When Advertising Doesn’t Fool
- Immense quality of the low area.
- Analytical and detail extraction capacity.
- Precision, timbre and texture.
- Highly enjoyable sound profile.
- Comfort, ergonomics, lightness of the capsules.
- Slightly thin cable.
- Feeling of fragility, although, really, the construction is solid.
- The extraction of so much information can be overwhelming, especially in the upper-midrange.
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NF Audio does not stop in its search for the best IEMS for $100. Building on the design of the previous NA2, NF has created a new IEMS for music monitoring: the NM2. Their capsule is practically the same in shape, but this time their body is smooth and more transparent. The packaging has not changed too much either, and still presents the same concept. What does change is the musical philosophy of these IEMS, as I have already said, NF Audio has created them to be used as audio monitors, with the idea of being able to capture the true expression of each musical instrument and its timbre. In this way, the details, the tone, the melodies, as well as the harmony, can be appreciated in an easy, fast and simple way. Let’s see how these new NM2s really perform.
- Type of drivers: Dynamic dual-cavity drivers.
- Frequency Response: 10Hz – 40kHz.
- Sensitivity: 108dB/mW
- Impedance: 18Ω
- Maximum SPL: 125dB
- Acoustic insulation: 25dB
- Distortion Ratio: <1%
- Cable: 0.78mm 2pin 5N silver-plated OFC
- Jack connector: 3.5mm Audio
Again, NF Audio maintains the same concept as the previous models and presents a very similar case. The packaging measures 145x128x83mm and weighs 300g. The outer cardboard is quite dark, following its previous design: in a uniform colour band, on the top, the model, its name and series are described. Below it, a realistic photo of the IEMS. On the back, more notes about the model, in Chinese and English. The specifications are on the side. When the cardboard is removed, it is possible to see the box, completely black, with the logo of the brand and its name, in the centre, written in silver letters. It opens like a book and on the left side, there is the instruction manual and, underneath, the appreciable zippered case and the 6.35mm plug adapter. On the right, the already classic foam CD which holds the capsules and, underneath it, the round blister pack with the tips and the cable. In short:
- The two capsules.
- The 2pin 5N silver-plated OFC cable.
- Three pairs of white silicone tips SxMxL balanced.
- Three pairs of black silicone tips SxMxL bass.
- Zippered case.
- Adapter for 6.35mm plug.
Little to object, same presentation, packaging and content as previous models. Totally suitable and appreciable.
Construction and Design
Following the continuity line, the NM2 model has the same shape as the NA2 model. For this occasion, its capsule is clean and transparent, which gives it a substantial difference, despite the similarity. It can be chosen in three different colours: Pink, blue transparent and black transparent.
The material used is still high resistance polycarbonate, which gives it a very high lightness. The shape is the same as that of the NA2 and retains the two strategic holes. The shape of the capsules is maintained due to the fact that their design is very advantageous, both ergonomically and musically. The comfort was evident in the previous model and after the studies carried out by the brand, it continues to be trusted. On an internal level, the acoustic cavity has been precisely designed to reduce excess reflected sound, using 4 dampers to control air pressure. In this way, the balance between the front and rear cavity is better adjusted, providing a more precise sound.
The cable has 4 braided strands, covered with black plastic. The two-pin connector is covered by a rigid, transparent plastic sleeve. This sleeve is angled, so that it separates from the vertical plane that crosses the connectors. In this way, it tries to separate the cable from the head, to provide a better fit over the ear. The cable, in the area next to this sheath, has a semi-rigid guide, made of translucent plastic, to ensure its position behind the ear. The dividing piece is a black plastic disc, with the brand logo inscribed on both sides. The pin is an oval metal piece with two holes. The Jack connector is 3.5mm, gold-plated and its cover is a cylinder in two grey colours, with a lowered and polished face, where the brand name can be read. Finally, the cable has a customised Velcro strip, for easy retrieval.
Successful design, totally advantageous, it is not changed.
Adjustment and Ergonomics
The insertion is semi-surface. The fit is very good, the capsule rubs minimally on the ear parts. The socket is very suitable and easily fixed, preventing movement and being very durable. As the weight is very low, as well as the friction, they are very pleasant for continuous and daily use. The level of insulation is quite high. The cable, despite the shape of the guides, is neither problematic nor uncomfortable. The excellent ergonomics and comfort of the previous model are maintained.
The NF Audio NM2 maintains its lightweight W-profile. But this time there is a clear call to emphasise clarity of sound in all ranges. In this way, the sound is very vivid and dynamic, explicit and enormously descriptive. On the other hand, the NM2s are very easy to move, have low impedance and a fairly high sensitivity.
Before I go on to describe the range, I must tell you something: The lower area is a real party, bass lovers, you must listen to the NM2. Having said that, I’ll move on to the gentler description of the lower zone.
As I said before, the NM2s move very easily. They stand out for their great clarity and the musical proximity they offer. In the midst of this, the power of the lower zone also stands out with great ease. The tremor of the sub-bass is perceived instantly, like a thundering roar, but very controlled, both in execution and volume. Despite their notoriety, these are not bass IEMS, but it is true that the hitting is very impressive, as well as the roughness that is perceived, because it has a lot of energy, depth and penetration capacity. As soon as it begins to reproduce, the very low frequency vibrations flood our ears, causing a pleasant surprise, due to its weight and strength. The bass starts from very bottom, its capacity of definition, allows it to represent the range of notes quite accurately. The speed of the beat is high and its decay is fast. It is an agile and very well defined low zone, with a very realistic tone, which is not warm, but rather neutral. The range is perceived to be quite linear, but it is felt that from the mid-bass, its power decreases. This makes the incidence of the low zone, in the mids, practically null.
As it corresponds to an agile and dynamic zone, the driver is highly capable of representing complex bass passages, with great precision, resolution and definition power. The planes are drawn with great ease and separation, with plenty of air between them. The texture is clearly perceptible, but the speed of the bass makes it short, not too rough, but natural, descriptive and with a good level of detail. With all these characteristics, it is not at all unimportant that these IEMS are sold to monitor music, as they are very capable of representing every note in the lower zone, with a very realistic, natural and not powerless property.
In the midrange, clarity, analytical skills and extraction of detail persist. In fact, on this occasion, the dynamic driver has been tuned to demonstrate its best technical side, but without falling into a purely cold tendency. The tone remains neutral, with a large dose of air and light. The great resolution and definition capacity persists, shining easily. In this way, the nuances are quickly highlighted, being very exposed and ready to be observed, but without losing the musicality, nor the fun factor.
When talking about monitoring headphones, one tends to think that they will be suitable, those whose frequency response is quite flat, without there being a clear tendency or disregard for any band. On this occasion, the NM2 does not fit this profile pattern, as it is not so flat. But it is true, that this is a current version of this belief. Their technical capabilities are in line with what is expected of them. It is very easy to follow any instrument individually and isolate it from the rest, all without disturbing the bass and treble. And this does not seem easy at all, using only one dynamic driver at this price level. It’s true that the profile lacks warmth, describing the instrumentation on the cold and fine side. But, at the end of the day, it is a matter of emphasizing the definition of all of them, above the musicality itself, without losing it and without falling into a purely analytical and boring profile. And it is clear that the NM2s achieve this more than enough. The amount of nuances they are able to expose is very surprising. The instruments sound really defined, with a highly polished texture, something that gives them a higher resolution, which allows them to reveal a fairly high level of micro detail. On the other hand, the voices do not sound distant, but enjoy good protagonism. It is true that their body is not dense, nor very wide, but it appears somewhat thinner, but with very good projection, recreation and fabulously well mixed in its rich environment. The greater emphasis on the upper mid-range favours the reproduction of female voices, giving them a moderately higher profile, but without abandoning the neutral sound that characterises the NM2.
The treble is perhaps the least exposed of all the ranges. Although they start with a good level of energy and presentation, following the path of the upper mid-range, it is not an over-boosted or fully emphasized area. The character of the NM2 is extremely clean, even bright, but it is not based on persistent or predominant highs. Its tendency continues to seek that somewhat cold neutrality, which registers the rest of the ranges, but without losing its naturalness, nor giving the sound a too sharp or penetrating trail. The real virtue of the NM2 treble is the balance between detail, delicacy, finesse and persistence. They are fine enough to provide enormous detail. They are delicate enough to give the sound naturalness and bring out a great deal of nuance. And they are moderately persistent to avoid fatigue. In addition, they also have just the right amount of extension and air to complete the scene.
The scene is perceived as semi-spherical, with plenty of air and cleanliness. The three-dimensionality is not exceptional, because it lacks a little more body, but there is a remarkable degree of depth, width and a good height. The instrumental placement is quite correct, without being its strength, despite the fact that the separation is superior. Even so, the stage is not perceived as enormous, it is rather medium, without reaching an ethereal or unrealistic extreme, always within a fairly realistic image, which does not allow the sounds to escape beyond natural perception.
NF Audio NA2
Fratricidal duel between two IEMS of the same brand, which are externally very similar. The aesthetic differences are minimal: while NA2s have a frosted capsule appearance, NM2s are completely transparent. This effect could even be a premonition of the sound of each other. There is even another detail that reinforces this idea: the word «Music» is written on the NA2 capsules under the model name, while the NM2 capsules have «Monitor» written on them.
With a fairly similar profile, the differences are based on the level of resolution of each and their analytical capabilities, rather than on large differences between each range.
The lower area is very similar, but, overall, the NM2 has a bit more sensitivity, which gives it more freshness. Tonally, they are quite similar, but in my opinion the NM2 is somewhat faster, with a more concise, vivid hit and its texture is more noticeable. There is a little more power in the lows of the NM2, some more forcefulness, while in the NA2 they feel darker and with a bit more depth, reaching the lower end with a little more emphasis. Thus, overall, the lows of the NA2 are perceived as somewhat softer. However, in the NM2, they are more compact and contained, but at the same time more descriptive. This is the first basis of IEMS that are clearly more analytical.
The mid zone advances along the same lines, where the NA2s describe a more musical and sweet profile, the NM2s emit a more precise and detailed sound, finer and with a higher resolution. This is how music sounds clearer and cleaner, with even more space for silence. In tone, there are still great similarities. It is in the mid-high zone where the greatest differences are perceived. In my opinion, the NM2s have a slight enhancement there, which makes them more explicit and vivid. In this way, their means have more light and clarity, as well as more precision. The NA2s are softer, musical and a bit darker. In fact, the NM2s have a higher resolution capability, and their properties for extracting more information from musical passages are instantly perceived. As a result, their sound is bigger and more detailed, has more firmness and presence, and a more comprehensive and present tone.
In the upper zone all the above is revealed with more strength: where the NA2 is softer and more musical, the NM2 is more analytical and fine. It is here where the amount of information of the NM2, can exceed the musicality of the NA2. For better or worse, the amount of detail exposed by the NM2s may not be to the taste of all listeners, and can be tiring, just because it is explicit. In this sense, everyone must be clear about what they are looking for, in order to choose one or the other. I have no doubt that for long listeners I would choose the NA2. But, for critical and detailed listening, and to feel each moment with more strength and clarity, I would choose the NM2. In the long run, I like this profile more, because, even, its scene is wider and cleaner, besides offering a stricter and more defined positioning and more space between the sounds.
Moondrop Kanas Pro
I want to make things difficult for NF Audio NM2, comparing it to one of my favourite IEMS.
Without going into details about the construction of each one, as it is obvious (metal vs. polycarbonate), the shape of each one is similar. The Kanas are slightly smaller and rounded. The NM2 has more protrusions and is somewhat more stylish. The cable, without being enormously superior, is better in the Kanas, it is thicker and with double the number of wires.
Moving directly to the sound, the profile of both also bears similarities, with the NM2 being more emphasized in each range. Meanwhile, the Kanas is softer, more musical, homogeneous and fuller, it doesn’t feel as bright, although it doesn’t forget the details. On a sensitivity level the difference is great: the NM2 is much more sensitive than the Kanas. On the other hand, the Moondrop are grateful for a more powerful source to demonstrate their virtues.
The lower zone of the Kanas feels slightly slower, with a softer texture and a point of greater darkness. The NM2 offers a more energetic, powerful and fast hit, with a more defined and descriptive texture, which has a more noticeable roughness. In addition, there is more air in the lower zone, which gives the bass more dynamics and better recreation of sound planes.
In the mid zone, the Kanas’ smoother voices offer a sweeter and thicker body in the lower zone, thanks to the greater warmth of their bass. In the NM2, the bass decay is faster and more abrupt. This is why the voices are perceived to be somewhat thinner, but their timbre is more precise and offers a more exact and less diffuse projection than in the Kanas, even gaining in realism, despite a greater coldness in their reproduction. The instrumentation has more energy in the NM2, a more evident definition, with more clarity and a closer exposure. All this allows details to be observed more easily, thanks to the higher resolution of the NM2s, which is a major factor in making their profile more analytical and rich in detail.
The highs offered by the NM2 are clearly brighter, finer, with more energy. They have a sharper tone, are more agile and appear more luminous. In the Kanas, the trebles are softer, less defined and smoother, seeking the soft side of the range, with the intention of not losing the musicality of the ensemble.
The scene is perceived to be flatter in the Kanas, while in the NM2, there is more depth and even three-dimensionality. The recreation of details draws a fuller image, which not only limits the origin to a few planes, but also makes it easier to distinguish the path of the notes and nuances. Meanwhile, in the Kanas, this origin is perceived as darker and somewhat more diffuse. The horizontal separation is similar, but at the level of height and depth, the NM2s offer more air and distance.
The NM2 can clearly compete at the same level as the Moondrop Kanas Pro. They can even be superior, depending on your individual tastes. In my case, the luck is to have both, as I can choose one or the other, depending on what I’m looking for at the time.
NF Audio surprises. It seems that all their knowledge has been captured in this affordable product. These monitoring IEMS, regardless of their sound profile, really show what they stand for. NM2s are accurate, analytical, timbre-appropriate, and offer a wealth of detail and information. In addition, their scene is large and enjoys good three-dimensionality, offering remarkable instrumental positioning and the same level of separation.
On the other hand, it should be noted that these are not flat and anodyne IEMS, where the search for exact fidelity prevails. Such a profile is not at all strange, indeed, one could say that it is quite common and very suitable for enjoying music. But it is in the recreation of the timbre and texture, where the NM2s shine with all their power. That’s where these IEMS are not exactly the same as the rest. Try it out for yourself.
Sources Used During the Analysis
- Burson Audio Playmate.
- Tempotec Serenade iDSD.
- Tempotec Sonata iDSD Plus.
- JWD JWM-115.
- HiBy R3 Pro.