Review: NuraTrue smashes personalized wireless earbuds out of the park
Australian company Nura completely redefined our concept of audio with its revolutionary in/over ear headphones in 2017. Equipped with a built-in otoacoustic hearing test, Nuraphones analyze your personal hearing curve and tailor themselves to your ears. As we discovered in our review, the differences between individuals are shockingly stark; to each of us that tried them, Nuraphones sounded absolutely transcendent. But when we listened through each others' profiles, they sounded godawful.
The takeaway for me was clear: we all hear so differently that it's impossible for anyone to recommend earbuds or headphones to anyone else based solely on their sound. Great sound is incredibly personal and largely based on variations in physiology. No earbud reviewer has the right to say something sounds good or bad, because they're working with vastly different equipment to yours.
This makes life difficult for buyers, because you can't try earbuds before you buy them. It'd be icky in a shop, and a lot of people are buying online. So what can you do if excellent sound is your #1 priority? Buy 10 sets and send back nine?
Nura's got your back, if you're willing to back up the truck a bit at checkout. The company has now squeezed most of its personalized audio technology into a set of true wireless earbuds that adapt themselves to any ears.
NuraTrue look much like any other earbuds: they come in a compact and lightweight curved pocket charge case and they have swappable tips for different ear sizes. Externally, their large, circular shape is a bit of an oddity, as are the swappable earfin inserts you can use to make them fit a little more securely.
Their shape makes them a bit cumbersome compared with other wireless earbuds; a bit more fiddly to get in and out of their case than they should be, and the way they rotate in and out of your ears feels a little odd too. But once they're in, they're really in. Even without the earfins, these things lodge themselves in there firmly, creating a noise-isolating seal.
The first time you connect them to your phone, you'll need to download the Nura app and run through the personalization program in a quiet room. This is essentially about a minute's worth of bleepity bloopity sounds cycling through your ears, as miniature microphones in the earbuds listen back to the tiny feedback sounds fed back through your eardrums after your auditory systems have perceived an audio signal.
Once that's done, you're shown a colorful blob to represent your personal audio curve, and then you're treated to the grand sonic reveal: a song plays along on a flat EQ setting, sounding a bit bland, then you click to unveil your own personalized sound, and it's a million times richer, clearer and full of detail. It's quite a theatrical moment.
Nura gives you just one audio setting to fiddle with: immersion mode, which equates loosely to a bass boost slider. The original Nuraphones ran their bass boost system entirely through skin conduction in the silicon ear cups, a stroke of genius that meant you could radically boost your perception of bass without those low frequencies muddying up the rest of your sound. That's not possible with true wireless earbuds, but however Nura's designed the immersion mode algorithm for the NuraTrues, it still works a treat. I've been running it at its highest setting, and I don't feel like there's too much of a penalty elsewhere in the audio spectrum.
I've tested more than my share of wireless earbuds. The sonic champions up to this point, holding their position for nearly a year, have been the Soundpeats H1 dual-driver jiggers, which to my personal ears deliver a wonderfully full and clear spectrum of sound, including big, full bass.
NuraTrue knocks the H1s off the top of my list with ease. I can locate and follow individual instruments more clearly in a mix, the sonic detail has a sort of elegant, classy sheen to it, and the low end is absolutely epic.
One of my go-to-tracks for reference audio is "Little Star" from Madonna's Ray of Light album circa 1998. A sweet little sentiment and a simple melody wrapped in an absolute avalanche of spatial audio production that blankets you with warm, gooey keyboard splashes, broad stereo echoes, smooth drum 'n' bass breaks, winding percussion samples and a wonderfully full and inventive electronic fretless bassline.
The challenge this song presents for a set of headphones is to deliver a huge amount of information while maintaining a sense of spaciousness and not letting things start to feel crowded. I did have to back the immersion mode off to 50 percent to get the space I wanted in this mix – but they got me there better than any wireless earbuds I've ever used before. That's me listening alone in a near-silent room, too. In noisier environments, I'll rarely be touching the immersion slider, it can stay at 100 percent.
A word of warning: NuraTrue is far and away the loudest set of earbuds I've ever used; a recent firmware update just boosted levels by 6 dB. At 100 percent volume, they now physically hurt me – and that's without the new "high gain" option turned on, which can boost low audio signals by a further 6 dB. Part of me's impressed, but I'm thankful for the "EU volume limiter" setting and I'll be leaving that one on so I don't accidentally sit on a volume button and blow my ears out.
In terms of ancillary features, the NuraTrues offer active noise cancellation, which works well enough in conjunction with the sound-isolating snug fit of the earbuds themselves. When it's time to engage with the real world, you can set up a double-tap control to activate Social mode, which brings in sound from the outside environment. Again, it works well and makes pausing for a quick conversation much less of an imposition than if you had to pull them out.
The noise cancellation extends to your own voice when you're making phone calls using the NuraTrue earbuds as a headset. In my standard testing for mic quality (calling my highly audio-literate brother and gasbagging while wandering in and out of the house to check both quiet environments and a noisy street), these performed exceptionally well, sounding very crisp in a silent room and negating most of the wind and traffic noise on an outdoor call. The only penalty seems to be a digital distortion that creeps into your voice when the algorithm is flexing its noise cancellation muscles the hardest. So a big thumbs-up there.
Battery life is an impressive six hours for the buds themselves, or a total of 24 hours with the charging case. I find that very impressive as well, given how small and pocketable it is. And they're IPX4 sweat-resistant, so they're appropriate for gym and exercise work.
One thing I think they could do a bit better on is the touch controls. Each side gives you tap and double-tap controls, assignable to a range of features in the Nura app. They work well, but once you assign volume up, volume down, play/pause/answer/hang up and enable/disable social mode, there's no room left for a "skip track" or "get me voice assistant" button. It's not the end of the world, though, and Nura could easily bring in a long tap option in a future software update.
All in all, though, NuraTrue steps up to become the best set of true wireless earbuds I've ever used, and the standard by which others will now have to be judged. And even though my ears are demonstrably different from yours, they're the one set of earbuds I'm confident to recommend to anyone based on audio quality alone.
I'm aware that there is the odd audiophile out there that doesn't like the profile Nura builds for them and ends up annoyed with the lack of adjustable EQ. For these folk, if re-running the personalization program in a quieter room doesn't solve the problem, Nura offers a 30-day satisfaction guarantee in which you can get your money back provided you keep all the original packaging and return them free of damage and grotty earwax. For everyone else, they're as close as you can get to a sure thing in the personal audio game.
These are a premium product, and as such you'll pay a premium price of US$199/€199/AU$299. That's not too bad though, for something you'll use and enjoy daily. It undercuts the RRP of Apple's Airpods Pro by US$50, although you'll find those for around the same price as NuraTrue if you look hard enough. Are they worth more than double to me than the US$79 Soundpeats H1s? Well, no – they sound maybe 25 percent better to my ears. But then the H1s might sound awful to you, while NuraTrue will probably rock your socks whatever sort of ears you've got. And you can definitely see where the money's gone.
There are other earbuds with EQ sliders, and others with subjective "tell me when you can't hear this beep any more" hearing testing built in. But none are as quick, as clever or as hands-off, and none that I've tried to date have delivered a sound that comes close to matching NuraTrue. The sheer sonic muscle packed into these mighty machines alongside their extraordinary intelligence will make them a tough contender to beat for a long time. Buy with confidence if you've got the cash.