2 is a great little one with a lot of power, being the most versatile, best tuned IEM of the bunch. It has a quicker bass than HEM Dynamic, it has a great resolution, the presentation feels wider than its brothers in terms of soundstage, and the treble is more energetic, with more sparkle than both its brothers, making it a really easy to recommend IEM. The connection is as stable as you can ever wish a Bluetooth connection to be, and on an overall level, we could say we really like what NuForce has done with BE2.

At the end of the day, we hope you have a clear idea of how each of those IEMs sound, and if you're looking for a really strong analytical sound, with a clear presentation, but with an extremely smooth treble, then HEM8(400USD) really is a good choice at its price point, also being on sale in many places, if you're looking for a more natural sound, with a slower, bigger, more explosive bass, at a much cheaper price point, then HEM Dynamic(100 USD, 62USD while on sale) also makes a great choice, and if you're looking for a very portable, well-designed Bluetooth IEM, then BE2(50 USD, 35USD while on sale) is one of our favorite Bluetooth IEMs from the ones we've tested, making a really compelling choice, considering its price point, and its energetic, explosive, impressive and musical sound.

Playlist used for this review

While we listened to considerably more songs than those named in this playlist, those are excellent for identifying certain aspects of the sound, like PRaT, Texturization, Detail, Resolution, Dynamics, Impact, and overall tonality. We recommend trying most of the songs from this playlist, especially if you're searching for new most, most of them being rather catchy.

Bats - Gamma Ray Burst: Second Date

Eskimo Callboy - Frances

Incubus - Summer Romance

Electric Six - Dager! High Voltage

Kishida Cult - High School Of The Dead

Dimmu Borgir - Dimmu Borgir

Breaking Benjamin - I Will Not Bow

Manafest - Impossible

Thousand Foot Krutch - The Flame In All Of Us

Gorillaz - Feel Good Inc.

Infected Mushroom - Song Pong

Doctor P - Bulletproof

Maximum The Hormone - Rock n Roll Chainsaw

Rob Zombie - Werewolf, Baby!

SOAD - Chop Suey

Ken Ashcorp - Absolute Territory

Machinae Supremacy - Need For Steve

Ozzy Osbourne - I Don't Wanna Stop

Crow'sclaw - Loudness War

Eminem - Rap God

Stromae - Humain À L'eau

Justin Timberlake - Sexy Back

Metallica - Fuel

Veil Of Maya - Unbreakable

Masa Works - Golden Japang

REOL - Luvoratorrrrry

Korn - Word Up!

Papa Roach - ... To be Loved

Fever The Ghost - Source

Fall Out Boy - Immortals

Green Day - Know The Enemy

Mindless Self Indulgence - London Bridge

A static Lullaby - Toxic

Royal Republic - Tommy Gun

Astronautalis - The River, The Woods

Skillet - What I Believe

I hope my review is helpful to you!


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Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Fantastic imaging, smooth signature, rich texture to the sound, clear but not sharp treble, nice bass presence for an all-BA setup
Cons: Can be a little bass light, lacks bass slam and impact, could do with a litle more fizz in the treble
Nuforce HEM8 – initial impressions
After being impressed with my experiences with both the HEM2 and HEM4 recently, I picked up a pair of the “top of the range” HEM8 on the For Sale boards here not long ago to see how they compared. For clarity, as the only difference to the retail packages for the HEM series is the number of drivers in the shells themselves, a large portion of the below is lifted directly from my review of the HEM2 as the package, design and accessory load-out it identical. Feel free to skip to the sound impressions if you have read either of my previous reviews on the HEM range. 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.
Tech specs (from the Nuforce website)
Frequency response: 10Hz - 40KHz
Sensitivity: 124dB +/- 3dB
Cable: 1.38m
Impedance: 32 Ohm
Maximum input power: 2mW
Maximum input sound level: 122dB
The HEM series all share a similar packaging design and accessory load-out, and even as the most expensive model in this series (currently retailing at $499) the overall presentation and included items still mark aren’t found wanting. 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 average, being about the same size as a pair of bourbon biscuits stacked on top of each other, making it very pocket friendly. The accessories are well thought out and very plentiful, with nice touches such as the addition of an “audiophile” silver coated copper cable (braided, of course) to complement the standard rubberised cable with in-line microphone.
Build quality and ergonomics
The HEM8 comes in a mat black colour, 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 or a steampunk take on a coffee bean. 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, 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 usually 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 bore size is compatible with Westone tips used in their W and UM series IEMs if you have any handy and are looking for a deeper insertion. 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, and the “phone” cable being similarly quiet. The overall build quality also extends to the connectors, where the right-angled 3.5mm connectors are finished in a sturdy Nuforce branded 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.
Sound quality
Test gear:
Sony Xperia Z3 Compact (via Neutron Player)
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)
Elvis – various
Leon Bridges – Coming Home (album)
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (album)
Rudimental – various
Rodrigo y Gabriela – various
Mavis Staples – Livin’ On A High Note
Don Broco – Automatic
Chris Stapleton - Traveller
Foy Vance – The Wild Swan
General impressions on the sound signature
The HEM8 is touted as the most technically accomplished of the HEM range, with a three way phase-coherent crossover design to provide a linear response from all four Knowles balanced armatures that make up the audio landscape of this model. In practice, the sound is definitely a step up from the 2 and 4, with a richness and sense of substance to the sound that is just a little more pronounced than its younger siblings, and better soundstage width and imaging prowess across the board. The tuning is rich and slightly dark, with a decent bass presence and a sense of detail and texture to the midrange that is very pleasing to the ear. Detail retrieval is very good, with plenty of micro-detailing like the scuff of palm on guitar strings and room noises in the recording studio winding their way through the sound. Despite the higher brace of BA drivers to shoulder the sonic load, the HEM8 is surprisingly a fair bit darker in tone than the HEM4, sounding more like a majorly upgraded HEM2 in terms of the overall signature it is going for. Another similarity the HEM8 shares with the single-BA variant in the range is the overall warmness to the sound, with the detailed but smooth treble and lack of “sparkle” in the super-high ranges adding a warmness to the sound compared to the more analytical and cold HEM4.
The highs on the HEM8 are definitely on the smoother side of the scale, with decent levels of detail and a good “weight” to the high notes but not an overwhelming amount of sparkle or fizz. The technical specs proclaim the highs extend up to 40kHz, and there is no obvious “roll-off” as you climb the scale, but the relative lack of emphasis on the treble compared to the stronger bass and midrange frequencies never leaves the listener with a massive impression of air or space as a result. Cymbals are a good example – the hi-hat rhythm underpinning the drum track on “Hello, It’s Me” by Sister Hazel is clearly audible, but decays quickly and feels quite muted in comparison to the crunch of the guitar and lower range harmonics present in this track. Switching to “Mother Maria” and “Starlight” by Slash, the weight of the treble becomes more apparent, adding a nice feel to the higher sections of the vocal tracks without ever letting them fully off the leash. Sibilance is not an issue with this type of tuning, with any potential hotspots being smoothed out with even the screechiest of metal tracks. The lack of sparkle also doesn’t hurt the detailing of this IEM, with plenty of micro-sounds like scuffs on guitar strings as chords are plucked and room noises being available to the listener in the background of each track.
The midrange on the HEM8 is a nicely balanced affair, taking the texture and feel of the HEM4 and adding a bit more substance and warmth to the sound (helped by the higher mid-bass presence). The mids are not overly forward (compared to something like the Aurisonics ASG-2.5), but are definitely the high point of the total presentation for me. Guitars are rendered with speed and clarity, with most types of rock music being handled with a nice sense of energy and attack. “World On Fire” by Slash is a good example – the starting riff hits with power and pace, with the lightning quick transitions between each note burying you in an avalanche of detail as each note crunches and wails. Switching to “Mother Maria” by the same artist, the strumming of the Spanish style guitar rings and hangs cleanly in the air, accentuating the emotional vocal delivery of Beth Hart on this track excellently.
Vocals in general convey a good sense of emotion, with the tuning bringing out the timbre of the singer’s voice. Playing some Leon Bridges, you can almost picture the singer standing by the microphone and crooning, with the breathing patterns and inflections being audible in the far reaches of the mix to help bring the delivery to life. Trying some Mavis Staples, her chocolate-smooth vocal delivery is rendered perfectly, the swinging “Love And Trust” highlighting the slight rasp in her voice and the perfect blending of the gospel-style chorus. The multiple voices of the chorus line meld together well while still keeping their individual character, adding a nice warmth to the track. The gospel choruses of Foy Vance are also handled excellently, with “Casanova” roaring along nicely with a good blend of accordion, Foy’s voice and country style acoustic guitar and stand up double bass all positioning themselves around the chorus in perfect harmony. In fact, the “linear phase crossover” trumpeted by the packaging doing an excellent job of binding the four drivers together excellently, with no audible seams or joins between the frequency ranges, which is normally most apparent in the step between the bass and midrange frequencies to me. Allied to the high level of detail retrieval from the latest-generation Knowles drivers being used, the HEM does a very good job of extracting the detail from a track for the listener without turning it into a collection of notes, which can sometimes be the case with more detail-focused tunings.
Coming down to the bass, the HEM8 definitely has a boost in the bass region compared to the HEM4, being slightly north of the HEM2 as well from memory. The emphasis is on the mid-bass, which adds a nice thickness to proceedings without feeling too overblown. Despite being a 4-BA setup, the HEM8 exhibits the stereotypical bass characteristics of most all-BA models on the market, with a lack of emphasis/roll off as you get down to the sub-bass frequency range. It is there, but lacks the “rumble factor” you associate with a good dynamic driver set up, giving more of a polite shudder than a deep-throated rumble when you feed it EDM or other tracks with a large sub-bass element.
Overall extension is quite good, however, and for those who listen mainly to guitar based music, the comparative lack of sub-bass won’t be too much of an issue. Speed and texture of the bass is excellent, as you would expect. Playing “Bad Rain” by Slash, the growling bass riff is there in all its glory, pinning the track down nicely and benefitting from the HEM8’s ability to render texture to really give an impression of rawness that is sometimes smoothed over with a less detailed driver setup.
The slight mid-bass emphasis is noticeable on tracks with an equal mid and sub bass presence – playing “Burden” by Foy Vance, the mid bass is there, but feels slightly empty compared to other IEMs have used as the sub-bass is less noticeable on the synth notes that build the main rhythm of the song. Trying “Hello, It’s Me” by Sister Hazel, the bass fills the track excellently, with the audible texture of the bass guitar strings vibrating helping to add some detail to the liquid bassline that can be glossed over by some other IEMs. Bass drums also present with a good amount of body, although compared to hybrids like the Fidue A73 or Aurisonics ASG-2.5, there is a lack of “slam” due to the relatively small volume of air moved by the BA driver compared to a full blown dynamic driver setup.
Switching over to some EDM, “Go” by The Chemical Brothers is handled pretty well, the synth and drums having enough life and body to keep the track moving along, with the speed of the BA drivers compensating somewhat for the lack of rumble in the bass frequencies. “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk highlights the depth of the bass in the midrange nicely, coping with the deep rolling bass riff without losing emphasis on the lower notes. Overall, this IEM exhibits the plus and minus points of a typical balanced armature arrangement – great speed and texture, but lack of “final” amounts of sub bass and extension for the true bass-head.
Soundstage is reasonable in width, but not exceptional, getting outside the confines of your head, but not far enough to make its parents concerned when it is time to call it in for dinner. Where the HEM8 excels is in depth and height, however – this earphone gives a great 3D (or “holographic”) feel to music, with the instruments and voices positioning themselves accurately in your head rather than flattening out along the X-axis between your ears, allowing you to drift fully into the music with some well-mastered tracks. Listening to Leon Bridges’ debut album, you can hear the drummer standing behind the singer, the guitar and horn drifting in from the left hand side of the room, and imagine the backing singers standing behind the vocalist. This is another major strength of the HEM8, and shows a marked step up in quality from the HEM2 and 4. Separation is similarly excellent, with the depth of the soundstage and precision of the drivers allowing each strand of music enough room to breathe while still being identifiable, even in the busiest of passages.
Due to the size of my ear canals, I have mainly 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. As mentioned previously, I have tried Westone foams on these, and they also provide an excellent fit and better isolation due to their deeper insertion, although they can occasionally blunt the overall treble presence if not inserted correctly.
The low resistance and high sensitivity of these IEMs makes them extremely easy to drive, and they get comfortably too loud off my Z3 Compact to ever contemplate having to use full volume. As with the other models in the range I have listened to, adding my Cayin C5 to the mix does bring a little perceived precision (and the higher resistance allows them to be driven harder if required) – much like the other models, amping brings nothing radical to the table though with my current sources, so these are easily in the “standalone” bracket for on the go use.
Aurisonics ASG-2.5 – this is the former flagship of the Aurisonics ASG series, housing a single 14.2mm dynamic driver and dual balanced armatures to handle the high frequencies, and can currently be obtained on the FS boards for a similar price as the RRP of the HEM8. As a direct comparison, the ASG-2.5 is far more capable in the bass, with the large 14.2mm dynamic driver and tuneable bass vents allowing for masses more mid and sub bass than the BA setup of the HEM8 is capable of. In terms of quality and texture, the HEM8 produces a similar quality of bass to the 2.5 in the mid-bass region, which is impressive considering the pedigree of the 2.5. Where it loses out is in the sub bass, with the 2.5 providing far deeper extension and sub bass rumble, without ever clouding the rest of the soundscape. In terms of the mids, the HEM provides a presentation that isn’t quite as forward as the 2.5, but conveys a similar level of emotion and texture to the 2.5, so it will depend on your preference for vocals as to which is better. Treble is a little more sparkly and feels better extended as a result compared to the weighty but “matte” sheen of the HEM8 presentation. Isolation and ergonomics are fairly even, with the smaller and lighter HEM8 providing a similar level of noise reduction to the larger “hybrid/universal” fit of the 2.5, while being similarly easy to wear. In terms of soundstage, the 2.5 creates a far bigger impression of size, although it is matched and possible bettered by the HEM8 in terms of depth and the holographic feel of certain pieces of music. Overall, the ASG-2.5 provides a warmer and more mid-forward tuning, with a more capable (and present) sub bass and plenty of “slam” and air. It loses out slightly on detail retrieval, so if you are looking for a more neutral tuning with higher levels of audible detail and a more “textured” feel, the HEM would be my suggestion – if you are looking for a mid or bass centred IEM for things like EDM, the ASG wins hands down.
Campfire Audio Nova  – these are a 2-driver all-BA model from Campfire Audio, selling for a current RRP of $499. The overall sound signature of the Nova tends towards smooth and slightly dark, so is a good match for comparison with the HEM8. In terms of sound, the HEM8 is not overly airy, but still manages to come across as slightly more open than the Nova, with the four BA drivers working well together to give a rounded sound with a greater feel of treble extension and clarity. Soundstage and imaging are reasonably similar, with both IEMs managing to take the music slightly outside the confines of the listener’s head. The detail levels are also similar, with the HEM8 having a slightly more refined and “denser” texture to the notes than the more vinyl-sounding Nova. If anything, the HEM8 have the edge in perceived detail retrieval due to the clearer overall tone, but the actual resolution is very similar. Bass is slightly more present on the HEM8, with the quad-BA configuration providing slightly more thickness and grunt to the sound than the 2 BA Nova for bass heavy tracks. The mid-range presentation is also different, with the HEM8 giving a clearer yet still darkish tone to proceedings, with a similar feel of detail. Treble is clearly won by the HEM8, with a cleaner presentation which is still far from airy, but more forward and audible. Soundstage feels slightly wider on the Nova, but imaging feels more 3D on the HEM8 for me. Ergonomics are won easily by the HEM8, with the coffee-bean shaped shell slotting easily into the ear and remaining comfortable over hours of wear. On the other hand, aesthetics and build quality are won by the Nova, with the solid aluminium shells and high class litz cable looking markedly more impressive than the more understated industrial design on the HEM. Overall, the main difference between the two is more tonal than technical, with the Novas providing a reality to the sound in contrast to the more technically accomplished sounding but traditional tuning of the HEM8. For my preferences, I would choose the HEM8 if I had to pick between the pair, but that is due in part to the fact I already own a “real” sounding over-ear solution in the Audioquest Nighthawk – if that wasn’t the case, the natural sound of the Nova would be a compelling factor in the decision between the two.
Overall conclusion
As the top model in the HEM series, the HEM8 seems to have taken the best parts of the 2 and 4 (I haven’t heard the 6 yet) and improved on their shortcomings to make something befitting a “top of line” product. They provide a rich, textured sound that is musical and enjoyable, and are definitely worthy of being the top model in the series. In comparison to other models in that price bracket, they certainly don’t leave the listener feeling short-changed, with the different emphasis on tunings coming more into play as you get up into this price range and above. If you are looking for something with excellent detail retrieval, great midrange, extended but smooth treble and a decent bass presence for an all-BA setup, the HEM8 certainly won’t disappoint. Allied to the excellent ergonomics and the fantastic accessory and packaging loadout, these are a very accomplished IEM in this price bracket. Being hyper-critical, they are just lacking that final dash of air and sparkle in the highs and presence in the sub-bass to raise them from a 4-star “very good” appraisal to a top of the line 5, but for others with a different set of personal preferences, these may well tick all those boxes. Overall, a very enjoyable IEM to listen to, and a very impressive technical accomplishment by Nuforce in something the same size as a coffee bean.
Is it just me or are the housings of all the new HEM models are looking a bit cheaply made?
Test gear:
Sony Xperia Z3 Compact (via Neutron Player)
Cayin C5
Sansa Clip+ (Rockboxed)
Microsoft Surface Pro 2 (straight from the output jack)"
I think the compromise in the HF and bass punch is the fact that a phone has been used instead of a dedicated source (AK Player, DAC).
@busyx2 - that's a fair comment. I did use the HEM8 with my DX90 on various gain settings prior to getting rid of it as that overlapped with getting the HEM and didn't notice a drastic difference, but the vast bulk of testing was done using an amped Z3C (which does have a decent audiophile grade DAC for a mobile). Getting the HEM8 back next week from a loan so will try with my new Shanling M5 and a Soundaware M1Pro I Ann currently "on tour" with and post if I notice any difference.