Nura, Nuraphone review
Prepare to be probed
What is the Nuraphone?The Nuraphone is an over ear, dynamic driver headphone with Bluetooth. This is not a radical proposition in 2019. Rarely does more than a couple of months go by without me testing such a thing. We’ve recently looked at the Audio Technica Mx50BT, a headphone that does these things with considerable aplomb and is yours for £180. On the face of it, the Nuraphone priced at £350 seems a little high and outside most people's expectations for a brand new company.
The Nuraphone has a party piece that the neither the Audio Technica nor any headphone we’ve yet tested possesses. It promises to personalise the performance to your hearing based on tests it runs when you start it up. Only a few years ago, this would have been the stuff of Tomorrow’s World with Maggie Philbin pontificating over a prototype that looked like a Space 1999 prop. Here, it’s a fully realised, production-line device.
Thing is, does it work? It’s all very well saying that the performance is tailored for you but it comes down to how that’s been done. Let’s face it, not all correction is equal so does this intriguing device deliver on the promises it makes or is isolation still the best option?
Specification and DesignKey to the Nuraphone proposition is that the corrective software is not being applied to a completely conventional pair of headphones. There is a 40mm dynamic driver - sort of a ‘cosmological constant’ of headphones at this price - but this isn’t being used on its own in the Nuraphone. It is partnered with a 15mm driver and, again, the relationship between the two is not as simple as one being high frequency and one low.
The 15mm driver acts directly on the inner ear while the larger driver works in keeping with a conventional driver. To do this, the inside of a Nuraphone enclosure is different to a conventional headphone. A protrusion - and there really is no better word for it - extends out from the outer edge of the housing. The Nuraphone needs to be placed so that the protrusions sit in the ear canal in the manner of a pair of earphones.
Once this has been done, the Nuraphone sets to work. Install the accompanying app and the Nuraphone will proceed to analyse your hearing with a view to tuning the performance it delivers. The process by which this happens is patented and, understandably, some of the details by which it operates are a little opaque. The most notable part of the process for me is that it isn’t based on your responses. The software runs without prompting, making a few clicks and whirrs as it does so and then announces that it has finished.
What results is your profile and this can be switched in and out so you can judge the results. You can also switch noise cancelling in and out and alter something the Nuraphone calls ‘immersion’ to suit your preferences. It all works in a slick and convincing way and shouldn’t be alarming to even the most avowedly technophobic operator. The catch for sad sacks like me is there are no real clues as to how the software reaches its conclusions and - no less importantly - whether you have the hearing ability of Daredevil or Helen Keller.
To listen to the Nuraphone’s handiwork you are unusually only given the option of Bluetooth as standard. It is a very good implementation - Bluetooth v4.0 with aptX HD but if you want a wired connection you will need to pay more for it. The good news is that you have plenty of choices - analogue, Lightning and three different USB cables are all available so you should be able to use the Nuraphone in most situations, albeit for an extra fee (and don’t go thinking you can do it on the cheap either because the connection at the Nuraphone end is bespoke).
Even without the presence of Bluetooth 5 and its impressive battery extension properties, the Nuraphone still boasts a claimed life of 20 hours and this seems to be a figure that is completely believable in practice - although there is a recognisable issue we’ll come to in due course. Charging is done via the supplied cable and is reasonably fast. Like a few other designs we’ve looked at, the Nuraphone does without any form of on/off switch. Instead, it detects when it is and isn’t being worn and switches on and off accordingly.
The industrial design of the Nuraphone is - and I speak as a person settling happily into middle age - pleasantly muted. There are no crazy colours, LEDs, chrome, suede or even much in the way of physical branding. This is a subtle but reasonably attractive product that I don’t feel ridiculous wearing out and about. It’s also well made. Everything feels like it will last a reasonable length of time and that some consideration has gone into the choices for the padding, driver housings etc. When I consider that this is the first commercial offering from the company, it’s rather impressive.
There is a clever bit of control functionality too. Each housing is fitted with a touch button that allows you to select the control functions you want. For example, you can ask for the left hand side to play/pause and the right to turn the noise cancelling on and off. The buttons are a little too sensitive - it’s easy to trigger them while adjusting the headphones - but it’s a good piece of thinking and very useful when you get the hang of it.
There’s a ‘but’ coming though, there always is. The nature of the Nuraphone’s fitment is more invasive than most other headphones and I have to be absolutely honest, while I’ve got used to it, it’s never going to be something I feel is as comfortable as the PSB M4U8, for example. You have a choice of domes for the in ear section and the rubber has been carefully chosen but it’s still periodically a little on the weird side.
The accessories that you get with the Nuraphone are solid and of reasonable quality. You get a decent carry case that can stow both the headphones and their accessories. The case is rather large though and it reflects that the Nuraphone doesn’t fold up. As a portable device, the Nuraphone isn’t as effortlessly portable as something like the Bowers & Wilkins PX but it’s not exactly hefty. It does point to a slight ambiguity of what the Nuraphone is actually designed to do but equally, it doesn’t rule it out of doing any specific task either.
Install the accompanying app and the Nuraphone will proceed to analyse your hearing with a view to tuning the performance it delivers
How was the Nuraphone tested?The Nuraphone has been tested exclusively over Bluetooth as there was no cabling supplied with it. It has been tested with both an Essential PH-1 Android phone (which also acted as the installation point for the app) and an iPad Pro. Material used has been Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer, Netflix, Now TV and iPlayer playing the standard range of media available for these services. Testing has taken place both on the move and in a domestic setting.
Sound QualityGiven how important the setup and configuration is to the operation of the Nuraphone, the good news is that the process is straightforward and very logical. Put them on and a digitised voice (that sounds quite like Tress MacNeille) will guide you through the process. It doesn’t take too long and it isn’t too alarming on your hearing either.
Having done this, the good news is that toggling between my profile and ‘plain’ settings does sound meaningfully better. The Nuraphone isn’t a monitor headphone - I don’t feel that it’s the last word in accuracy but equally, I don’t feel that this is what the company is aiming for. What you get instead is a sound that is very easy to listen to for extended periods. The Nuraphone delivers Marina’s Love & Fear with a very pleasing feeling of warmth and involvement. This is a good recording and the Nuraphone does a very good job of ensuring that vocals sound rich and very believable.
Part of this is down to the very effective implementation of the noise cancelling. As (presumably), it is dialled into the processing being applied to create my profile, it is achieved without the tonal imbalance that can sometimes affect designs of this nature. The Nuraphone is as good as the PSB M4U8 and Bowers & Wilkins PX and that is a fairly high bar to hit. No less important is how naturally you take to switching it in and out. I found myself walking to the shops, turning it off for the brief period when I was near traffic and then switching it back on again once away from the road. So long as random strangers don’t see you tapping the side of your head in a manner they can construe to be you suggesting they’re crazy, it works a charm.
The party piece of the Nuraphone is if you’re using it for film and TV work though. I elected to test this by watching a segment of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol II on Netflix on the iPad but the results were so compelling that I watched the whole thing. For a closed back design - and one that, don’t forget, has stuck protrusions into your ears at the same time - the performance of the Nuraphone is unquestionably cinematic. The soundstage extends well beyond the physical distance of the enclosure and it manages the neat trick of being able to push sound to the front of you. My time with the Nuraphone hasn’t coincided with a flight but I am prepared to state that for watching film and TV material on a plane, this is the best option there is at the price.
Is it perfect? No. There is the option to adjust the ‘immersion mode’ of your Nura profile. Obviously, everyone is going to have a different profile but for mine at least, less is definitely more. Nuraphone says that increasing it makes the presentation more akin to a live performance but it really isn’t much like that. Instead you are treated to more (far too much) bass and a real loss of some of the speed and immediacy that a more judicious application of the software can provide. As noted, the battery life of the Nuraphone is very good but the lack of Bluetooth 5.0 and the presence of that app does mean that the battery life of the Essential is noticeably lower than it is when paired with the Audio Technica Mx50BT, for example. As you can probably gather, neither of these things are catastrophic as far as I’m concerned.
For a closed back design- and one that, don’t forget, has stuck protrusions into your ears at the same time - the performance of the Nuraphone is unquestionably cinematic.
- Genuinely impressive musical performance on offer
- Well made
- Some useful extra features
- Odd fitment
- Cables cost extra
- Don't fold
Nura, Nuraphone reviewThe Nuraphone is a deeply interesting arrival in the headphone market. In some regards, I’m not the perfect candidate for it as I’ve got access to hardware that allows for me to know that what I’m hearing is the correct take on the material in question and my ‘profile’ - however accurate a take on my hearing it might be - isn’t as ‘correct’ as that is. I also would have liked a little more information on how the profile is assembled and what it means for my ears. Finally, I can promise everybody reading this that there will be a subset of people who don’t get on with the fitment at all. It’s not Grado levels of ‘distinctive’ but it’s different enough that not everyone will love it.
For all this, the Nuraphone is a great device to listen to. With music and especially film and TV, it provides a well-judged balance of excitement and refinement that is easy to listen to for extended periods. They also have the scope to be a capable, if bulky, travel headphone too. Nuraphone deserves praise for bringing clever and innovative technology to market in a slick and beautifully realised package and for this reason, the Nuraphone comes highly recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £349.00
Ease of Use9
Design and usability9
Value For Money8
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