Disclaimer: Nuforce supplied a box of HEM earphones for me to review for Headfonia. I paid nothing for them. HEM2 is a single armature earphone that goes for about 199$ USD. You can find all about it here: HEM2: High resolution in ear headphones.
Facing down personal prejudices is odd. Sometimes it is painful. Prior to 2005, I thought that serial composters smelled like old banana peels. Now, I turn grass clippings and vegetable garbage in a Hasselblad shipping crate repurposed for composting. And, for years, I had this thing against earphones and headphones with top end roll offs. Then I discovered the AudioFly AF78, and earphone that in retrospect, I am forced to call my red pill.
The HEM2 is another, perhaps more refined, wake up call. Its engine is a single Knowled balanced armature, whose gentle high end and thick low end shake long held stereotypes. Smooth. Refined. Addictive within those criteria.
HEM2 comes in a tasteful box that, at first deadlift, is as heavy as a pair of Doc Martens. Its layout is simple, illustrative, and non-geeky. The product explanation, however, is straight out of Google Translate.
“Reference class high-resolution earphones with balanced armature drivers“ really should be “High-resolution reference-level balanced armature earphones“, as neither reference class nor high-resolution come free of speakers or drivers. Whatever. Clumsy marketing spiels do not unmake otherwise great designs.
Bad engineering and poor product compatibility, however, do. In my opinion, the HEM series’s biggest engineering weakness is that it isn’t cable-compatible with Primo, Nuforce’s erstwhile flagship earphone. Whereas Primo utilises MMCX connectors, HEM4 and HEM6, HEM2 attach via Westone-style two-pin coaxial connectors whose slippery hilts are bastards to push on and pull off of HEM earphones. If you invested in MMCX cables for Primo, you’re hosed. Even if you didn’t, you’re kind of hosed anyway. HEM series can be plugged into after-market two-pin cables, but it is designed to work with cables wearing supportive metal turtlenecks. Its mounting flange sticks out, with makes it easy for turtleneck-less pins to bend. Even if you have turtlenecked cables, there’s no guarantee that they will work with HEM earphones.
HEM2 comes with two cables, one of which is great. The great one sports an easy-to-reach pause/play button housed in an aluminium barrel. Its stress reliefs, neck slider, heat shrink, and plug, are rough and tumble sturdy. It’s only barely microphonic, and is barely susceptible to the deleterious effects of sweat and body oil. Hire a strong man. Play tug of war. The cable should hold together well. With the exception of its terribly slippery turtleneck, it is one of my favourite stock cables. The other cable comprises four strands, utilises the same handsome, utilitarian plug, and fails miserably any degree of tugging. Its neck cinch moves too easily, and feels cheep, though its simple y-split is comfy. My daughter grabbed a channel and pulled. I felt the cable stretch. Previously, I knew that it was cheap. But I had no idea how cheap. I’m not a strong guy and with barely any pressure, I snapped below and above the y-split with little effort. In fact, I was able to snap the same cable multiple times despite diminishing grip purchase.
It is a disgrace of a cable at any price and should not be included in the HEM series.
Otherwise, the HEM2 is decently made. It is super light, fits flush, and its metallic lustre is attractive, though picks up small nicks and scars with relative ease. By the way, Lexan™ is just a brand name for a type of polycarbonate trademarked in the 1960s. Pushing it in marketing is a bunch of hot air. But Nuforce do just that on the back of the box. To be fair, Astell&Kern do the same thing, bragging that some of their players are made of Duralumin, which is one of the earliest lightweight aluminium alloys viable on the mass market. Bloviate.
Back to the HEM2. It isolates well and comes with a great accessory package. A Pelican-style case protects everything. Inside it is a nylon tote pouch. Inside that are fourteen earpieces, two of which are Comply. The rest are sturdy silicon ear pieces that don’t jive with my ears, but may with yours. The pictures I took are gross for the reason that I am most comfortable using Shure yellow foams and my foams are now three years old. Eeeeew!
Sound and more after the jump: