Polk Audio Nue Era review

Polk Audio's Nue Era balances out rich lows with crispness and brightness in the mids and highs, but these earphones occasionally have some distortion issues.

Polk Audio’s latest earphone pair, the good-looking Nue Era, is an audio-focused pair with little in the way of extra features. At $99.95 (list), the only real feature to discuss, other than the audio itself, is the three-button inline remote control and microphone. As for audio performance, the stylish Nue Era delivers a laudable balance of rich lows and crisp mids and highs. Unfortunately, some distortion creeps into the picture on tracks with deep bass at high volumes. This means that the Nue Era is not likely the ideal pair for bass fiends, but for those of you who prefer balance over intense bass, at moderate volumes, the Nue Era doesn’t disappoint.

Design
The fashionable Nue Era earphones are offered in two color schemes—black or tortoise shell, both combined with metallic accents. The simple but unique design of the earpiece has them horizontally oriented, in a vaguely oval shape, so that the earpieces rest against the back of the ear for a more secure fit.

Other than an inline remote control and microphone for mobile devices (located along the right ear’s cable), there are not many features or design elements to discuss—the Nue Era is an audio-focused earphone pair. The remote is of the three-button variety, which is ideal because it allows not only for playback control and navigation, but also volume control—in addition to answering calls.

Call clarity is about as solid as it will ever get for cell phones—that’s not really a compliment. The mic works fine, and your call partner will understand you and you’ll understand them, but cellular audio quality is mediocre to begin with, and the mic can’t change that.

The Nue Era ships with six pairs of ear tips in various shapes and sizes—including flange–style tips. It should be fairly easy to find a pair that works for you. A small cloth and leather drawstring carrying pouch is also included.

Performance
On tracks with serious sub-bass content, like the Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Nue Vue does a decent job of conveying the lows at moderate volumes. At higher (and unsafe) listening levels, however, the Nue Vue runs into distortion issues—and unpleasant ones. The drivers in these earphones are not made to produce sub-bass frequencies like the ones in this song—at least not at high volumes. This is not a deal-breaker if you don’t tend to listen to much electronic music or hip hop, or if you don’t intend to listen at high volumes, but bass lovers will want to look elsewhere.

On Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” his baritone vocals are delivered with a nice richness that is matched with a solid high-mid presence, so the vocals never get muddy and are always clear and upfront in the mix. The drums receive a bit of low-end boost, but it is subtle, and ideal—they get a bit of added, natural richness, and don’t sound overly intense like they can on pairs with heavily boosted bass.

Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop’s attack gets a nice amount of high-mid chop to it, though it’s not quite as sharp as it is on crisper pairs. Still, it gets enough to separate itself from the lower, sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat. This gives the mix, which can sometimes sound overwhelmingly layered, some breathing room. The vocals here are also quite clear and never in competition with other mix elements for your attention.

On classical tracks, like John Adams “The Chairman Dances,” the high-mid and high frequency content owns the spotlight. The bowing of higher register strings and the growl of brass are the most prevalent elements of the mix, along with high wooden percussion hits. The lower register strings and drum hits have a decent amount of richness to them, but it’s a subtle sound—not the type of sound a bass-heavy pair of earphones would produce. Overall, it’s a bit brighter than some might prefer, but the Nue Era offers a fairly balanced mix.

For $100, the most disappointing thing about the Nue Era is the distortion on deep bass material—there are now plenty of pairs half this price that don’t suffer the same issues. That said, those pairs don’t sound as crisp and dynamic as the Nue Vue does. Still, if you can’t live with the potential sub-bass issues at high volumes, check out the TDK EB950—it’s slightly more expensive, but a favorite of ours in terms of all-around audio performance. If you’re looking to spend a bit less money, consider the SOL Republic Amps HD In-Ear Headphones and the Sennheiser CX 685 SPORTS—both are solid pairs with decent bass response, and the former is also geared towards exercise, though it lacks an inline remote. And finally, if you really just want some bass for the least amount of money possible, the RHA MA150 is the most affordable model we currently recommend.

Specifications
Wireless No
Connection Stereo 3.5mm
Phone Controls Yes
Impedance 16 ohms
Type In-Canal
Frequency Range 10Hz-14kHz

Verdict
Polk Audio's Nue Era balances out rich lows with crispness and brightness in the mids and highs, but these earphones occasionally have some distortion issues.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc