- Incredible, personalised sound
- Clean, premium design
- Good battery life
- Easy operation
- Proprietary connector
- A little pricey
Nuraphones review: Nuraphones are a new type of headphones from Melbourne-based startup Nura. They employ engineering techniques never before seen in the field to create a truly immersive and personal audio experience. Here’s our full review.
Nuraphones Review: Who is Nura?
If you’re a frequenter of crowdfunding site Kickstarter, you may well have already encountered Nura and its first creation, Nuraphones. If not, just know that the company convinced over 7000 backers to help smash its $10,000 (USD) goal, raising an impressive $1,803,988 to create a groundbreaking new set of headphones, becoming the most successful Australian Kickstarter ever in the process.
The company was co-founded back in mid-2015 by Kyle Slater (CEO), Luke Campbell (CTO) and Dragan Petrovic (COO), who hired a small team of engineers, acoustics specialists and biologists to help develop the technology powering Nuraphones. They even went so far as to temporarily relocate to Shenzhen, China to personally oversee the manufacture of their first product.
Nuraphones Review: Unboxing, design and comfort
It doesn’t take long to spot some significant differences compared to your conventional set of cans when picking up Nuraphones. In fact, the whole experience from unboxing to first listen feels wholly unique.
What’s in the box?
The Nuraphones’ case comes within biodegradable packaging designed to emulate the visualisation of sound waves, which is both apt and stylish, and upon opening it up you’re presented with the sculpted, protective black carry case itself, sealed shut by a weighted magnetic latch. It’s unquestionably a premium unboxing experience that patient backers will no doubt appreciate.
Flipping down the latch and pulling the woven tab up then reveals the Nuraphones themselves, along with a cable tidy (containing its USB-A charging cable) hewn from the same soft silicone as used on the headphones' ear cups. It magnetically detaches from inside the case too, because who doesn’t want more magnets?
Backers (as opposed to those who purchase once Nura's online storefront is live) also benefit from a full selection of cables including microUSB, USB-C, Lightning and an analogue 3.5mm jack to avoid any compatibility issues with your respective devices.
What about the headphones?
The headphones themselves have evolved dramatically from the company’s earliest proof of concept and even the near-complete version that appears in the Kickstarter campaign video.
There's an attractive contrast across the soft-touch finish of the ear cups' outer faces, the anodised headband and the silicon that covers both the headband and ear cups' inner padding. Save for a silver chamfer on each ear cup, everything is black, including the Torx screws on the inside of the headband, and of course, black goes with everything so we're onboard with Nura's decision-making here.
Despite their resemblance to conventional over-ear headphones, at 329 grams they feel surprisingly light. The internal structure the each ear cup is also engineered to accommodate long-term use without the discomfort of heat build-up, but we'll get to that later.
The most eye-catching part of Nuraphone's form has to be the cups, which employ a unique 'inova' (a stylised take on in-and-over) architecture. Externally they may look like conventional over-ears but the protruding buds within each ear cup sit directly against the entrance to your ear canal, whilst the rest of the cup completely covers your ear. The soft silicon at play, paired with the adjustable headband ensure that they rest against your head, rather than push into your ears but still form an impressively competent seal for exceptional passive noise cancellation.
Nuraphones Review: Setup and technology
Once the Nuraphones are charged up (charging from empty to full can take up to three hours) the company's companion app (for iOS and Android) guides you through a simple setup process, starting with detecting whether or not the ear cups are forming a competent enough seal around your ears. Provided you've adjusted them appropriately, using a set of test frequencies the app will then analyse how your ears both receive and emit sound (as not all sound that enters the ear is absorbed, some is reflected back out) leveraging a characteristic of the ear called Otoacoustic Emission.
To register the sound that passes back from your ears Nuraphones utilise sets of very precise microphones that can register sounds tens of thousands of times smaller than those that were played into your ear initially. In fact, the equipment at play is expected to feature on Nasa's 2020 Mars missions too, so Nura isn't messing around.
The app then shows a representation of the unique sound calibration it's tailored to your ears with each user's hearing profile adopting a distinctly different appearance, each as unique as a fingerprint. You can then toggle between the flat sound profile, akin to what any standard headphones would dole out and your newly-created profile to hear the difference, and what a difference.
You can sculpt the audio output further by dragging a slider in what's called Immersion Mode. It shifts the output in a similar fashion to virtual surround sound, emulating the sensation of standing in amongst the source of your music.
Dig around in the settings and the app also gives you the option to customise the behaviour of the capacitive elements built into the adjustable section of each ear cup. Out the box, tapping on the left ear toggles the between the default and your newly created custom profile, whilst the right is unused. You can use either button to play and pause music, toggle profiles and even answer calls; as each ear cup also conceals three microphones for voice input.
What's really impressive beyond the already astounding difference in sound quality between the basic and tailored profiles is the Nuraphones' ability to detect different users. Nuraphone's automatically turn on and off when being picked up and worn but with support for three distinct user profiles within the app, the headphones only need play a brief test sound to distinguish who is who (that's how unique and distinct the profiles are), shifting the calibration and preferences to the correct user seamlessly. There's even a welcome message so you know that they've chosen the right profile when you put them on.
One other aspect of Nuraphones that's worth talking about is the engineering at play that allows for comfortable long-term wear. Using Tesla valves (an ingenious valve mechanism designed by Nikola Tesla with no moving parts that operates using air pressure) creates an active cooling system where warm air can pass out of each ear cup as cool air passes in.
Nuraphones Review: Sound Quality
The Inova architecture found within Nuraphones' ear cups allows for focused delivery of the details within your music through the central bud (ideal for higher frequencies, acoustic instruments and vocals) whilst the cup itself houses a separate, larger driver that handles bass response - it's worth noting that the aforementioned Immersion Mode has the greatest influence on Nuraphones' bass output.
Whilst we're unsure as to why Nura opted for a proprietary connector in place of a standard such as USB-C, and why the capacitive controls have to be disabled when using a wired connection, we're impressed to find that, when playing back music from the same source, the disparity between wired and wireless listening is practically imperceptible. Support for Qualcomm's aptX HD Bluetooth audio codec accounts of the lossless experience, whilst the integrated DAC (digital-to-analogue converter) ensures that conventional mp3s and other standard-definition music files will sound significantly better when using Nuraphones.
The real 'wow' moment comes when you first set up your unique listening profile, which compared to the flat EQ settings of the default profile represents night and day. What's even more interesting is hearing the differences in sound between two different calibrated users' profiles (Nuraphones support up to three profiles at once); what may sound perfect to you will completely ruin the listening experience of another user. It's like trying on someone else’s prescription glasses, you can still make elements out but you wouldn't be able to live with their setup for long.
As for the raw capabilities of the Nuraphones' drivers, they're designed to accommodate the full perceptible human audio spectrum (20Hz to 20kHz), with great versatility as demonstrated by their impressive customised audio profile talents. You also won't encounter any distortion throughout their range, even at full volume.
Nuraphones Review: Verdict
Despite the range of exceptional headphones out there, Nura's approach to optimising the listening experience for each individual user's hearing seems like the smartest way to deliver the best sound quality possible on a person-by-person basis.
Nuraphones promise a listening experience worthy of any discerning audiophile without the need or know-how to create a setup that gives you the level of control required to create the ideal sound profile for your ears. In essence, they take out the guesswork for those that care about sculpting sound and guarantee a great listening experience for anyone who just wants to enjoy the best representation of their music.
The combination of engineering, design and technological innovation at play here unquestionably impresses and if you're looking for some of the most capable headphones to straddle the worlds of consumer and audiophile, Nuraphones are your best option.
Nuraphones are now on sale in the UK for £349, direct from Nura. If you want any of the company's proprietary connector to 3.5mm jack or any of its USB leads, each costs £14.95, whilst the Lightning lead, which features an in-line remote, costs £34.95. Nuraphones also come with a 30-day money back guarantee for unsatisfied users.
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