Music

Review: Nuraphones are the best headphones any of us have ever heard

Nuraphones: a set of headphones that sounds amazing to everyone we've put them on
Nuraphones: a set of headphones that sounds amazing to everyone we've put them on
View 17 Images
Nuraphones: this silicon prong is a 2-stage spring that gently nestles the earbud section of the Nura headphones into your ear. 
1/17
Nuraphones: this silicon prong is a 2-stage spring that gently nestles the earbud section of the Nura headphones into your ear. 
Nuraphones: proprietary cable design was an unfortunate necessity; this connector needs to be able to handle Lightning, USB, USB-C, Micro USB and 3.5mm analogue signals
2/17
Nuraphones: proprietary cable design was an unfortunate necessity; this connector needs to be able to handle Lightning, USB, USB-C, Micro USB and 3.5mm analogue signals
Nuraphones: cables connect with a solid block that prevents cable bending
3/17
Nuraphones: cables connect with a solid block that prevents cable bending
Nuraphones: choose your cables at checkout. They ship with basic USB for charging.
4/17
Nuraphones: choose your cables at checkout. They ship with basic USB for charging.
Nuraphones: the case is as nice as the headphones themselves, with a magnetic clasp and removable cable cubbyhole
5/17
Nuraphones: the case is as nice as the headphones themselves, with a magnetic clasp and removable cable cubbyhole
Nuraphones: one criticism could be the way the headband looks when you adjust them up, which isn't as nice as the rest of the product
6/17
Nuraphones: one criticism could be the way the headband looks when you adjust them up, which isn't as nice as the rest of the product
Nuraphones: an absolutely unique listening experience that not only sounds great, but will flip your understanding of hearing upside down
7/17
Nuraphones: an absolutely unique listening experience that not only sounds great, but will flip your understanding of hearing upside down
Nuraphones: full silicone design is surprisingly comfortable and looks very durable
8/17
Nuraphones: full silicone design is surprisingly comfortable and looks very durable
Nuraphones: the more people you show them to, the bigger the variety of hearing profiles you can check out. They're surprisingly different.
9/17
Nuraphones: the more people you show them to, the bigger the variety of hearing profiles you can check out. They're surprisingly different.
Nuraphones: tiny one-way valves in the ear cups act in conjunction with the skin-conduction bass immersion system to form a gentle air pump that keeps them from getting sweaty
10/17
Nuraphones: tiny one-way valves in the ear cups act in conjunction with the skin-conduction bass immersion system to form a gentle air pump that keeps them from getting sweaty
Nuraphones: a set of headphones that sounds amazing to everyone we've put them on
11/17
Nuraphones: a set of headphones that sounds amazing to everyone we've put them on
Nuraphones arrive in a biodegradable shipping box that the guys tell us is actually edible.
12/17
Nuraphones arrive in a biodegradable shipping box that the guys tell us is actually edible.
Nuraphones: beautiful magnet-lock carry case
13/17
Nuraphones: beautiful magnet-lock carry case
Nuraphones tune themselves to your ears before delivering the best sound you've ever heard
14/17
Nuraphones tune themselves to your ears before delivering the best sound you've ever heard
Nuraphones: Cheng's hearing profile doesn't show any major areas of high or low sensitivity
15/17
Nuraphones: Cheng's hearing profile doesn't show any major areas of high or low sensitivity
Nuraphones: my hearing profile's all over the place. Oh, and as for the name, I just like to hear the voice say "welcome back, you complete bellend" when I put them on. 
16/17
Nuraphones: my hearing profile's all over the place. Oh, and as for the name, I just like to hear the voice say "welcome back, you complete bellend" when I put them on. 
Where the other cans can deliver similar amounts of detail, the Nura headphones give you an extra push through the Immersion bass system that puts you right in the room with the performers
17/17
Where the other cans can deliver similar amounts of detail, the Nura headphones give you an extra push through the Immersion bass system that puts you right in the room with the performers

After a record-breaking Kickstarter campaign and more than a year of painstaking design, testing and production work, Nura has finally gone into production with its first consumer headphones, and I've had my hands on a set for the last month. These are not press freebies, either - after playing with the prototypes last year, I immediately slapped down my own money for a set. That's a first for me.

But these are not like any other headphones you've ever used, because they sound totally different when you wear them to when I do. The first thing Nura headphones do is give you a minute-long hearing test over 12 points on the audio spectrum, to work out exactly which frequencies you're more or less sensitive to, and then they adjust themselves to give you more of what you need and less of what you don't.

Every ear is different, in anatomy as well as in accumulated hearing damage. And the difference is absolutely massive, as we discovered when we first passed these things around the New Atlas office. These headphones sound incredible to everyone on the team who's tried them – it's like a magic trick that pulls amazing detail and fullness out of music you've heard a thousand times before. But if you try to listen with somebody else's hearing profile turned on, they sound awful. Too tinny, to middy, too bassy, too muddy.

The Nura team has reconfigured the visualization of each hearing profile into a weird colorful blob, a kind of radial graph of your hearing sensitivity. Unfortunately, the left and right ear sensitivity charts from the prototype devices are gone – the Nura team tells us that the graphs were visually confusing people, and individual hearing profiles for left and right ears were sonically confusing them. The final profile now runs across both ears. Here's what my blob looks like:

Nuraphones: my hearing profile's all over the place. Oh, and as for the name, I just like to hear the voice say "welcome back, you complete bellend" when I put them on. 
Nuraphones: my hearing profile's all over the place. Oh, and as for the name, I just like to hear the voice say "welcome back, you complete bellend" when I put them on. 

Don't mind the name there, I just like it when I put these things on and a lady's voice tells me "welcome back, you complete bellend."

In a market where headphones are now sold so commonly as fashion items, the effectiveness of these hearing curves really makes you wonder just how many people are going around wearing expensive cans that sound awful, or at least less than optimal to them, because they're out of tune with the ears they're sitting on.

The Nura hearing test is not a subjective one. It's an otoacoustic emission test commonly used to detect deafness in babies. The principles behind it are fascinating, and we covered them extensively in our initial interview with inventor Kyle Slater.

The technology is revolutionary, the idea is extraordinary, and the sound is transcendent. But that was the prototype; now it's time to see whether the fledgeling Nura team has managed to build a solid product that people will want to put on their heads day after day.

After a month of daily use, sometimes for up to 5 or 6 hours at a time, I can heartily say yes, these things are the real deal, with a little room for improvement.

Nuraphones: the case is as nice as the headphones themselves, with a magnetic clasp and removable cable cubbyhole
Nuraphones: the case is as nice as the headphones themselves, with a magnetic clasp and removable cable cubbyhole

Sound Quality

In a word, extraordinary. My brother and I A/B tested the Nura headphones against our personal workhorse Bluetooth rigs – in my case, a set of Koss BT540i, in his case, Bose QuietComfort 35 noise cancellers.

Both of us have some experience in music production, and pretty decent ears as a result. The level of detail in the Nura headphones, when tuned to each of our ears, is stunning. The experience of listening to music in these things reminds me of the first time I ever tried a good set of headphones; you're noticing instruments and effects all over the place that you've never heard before. The in ear/over ear design makes for effective isolation from outside sounds, letting the sound shine wherever you wear them.

Nuraphones: choose your cables at checkout. They ship with basic USB for charging.
Nuraphones: choose your cables at checkout. They ship with basic USB for charging.

Immersion mode

And where the other cans can deliver similar amounts of detail, the Nura headphones give you an extra push through the Immersion bass system that puts you right in the room with the performers. It's a skin-conduction system built into the silicone ear cups that simulates the physical feeling of a lot of air moving in a performance space – and it's flat-out amazing.

As creator Kyle Slater decribes it, "We have a separate driver in the outside of the in-ear section that's basically tuned to vibrations that you feel. So when you increase the Immersion level, you're actually delivering information to the brain through the sense of touch. It's the sound that goes in, plus the sensation of touch around it. Your brain integrates that information as if you're in a live concert. The thing that makes you so present in a live concert environment is that you're feeling as well as hearing. That's what this tries to emulate. You're feeling the vibrations around you."

The last month has thus been a real musical journey for me. With my eyes closed, I can picture what Whitney Houston is doing with her body to get her unique vocal sound. I can see the shape and depth of Simon Phillips' giant set of rack toms as he six-arms his way through a drum fill, the whole kit reverberating in sympathy with each hit. I can identify Steve Vai's reverb settings on each guitar part as they echo and bounce around the stereo space. A powerful bass voice like on Club For Five's "Brothers in Arms" cover feels like it's shaking your very chest. The spaciousness of the sound and stereo imaging make it incredibly rewarding to seek out great recordings and dive in with the lights off.

Binaurally recorded music like Yosi Horikawa's crazy "Wandering" record is wildly visual, putting you in 3-dimensional audio environments that feel so real it's a genuine surprise when you open your eyes and you're still in your room.

With the Nura app, you can switch back and forth between up to three separate hearing profiles, and that's a fascinating thing to do because each person's hearing is generally very, very different from your own, and it's very clear that none of them sound as good as the one designed just for you.

Nuraphones: the more people you show them to, the bigger the variety of hearing profiles you can check out. They're surprisingly different.
Nuraphones: the more people you show them to, the bigger the variety of hearing profiles you can check out. They're surprisingly different.

Suffice to say, I have put these cans on a couple of dozen heads over the last month, and every single person has been amazed by the sound quality. Except one guy, Kenny, who said he could hear a whole lot of stuff he'd never noticed in his favorite music, and it made him like the songs less. On the other end of the scale, one friend was moved to tears by the experience.

For me, as a minor-league audiophile and musician, the Nura headphones have been an emotional and wonderful sonic experience. The better the recording, the more rewarding the listen. The bigger the personality of the performer, the more it feels like you're there with them. It's been beautiful.

Comfort

Two things could easily make the Nura phones an uncomfortable prospect over an extended listen: the weird earbud section that pushes into your ear underneath the over-ear cups, and the fact that the cups themselves are silicone, and thus could get nasty and sweaty. Nura has dealt with both very carefully.

The earbud probes' success rests on the design of its silicon springs, which need to press firmly enough into the ear to deliver a good seal, but not hard enough to become annoying. Over some 160 iterations, Nura came up with a 2-stage non-linear silicon spring that seems to strike a great balance. It certainly feels weirdly ... violatory the first time you put them on, but it's something you forget about pretty quickly.

Nuraphones: this silicon prong is a 2-stage spring that gently nestles the earbud section of the Nura headphones into your ear. 
Nuraphones: this silicon prong is a 2-stage spring that gently nestles the earbud section of the Nura headphones into your ear. 

As for the silicon design, Nura has built an active cooling air flow into the ear cup design. As Slater puts it: "Imagine there's a one-way valve at the bottom and the top, like in a lilo. As the outer speaker moves in and out, it acts almost like a slight pump, cycling fresh air through. Your ears don't get hot, they don't get sweaty. That was one of the challenges for a full silicone design; you don't wanna trap heat and let things get all wet and gross in there."

It works, and you don't notice a thing. I'm a sweat factory at the best of times, and I'm testing these things in the heat of the Australian summer, and they've been nothing but comfy, even as I've gone on six-hour music explorations.

Surprises

Bluetooth

For folks like me, who bought the Nura headphones on Kickstarter, the inclusion of Bluetooth is a happy surprise. "I think we realized that convenience, that wireless thing was becoming super important for people, and if we didn't do it, it'd make us non-competitive," says Slater, "So it was definitely more than what we promised on Kickstarter, but we've got a long-term view on the company."

Bluetooth is implemented through a nice Qualcomm AptX HD chip, and the sound quality is great. Range isn't bad either, working well across a room, and even a room or two away, and not being interrupted, for example, by covering up your phone when it's in your pocket. It's not entirely jitter-free, but it's as good as any I've used.

There's still cables for those who prefer a wired connection, and Nura lets you choose which you want (Lightning, USB-C, USB-A, micro USB, 3.5mm analog) when you're buying. These use a proprietary connector, unfortunately, so you've got buy the from Nura – but that's because it's one connector that needs to handle Apple, Android, plain ol' analog 3.5 mm and USB communications. It's a good solution.

Nuraphones: proprietary cable design was an unfortunate necessity; this connector needs to be able to handle Lightning, USB, USB-C, Micro USB and 3.5mm analogue signals
Nuraphones: proprietary cable design was an unfortunate necessity; this connector needs to be able to handle Lightning, USB, USB-C, Micro USB and 3.5mm analogue signals

Battery life

Up to 20 hours, they say on the box. In practicality, that's an amazing amount of battery life. They're like old-school Nokia phones; you can charge them once a week if you're not using them all day.

On the other hand, there doesn't seem to be any way to work out how much charge they've got in them, or when they're fully charged once they're plugged in. That's something that could be addressed in an app update.

No on/off switch

Nura headphones turn themselves on and off automatically, using capacitive touch sensors to work out when they're on your head. That's a blessing; it extends battery life by not playing anything when they're off your head.

It's also a curse. If, let's say, you're in the office listening to dubious ASMR videos to drown out your equally dubious co-workers, and you take them off your head for some reason, the sound of a Russian lady talking you through how to fold towels will soon be coming out of your iMac speakers – so you've got to remember to hit pause before you take them off.

I'd like to see a setting in the Nura smartphone app to allow you to choose how long they wait before shutoff. I'd set it at five or 10 minutes. Battery life's just not an issue here.

Nuraphones: an absolutely unique listening experience that not only sounds great, but will flip your understanding of hearing upside down
Nuraphones: an absolutely unique listening experience that not only sounds great, but will flip your understanding of hearing upside down

One-touch buttons on the ears

The Nura phones have light-touch buttons on the ears that can be set to do a bunch of different tasks; play/pause, next track, previous track, immersion mode on/off, that sort of thing.

I don't actually find these very helpful, as I accidentally hit the buttons just about every time I reach up and touch the headphones. I've turned them off.

Phone integration

Another thing that was never promised in the Kickstarter campaign, the Nura phones have microphones built in so you can conduct phone calls through them. Without a boom mic, the sound quality is decent without being exceptionally good or bad; they're quite usable as a phone headset.

Complaints

This is a short list. Sometimes, after three or four hours of listening, the Nuras seem to switch themselves off and on again, briefly interrupting your musical journey. It's happened enough times that it seems systemic, but I imagine it might disappear as a problem if they didn't turn themselves off so quickly after being taken off.

As mentioned above, I'd like to see some way of checking battery charge levels, and a way to set the sleep timeout longer, and if I'm really nit picking, the headband adjustment arms look a bit dorky, even if they're made out of top-grade Japanese steel that'll never lose its springiness …

Nuraphones: one criticism could be the way the headband looks when you adjust them up, which isn't as nice as the rest of the product
Nuraphones: one criticism could be the way the headband looks when you adjust them up, which isn't as nice as the rest of the product

Conclusions

And that's pretty much it. Nura has put an obsessive amount of work into making its first product extremely solid. I can see these things lasting many years without suffering the kind of wear you get on other headphones; they've got no fabric to tear. The cables feel as bulletproof as the rest of the design, with a solid docking space that makes it virtually impossible to bend the connectors out of shape. From the biodegradable shipping package, to the magnetic carry case, to the headphones themselves, these things reek of quality engineering.

At the end of the day, the ear tuning system is a neat party trick you can use to amaze your friends. Ideally, you'll only go through the process once or twice yourself, and the question is then, do you have yourself a set of Bluetooth headphones that are worth the US$399 / AU$499 price tag?

For me, that's a hell yes. These are the best headphones I've ever heard, and they make me want to listen to music; I mean, lie down, close my eyes, and really soak up every wonderful detail. I suspect they'll make strong inroads into the audiophile community, as well as being popular among audio engineers, musicians, and other serious listeners; the kinds of people who put top priority on sound quality, and who can understand the technical gymnastics these things go through to deliver such a terrific experience.

Source: Nuraphone

8 comments
Philberg
Having read so many glowing reports of the Nuraphone, I jumped at the opportunity to try them at their recent London launch. The conditions were less than ideal - there was a very large attendance and only ten minutes allowed for each attendee to calibrate and assess the Nuraphones. Part of the calibration process involves getting the in ear component correctly seated and sealed into the ear canal which is apparently essential for optimum performance. The app displays a graphic of each earpiece which highlights when the seal is optimal. In my case, fiddle as I might (with assistance) I was unable to get a total seal. I nevertheless went through the calibration process and listened to Nura’s chosen demo track which I didn’t know, I then chose a couple of tracks from their iPhone’ music library which I did know. The sound, switching between ‘Generic’ and my ‘Profile’ was horrible, ‘Generic’ sounded worse than the cheapest rubbish earbuds and the ‘Personalised’ even worse; horribly overblown bass and distorted mid range. Now to be fair, it may be that I needed more than the allotted ten minutes to get an optimal seal and therefore accurate calibration. I’d love the opportunity to try them again. Clearly Nura have put a great deal of innovative technology into the design and development of the their headphones so I guess I need to give them the benefit of the doubt.
ripshin
Thanks Loz! Great review. So glad I funded these, and am anxiously awaiting my own set.
toyhouse
The writer says there's some experience with music production but doesn't give much detail. That's a biggie because some folks use these products made specifically for that use. Anything that enhances audio spectrum for mixing etc., is generally considered bad. Folks who use phones that way want truth, not flattery. They like a flat line. And it turns out, even phones made for that use, still have flaws which are often corrected with software plug-ins. So, how would these fit in? If they correct personal hearing flaws, that could be good. But if they also hype things to make them sound amazing,....then I'm not sure. The sub freqs being transmitted through vibration in the cup is intriguing. Similar devices have been sold that transmit through seats for the same purpose to help realize frequencies below some monitor speaker abilities. Anyway, sounds like an expensive experiment and something I possibly need to do homework on.
ollie
These are not the first cans to individually adjust their sound from a program measuring individual frequency response. Those would be Even headphones and earphones. I bought some for my son who has one ear damaged from loud concerts and he noted some improvement for his condition. I found some improvement for myself, but the ear cups were too small for my normal sized ears. They sell on the internet.
ljaques
Loz, are these truly stereo headphones? The words "stereo", "stereo separation", and "AVDTP" appear absolutely nowhere on the Nura site, in any of their ads or pics of the included spec sheets. You mentioned it in one paragraph of the review, but is it really stereo? aptX mentions stereo nowhere, either. So, my question is: Are these really $500 -monaural- headphones? I trust you, my wild and crazy friend, to tell us the truth. The new generations seem perfectly fine with a single bluetooth speaker, but I'm old and cranky and want my spatial effects, please.
BanisterJH
Wow. Four things come to mind. The first is that if they measure my hearing ability and boost the frequencies to which I respond poorly, does that maximize the progression of progressive hearing loss? Or, does their design reflect medical considerations about what amplitudes of which frequencies cause hearing loss (and perhaps tinnitus) in the first place? The second thing that comes to mind is that having the separate bass driver outside the earbud part might enable providing the beneficial parts of the experience of turning the music up too loud without the harmful parts of doing that. The third thing that comes to mind is that their design sounds ideal for manufacturing active noise cancelling earmuffs. I have worn both active, (Noisebuster brand and their NCT produced predecessor) and passive (mostly Peltor H7a and H10a) earmuffs a lot at work, and something that can control my sonic environment without the humid nastiness sounds very very attractive to me, as does separate drivers, one tuned to the low frequencies that the electronics can measure & cancel on the fly and another tuned to providing me the ideal sound pressure of the frequencies I need for communication. For hearing safety equipment, long experience has taught me that having the spring and wire behind the head in conjunction with weight supporting three point (left right & rear) nylon straps (about which face shield and hard hat bands can be clamped) works best. The fourth thing that comes to mind is that these would be the ideal headphones for any sort of VR equipment, since adapting to each person's hearing ability would greatly help to ensure that each person is actually getting the virtual environment that the environment's designer has intended to provide.
Paravectorno Extactini
That was a delight to read, (thanks, reading models) and I regret that I shall probably not get an edible box when I buy the 1/7ish price 'Studio Gainax Full Production Oops We Rebirthed That Immersive Stereo Bell End Thing Again' version. But when it's on, it looks like a Lance Of Longinus has speared your head and is ill-fixed. Plus when you take them off the charging stand will show the LOST CONNECTION hex grid. Wait, that price is in BTC... It is amazing that it's comfortable. What in the FLAC are you listening to with Nuraphones while most impressed? TFrA: Whitney Houston, Simon Phillips, Steve Vai, Club For Five's "Brothers in Arms" cover... Available on YouTube Red wherever you see the "Mic, Please!" logo? TFrA: Binaurally recorded music like Yosi Horikawa's Bandcamp! Wow! Right? toyhouse> These aren't the first cans to... No, but there are lots of PSAP/MAHAs coming in the pipe. They just need to pepper in SRS, multiple sources (dev/instrument/guitar, drum pads, a french horn gamecon) and distortion boxes, more memory-foam eartips than NERF ever shipped ammo, solar charger bands, and cooling headbands. There's your $377 city cans. BanisterJH: You can get a doctor to get the progression to go the way you want, but your vision of progressive violence in volume chasing shattered cochlear hair cells down to the last is your own comic fantasy. And that 200W headphone amp you made; which should not permit delivering that among just 6 sets of 7.2-channel surround cans.
Quixotequest
Good review. I have found these not quite as cool and comfy over a long listening session as others—I think in large part because they are so heavy— but they have been comfier than some I've tried. Thankfully they fully seal the sound well and don't cause me much discomfort while wearing eyeglasses. Not really wild about the taptastic buttons on the side, either, compared with better touch interfaces I had on my former Jam Trasit Touch phones. That said, amazing audio forgives a lot. As for the battery level—I would like to see them show level within the app and really wish the headphones, sans a visual cue like an LED, would have the voice interface report this to you. But a small battery level icon shows up in the menu bar of both my Mac and iDevices—and if I swipe left while in iOS it also shows a percentage reading among the info widgets. Lastly @ljaques: Yes, these have full stereo separation. They are wonderful to zone out with binaural tracks as well as to enjoy bands like Pink Floyd who liked to play around with such things.
Thanks for reading our articles. Please consider subscribing to New Atlas Plus.
By doing so you will be supporting independent journalism, plus you will get the benefits of a faster, ad-free experience.