Today we’re giving Headfonia readers an early look and some first impressions of three new soon-to-be-released universal IEMs from brand-new manufacturer NXEars.
The $199 ‘Sonata’, $499 ‘Basso’ and $799 ‘Opera’ are making their public debut at this weekend’s Canjam NYC, where convention-goers will be able to check them in the flesh and be among the first to hear these new additions to the ever-expanding audiophile IEM market.
NXEars got in touch with us at Headfonia to offer us the chance to spend some brief time with pre-production models of the ‘Sonata’, ‘Basso’, and ‘Opera’ before they had to make their way back State-side for Canjam (so today truly is a ‘first look’!). While the retail packaging and final cable + accessory suite hadn’t quite been finalized for the three models, NXEars explained that these review models are indicative of their final tuning and build. Let’s take a look and see what you can expect from these products when they hit the market.
NXEars is a new boutique audio company started by industry veteran and former Knowles employee Casey Ng, who was also the designer and engineer behind Nuforce’s range of ‘NE-’ IEMs. Using 100% Knowles balanced armature drivers, small-scale 3D-printing technology and some interesting acoustic design and cross-over technology, Ng has crafted three very different IEM models to launch his fledgling direct-to-customer brand, which he believes will disrupt the market with the promise of both high-performance and value for prospective customers.
All of NXEar’s IEMs are produced using 3D printing from their small production facility, opting to use this manufacturing technique over injection-moulded ABS/Polycarbonate plastics or machined metals due to the material’s inherent tendency to avoid unwanted resonance. Taking on average 2 hours to complete for each set of IEMs, NXEars use a biocompatible resin that is similar to the material used in high-end custom hearing aids, which is hypo-allergenic and designed to prevent irritation when worn for long periods of all time.
Every NXEars product features their proprietary “Aperiodic Ground Loading” (patent pending) acoustic design technology, which has been created to reduce the pressure imbalance caused by the airtight seal that IEMs can create, which can lead to discomfort and listening fatigue. NXEars claim that their ‘AGL’ technology also helps create a more enveloping soundstage more akin to over-ear headphones than IEMs.
The NXEars range
The $199 Sonata uses a single full-range balanced armature driver to take care of the entire frequency range in a crossover-less design. Available in three colours, Black, Midnight Green, and Red, the Sonata is finished with a carbon fibre faceplate.
Like the rest of the NXEars range, the Sonata features a detachable MMCX cable. The review unit shipped with a fairly nice 8-core braided cable and 90-degree 3.5mm termination (shared with the Basso review unit), but I understand that the final retail Sonata and Basso will ship with a 4-core silver-plated cable to temper the higher frequencies somewhat.
Sitting in the middle of the NXEars range, the $499 Basso uses four balanced armature drivers, including two of Knowles’ largest models to help create an impactful low-end as its name would imply. The Basso stands-out cosmetically from thanks to its copper face-plate and the translucent shell design gives you a peek into its complex inner workings.
The 8-balanced armature driver Opera is NXEars’ flagship launch product and is intended to be their ‘statement piece’, reflecting the ultimate expression of their technology, design and aesthetic philosophy. Arriving at a not-inconsiderable $799, the Opera will be naturally be squaring off against some established and (extremely capable) ‘heavy hitters’ at this end of the market. NXEars explain that substantial R&D has gone into the development of the Opera to achieve flagship-like levels of performance. According to NXEars, the 3-way, 8-driver crossover network has been created using proprietary measurements and computer modellings to achieve a “phase-coherent” effect that results in lower distortion and a consistent electrical impedance. The net result? NXEars believe that Opera can “…reveal every details in a recordings, projects a fabulous soundstage with a “see-through” transparency.”
The Opera ships with 8-strand mono-crystal 6N copper 3.5mm MMCX cable, and each pair is hand-finished with an impressive iridescent finish that looks genuinely great in the flesh.
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I appreciated your review, and agree that the Sonata was good enough to be the “best overall value” of the bunch. But I enjoyed the Opera more for its refined sound and great sense of space, plus it scaled up with a better DAC/amp while not being bad with an iPhone only.
None of my Westone branded cables could fit the flush MMCX jack on the NXEars, and I didn’t think to try the cheaper Basso SPC cable. I should have tried my Moon-Audio Silver Dragon MMCX cable (discontinued) but it sounded good enough that there was no point to try a cable that nobody can buy now. Even on the copper cable, my son said the Opera treble was better than his JH Audio JH16 Pro freqphase custom IEM, which he wishes had more tweeters (and he already has a silver dragon 2-pin cable on them).
When I had the 4-driver Basso to review, I noted that with the 8-core silver plated copper cable with a shallower insertion into my ears that they could indeed be bright sounding. But with the Opera’s single crystal 6N copper cable, and a deeper insertion into my ears via smaller tips, the highs were better tamed. So I used the copper cable to review all of the NXEars on Head-fi.org where I did describe the Basso as Energetic.. crisp… and sometimes bright – with a slight sheen to the treble with the wrong tips and shallow fit. But it is possible that mine were not tuned as “hot” as yours.
With the right cable/tip combination I really enjoyed the Basso and Sonata right out of my iPhone 11 Pro Max with lightning headphone adapter. The Basso and Sonata did get brighter with certain DAC/amps I tried, and especially with the SPC cable. But they also improved with my warmer sounding CEntrance DACport HD and the copper cable (or my BlueDAC).
I know the factory was rushed to get these out for reviews before CanJam, in the face of the looming Corona virus outbreak, and I hope that any further delays caused by the outbreak won’t hurt them too badly.
1st sentence of second paragraph should have read as:
“None of my Westone branded cables could fit the flush MMCX jack on the NXEars, and I didn’t think to try the cheaper Basso SPC cable on the Opera.”