Numbers of new brands are flooding in but we know as a fact that most of them are from China. Not to mean that is a bad thing, of course, but I have been willing to see some new faces from other countries as well – which is why I would like to introduce a new IEM brand from elsewhere called NXEars. Founded in California, USA, NXEars is created by a former Knowles engineer as well as the NuForce founder. Even if your curiosity sensitivity got dull after encountering multiple new brands, NXEars is especially worth the attention as the products show one-of-a-kind characteristics when it comes to the sound. Their first wave of products includes 3 IEMs with different price ranges – Opera, Basso, and Sonata. In this review, we will be dealing with their flagship model, Opera. Let us now take a closer look at its sound signature along with some comparisons.
Opera comes in a white box with a clean, simplistic design. Basic information and specs about the products are described on the rear and the sides. Once unboxed it reveals the earphone and related accessories. Other than the earpieces, it comes with a stock 3.5mm cable, a leather storage case, 4 pairs of silicone eartips, 2 pairs of foam tips, a metal bag clip, a shirt clip, a cleaning tool, and some paperwork. The included shirt clip has a typical form factor which is quite tricky to install it on the cable due to its small lips. The case is durable, light, and large enough to store extra accessories or another set of earphones.
Earpieces – The techs (1/2)
Opera utilizes 3-way 8 Knowles balanced armature drivers per side that are applied with NXEars’ unique tuning methods. The core technology of NXEars IEMs is Aperiodic Ground Loading (AGL) which a patent-pending structure that restores the balance of natural pressure that occurs in the ear canal. You would be familiar with ear pressures that build up as you insert the IEM into the ears. Although building a higher ear pressure usually makes the sound more dynamic and intense, it is not so desirable in forming a natural tone and, most importantly, your health. Since that, companies started to look for solutions to relieve ear pressure without killing the dynamics and isolation an in-ear provides, though not many are out there, yet. A good example would be the APEX technology that 64 Audio uses. In that sense, NXEars’ AGL technology is very welcoming news as we are served with another good option for hearing protection.
Another feature from Opera is their ‘Linear Phase Crossover’ where it corrects the irregular phasing that occurs from multi-driver setups. This happens mainly happens due to two reasons – different bandwidth and driver position. Bass travels slower while the treble travels faster. Plus, multiple BA drivers that are all placed in different positions are tied together, causing extra differences in tube length. These features lead to different arrival times to the nozzle, causing sound cancellation and phase irregularity. Therefore, appropriately setting up the crossover and distancing the drivers according to their travel time would solve such issues. JH Audio’s FreqPhase technology is another excellent example.
Earpieces – The techs (2/2) / Design
However, I would like to highlight that both techs (AGL and Linear Phase Crossover) applied for NXEars IEMs are fundamentally different from others that were mentioned. The concept varies, though they all sure have the same goal. Thanks to these two technologies, Opera retains dynamics and isolation while eliminating the ear pressure, thus having a more natural timbre throughout the range. Applying both these technologies makes a chain reaction and form a unique headroom that expands wide and spatial, as NXEars describes that the sound would feel like an “over-the-ear headphones”. That sure is one of the key topics that I would be dealing with at the impressions section and more analysis of the sound will follow at the later part of the review.
The earpieces are 3D-built with mildly transparent, dark navy bio-resin cavity. The faceplate is topped with their Stardust Blue design where every earpiece varies in its pattern. The blue “n.” logo that represents NXEars is placed at the upper part of the faceplate. I would have liked to see the logo to be brighter or more reflective it is not easily visible unless I reflect it towards the light. Fitting is very comfortable and hassle-free, having no edges that would potentially bother me nor does the ear pressure builds up once inserted to the ears. The earpieces are detachable and terminated to standard MMCX connection.
The nozzle length is about T400, making it compatible with most aftermarket eartips out there. Speaking of eartips, I would strongly suggest trying to match Opera with AZLA Xelastec tips. If so, the sound would become more expansive, airier, and open-field than the others. Opera is very eartip-sensitive and would advise doing enough tip-rolling before you conclude your impressions.
Opera comes with a Mono-crystal 6N copper stock cable. The 8-braided wires are well-braided without any loosen part along with being soft, light, and non-microphonic. The end termination is done with a TRS 3.5mm plug. There are blue and red rings at the tip of the MMCX connectors, making it easier to recognize the L/R earpieces. There are shrink tubed earguides that secures the cable to stay around over the ears. Besides, while this is more of a personal wish than a disadvantage, it would have been even better for them to be incorporating interchangeable plugs (such as Dita, Dunu, etc.) or include conversion connectors for wider usability. Overall, a solid and well-built cable that is included here.
Sound impression – Staging
This time, the order of the impressions will be a little different as the sound philosophy is different from our casual earphones. Let us first consider how a casual earphone would rather sound like – it would be whispering close to your ears, creating a headroom where you are the one in the center of the field. It is basically having you to be the cast of the music. Though in the case of Opera, its headroom would form a large, concave curvature right behind you – looking like a shape of “)”, where a standing half-sphere would be containing you – by having you fully covered in all directions except the front which is opened. While mids feel to be fairly close to you, lows and highs would reach out frontward and forward, as if creating a floor and roof for the headroom. Comprehensively, the impression would be closer to having you to be the audience of the music – creating a snug, relaxed environment that embraces you.
It is both interesting and surprising to explore the type of sound Opera has, as this resembles the impression you would normally get from a closed-back headphone. This staging would be spread out vast, large, and three-dimensionally. Its unique soundstage easily gives impressions where the staging would extend beyond the earphones, and if I just add a pinch of an exaggeration, it also gave impressions where it feels to be extending beyond the head. It is uncertain if I should really call it an exaggeration since it actually does feel to be extending as such. Be aware that this does not mean the sound is off focus or having the imaging warped, as both of them are well kept.
Sound impression – Lows
Being thick in both color and size, lows are full of seriousness. Bass rumbles would approach from behind, sweeping with realistic vibrations that give tingles to the ears. However, what that might be unexpected from this stage is that the sub-bass is not particularly strong in quantity and slams. Opera keeps a bass response that is just adequately emphasized from a flat signature. The bass response is up to speed though – it is just that these slams are done softly and flowingly.
Hence the bass reproduction is up to par, but if you are looking for a rigid and snappy bass, its impact could feel too soft and gentle for your taste. Although the dense kernel is clearly present, so you would still feel that in-focus bass strikes that deliver the impact. Besides, it would be too early to underestimate the bass performance as they show vast coverage in terms of area. Lows would dive deep and have the density stacked up from the rock bottom, covering the back of the head, and then spreading out sideways. Since that, even with a gentle quantity, lows are able to show a highly dominating role in the music. Having ultra lows and upper lows are similar in quantity, the bass flows very steadily and evenly throughout the range.
Sound impression – Mids, Tone
While mids would feel recessed, shortly you will notice that the way how its recession is made is different – feeling to be the position that is only pushed back rather than becoming weaker in presence. Normally when a muffled feeling is present on the mids, there are high chances for the bass to eat the vocals and killing off the details. Interestingly enough, that is not the case here. For Opera, it is more due to its “standing half sphere” (that I previously mentioned as a metaphor), therefore the vocals are not really shadowed as lows do not flood into the vocals. This particular recession appears to be purposely done to trigger a speaker-like effect.
Another characteristic of mids is its tone. Opera possesses a mildly muffled or a fabric-like tone to its nature. While I usually dislike IEMs with recessed or muffled mids, Opera’s vocals attract me quite much as they give a similar feeling to, again, a large speaker – both in presentation and texture. It is eerily attractive as mids are vivid and kept with delicacy while I thought its presentation would turn all hazy and overwhelmed. Speaking of textures, mids tend to break down the strands of sounds into relatively thicker pieces, bringing an analog vibe where soft and refined grains are present throughout the sound. The grains do not get dry or edgy to the feel but remain smooth and finely polished. While this may come across unorthodox, yet in the ears, it sounds musical and harmonic without breaking the accuracy.
Lower mids are kept relatively warm and thick. However, its considerably nimble and airy nature prevents itself from vocals getting sluggish. Upper mids would get slimmer and gain shininess and transparency, making equally ideal for male and female vocals. Overall, mids show an organic tone that brings a mild, cheerful echo that is nowhere near to getting shouty. Sibilance is not present but nicely finished, adding finesse to the upper mids.
Sound impression – Highs, etc.
Compared to mids, highs would break down the sound further into smaller pieces, showing more analyticity and separation. It is dimmed in brightness (although still brighter than lows and mids) and relatively lesser in quantity, so it would not give much upper-end freshness. However, the treble details are not left out. Big and small details are not shadowed by lows or mids whatsoever and make their presence stand out clear-enough on a black background. Treble splashes peacefully spread out with good analyticity, managing to disassemble all the fine strands and textures from them.
What I have also noticed is that the upper ends in general (mids and highs) are relatively positioned lower than many IEMs in a similar tier. This leads to a difference where mids and highs are inherently positioned up high in the sky for those casual IEMs while Opera feels as if mids and highs would extend upwards from a lower position. The extended height from Opera is still relatively lower but achieves more low-end coverage and stability. Separation is up to quality with that involves nice spatial effects.
These two are quite a lot different in their characteristics and natures. S8 is all about neatness and neutrality, keeping the quantities considerably flat throughout the range. The overall sound is snappier, brighter, and white-toned in its background. Each note is clearer in shows faster transitions that leave minimum residues or reverbs. In contrast, Opera shows more dynamics and a fuller, thicker body with more reverbs (but not muddy). It is also thicker in color, adding depth and boldness to the tone. This leads Opera to present a more serious, wider, and in-focus atmosphere while S8 takes advantage in terms of cleanness, speed, and openness. Texture-wise, Opera is on the softer and smoother side as S8 is harder and crunchier. Although Opera does not get to the point of being ‘dull’, it sure is on the softer side. I would say it is closer to the fabricky impression from an over-ear headphone, feeling more organic and moister. However, if the bright and crisp tingles are what you are looking for, perhaps S8 would be a better alternative. If for the smooth and wide headroom with gentle crisps are enough for you, Opera would likely make a superior choice.
Only to a mild extent, Phoenix’s mids are positioned closer while mids from Opera are more expansive. Both are on a similar range in temperature, though there still is a difference. In the case of Phoenix, while staying tender, the overall atmosphere feels more relaxed, soothing. The vocals are relatively less fuller than Opera but they carry more air and clarity that gives the upper-end breeziness. The atmosphere from Opera is nearly as smooth as Phoenix, yet the core is rock-solid which makes faster and snappier impacts. Since that, Phoenix shows better flow and grooves as Opera shows superiority in terms of analyticity. The brightness from Phoenix is right on neutral while Opera is a bit dimmer. Lows are closer and stronger on Phoenix as Opera’s lows show a more subdued, subtle approach. For the highs, Opera’s are moister, dimmer, and thicker, both in color and density. Phoenix keeps the highs thinner yet finer as well as showing more finesse.
-NXEars Basso-*review coming soon
Although I prefer to compare to an item that is similar in price and performance level, Opera takes a different approach to sound than our usual IEMs, we will also compare it with Opera’s little brother, Basso. Looking at the big picture, Basso is more densely-packed and closer while Opera expands wider and fuller. The bass quantity is a bit higher on Basso with tighter, punchier strikes. Opera approaches with a calmer, smoother punch that brings in more reverbs and largeness. In the case of mids, Opera shows a fuller and thicker body while Basso is relatively slimmer that scales just about being neutral. Basso’s mids are edgier since it results in a bit of sibilance as it passes the upper mids. This acts as to spice up the mids, but at the same time, causes more turbulence to the vocals as well as getting vulnerable for those who are sibilance-sensitive. Meanwhile, Opera is more leveled and tranquil, not causing any spikes or sibilance that could possibly make the listener fatiguing. Alongside this, the tone is more organic and neutral that makes the presentation to be less colored.
For those who have already listened to these, I am sure most would agree that NXEars gave Opera its name for a valid reason since a little opera would be going on in your ears as you hit the play button. Although there are IEMs that focus on digging into small and detailed bits of expressions, Opera takes an opposite approach where it draws a large picture, looking at the overall mood, and putting them together into one piece. NXEar’s imaging and staging concept are charmingly different and unique from most IEMs I have heard until now, making it worthwhile to call it an eye-opening experience. If you would like to take a full taste on NXEar’s take on an in-ear headphone and its unique staging concept, Opera would be a flagship choice where you never knew before you needed one, but now you do!