Review: Nura Nuraphone

0
642

The Nura Nuraphone headphones are the only model offered by Nura. Their innovative concept is based on the integration of earphones in a pair of circum-aural headphones, combined with automated otoacoustic emissions. Compatible with Bluetooth aptX HD, these headphones feature an auto-calibration system and an active noise cancellation system. Is this set of headphones the chosen one?

Nura Nuraphone
The Nura Nuraphone headphones come with a hard case with a magnetic closing mechanism.

Nura Nuraphone review: concept

The Nura Nuraphone headphones are the result of an Australian crowdfunding project started on Kickstarter. The concept had the potential to seduce any music lover: the Nuraphone would be able to measure the listener’s hearing capabilities and personalize the restitution based on this data. In reality, however, things are somewhat different; in order to meet the listener’s needs, it would have been a good idea to ask for their opinion…

In practice, the Nuraphones measure the acoustic properties of the ear canal and adapt their sound signature to produce a flattering (but not neutral) sound.

It’s almost like having intelligent in-ear headphones inside a traditional pair of headphones, except that here, the traditional drivers are low-frequency transducers, much like those that shake the seats in 4D cinemas. The Nuraphone is Bluetooth compatible, and handles the best codecs on the market, notably aptX HD. That said, they can be used with their USB cable with any computer (USB DAC mode).

In the foreground, the transducer that produces the low frequencies. Inside the earphone, the dynamic coaxial driver, whose response is adjusted using auto-calibration.

With the help of contributors, Nura raised no less than 1.8 million dollars to finance their project.

The silicone tips located inside the Nura Nuraphone headphones are interchangeable (2 extra pairs are included).

Nura Nuraphone review: integrated subwoofer

At the heart of the Nuraphone headphones, it’s the earphones that take the lead. These wideband models are designed to reproduce low, mid and high frequencies. The acoustic transducer acts as a complement, mostly in the infra-bass, definitely below 100 Hz and probably down to 20 Hz.

Nura Nuraphone review: control app

Installing the Nura app is necessary to set up the Nura Nuraphone. After an update, the headphones emit voice commands and invite you to create a unique listening profile. The process only takes a few minutes; we’ll come back to this later. The app allows the user to personalize the two tactile buttons on the headphones, to take phone calls, change tracks, adjust the volume, activate the noise cancellation function or the transparent mode (to hear everything around you via the headphones’ microphones) for example.

Nura Nuraphone review: acoustic auto-calibration

The app prompts the user to put the headphones on then checks that the earbuds are inserted into the ear canal. This check really does occur, and placing the headphones on your leg, for example, doesn’t fool the app. Once the headphones are correctly positioned, the listener hears a wideband noise that goes from the lows to the highs. You will recognize this type of sound if you own an A/V receiver. This is followed by recorded music that sounds like something from an old sci-fi movie. The personalized profile is then generated and the listener is invited to compare it to a supposedly neutral profile.

Unsurprisingly, it’s the personalized profile that sounds the nicest, with an equalization of the mids and highs.

But does this calibration allow the listener to hear the music as it was mixed and balanced in the studio? A/V receiver calibration – also done by microphone – doesn’t always provide flawless results. The same applies to the Nuraphone, which models an ear-flattering response, with emphasized mids and lows.

Incidentally, this sound signature is similar to those of headphones without an auto-calibration system.

Note that the low frequencies aren’t auto-calibrated and that the transducer always works in the same way. To verify this, all you need to do is switch from the unoptimized mode to the optimized mode. You’ll find that the earphone pauses, but not the transducer.

The Nura Nuraphone headphones’ small earphone tips.

Nura Nuraphone review: varying results

As the application can memorize up to three auto-calibrated profiles, we wanted to check that we did actually get different results depending on the listener. That is indeed the case. However, the position of the earphones in the ear canal is a critical factor and the auto-calibration that we obtained varied from day to day. This isn’t too much of a problem, all you have to do is choose the profile that is the nicest to listen to. Either way, we recommend that you do three different measurements – taking the headphones off and then putting them back on again each time – and save them in the app.

Nura Nuraphone review: passive and active isolation

The Nura Nuraphone headphones are without a doubt the overall champions of sound isolation. Since their last update, the headphones have offered active isolation that can be activated from the Nura app, and of course using one of the two tactile zones on the headphones. The passive isolation is already very impressive and you can hardly hear anything that is going on around you. Activating the active isolation intensifies this effect. The fact that you don’t feel the vacuum effect systematically observed with Bluetooth headphones with ANC (Sony WH-1000XM3, Bose QuietComfort II) is the icing on the cake.

Each earcup features a tactile button, which can be assigned a role in the Nura mobile app.

Nura Nuraphone review: immersion mode

The Nura app may be used to adjust the listener’s level of immersion. In practice, it’s the volume of the bass driver that is adjusted. Pushed to the maximum, the “immersion” mode generates impressive infra-bass vibrations, at least when the overall listening volume is very high.

The transducer is then cut loose and the headphones deliver unparalleled oomph.

The downside is that the transient response inevitably drops, and the transducer generates a tremendous amount of dragging. This is very difficult to bear when listening to music, but quite fun when watching an action movie or playing a video game on a tablet. A word of advice: it’s better to go easy on the immersion settings and pick a point somewhere in the first two thirds of the intensity level.

Nura Nuraphone review: aptX HD Bluetooth    

The Nuraphone headphones are Bluetooth compatible and can handle the SBC, AAC, aptX and aptX HD codecs. Apart from Sony’s LDAC codec, all compression codecs are compatible. Whether you own an entry-level smartphone or an iPhone, you will be getting the best possible sound quality. It’s also possible to charge the headphones during Bluetooth listening.

The Nura Nuraphone headphones’ proprietary digital/analog connector.

Nura Nuraphone review: accessories

In addition to the headphones, Nura includes a carry case and a USB charging cable. No analog interconnect cable is included and due to the proprietary connector, you’ll have to shell out for an optional cable (mini-jack, USB-C, Lightning, etc.). You can expect to pay at least 20€ for each additional cable.

The Nura Nuraphone headphones’ magnetic carry case.

Nura Nuraphone review: test conditions

We tested these headphones with a Xiaomi M8 smartphone running Android 9 and we didn’t encounter any difficulties during the configuration. Already charged to 50%, the headphones come out of their deep sleep as soon as they’re put on. You simply need to download the Nura app for iOS or Android and follow the instructions. As soon as an equalization profile is created, it’s saved in the headphones’ memory and automatically activated if the Nuraphone is paired to a new Bluetooth device (PC, TV, etc.).

It’s necessary to create a Nura account (free) to use the Nura app.
The user is guided through the configuration process.
If the latest firmware isn’t already installed, it’s automatically downloaded.
You can start creating a unique hearing profile.
The listener can then modify the level of immersion (really the volume of the vibrator). Afterwards, this adjustment can be made freely and at any time during a listening session.

Nura Nuraphone review: amplification

Let’s start by mentioning the amplification of the Nuraphone headphones: it’s very good. The signal-to-noise ratio is excellent and there’s no background noise in sight. Lots of Bluetooth headphones have a little background noise, which isn’t very distracting. But for headphones that isolate extremely well from outside noise, especially headphones with sensitive earphones inside, the fact that the amplification doesn’t generate any noise is a blessing for the listener. Moreover, the output power is impressive. You can therefore listen to the headphones at a murmure, or at really high volume.

The passive isolation is the best that we’ve ever encountered. Combined with active noise cancellation, it isolates the listener effectively from outside noise.

The “transparent” mode lets you hear conversations and noises around you.

Nura Nuraphone review: listening impressions

Lows: they can be opulent and even massive, beyond reasonable if the immersion mode is pushed too far. At high volume, so as not to experience detrimental sound dragging, the immersion mode must be further reduced.

Mids and highs: the clarity of the restitution is very pleasant, once the best auto-calibration profile has been established. With our profile, the signature was quite emphasized from 5 kHz up, which did add some coloration of course, but also brought a pleasant brightness.

Soundstage: this is the Nuraphone’s weak spot. Although these headphones ensure an impressive full-bodied tonal balance, they are a bit disappointing when it comes to the dimensions of its soundstage. The stereo imaging is wide but the depth isn’t exceptional.

Quality of voice calls: the integrated microphone is of good quality; the caller can hear your voice clearly and you can hear them clearly in return. Faultless.

Comfort: the pressure exerted on the listener’s head is light and the only factor that can cause some tension after a long, stationary listening session are the earphones. When walking, the inertia of the headphones can be felt all the way into the ear canal. It’s something that could take time to get used to.

Nura Nuraphone: compared to…

Plantronics Backbeat Pro: the full-bodied sound signature of the Backbeat Pro is without a doubt the closest to that of the Nuraphone. Without any calibration, Plantronics has found the right balance. Plantronics gets points for comfort and for their soundstage, Nuraphone gets points for sound isolation and for the quietness of the amplification when no signal is transmitted.

Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless: with their adjustable noise cancellation function and equalization presets, these Sennheiser Bluetooth headphones offer a sound delivery that’s just as powerful, without the impact in the infrabass. The Sennheiser has a more rigorous spatialization.

Bose QuietComfort 35 II: Bose has the upper hand for comfort and almost perfect noise cancellation. The sound signature is less robust and more strained than the Nuraphone’s.

Nura Nuraphone review: verdict

Nura has dared to combine acoustic solutions and the result is very interesting. If you’re looking for Bluetooth headphones with excellent active noise cancellation and a clear sound, the Nuraphone is definitely an option. If you absolutely hate having earphones shoved in your ears or if you’re looking for a neutral sound with a rigorously organized soundstage, look elsewhere.

What we liked:

  • The clarity and softness of the restitution.
  • The fact that the headphones turn on and pause automatically.
  • The excellent passive isolation (which is even better with the active mode).
  • The AAC, aptX and aptX HD Bluetooth.
  • The substantial and appropriately balanced sound signature.
  • The battery life (only 10% lost after 4 hours of playback).
  • The reasonable price.

What we would have liked:

  • A wider soundstage.
  • Less pressure in the ear canal when walking.
  • Less dragging in the lows in high immersion mode.
  • Not to have to spend 25€ for the optional mini-jack cable.

Share your opinion!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.