I used to encourage readers not to go below the $50 mark when shopping for earphones or headphones, but times have changed. Decent drivers have become cheaper to manufacture, and more and more companies have access to them. It’s great news for music lovers on budgets—models like the NuForce NE-650M don’t even seem like budget offerings. At $44.95 (list), it has powerful low-end, crisp highs, and doesn’t distort at high volumes. Throw in the inline remote and microphone and a secure-fitting design, and the NE-650M may not be perfect (it can sound a bit bright or tinny at times), but it’s certainly a solid bargain.
The best thing the NE-650M has going for it in the design department is its astoundingly secure fit. The earpieces are lightweight and create a very secure seal, which helps ensure a more accurate stereo image and promotes better bass response. Visually, the earphones are a bit bland—not ugly, but nothing is striking about them either. Black glossy plastic earpieces with orange highlights connect to a flat black cable with an inline remote control and microphone.
The remote is of the single-button variety, so you can play and pause music, as well as skip tracks and answer calls, but you can’t adjust volume—not ideal. Call clarity through the mic is fine.
Four pairs of black silicon ear tips in various sizes are included with the NE-650M, as is a black protective zip-up case.
The NE-650M does not distort on deep bass tracks at high volumes, which is a notable accomplishment in this price range. Even better, it manages to avoid distortion without applying the old trick of simply not reproducing the sub-bass frequencies that tend to cause it in the first place—there is plenty of refined bass here. On the Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the deep bass of the synth kick drum loop is powerful. At high volumes, this track often causes distortion on sub-$100 earphone pairs, but not here. There is certainly a high frequency lean to the response, but we are still given plenty of low-end to round it out.
Bill Callahan’s vocals on “Drover” can often sound a bit muffled or muddy on pairs that deliver deep bass, but on the NE-650M, the focus is clearly on the mids and the highs. Instead of muffled, his voice sounds crisp and bright, and it stands in the forefront of the mix. The drumming on this track can often compete with his vocals for your attention if it gets too much low frequency boosting; here, it seems to get very little. The end result is the song sounds clear and bright, but bass lovers will miss the lows. They’re far less obviously present in a mix like this than they are in the booming, sub-bass thunder of “Silent Shout.”
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the high-mid sculpting gives the kick drum loop a nice, crunchy attack, and the vocals are also graced with some treble edge that helps them stand out in the mix. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are not as intense here as they would be on a pair with heavy bass boosting, but the sound is not brittle or thin. Those who favor a crisper response without giving up on the lows entirely will enjoy what the NE-650M brings to the table.
On instrumental pieces, like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances,” the lower register strings are graced with just enough low-end boost to have a nice, rich sound that help them pounce out of the mix here and there, but the show belongs to the mids and highs. The higher register strings and brass seem to get more of a mid-range than high frequency boost, so while the bright growl of the brass is striking, the focus is on the sustain of the mid-range instruments. At times, the sound on tracks like this can be a bit tinny, depending on which instruments are in the mix, but generally speaking, there is a nice balance here.
If you’re looking for a pair of earphones with bigger bass without sacrificing overall audio performance, you might need to spend a bit more money. Consider the Beats by Dr. Dre urBeats, which delivers some serious low-end without distorting. If you like the idea of the balance the NE-650M brings to the table, but can afford to spend a bit more, the Shure SE215 is a solid option that neither goes hog wild on bass response nor ignores it. The similarly priced Jays a-Jays One+ offers comparable bass response to the NE-650M, but is a bit less bright. And if you’re really just looking for an inexpensive pair that doesn’t sound awful, the RHA MA150 is the cheapest option we currently recommend.
For $45, however, the NuForce NE-650M gets a lot right—a secure fit that delivers distortion-free audio with solid low-end and crisp highs. The brightness may be a bit too much sometimes, but in this price range, there will always be some minor flaw. If $50 is your limit, the NE-650M should be on your radar.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc