You might not have heard of a brand called nura, but this Aussie start-up’s wireless headphones, called nuraphone, have been designed to listen to you. Specifically, these headphones – which are both over- and in-ear – have an ultra-sensitive microphone in each earbud that listens out for otoacoustic emissions from your inner ear. After a minute-long setup process via the nura app, the on-board processor determines a unique profile for the listener, represented by a colourful shape. Then the magic begins.
The company says the Knowles microphones built into the headphones are also used by NASA for listening out for sound in space where, famously, no one can hear you scream. Additionally, bass isn’t piped through the earbuds but via a powerful, separate 40mm driver. It gives you that bassy effect without distorting the clarity of what you hear through your eardrum, which is delivered by a separate speaker through the earbud. The company calls this Immersion Mode. “Rather than hearing it with your eardrum, you feel that sound on the skin of your earlobe,” explains Dragan Petrović, CEO of nura. The result is a rumbling effect that is best described as standing in front of speakers at a rock concert.
The audio profiles really are unique – what sounded incredible to my wife sounded distinctly average to me: tinny and piped through an old Walkman. Her feedback upon listening through my profile was similar. Luckily, the nura app supports three profiles at a time, and it’s easy to switch between them. It was the tantalising promise of truly personalised audio that drove these headphones to hit nearly two million Australian dollars on Kickstarter through a campaign that hoped to raise just 100,000.
I cycled through a range of genres on the nuraphone, starting out with some heavy synthwave beat drops, then some Pearl Jam via a 90s rock playlist, followed by a bit of Dream Theater to hear a more extensive range of instruments. The playback of mids and highs really was richer than anything I’d heard before. However, I did feel that Immersion Mode was a bit all or nothing – it went from barely noticeable at 60 per cent to shaking my skull at around 80 per cent. One area I (unexpectedly) found Immersion Mode to be fantastic for was watching live football – the roar of a crowd is really electrifying and it helps you forget you’re watching on a 6-inch display.
But it’s not all about that bass, no pun intended. Another feature that’s become increasingly impressive in over-ear headphones is noise-cancellation. While the nuraphone first shipped without the feature, the company had left hardware provisions for it and duly lapped up reviewer praise for its value-loaded G2 update, which added noise-cancellation. Petrović hints that more is on the horizon: “We have a pretty powerful processor, six microphones, four speakers… there’s a lot more we can do with that.”
The nuraphone uses both active – where microphones on the inside and outside of the cups listen to noise around your ears and compensate to filter it out – and passive (material design) noise cancellation to immerse you in whatever you’re listening to. Even more useful for those working in noisy open offices (like us), is that you can just put the headphones on without any audio running – electronically-aided zen.
The G2 update also added Social Mode, where you can allow outside sound to be piped in by tapping the side of your headphones. It’s useful when crossing streets, listening for airport announcements or someone else talk.
Our testing found the headphones lasted slightly longer than the advertised 20 hours of playback, although Immersion Mode did slightly impact this. An annoyance was the proprietary USB-A cable required for charging – lose or break this and you’ll need to shell out $20 (Dh73) for a new one. And while the headphones feel premium in build, they aren’t particularly portable. They’re bulky and don’t fold up, meaning you need to lug around a carrying case the size of a mid-sized lunchbox.
Wearing these for hours on end can get a little uncomfortable, and their in- and over-ear design means you can’t really do anything quicker than a mid-speed walk with the nuraphone on, which rules out working out.
With a price tag of Dh1,739, nuraphone is for serious audiophiles. At that rate, it’s more expensive than the QC35 II by Bose, which is widely considered the gold standard among premium wireless noise-cancelling headphones. However, the company’s approach to community support and the dangling carrot of future value-enhancing updates. Those looking to experience the same personalised audio tech in a more compact form factor might be better off waiting for the NuraLoop, which was revealed at CES and should be out later this year.