Design-wise there’s little to dislike about the Comply NR-10s. The build quality isn’t quite up there with the likes of Philips’ lovely metal casing on the SHE9850s and the cabling definitely feels less sturdy than the thicker type used by Shure. However, this does make the earphones extremely light plus there’s an in-line volume control about half way up the cabling.
This volume slider control slightly notches in place at max volume and in this position seems secure enough to prevent accidental adjustment if the wire is hidden under a jumper – as all the pros do. The NR-10s also come with a nice soft – although still well-padded – zip-up case in which to store the phones when not in use. Unlike Shure’s more rigid case, Comply’s can actually fit into a pocket, which makes it more likely to be used in my estimation.
With Comply’s eminently soft foam tips and the NR-10s extreme lightness, wearing them gave me a slightly surreal feeling – almost like I wasn’t wearing earphones at all. Time after time I found myself reaching up to my ears to check that the NR-10s were still in place – which inevitably they were. The memory foam Comply uses is just so soft that you simply don’t feel it pressing on your inner ear.
The NR-10s actually have slightly different tips to those Comply usually supplies, as they extend much deeper into the ear canal. The benefit of this is two-fold; first, the increased material between eardrum and outside world improves noise isolation, and secondly, the increased surface area also helps keep the earphones seated a little better as there’s that much more grip. If you don’t like the longer tips, there’s a normal set in the packet, too, just in case.
There are a couple of downsides to Comply’s tips, though. It may sound like a small gripe, but I had to really squish the foam tips every time I inserted them and hold them in place until they fully expand otherwise the expansion process had a tendency to force the phones out of my ears.
They also don’t last as long as a set of silicone alternatives or, indeed, Shure’s less soft foam offerings. Comply reckons a pair should last something like three months and even after a weeks use I can see why. Even those with the very cleanest of ears will find that wax very quickly adheres itself to the foam. Unlike silicone tips, though, this isn’t just a brief unpleasantness but rather a permanent disfiguration.
Initially the tips can be cleaned in water, but the discolouration (a dark yellowy lime-green for the morbidly fascinated) is permanent, and sooner or later the tips will give up the ghost and start to disintegrate. The set I got with the Philips SHE9850s lasted some nine weeks of regular use before dying, but as they say: your mileage may vary. A pack of five replacement tips (about enough for a year, possibly more) will set you back £20 which isn’t exactly extortionate, but having to replace them at all is frustrating.