Review: Hearing Components Comply NR-10 High-Tech Noise Reduction Earphones
Company: Hearing Components
Compatible: All iPods
This may seem like backhanded praise, but it's not: if the new Comply NR-10 Earphones ($80) were branded with the name Bose rather than the manufacturer Hearing Components, they would be a huge hit. And that's pretty much all they'd need, apart from some aesthetic tweaks -- with NR-10, Hearing Components has delivered a canalphone design that we think will be increasingly influential over the next several years, though mostly because of its ear tip technology rather than its sound quality.
Dozens of earphones, typically premium-priced ones, have previously included foam ear tips as an option. Often colored yellow and shaped like fat jars, their porous, slightly rough surfaces needed to be squeezed with your fingers prior to insertion in your ears, where they’d settle and expand to fill most of your ear canals. Because they mold to your ear shapes, and despite the fact they’re not as smooth or comfortable as silicone rubber tips, the foam alternatives generally provided enhanced noise isolation, rendering the earphones’ sound easier to hear at lower volume levels. During extended listening, however, they could make your ears feel itchy inside, and frequent users found them necessary to replace for hygenic (read: wax build-up) reasons. That’s why they were always options, included alongside longer-lasting, more comfortable silicone tips.
Hearing Components’ Comply tips are, quite simply, the alternative we’ve all been waiting for. Tapered for easier insertion and coated with a material that makes them feel far more comfortable than prior designs, they’re still made from foam, but possess all of the benefits of past foam tips without their most negative consequences. Noise isolation remains incredible, and the coating permits silicone-like comfort and smoothness, allowing for more extended listening without discomfort. Their gray coloration is less of a standout against your ears, too.
Major earphone manufacturers seem to know that the Comply tip design is something special. For instance, similar tips unexpectedly replaced the old yellow foams packed in with Shure’s high-end E500 earphones, then appeared across the entire new Shure SE-series product range. Those earphones start at $150. Westone has similar tips on its $109 UM1s and $299 UM2s. Our expectation would be that other companies will follow suit, especially those high-end earphone makers that have been struggling to find ways to extend miniature pipes into your ears without making you uncomfortable. This soft foam is a smart and inexpensive answer.
As such, Hearing Components sells a basic $60 model called NR-1, plus this model, the Comply NR-10 for $80, each packed with one slim pair of foams, and another regular pair. The slim ones fit small to medium ear canals, and the regular ones fit medium to large canals, leaning more towards the large side. Packs of replacements are sold for $16 or $17 in fives, depending on the number (five or ten) you need. That’s about the same price Shure charges for its replacement foams, and these are similarly designed to last for around three months of typical use.
And while NR-10 is not the most detailed earphone we’ve heard in this price range, it shows just how much bass and detail can be squeezed from a low-end driver with the right isolating tips: a lot. Enough that those who have tried Bose’s TriPort IE earphones, which used large, fluted silicone tips to shape a big, warm sound would be well-advised to consider NR-10 as an alternative. They’re not identical earphones, but Bose could easily have sold NR-10 as its own product and no one would have been surprised; many people would have been thrilled just to avoid the fit and eartip problems the TriPort IEs are experiencing.
Having said that, not everything about the NR-10 design is rosy. Minus the foam tips, they look like generic Chinese earphones, made from a mix of glossy black plastic and rubber, dangling from a black cord that’s mostly notable for its in-line volume control and Apple-like integrated cord manager. And rather than presenting music neutrally or with even roughly equivalent boosts to both bass and treble, they’re decidedly bass-heavy. Songs that might “pop” with similarly-priced earphones—even including the TriPort IEs—tend not to do so here, though certain details, particularly in the bass, are rendered much easier to notice thanks to the NR-10s’ external noise isolation.
These are earphones for people who like warm sound, and place equivalent value on noise isolation, comfort, and reasonable pricing. Despite their lack of “pop,” there’s enough added detail that you can tell the difference between the NR-10s and the typical sub-$50 pair of earphones, and the 42-48dB isolating experience you’ll get is actually superior to what you’ll have with considerably more expensive pairs of noise-cancelling earphones; even Bose’s QuietComforts deliver only 20dB of cancellation. You’ll give up detail and the aforementioned “pop” relative to those $300-$350 offerings, but you’ll pay a lot less and get something more portable in the process.
Ideally, Hearing Components would offer slightly more balanced sound, include more than one set of each size foams in the package, and have a more stylish, less generic physical design. An improvement to any one of these factors would have made it a highly recommendable design by our standards, though we feel strongly that some users - particularly price-sensitive bass fans who need strong external noise isolation - will think that this is an A-caliber offering even without changes. In its current form, we feel that Comply NR-10 is a pretty good value for the dollar, and innovative enough in comfort and fit that we both expect and hope to see more earphones like it in the future.