Nura's over/in-ear headphones are absolutely extraordinary, so we're super keen to hear how this Australian company's ear-adaptive audio technology translates to a smaller device. Nuraloop has just gone on pre-sale at a 30 percent discount from retail pricing, with shipping starting in September.
Like the headphones, these things are feature-packed. The battery, for example, lasts an enormous 16 hours, so you've got yourself an all-day headset without needing a charging case. They offer active noise cancellation, with a "social mode" that lets the outside world in when necessary without needing you to pull them out for a chat.
They work over aptX HD Bluetooth 5, so the stereo signal will be premium quality, but there's also a detachable analog cable, so you can plug in a 3.5-mm jack if your device still has one, or plug them into an in-flight entertainment system – something that's lost with a lot of Bluetooth headsets. That analog input also makes them usable as on-stage in-ear monitors, Nura points out, a feature that'll make pro musicians smile.
They're sweat-resistant if not waterproof, come with three tip sizes for a snug fit, and feature an over-ear design joining together with a cord behind the head, so they should stay on securely during all that jogging you're promising yourself you'll be doing. That corded connection will also mean there'll be no Bluetooth dropouts between the two ears as you can get on some separate earbud sets.
With a built-in microphone, they'll handle voice calls, and like the headphones, they don't have a power switch – instead, they automatically work out when they're in a set of ears and turn themselves on. "TouchDial" controls on each ear let you dial up and down the noise cancellation and social mode external sound, as well as volume, play/pause and track selection. We presume all controls are programmable through the Nura app, as they are on the headphones.
So yes, the Nuraloop is drowning in features, and we have no doubt given our experience with the first product that the design will be top quality, highly durable and great to use. But what made this company famous is its ear-adaptive technology. The first time you put these things on, they'll give you an automatic one-minute otoacoustic hearing test, and then tailor their sound to give you more of the frequencies you're less sensitive to, and less of the ones you're more sensitive to.
The result, in the headphones at least, is extraordinary. Everyone in our office has ranked the Nuras as the best sounding headphones any of us have heard, with exceptional clarity across the frequency spectrum allowing you to follow individual instruments in a mix. They also offer enormous low-end punch thanks to an "immersion mode" slider that lets you dial in bass presence that comes in via skin conduction instead of through the speakers – meaning that you hear and feel the low end without muddying up the clarity in the rest of the mix.
And here's where we're fascinated to see how the Nuraloops perform. They don't have the skin conduction ear cup of the headphones, so immersion mode won't be possible in the same way. We've used one set of adaptive headphones that don't have a skin conduction system – the Audeara A-01s – and found they pulled out way too much bass in search of that clarity. Bringing it back in, you were immediately aware of the sacrifice you were making.
So Nura's had a technical challenge to solve if it wants the Nuraloop to offer the company's trademark transcendent listening experience. We've contacted the company to ask how they've tackled this, and will update this piece or run a separate article once we've spoken to the team. Honestly, it's probably unfair to expect earbuds to compete with over/in-ear headphones on pure sound quality, but with a bit of luck we'll have a set for review within a month or two.
As we wait to get our hands on a set, the Nuraloop has gone on pre-sale at a significant 30 percent discount to the retail price of US$199/£199/€229/AU$299. So that means you can get them for US$140/£140/€160/AU$210, with deliveries starting in September.
Update: Nura co-founder Luke Campbell has responded to our query - here's his full response:
"When we started our original Kickstarter campaign in 2016 the was literally not a single headphone company talking about or selling a product with personalised sound. Now there is about 10 of them at various stages of having a product ready.
Every other company doing personalized sound does it using the same sort of push-button-when-you-hear test. That test is 1 million per cent easier to do from a technical point of view. Before launching our Kickstarter we also tried doing personalization doing this sort of test. We were underwhelmed by our results. We learnt a lot about why that's not a good way to do it and invested a lot of energy into doing OAE (oto-actoustic emission) instead which, for most people, worked much better straight off the bat.
Fundamentally other companies use old school hearing tests with old school hearing aid algorithms. Hearing aid algorithms have never been designed with much regard for music and have been developed primarily to optimize the question "how can we increase speech recognition testing scores". I suspect they work well for people who need hearing aids.
Nura, on the other hand, has been designed from the ground up for people with normal hearing (or mild hearing problems), to take you from good sound to great sound. The hearing test, although based on the OAE testing used on infants, has been adapted from and builds on the latest cutting edge research in the field. It targets different biological processes compared with push-button-when-you-hear tests. The correction algorithms are also way less aggressive than standard hearing aid algorithms.
Everything has been developed from scratch by Nura and is tested/tuned to answer the question "how can we make music sound better". In summary, not all personalized sound is made equal. Too many companies are taking it on without properly understanding the physiology of hearing and without properly thinking through the problem they are trying to solve.
Also, specifically regarding the bass stuff, no the Nuraloop doesn't have an extra bass speaker or anything, but no Nuraloop don't suffer from the lack of bass problem Audeara seems to have. That's nothing to do with the drivers or anything, that's all to do with the hearing testing and signal processing approach."
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