Today there was meant to be a storm in Muscat. Well, technically there still is one “coming”. I went out onto my balcony to investigate but all I found was a single cloud littering a blue sky. I returned into my apartment, grabbed my NF Audio NF6 and went out onto my sun lounger. I started off my by checking out a new band I have been digging called CHILDCARE before rocking some classic Verve. It was this point in a beautiful Omani afternoon that I realized it is about time I started reviewing what NF Audio have sent me!
NF Audio are not the Sydney based boutique electronics company, instead they are a CIEM brand based in China who are still lacking obvious international exposure. I came across them while I was scouring Taobao a year back for anything new and interesting. These were one of a few brands that caught my eye and I downloaded AliWangWang to get in touch. It was a long process to actually get the earphones in my ear, with my agreeing to do a review in August 2016 and not receiving the units until September 2017, by which point I had moved to Oman.
Ni Yang of NF decided on two models to send in my direction. One is a new model, the NF3u. It is technically their only universal model in a portfolio of custom offerings. It runs for 2,799 Chinese Yuan, which translates to roughly 320 British Pound or 425 US Dollars. The second model I have is a universal demo of their flagship model. Simply called the NF6i it is solely available in custom form but for simplicity they just sent it along in universal form, it is still packing the same guts and shows their swirly design schemes off. At 6499 Chinese Yuan it certainly is a lot more pricey, converting to £750 or $1000.
My NF6i comes in a variety of designs. I have a sparkly green shell with a swirl on the faceplate, all in acrylic and it’s actually very thick and sturdy for a custom. The NF3u is a little different and very cooly features a metal sound bore which obviously holds a tip better than the demo. It also features a gorgeous wooden faceplate and a transparent shell so you can see its guts, unlike with the custom offerings, this is the sole options for ordering their universal triple driver.
Weirdly I found myself finding the NF6i shell more comfortable than the actual universal model. It is a little bigger but seems a bit more rounded and just causes no irritation. All in all though they are both comfortable earphones and clearly thought out in terms of how their contours and angles will fit an ear.
I should take some time to mention the cables as well which are gorgeous. They are a thick and sparkly 8 braid made up of copper and silver (potentially SPC) strands. They have their own branded NFAudio y-split and 3.5mm jack that chunky and metal. This cable is now a standalone option that is purchased and I got a lot of delays in my package because they were waiting for this cable to be ready and they wanted me to have it. I am glad because it is fantastic and now the stock offering for every model!
Sadly ordering for NF isn’t quite yet as easy a process as one of your American or European giants of the trade if you’re in the UK or US. That is not to say that its impossible. If you were in China I am sure you wouldn’t have any issues but for us overseas folk you might want to fetch out Google Translate. You have to order from their Taobao store https://shop110749998.taobao.com) which may be a little confusing at first but you may deem worthy of navigating through.
The product page shows your usual plethora of design options before ordering the NF6i or another of their custom options but again, with no designer app or any selection boxes, you are going to be relying on google to make sure you get across exactly how your product will look. This is potentially why the universal could be a much simpler overall task and why I didn’t take the stress of going custom.
Turn the page for more….
Why the i?
If you look on NF’s stores you will note there is both a NF6 as well as the NF6i. Both are 6 balanced armature custom in-ear monitors but unlike their two NF3 options, they do not differ based on tuning. Instead, while the response to the NF6 was supposed overwhelming in terms of how good it sounded, many end users struggled to drive the earphone due to a lower sensitivity. For this reasoning they set out on making a new model that captured the same performance but was easier to drive so they upped the sensitivity and gave us a new, less demanding option.
Bass or Breeze?
The two earphones actually have a rather different sound signature. Most of the time a company will go in one of two directions, simply having a house sound that they refine and expand on as you go upwards within their range or they will offer different flavours for different folks. It seems NF Audio sit in the latter camp. That works with me….
I found the NF3u to have driven for a rich, smooth taste, with a good bass punch to top it all off. Comparatively the NF6i is a lot more balanced, focusing on having an airy and tight sound with it’s beautifully rendered treble being a huge standout of its sound!
We will start with the 4 way 6 drivers sound before we move onto the NFUniversal.
Speed and delicacy are initially its greatest attributes. It is light and nimble on its feet and this can very much be attributed to the bass. The bass can throw you off what it is truly capable for a while, especially if you have gone easy with the music you have thrown at it. It does all the good you stuff you expect from a reference grade armature earphone. There is clear cut space between notes and a tight but not shocking impact to each note within in the upper and mid bass region. It compliments the earphones other departments well, behaves admirably and in most occasions doesn’t draw attention to itself. That is until a track has information in the deeper and darker depths of bass. Here the NF6i has a subtle yet powerful underlying rumble. I am not sure even they know how hard this is to achieve because so many time before I have seen a pacey mid-bass be corrupted by an out of proportion, overblown sub bass (Earsonics Velvet for example). I want to emphasis my use of the word subtle before powerful when I describe the sub bass here, it’s well proportioned and beautifully integrated!
Dry would be the first adjective i’d use for the midrange. It is uncolored and seems to be slightly less engaging than the bass and treble, which sit a weeny bit more in the forefront. I can often be a sucker for an earphone that has an extreme sense of clarity as the result of a slight slant as we go up through the mid band, as if done well it can sound awesome. This is more balanced than that though and instead sounds more honest with natural details shining through on their own merit. While the team at NF decided to go about things the more balanced way we actually have a slight decrease in gain at the very top end of the midrange/presence range which can give a little numbness to sound in those frequencies but not to the degree of a veil. It is still punctual, it is still clear, its just not that super crisp sound like say the Hidition Viento-R.
The treble is really the stand out part of sound with these and it’s an area that is so good it would sit nicely in any earphone. I say that in the respect it is not great due to prominence, but because of texture and quality. Its extended, linear and is why the sound has so much air and space to it. It results in a sound that actually sounds very unique from an IEM, with a very spread out soundscape and obvious queues in all dimensions. I would summarize this as a unique and pleasant earphone that has surprised me mainly due to being a fresh sound in an arena I didn’t think to much new could be achieved.
I think this is a product that could really hit the big time, but with it not being demo-able outside of China and probably being a pain to order, it may never quite succeed to its potential.That being said the price is very fair for the level of performance achieved and if you want a sound that is impressive in all areas but still engaging in every single element this could be right up your street!
The universal model certainly has a different tilt within its frequencies as mentioned. I think when you break down the earphone into frequencies and was to compare it to the NF6i it actually goes about most in a different light. The bass has more punch, but mainly in the mid bass and doesn’t seem quite as extended. The midrange is more forward and certainly seems to lean towards the upper mids, where it oozes clarity but can sometimes just strain and grain a bit. The sound is just more vibrant and fun, which makes sense being a more affordable model and one that may well cater for more people.
I found the bass very special. It is firm with a nice helping of boost within the mid-bass and recreates the region in such a confident way. The textures are some of the best I have heard and drum recreation is really superb. There is so much drive and dynamic power, everything really pops and explodes! I actually find myself regularly mesmerized by the timbre, with materials that are struck seeming to have just the right weight and decay, great realism is on offer here! Insane stuff. The bass is certainly positioned in a more consumer orientated and fun way being slightly boosted but that doesn’t take away from its new perfect accuracy and is by far the most impressive range of this earphone.
The midrange may not be as resolving or easily detailed as the more expensive NFAudio but they have instead gone for an upward tilted mid band which gives that faux impression of crazy clarity. This, plus the fact it is already quite forward makes it a very prominent part of the earphone.
Even though there is more midrange than in the NF6i, it is nowhere near as isolated or easy to pick up the small nuances. I am not continuously comparing the two, because they aren’t exactly competition, just helping identify the differences as this is a dual review. It does go the more traditional route of adding gain towards the presence range, which I am generally a fan of but I will say it does sometimes seem just cross the line, especially towards the lower treble and get a little splashy. The treble is just as dynamic as the rest of the earphone but can be a little rough around the edges. It is very dynamic but no where near that perfect technical level of 6.
The reality is though that within the price range it can have these technical areas not quite up to the scratch of a $1000 product and still be fantastic, and that’s exactly what I think this is. I really like this one and its easily accessible. It may be a little less special but it is still such a fantastically bold and powerful sound with such realistic bass I think it can be very easy to love, if you don’t mind a treble that does from time to time lose its head a wee bit.