With iPhones being used more frequently than iPods for listening to music, people have begun to look at ways to improve on the EarPods included in every iPhone box.
NuForce is a small California company that has a rather complete line of audio equipment, from pre-amps and amplifiers for home stereo and theater to an excellent selection of earbuds and headphones. The company sent me a pair of NE-600X earbuds for an audition, and I like what I heard.
$24.95The price has been reduced to $14.95 as of publication time
Driver Size: 11mm
Impedance: 16 Ohm
Connector: 3.5 mm 4-pin iPhone compatibile plug
Weight: 12.5 grams
Accessories: Small and large spare tips
For headphones that are under US$25, the NuForce 'phones pack a solid sound with some nice features you don't find everywhere. There are nice little touches like self-untangling flat OFC wire, addressing one of the nasty problems with many headphone cables. The in-ear headphones are extremely high efficiency. I had to turn the volume way down, but it was a good match for the iPhone headphone amp.
I wanted to get the best sound I could into the headphones, so I played some FLAC tracks downloaded from HDTracks. To do that, I played the FLAC files through the free open source audio player Songbird since iTunes doesn't handle FLAC at all. For even better fidelity, I routed the output of my MacBook Air through an AudioEngine D3 DAC. I listened to the John Williams score for Jurassic Park (192kHz/24bit), which is an exceptionally good recording. With the headphones snug in my ear canal, bass was very good, and strings and percussion instruments had a nice snap. As with any earbuds, you're going to want to adjust them to fit correctly in your ear. NuForce supplies different foam inserts to get a good fit. I also listened to some Mike Oldfield and Miles Davis in hi-res, and the sound was lively and not fatiguing.
At $15.00, the NuForce NE-600X earbuds are not a deluxe piece of hardware. There is plenty of plastic, no built-in remote mic, and no carrying case. For an extra $5.00, you can buy the NE-600M model that does have a mic. But the sound provided by these earbuds is very good. I compared the audio to the stock Apple earbuds and found that the NuForce NE-600X was the clear winner, especially in terms of bass. I also listened with my favorite headphones, the Sennheiser HD 600s. No contest there - the Sennheisers, which are far more expensive at $399.00, trounced the Apple and NuForce earbuds. But of course, you are not going to run around with those big Sennheiser 'phones on.
I liked the NuForce sound. I don't think anything can touch it at the price. The in-ear design eliminates most background noise, so if you want some isolation these earbuds are the way to go.