Review: Nuforce HEM2 – Bizarre Love Triangle

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.

Relevant links:

Nuforce Primo 8: Boundless Mids
Ultrasone IQ And IQ Pro
instant ohmage: AudioFly AF78/m

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.

Not sound

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.

Nuforce HEM2 (4 of 10)

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.

Nuforce HEM2 (6 of 10) Nuforce HEM2 (1 of 10)

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.

Nuforce HEM2 (5 of 10)

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:

Review: Nuforce HEM2 – Bizarre Love Triangle
4 (80%) 13 votes

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Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

6 Comments

  • Reply September 1, 2016

    Barun C

    Nice Review Nathan. Photos came out great, I can’t help but feel that you wanted to capture the state of those foam tips, they might be 100 years old in foam tips age system 😉

    About the first page did you mean Knowles or is it a typical Nathan word play Knowled?

    And the cables, don’t even get me started, you think this is bad, I had a horrible experience with Earsonics with the Velvet. Plastics one 2Pin cable got bad within 2 days after I had to buy one during warranty. Durability should be the first priority then sound in case of cables. IEM manufacturers should also care about cables not only the sound and the IEM/earphones themselves.

    • Reply September 1, 2016

      ohm image

      As always, Barun, thank you for the comment.

      Absolutely, Knowled is nothing but a typo. I must fix it.

      I was explicit that this is one of, if not the worst, cable I’ve used among pack-ins. Far worse than any from Earsonics. I have Velvet’s cable here and it is far harder to destroy. I’m surprised. The one with the HEM2 is as bad as an airplane cheapo cable.

  • Reply September 1, 2016

    Nikolaus Matheis

    Have you heard the entire HEM lineup, Nathan? I have, and HEM2 easily stood out for me as pushing all the right buttons for my personal preferences. It sounds a bit like the configuration I keep my FLC8S in but without as much resolution as the FLC8S.

    Regarding the HEM braided cable, it’s all I’ve used. I’ve sent mine to several people in the US to demo, and they’re still fully intact. No stretching or sound cutting out. Maybe you just got a bad cable off the line? Personally, I like how lightweight it is. Combined with the lightweight shells, it feels like there’s hardly anything there. Not as disappearing as Linum, but still hardly noticeable.

    I know FLC8S has been out for awhile, but it’s a solid IEM that you should try out and review.

    • Reply September 2, 2016

      ohm image

      Thanks for the advice, Nikolaus.

      I love the HEM2. It pushes all the right buttons for me, too. I can’t say that I’d not like it with more treble sparkle, but at the same time, I love that it is more laid back. It is a wonderful sounding earphone. Wonderful.

      If I get the chance to try the FLC8S I’ll let you know. Thank you.

  • Reply September 27, 2016

    P

    I would like to see a review of the Hem8 model too please. They seem to be a Shure SE846 rival that has slipped under the radar. Also I consider the change to the Westone style two pin connectors an upgrade over MMCX connectors that have earnt themselves a reputation for being prone to poor connections and are mechanically questionable. I would imagine that only a small number of Primo8 owners will be buying Hem models with the hope that cables will be reuseable and most will be able to live with the lack of compatibility. Besides the same argument applies to anyone changing over from Westone style two pins or Shure style MMCX to the Hems – some will win, some will loose out. The metal ‘turtle necks’ seem like a worthy design to make the connectors stronger – do they actually prevent other two pin cables being used? Seems not. The weak cable with low tensile strength seems like a bit of a let down though.

    • Reply September 27, 2016

      ohm image

      I may review the HEM8, but I’m not sure when. We will see.

      Two-pin is a boon, I agree. But it’s how Nuforce manufactured their mount, their cable flange, etc., that is questionable, and which makes off-maker options less secure against the body. A flush mount, and inset wall are both stronger designs.

      I agree that Primo8 buyers are probably not in the market for HEM series, but brand loyalists should realise that incompatibilities like this make for poor branding.

      All of that is forgivable in the event that you just want to amazing sound the HEM2 puts out. Which it does. Amazing.

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