NXEars Basso & Opera First Impressions
NXEars is a new audio manufacturer from the USA that was spearheaded by former Knowles employee Casey Ng whose notable work includes the NuForce NE, HEM and Primo line-ups in addition to the new Erato TWS earphones. NuForce is most fond to me for their Primo 8 quad driver earphone which made a lot of noise for its phase-coherent crossover that ensured all drivers were time-aligned; you can read more about it in RinChoi’s excellent analysis here. NXEars takes this design to the next level, aiming for a sound more akin to an over-ear headphone or speaker over an in-ear.
This has been achieved with numerous technological innovations with the addition of AGL (aperiodic ground loading) which mitigates the pressurization often used to achieve sub-bass extension in IEMs and standing wave resonances within the ear canal. Their line-up consists of 3-models, all utilising Knowles BA drivers. In for listening today is the 4-driver Basso and the 8-driver flagship Opera coming in at $499 and 799 USD respectively. The Opera exemplifies Casey’s technologies featuring a grand soundscape propagated by powerful vocals and richly bodied notes while the Basso takes a more conventional approach imbued with some extra hot NXEars treble sauce. These earphones certainly have some magic! Read more about the line-up and technology behind NXEars here.
Sound Impressions –
The Opera has a balanced signature that doesn’t trace any conventional curve, this is a unique creation with one-of-a-kind voicing to match. It also features a down-falling impedance, so it requires a low impedance source with solid power output to maximise sound quality. That said, Casey has designed the Opera to be as forgiving as possible with its specifications. I will be diving into specific pairings and effects in my full review.
I’ve been deliberating over the low-end for a few hours, it’s quite curious. Extension has turned out to be decent, however, there is zero pressure, so slam and impact are perceived as very light. Both sub and mid-bass are of neutral quantity with an unorthodox bump in the upper-bass that imbues the entire sound with a warm, full and powerful voicing. As decay is fast and control is very high, the low-end is articulate and very defined but that lack of deep bass can reduce dynamics. Casey is currently working to address this issue by implementing a similar copper faceplate to the Basso which is said to increase heft. Mids have powerful fundamental from the upper-bass but there is a sizable lower-midrange trough that redeems separation. As such, muffle and bass spill are non-existent. Vocals lie at the forefront of the Opera’s presentation as a result of wide-band centre midrange emphasis. As the sound is linear here, the timbre isn’t skewed despite the sculpted low-end tuning and its effects are well compensated by the lower-midrange.
The Opera sounds natural if distinctly full, but also avoids excessive warm which grants this earphone a very powerful voicing and a coherent presentation. A small dip at 4KHz ensures accurate articulation before a small 5KHz bump which aids detail presence and contributes towards strong vocal extension. Highs are well-bodied, textured and smooth throughout. Foreground details are well-represented and present if smoothed off in terms of note attack. A small middle-treble emphasis around 10KHz can be observed that redeems some air and clarity. However, perhaps by virtue of its acoustic design, I do not perceive any form of brightness up top and the background is immaculately clean. There is good treble extension that expands the soundstage laterally but little sparkle due to their darkness. This earphone has especially strong foreground/background contrast and hyper-defined layers. Background details almost seem to pop, the imaging performance is very special.
The Basso has a distinctly brighter sound, opening up the top-end and imbuing a pleasing amount of air and headroom. Meanwhile, its bass is more linear than the Opera’s, deeper reaching and with more accurate timbre. It doesn’t possess quite the same magic but provides its own unique voicing that caters towards a different audience.
NXEars mention that the Basso is utilising two of Knowles’ largest BA woofer drivers alongside heavy copper faceplates that I’m assuming serve to decrease resonances. And indeed, the Basso provides more sub-bass extension than the Opera in addition to a more mid-bass centric tuning that makes it more orthodox in its presentation. Lows are slightly warm, pleasantly full and smoothly textured. Decay is slower than the Opera but it still retains that a typical BA response, being controlled and quickly decaying nonetheless. The combination of increased extension and a slight increase in note weight creates a perceptibly more dynamic low-end which is somewhat reaffirmed by its slightly slower but also more natural decay. The transition to the midrange is more linear on the Basso as its upper-bass is less present, while vocals are more laid-back, creating a roughly U-shaped sound overall. However, as opposed to competitors, the Basso is a highly coherent U with bolstered lower-midrange body; it isn’t vivid or clarity boosted in the slightest.
As the upper-bass isn’t overly warm nor the low-end too emphasized, the midrange is similarly devoid of muffle or congestion. The centre midrange is relatively flat with a natural 3KHz bump which helps to redeem a natural image after which the earphones have a substantial 4KHz trough. As such, mids are very dense and smooth in addition to being full-bodied. In turn, there isn’t a lot of vocal definition or layering and they clearly lack the extension and clarity of the Opera. Up top is where they falter most. The Basso is a clear step down technically from the Opera, as can be expected. However, its lower-treble is smoothed to the extent that detail presence is largely diminished even if raw detail retrieval upon scrutiny is ample. The superlative imaging and layering performance of the Opera is vaguely apparent, however, due to a sizable middle-treble emphasis, the Basso tends to glare over foreground instruments and micro-details higher up. As the background is bright and the Basso lacks the extension to project immersive dimension or resolve fine background details, it suffers from a less involving soundstage and foreground presentation that can comes across as detail deficient.
Early Verdict –
NXEars’ latest earphones are easily the most intriguing that have come into my hands for review in a long while. The Opera is of particular interest; an earphone that shines not in its ability to resolve and draw attention to every fine detail but bring them together in a highly organised manner. It represents the flagship of a promising new brand that faces firmly against the grain; utilising acoustic excellence to realise a unique tuning that finds balance nonetheless. Though bass is certainly unconventional, the ability of this earphone to project and position will surely find many fans. It is well suited towards Casey’s intended audience, that being audiophiles with a high-performance source Meanwhile, the Basso takes a more “normie” approach with its sound tuning only with a polarising middle-treble peak and reduced bass/midrange separation.
It is designed for live stage monitoring and mainstream genres like pop and EDM that require more high-end energy. Both earphones are evidently very purposeful in their tuning and a standout mention goes to NXEars’ proprietary innovations; it’s clear that these earphones have been the source of much deliberation for Casey. The 3D printed housings are also gorgeous and have delightful ergonomics to my ears. This experience is made especially enticing by pricing as Casey’s ties with Knowles grant him access to the best supply chains. The Basso and Opera sport $499 and $799 USD price tags respectively, thereby grossly undercutting the competition when compared driver for driver. The NXEars range deserves a listen and you might just find that one deserves your hard-earned cash too.
Stay tuned for the full reviews coming soon!
Thank you Ryan for the detail impressions. Just a correction that the USD price for Basso is $499.
Sorry Casey, it’s been updated!