After first testing Nura's near-magical auto-adaptive headphones in 2016, we jumped straight in and bought a couple pairs. To this date, they're still the best headphones we've ever heard, but what we didn't expect was a free software update that would take things up a notch with active noise canceling, social mode and a bunch of other new features.
I have several pairs of Bluetooth headphones around the house, and I can honestly say I've never gone out of my way to run a software update on any of them. This G2 update from Nura is a very different proposition.
Free to all Nura owners, it takes what's already a transcendent headphone experience and … well, the best way to describe it is that it tidies up around the edges and adds some exciting new functionality. We've been pre-release testing the G2 update for the last week.
Active Noise Canceling (ANC)
Honestly, the way these cans are designed almost precludes the need for noise canceling. As well as the over-ear cups, Nuraphones add in a springy silicon earbud that pokes right into your ears, giving them terrific sound isolation even without an active system.
But it turns out, all the requisite microphones and componentry to give these things active silencers were already built in – perhaps we should've been tipped off by the fact that they work so well as phone headsets while making calls.
With the G2 update, noise-canceling is turned on by default. Interestingly, there's no easy switch or button option that lets you turn it on or off on the go. It's either on or it's not. Which is fine; you can play with it in the app to see if it's worth the hit to your battery life.
Some ANC systems can introduce their own sound. For example, I've got a set of Sennheisers that give a quiet low-frequency buzz when they can't find any stable noise to cancel. There's nothing with the Nura system, not a sausage. And the system does a great job of eliminating constant noise, such as the roar of an aircraft cabin or road noise, to the point where it's so quiet I can hear little else but my own tinnitus. That's ok; play something through the headphones and my brain has something else to concentrate on.
These were already pretty savage cans to wear in an office situation; the in/over ear design's high degree of isolation alone makes it pretty tough for colleagues to get your attention. The new ANC takes things to a new level, and thus it's terrific to have the option of turning on a new "social mode" to blend outside sound with the music you're listening to.
It's very well implemented here. I've got it set as a double-tap on my left ear, and when you turn it on, the volume of the media signal is dropped, and the outside world suddenly appears in your ears – including your own voice. It feels surprisingly natural to have a conversation with headphones on – the only real difference is that your own voice is a little boomier in your head, but you can easily judge how loud you need to be talking, which is a big deal.
There are also more devious uses. Put these cans on and you look like you can't hear anything in the office. Click Social mode on, and you can hear everything, crystal clear, and get some sense of what your co-workers really think of you. Try it at your own risk.
Multiple Bluetooth Sources
This is another nice upgrade for anyone who needs to switch between a smartphone and a computer a lot. You don't have to go in and disconnect from one device in order to connect to the other any more. Just click "connect" on the second device and the Nuras switch over.
There are a few other bits and bobs worth mentioning in the G2 update, like audio prompts that let you know what the battery percentage is doing, and an audible confirmation when you plug them in to charge.
The automatic on/off power setting has been re-jigged; it now pauses whatever music is playing when you take the cans off, but doesn't disconnect for 60 seconds.
Touch button commands now include double-tap functions, which expands the number of things you can program them to do. This solves a problem I had where I kept accidentally bumping the buttons. It happened often enough that I turned off all the button functions. Now, with double taps, that happens far less often. So that's all I use.
And noise canceling tech has been added to voice calls, improving your ability to make calls in noisier environments.
One key thing that has not been fixed
Not once in the dozens of times I've run the Nuras' adaptive hearing test routine have I managed to get ticks on both sides to indicate that I've got a decent seal for a proper test. Every single time I've tried it, with every single person I've shown these to, we've had to "continue anyway" and ignore the fact that the headphones felt there wasn't a good enough seal. It doesn't seem to matter too much, they still sound terrific.
The hearing-adaptive otoacoustic equalization routine on the Nuraphones remains unique despite several other adaptive headphone companies springing up since we first saw these things. Having tried some of the others, we'd also rate the Nura approach as far quicker and more impressive, doing everything automagically in about a minute instead of making you take a 15-minute hearing test.
The sheer horsepower, audio fidelity, synaesthetic visual detail and insanely immersive skin-conduction bass boost effect makes Nura still our go-to listening tool when it's time to put music under the microscope. This G2 update is a sweet and unexpected free cherry on the top of a fantastic sundae.
Nuraphones retail for US$399, AU$499, £349 or €399 depending on your region. If you're quick, there's an Amazon Prime Day deal that lets you grab a pair for 25 percent off.
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