I’m no audiophile, but I know how I like my sound.
I was searching for replacement to my old, soldered and twice broken Sony MDR-EX500 which to me were perfection incarnate, and let me tell you, choosing earphones these days is terribly difficult; before, all I had to do was enter the Sony Shop (or stores that sold decent earphones) and chose one expensive enough to ensure decent sound, but never the more expensive models. Now, you have hundreds of millions of options! It’s ridiculously tiring.
Of course, if you have the money you just order a few and be done with it. Or, if you don’t care about audio you… well, no, you’ll be on the Apple, Skull Candy, Beats, and Bose pages, not here.
So, across the years I’ve found I like my audio just like those EX500s sounded: powerful (13.5mm driver!), with a slight V or W, not sibilant, with bass (but I’m no mofo basshead, you know the type, those idiots that make their cars reverberate with sub-bass and ruin all other frequencies, and the sleep of 5 or 7 city blocks), on the fast-ish side, not terribly descriptive or analytical —my most used sources don’t merit it, and actually would suffer from too much analysis— but still transparent and clear, and I’d say with soundstage, but IEMs have little of that… comparing them to open cans, of course.
I’d say that’s the definition of —at least to me— the perfect driver.
I tried upgrading them once years ago with some some Sony with four balanced armatures per side as drivers, and instantly hated BAs, but this time I was open to pick an hybrid model, with both a dynamic driver and one or two balanced armatures (there’s models with 25 BAs per side, I think), assuming that about a decade of progress had made BAs listenable.
Considering all that, the process of choosing is crushing, took months. Firstly, I had to catch up with latest theories and schools of thought to have a general idea of what to expect in this postmodern world (1 tesla magnets! A powerful full-sized speaker system reaches that!). Then I had to chose very broadly from the brands that kept being mentioned in the forums. Then I had to read the individual long reviews.
That’s the most difficult part, because you see, you can’t truly trust a review from a random forum member; you have to read (and hopefully there’ll be some) his other reviews in order to have an idea of what he likes and how he’s reviewing. The task was to try and eliminate some of the subjectivity from the individual reviews of the several items I chose from a few brands. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that there’s always opposed reviews, one guy can say whatever and the next one precisely the opposite.
You also have to read some reviews from items out of your budget (up and down), and items you won’t buy for whatever reason (say, they’re ugly, from a brand you don’t like, don’t fully fit your criteria). Same purpose as above.
On top of knowing what type of sound I was looking for, I had other considerations, such as they should work for running and cycling —which seemed very hard as I wasn’t able to find too many cyclists and runners interested in decent audio, them crowd is the Bluetooth and ultra bass one, inferior race such as it is.
Another consideration was that the damned cable should be orders of magnitude better than the stupid Sony cable that always fails. Always.
The composition of the cable —its isotopes, number of electron orbits, and covalent bonds— is a myth everyone should stop spreading.
After reading tomes of obscure and arcane privileged knowledge, after asking for advice a few times and in a few places (that’s how you play a decent RPG), after having chosen The One a couple of times and then changing it, I arrived at the NF Audio NA2.
They don’t look as garish and tasteless as some of the metal multi-driver monstrosities, nor as plain, boring and generic as the BT buds —I liked its frosted translucent looks; cable seemed resistant enough and its conector pins are covered in a glove of plastic, increasing durability; it came with twice the usual tips. Its drivers have a “dual cavity”, which probably is just marketing, and the power of its magnets is over 9000 —I remained worried about the bass, wrongfully thinking it’s dependent on the driver’s diameter.
I was truly surprised when I hit play, at random, and ‘I Want to Break Free’ from Queen blasted mid-track. It truly was a blast! “Blown away” say too lightly (because the overuse) the people who can barely write.
The volume was low, of course, the blast was a wall of all the sounds, all the frequencies, all sounding perfectly and powerfully, clearly and spatiated, not too intimate, not lacking anywhere. More songs followed, that detailed (remember, to me, always to me) sub-bass! Those fast-ish and powerful bass hits, textured! The mids… OK, not ultra loud, a bit relaxed. The highs there, sharp… but not at all tiring! Every genre!
‘Could it be that they’re this good?’ I was constantly thinking.
From the first listen I realized they were better, considerably so, than my EX500s, not a question about it. And now, a couple of weeks in, listening a few times (I don’ need no over analyzing; I trust my ears), I’m still amazed at how damn good they sound.
And they have power. Here’s a table for you to grasp what 1 tesla is:
In space: 0.1-10 nanoteslas.
Earth’s magnetic field: 0.00058 T.
Sunspot: 0.15 T.
Powerful speaker: ~1 T.
Nuclear Magnetic Resonance equipment: >7 T.
Neutron star / magnetar: ~100 megateslas/~100 gigateslas.
I took my time replacing my Sonys, I knew what a hard task was going to be, and it could end tragically (ha, ‘I Want to Break Free’ came up! I utterly love those kind of chance’s little coincidences)… Maybe pushing a bit the mids to the front, for more powerful vocals, but not at the cost of more treble, like I guess in the NM2s).
So, it’s been a while for me without listening to IEMs and that could obviously skew my impressions.
The oh-so-boring cliché of “they’ve made me love my music again” does not feel far fetched.
All in all, I’m very satisfied with my purchase, I won’t be looking for replacement for the foreseeable future, and totally recommend them for long, enjoyable listens. They sound so good you have to stop thinking and start actively listening and enjoying.
The tips do make a difference, I’d rather the bass ones as I find the balanced ones too open and with less body. Spinfits don’t really work with these because the sound becomes too light and transparent, which is a shame because they’re much more comfortable.
The passive sound isolation is quite OK, even with no sound you have to take them out to talk; I’ve tried them without music in very loud environments and they block the offending noise easily.
For cycling they’re too windy, useable, but you have to up the volume, lowering your safety. I haven’t tried running yet but I expect them to bee windy too.
Transport case is tight, it fits my iPod Shuffle too, but I think that’s about it; I just ordered a Wiwoo U2 and will see if it fits.
Tips could be softer and stickier, like Spinfits, but I think then they wouldn’t sound as full-bodied.
Other reviewers have complained about stiff ear guides, to me they work perfectly, comfortable to the point of not noticing them even after hours.
I thank here everyone that took the time to answer my questions on the different platforms I reached.
After almost two months of enjoyment, I can say that the NF Audio NA2 IEMs can take a serious amount of volume and EQing.
It’s scary how loud these things can go, but without any distortion, you just hear more and more and drown in your music. And equalizing them, they can take a ridiculous amount of bass (or mids, or highs). I’ve never experienced earphones that behave like these
The carrying case can’t take my Wiwoo U2 (which sounds better than any iPod I’ve owned, and has no problem driving the NA2 to ridiculous sound pressure).
The chin adjustment thing (made from aluminium) is worthless, it’s too lose and it doesn’t stays in place at all.