First, lets consider tonal balance. The NE-700X and -700M more or less eliminate the -7M’s touch of bass forwardness, yet without making the new models sound thin or “bass shy” in any way. Instead, the low-end of the new models sound taut, well defined and powerful—but never overly “thick” or too heavily weighted Next, the new models make an improvement at the other end of the audio spectrum, with upper midrange and treble response that is more fully fleshed out than in the NE-7M, yet without making the new generation ‘phones sound overly bright or edgy. On the contrary, the NE-700M and-700M simply sound more open, transparent and revealing—especially in terms of capturing the admittedly difficult-to-reproduce sense of high frequency “air” surrounding instruments and voices.
Second, the NE-700X and -700M offer audibly finer levels of top-to-bottom resolution than the NE-7M did. As you listen to recordings that are rich in subtlety and detail through the NE-700X and -700M, you may find as I did that they offer a noticeably more focused and fully resolved sound than the NE-7M did. Thus, textural and transient details that were only rendered in part by the NE-7M suddenly become clearer, more fully realized, and more explicit through the new models. In short, you have the sense—and it is no mere illusion—that the new models are now conveying aspects of the music that were subtly obscured before.
What this all ads up to is the fact that, now more than ever, the NE-700X and -700M invite comparisons with models that carry much steeper, three-figure price tags. That’s an impressive achievement for what are, after all, budget-priced ‘phones.
As long term Playback readers already know, I am fond of using Christopher Roberts’ album Last Cicada Singing (Cold Blue) as a litmus test, of sorts, for an headphone’s ability to reproduce subtle yet highly significant low-level sonic details. The NE-700X and -700M did not disappoint. Last Cicada Singing features compositions that are performed on an unusual and somewhat ethereal sounding Chinese stringed instrument called the qin (which some have described as a “Chinese zither”). From what I’ve read on the subject, I gather that by tradition music for the qin is thought to include not only the actual notes that are played, but also all—and I do mean all—of the incidental sounds that occur as the instrument is played. In short, the fine points count, including everything from the “click” of the plectrum sweeping across strings to the squeak of fingertips gliding over the strings and fingerboard to bend notes upward or downward. As I listened, then, to the album’s opening track, called “Remote Stories,” I found the next-gen NuForces did an unexpectedly great job of retrieving most of the delicate low-level information this disc has on offer. The acid test, really, is to see if the headphones convey at least something of the sense of real human hands delicately sweeping over the strings and fingerboard of a real instrument. This, I’m happy to report, is a test the NuForces passed with flying colors. Could I have heard even more finely-resolved detail through expensive top-tier ‘phones? Yes. But for under $100, I felt the NuForces sounded much more refined and accomplished than they had any right to for the money.
To give the NuForce’s an even more vigorous “live music” workout, I put on the late Eva Cassady’s Live At Blues Alley (Blix Street), focusing on the classic R&B track “Take Me To The River.” What makes this particular track such a challenging test is that it offers up the nuanced yet deceptively powerful sound of Eva Cassidy’s vocals while simultaneously presenting a very energetic electric backing band, all captured in the intimate confines of a small-ish club. Two things impressed me with the NE-700X and -700M’s performance. First, they really nailed the “petite person with a very big voice” qualities that make Eva Cassidy’s singing so evocative, while also giving a sense for both the sheer driving force and deft musicianship brought to the party by the backing band. In particular, I was struck by the power and depth of the plunging electric bass line that helps to open the song, and by the crisp, propulsive shimmer and sizzle of the percussionist ride cymbal (which is very realistically recorded on this track). Again, what floored me was the sense that the NuForces simply didn’t sound like “budget-priced” models at all, but rather sounded much like higher-class headphones. In particular, I appreciated that the NuForces could capture the inherent power of “Take Me To The River,” and could do so without lapsing into the overly brash, raw-edged sound that plagues some low-priced headphones on this track.