All too often, the convenience of Bluetooth-powered headphones usually means trading sound quality for comfort and convenience – to be honest, it’s a trade most of us are willing to make.
With Optoma’s NuForce BE6i wireless earbuds, though, music sounds surprisingly good. Despite a few minor design flaws, the BE6i easily outstrip most other options, and at less than $100, these bargain ‘buds are a no-brainer.
Out of the box
The BE6i arrive in a white-and-gray cardboard sleeve, out of which slides another smaller cardboard box. The phrase “Hear more. Feel more.” is plastered across both – the type of branding to which we’ve become accustomed.
Inside, the earphones lie in a gray foam housing. Next to them, you’ll find a small, zippered carrying pouch packed with five extra pairs of silicone tips in a variety of sizes, two individually packaged pairs of Comply foam tips in medium and large, a small cable divider, and a pair of silicone wings.
There’s a Micro USB charging cable (frustratingly, it’s extremely short), an instruction booklet, and three small, re-sealable plastic bags, so you don’t accidentally lose any of the accessories. The instructions are pretty much a picture book with some small print, so if you have questions, just head to the NuForce website and download the PDF version.
After removing the BE6i from their foam prison, the only obstacle between you and your tunes is a quick pairing process. Make sure Bluetooth is enabled on your desired device, then press and hold the earbuds’ power button (it’s also the play button) for six seconds.
When the LED indicator flashes red and blue, the ‘phones are in pairing mode. Select “Optoma NuForce BE6i” from the device list on your computer, phone, or tablet. Once pairing is completed, the LED indicator will flash blue, and (if you’re wearing the earbuds) you’ll hear “Primary device connected.” That’s it! You’re ready to roll.
Features and design
The BE6i are dressed in attractive, brushed silver aluminum plating, reminiscent of the Macbook Pro; the box describes the casing as “lightweight,” which we think is a bit of a stretch. The left and right buds, each engraved with NuForce’s handsome logo, are connected via a thick-ish cable that feels solid. On the right side, an inline microphone is home to three buttons, which together control every function.
Bass is strong, and the overall sound signature is surprisingly well-balanced.
The backs of the earpieces are magnetic, so they’ll snap together – a helpful feature to keep you from losing them. One of the first things you’ll notice upon using the BE6i: they’re big, and fairly heavy. This is in part due to the 10mm drivers at use, which certainly pull their weight (more on that later). From the cable to the divider to the silicone fins, everything is gray, which may seem drab to some, but we appreciated the earphones’ low-key aesthetic.
The BE6i support Quallcomm aptX; unfortunately, since all our testing was done with Apple products, we didn’t get to take advantage of the technology. You can check battery life easily by pressing all three buttons simultaneously – more LED flashes in response means more juice remaining – and handling phone calls is extremely simple, as a single tap of the Power/Play button answers or ends calls.
Controlling audio playback with the BE6i is simple; tapping the “+” or “-“ buttons adjusts volume, and holding either one down for two seconds skips forward or back a track. There are a few more neat functions activated with different button combinations – check the manual to learn more. The ‘buds are IPX5 rated for water and sweat protection, too.
Most people will probably immediately ditch the default eartips in favor of the included Comply foam tips – we did – but the BE6i are relatively comfortable either way. We did find that the earpieces’ heftiness became burdensome when one ‘bud was left hanging, and the single pair of included wings wasn’t a perfect fit, but otherwise we had no qualms when it comes to design.
Wearing the BE6i for extended periods of exercise could become uncomfortable due to the weight (we used them mostly for short runs), and it would have been nice to have more sizes of silicone wings — but these are minor complaints. It was also a little frustrating trying to pry open the charge port with short fingernails; a butter knife quickly did the trick, though, as would any sharpish tool.
Remember those 10mm drivers we mentioned before? They’re here for a reason. Even though their size makes the earphones look a bit goofy, we were happy to note that they provide the BE6i with some serious kick. Bass is strong (but not overpowering), and the overall sound signature is surprisingly well-balanced.
In fact, calling the bass “punchy” would be selling it short – wild electronic drops like Seven Lions’ Lucy sound great, and individual low notes on tracks like Kanye’s Love Lockdown are easy to discern. In comparison to similar ‘phones like V-Moda’s Forza Wireless, the BE6i are packing a ton of heat.
The BE6i offer a well-rounded soundscape; listening to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, we were exhilarated to hear how clearly small details came through, with chimes that seemed to descend from above and piano keys softly plinking in the periphery. At times, we even noticed sound moving toward us across the virtual z-axis, which is a rarity for earbuds, wired or otherwise.
In more complex arrangements, the sound gets a bit muddled – in particular, electronic bass seemed to crowd the midrange on occasion. Highs were clear, albeit a bit withdrawn, creating a full-bodied structure overall. When using the Comply foam tips, we noticed a dropoff in terms of volume and clarity, but the improved sound profile and added comfort (especially while exercising) offer validation.
Controlling audio playback with the BE6i is simple as pie.
The earphones’ Bluetooth connection is extremely stable – over a two-week review period, we only experienced dropouts once, and that only lasted for five minutes. On the box, battery life is advertised as eight hours; ours ran out of juice short of six hours, but we were running mostly at maximum volume, so your mileage may vary.
Overall, the headphones are a little quiet, as we found it necessary to crank the volume to eleven while using the BE6i outside, on the train, or in the gym. Even with the Comply foam tips in, noise isolation was just OK – if you’re just looking for a pair of buds to wear on the train, there are better choices. While using Spotify, they even seemed a bit quiet at maximum; tweaking the app’s equalizer helped a bit, but this wasn’t a problem with music loaded onto our phones.
Optoma offers a one-year warranty covering parts and labor for repair and replacement.
We’ve become accustomed to lower our audio expectations for Bluetooth headphones, but the BE6i aim to change all that. For just $100, these bad boys look great, sound great, and even support aptX.
That said, the earpieces are fairly heavy, and there are more comfortable options out there for exercise purposes. If you just want a good pair of (mostly) wireless cans, though, they’re tough to beat.
Is there a better alternative?
The BE6i are great earphones, but they don’t necessarily fill any particular niche. If you’re looking for workout ‘buds, the Jaybird X3 Sport are arguably the best option out there; they’re built for comfort, but don’t skimp on audio quality.
Those looking for a truly wireless experience will want to check out Bragi’s ‘The Headphone,’ or Apple’s AirPods. You won’t be getting as full of a sound profile, but they’re quite convenient (not to mention attractive).
And if you want a set of “hearable” ‘phones that can monitor your heart rate and calculate nyour oxygen intake (among other things), have a look at the Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless Special Edition.
How long will it last?
There’s little argument to be made for any earphones being truly “future-proof” – the technologies involved are simply being improved at too rapid a pace. That said, the BE6i grade out well in terms of Bluetooth reliability and sound quality, which bodes well for their potential longevity. The ‘buds themselves feel sturdy, so we feel safe saying they should last a few years, barring any mishaps.
Should you buy it?
Yes. Few wireless in-ear headphones can match the BE6i’s sound quality, especially given their reasonable price tag.