NuForce BE Live5 Bluetooth Wireless Earphones Review
- Product Name: NuForce BE Live5
- Manufacturer: Optoma-NuForce
- Review Date: March 10, 2020 13:00
- MSRP: $25 (special AH price $19.99)
- First Impression: Gotta Have It!
- Supports aptX® and AAC for wireless transmission
- Lightweight aluminum alloy body
- 8-hour battery life for music playback
- 8-mm dynamic drivers
- In-line remote & microphone can be used to make calls and issue commands to voice assistant Siri, Google Assistant
- IPX5 water resistance rating, great for workouts
- Magnetic clasp design facilitates the wearing of the earbuds around your neck
- Complementary Comply™ isolation T-550 series tips and silicon tips of varying sizes
The hyphenated brand Optoma-NuForce has an interesting history. Optoma comes from Taiwan, the other China, and built a solid reputation for projectors in the early 2000s. The company had some hits with DLP, LED and laser projectors as the Optoma logo could be seen in office board-rooms worldwide. At least in North America, the company had a strong association with delivering office PowerPoint presentations in meetings. As bland as the company’s niche sounds, Optoma is a display-technology giant, but it's known more for business than gaming or home entertainment.
Optoma must have struggled for a breakthrough in audio because in 2014 it acquired a small California-based audio company called NuForce. NuForce may not have been well known, but they did have some interesting products in the small but growing headphone market of the early 2000s with DACs and headphone amplifiers that included balanced XLR connectors, long before balanced audio connectors became all the rage among today’s headphone hi-fi enthusiasts. But NuForce was experiencing financial struggles of its own, perhaps owing to products that were just a little ahead of their time. Please let me know in the comments if anyone knows more about NuForce in its pre-Optoma acquisition days. It seems like an interesting story.
Once Optoma acquired NuForce, the projector company added a serious level of audio to its already world-class video. What's followed ever since has been a rapid-fire of new personal audio products under the revitalized the Optoma-NuForce brand. It would be easy to dismiss the various NuForce earbuds as cheap imitations of better products, designed for anyone who doesn’t care about sound quality and doesn't want to spring for the cost of a new pair of AirPods. But that assumption would be dead wrong. NuForce has a serious audio pedigree that appears to live on in the many, decidedly less-expensive portable audio products, like the Optoma-NuForce BE Live5 earbuds.
BE Live5 Build
Although they MSRP was $99, at the time of writing this, NuForce had a significant price reduction and you can now find these on Amazon for $20 shipped. For the price you get a surprisingly solid pair of wireless earphones. This would be a good place to specify that these are only “Wireless Earbuds”, as opposed to “Truly Wireless”, the name given to the recent trend in wireless earbuds that aren’t connected together with a cord. NuForce’s truly wireless option (BE Free5), is more of a direct competitor with the aforementioned Apple AirPods. But today’s topic, the BE Live5 are the classic, behind-the-neck-style wireless earphones. As you can see, NuForce has established a subtle naming convention for the digital age.
By now, Optoma-NuForce already has history in personal audio, its current product line aren’t its first, and they've already made some incremental improvements year-over-year to its original designs. Compared to its past products, NuForce seems to have learned where it can get away with cost-saving, and how to bring the quality where it counts. The cable connecting the earbuds is a rather thin insulated, flexible plastic, no carbon-fibre weave or anti-tangle fabric coating here, it's just a basic cord. The cable has its in-line remote control positioned halfway down the left side. This is where you can turn the volume up/down, pause/play and take or decline calls. Anyone experienced with Bluetooth will have no problem adapting to these standard controls.
The control section contains a removable cover protecting a micro-USB port and an LED indicator light that goes blue for Bluetooth connections and red when charging. The buttons on the cable feel... well, thin and insubstantial. It’s as if this is where some of the cost savings was applied and the result is a mixed bag. On one hand, they’re not big and chunky so they can never be accused of getting in the way. But sometimes I fear I might snap the remote in half holding down the center button for the number of seconds it takes to power on. But the buttons have proved surprisingly durable and so has the cable. They’ve seen more than a few strenuous workout sessions and have yet to break or fall apart. But, the buttons are small, and the remote control section is only slightly wider than the cable itself. This is certainly a blessing if you’re looking for a discreet fit, but at the cost of easily finding the right button, especially if you’ve got fat fingers.
BE Live5 comes in two styles, there's the low-profile straight black version and the other is blue-and-gold for a more flashy look. The earbuds on either end of the cable are surprisingly light-weight but feel substantial, solid and well-balanced. The housings are made from a combination of aluminum and polycarbonate wrapped tightly around 8-mm drivers, batteries and the other necessary micro-components packed inside. The earbuds are magnetized on their flat back-ends so, if the wire is around the back of your neck you can snap them together just below your throat when not in use like a high-tech necktie. If you add the included Comply memory-foam eartips, the whole presentation feels solid and well-built. I can’t rave enough about Comply eartips, they’re comfortable for long listening sessions and form a good seal in the ear canal that shuts out environmental sounds, allowing you to better enjoy your music. The tight memory-foam seal also provides an assist in keeping the earbuds securely in place, so you may be tempted to forego the included earwings. It’s easy to see that the earpieces are where NuForce put in some extra effort in design and materials. If good sound-quality is your priority in a new pair of wireless earbuds, NuForce put its quality in exactly the right place.
Bluetooth earbuds inevitably get used for calls. After all, what’s a personal jam-session on your favorite streaming app without someone interrupting you with a phone call. Let’s just say the talk-quality is serviceable, but not great. I was able to receive calls and talk through the earbuds with only occasional dropped sentences due to overlapping mic-engagement. It’s a phenomena that occurs when both sides start talking and neither side hears anything. Perfect calling is not this product’s strong suit but it's a surprisingly common problem with most consumer earbuds.
The 8-hour battery life is quite reasonable for a lightweight wireless product, and these should have no problem providing music throughout the average work-day. They have an IPX rating of 5, which makes them durable enough to withstand just about any weather conditions you’re liable to face on dry land. IPX is a product's waterproof measurement, with 7 and 8 being submersible ratings, 5 means it can handle water being sprayed at it from any direction. So, it can easily handle being caught out in the rain or any amount of sweat that might pour out of you on long runs. Just make sure you remember to replace the attached USB-cap, an open USB port is the Achilles heel of USB devices where any amount of water is concerned.
Subjective Sound Quality
I have to admit that whenever I try new wireless earbuds, I have generally low expectations. My personal acoustic bias is toward higher-end fully-wired, open-back headphones attached to separate components. Since these are the only earbuds in NuForce’s current line that offers the aptX audio codec, I’ll take that as meaning they’re designed foremost with sound quality in mind.
The sound profile of most NuForce products I've heard since the company's early days tend to exaggerate the bass to my ears, which is popular among mainstream audio products today, especially wireless headphones. But BE Live5 doesn’t try to present too much in the low-end, but still manages a richly detailed bass experience. The included Comply eartips provide a good seal in your ear-canal, essential for the low-end detail. But the BE Live5 bass thankfully, never sounds overblown, a first when it comes to a NuForce product. What really surprised me was the upper-end detail, the treble is not ear-splitting and they're well balanced in the midrange, making for a pleasant overall tonality. I came away impressed with how good such a tiny, wireless package can sound.
I’ve taken to using wireless earbuds at the gym, where 80% of my time is spent listening to podcasts or audiobooks. But there are those days I need a raucous workout playlist that loves to alternate between booming bass and screeching guitars (essentially, 80s hair metal butt-rock and 90s big-beats) and it’s not often that both sides of the spectrum are so detailed in a portable earbud. The sound quality is on par with more expensive fully-wired earbuds I’ve heard. The earwings provide a snug fit for active play. But even without the earwings, when using the Comply eartips, I had no issues with the buds falling out, even on runs. Included with these earbuds are small, medium and large sized earwings so you can find the right fit and keep 'em in place whether you're using the Comply eartips or the included silicon eartips.
NuForce BE Live5 Conclusion
The last pair of earbuds I tested from NuForce was the company’s BE 6i, that featured distinctive aluminum earpieces. The earpieces were larger than the BE Live5 and poked out of my ears like bullets on either side of my head, they made me look I was doing the old Steve Martin "arrow-through-head" gag, but for the gunpowder age. Although the 6i also used a real metallic aluminum housing, they felt like they had more air inside than solid electronics. The BE Live5 on the other hand, are trimmed down in size and feel much more solid, and they’re also made with aluminum, but in a more compact package that feels more dense to the touch. I liked the sound from BE 6i, even though it featured NuForce’s signature bump in the bass. The BE Live5 are a noticeable improvement over the sound quality of the BE 6i. Since they lack excessive bass, they're more compatible to a wider variety of music listening. It’s good to see NuForce evolving its product line with an overall improvement to its flagship wireless earphone offering.
The present-day NuForce line includes the BE Live4, a more colorful and sporty variant of the BE Live5, marketed to the active user, the other NuForce wireless earbud is the BE Live2, both the Live4 and Live2 will run you around $50. But for the lower-cost you don’t get the aptX codec. Rounding out its wireless earbud product line is a direct competitor to the Apple AirPods, NuForce's “truly wireless” earbud, the BE Free5.
If, like me, sound quality is the most important feature on a pair of wireless earbuds, you can’t go wrong with the BE Live5, regardless of which phone ecosystem you’re attached to. They’re compatible with aptX for Android and AAC for Apple and will produce a quality sound profile at a significantly lower price than Apple’s AirPods. Plus, they’re made with better material, with solid aluminum housings instead of just plastic. BE Live5 comes packaged with various sizes of silicon eartips and earwings to secure them to your head. But I defy anyone to try the included Comply eartips and not become addicted to their effect on sound quality and comfort. Once you use them you’ll never want to look at silicon eartips again. BE Live5 also includes a smart-looking protective carrying case that zips shut and will fit easily into your pocket to protect your earbuds throughout your journey. All-in, it’s a terrific package for under $100.
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