Review: Lear NS-U1 Natrosound

Firstly I would like to thank Lear for this sample for review, I always try to write honest reviews, these received over 50hrs of burn-in before reviewing.

Gear Used:
Opus-Audio #1 > NS-U1

Tech Specs:
  • Driver: 2 x 6 mm CCAW, Neodymium magnets, LEAR custom tuned dynamic driver per side
  • Frequency response: 10Hz-20kHz 
  • Impedance : 30ohm @1000 Hz NS OFF , 16 ohm @1000 Hz NS ON (NSC-01 cable)
  • Sensitivity : 105dB @1mW NS OFF ,104dB @1mW NS ON (NSC-01 cable)
  • MSRP: HK $1,688.00

Packaging, Accessories and Build Quality:
The packaging is a good looking matte black box with a picture of the earphone on the front and the Natrosound logo on the top and bottom. The top of the box slides off and you are greeted with a soft touch plastic carry case. Inside this you will find the IEM’s along with the cables, below the case you will find a box with the spare tips and also the manual. Overall a very neat and good looking affair which also protects them well with its thick card box.

Accessories are good, you get the hard plastic carry case which is lined with soft rubber, you get 2 cables, one regular one, one with a microphone and play/pause button for smartphones/iPods. Also included is a good array of tips, you get S, M and L silicone tips, and 2 pairs of different shaped foam tips. Overall everything you need to get started, and you will most likely be able to get a good fit with one of the included tips.

Build quality is not bad, the housing is plastic but of good quality, they use a detachable cable and both connectors and cable feel of good quality and they should last well with some care. No issues to be found with the build quality, the L shaped jack has good strain relief.

Comfort, Isolation and Cable noise:
Comfort is good, I find they sit best with medium to shalllow insertion depth, and the cable fits over your ear nicely, I am happy there is no section of memory wire as I tend to find memory wire uncomfortable. I find if I insert them deeply they work their way out to sit shallower and stay there, the housing is quite large and because of this I find them to stick out a bit when wearing them. I found both silicone and foam tips work well with these, and settled on Comply ones as they are the most comfortable in my opinion, and also offer a more secure fit.

Isolation is good on these, the housing is vented which prevents driver flex, but doesn’t affect the isolation hugely. I find the isolation great for general usage and commuting.

Cable noise is not an issue with these as the cable sits behind your ear.

NatroSound – Well Lear have tried to get headphones to imitate speakers, what they use is a dual driver system with an interconnecting sound tube. When you turn the Natrosound on what it does is send a little of the left signal to the secondary right driver, and vice versa. Thus cross feed but all analogue, with no digital DSP trickery. This is why the cable has a 4-pin connector also.
You get to control how much this mixes, and also the bass with small wheels on the Natrosound switch.

Split in to the usual categories with a conclusion at the end.

Lows: You can control the amount of bass you want with the wheel on the switch, the amount also changes with the amount of NS you add.
First off with NS off, the lows range from virtually non-existant and quite a hollow sound, to full and booming bass, but not overpowering. Once set to your preference, you can get a quite natural tone from the lows, they are full and well controlled, they are not the fastest when listening to fast tracks but bass guitars are easy to follow, and kick drums have authority and also good body that doesn’t allow kicks to sound hollow.

With the NS on minimum the bass is the same as the above,

With the NS on full even the lowest bass setting has quite a full sound, slightly too much for my tastes, but still without masking the rest of the sound.

I found my preference with NS slightly below full, and the bass setting roughly half way, this way you get a very easy to follow bass line that doesn’t dominate the sound but provides good back up for the rest of the sound. I find the extension to be excellent, and you can really tune the lows to your tastes with these, no gimmick here.

Mids: The mids shift focus a little with different settings, but for the most part the mids are natural sounding with good body but not too much added body, they are slightly smoothed over and never become strident or shouty. This means you can go hours listening to these without fatigue, but I do find I miss out a little on fine details. I could not detect any sibilance or harshness, overall good but slightly smooth sound, there is good separation between the instruments in the mid range. I do occasionally find the lows muddle the mids and push them back a little at times, but this is not often and it is due to a small mid bass hump which is dependent on your tuning of the NS and bass wheels.

Highs: The highs are not the most present or sparkly, they don’t extend effortlessly and need to be more up front. During slower passages they are there, but as soon as the music gets a little fast they are lost and I cannot find a setting where they sound good. Again this leads to low listening fatigue, but also loss of detail and air in the sound, even with the lows toned right down you get an interesting hollow, mid-high balance that still doesn’t have the definition in the highs that I would like to hear.

NS – Does it work, well there is only a subtle difference between NS being on and off, and it’s hard to volume match the 2 as the bass changes when you switch it on and change the settings. But what I did find was a sound that wasn’t as separate in terms of hard R and L channels. They definitely produce a more focussed soundstage image, vocals sit closer to the central image rather than 2 separate sounds try to create a centre image, in this sense they are very good the sound becomes more coherent in a way and there is no hard pan of L and R signals. I really like what they have tried to recreate, and with some tuning you can get some very good sound out of these, it just takes time to adjust the sound to your chosen taste.

They are a versatile pair of IEM’s, but they are not suitable for small ears like mine, the sound is tuneable and most people will be able to find a sound they will enjoy, but what they do well as a jack of all trades, I cannot find any area where they excel. The NS does give you a better centre image compared to regular IEM’s, but you can get better sound quality for the same price from other models. I am interested to see what they can do with multiple BA models, as the technology is great, but the housing is too big and the sound quality is fairly average on the whole.

Sound Perfection Rating: 6/10 (The technology is there, I want to see how far they can take it)