Introduction - what is the NuraLoop?
The Nura NuraLoop is a wireless in ear earphone with the option to run wired. It is part of a category that has been an area of furious growth ever since the iPhone dropped the headphone socket (and, for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth there was around it, where Apple went, others followed). We have not looked at that many products from this category relative to the number that have been released so why have we made a beeline for this one?
The reason is simple. This is the second product from Nura we’ve looked at. The first was the Nuraphone that I was shamefully late to the process of taking a look at. The reason was that I looked at the technical spec, looked at the fact that the company hadn’t released anything else and assumed that there was a discrepancy somewhere. In reality, the Nuraphone, while undoubtedly curious in some elements of the design, is a tremendously clever product that managed to bring some genuinely new thinking to the wireless headphone market. I will not make the same mistake twice so here is the NuraLoop rather earlier in its life.
Of course, earphones are a science in themselves. Even if Nura can transfer the technology from the Nuraphone (not a given), they have to incorporate that into an in-ear and, as you can see from the pictures, they’ve rather gone their own way there too. Time to see if the Loop can deliver.
Specification and Design
The NuraLoop comprises a pair of earbuds linked by an umbilical cable. Right from the outset, Nura has shown no intention of playing it any safer with their earphone design than they did with the ‘prepare to be probed’ thinking of the Nuraphone. The driver complement is unspecified but the NuraLoop has some dimensional similarities to the inner ‘probe’ section of the Nuraphone. It seems likely that the software that Nura uses is designed around this which means it makes sense to replicate that setup in miniature. At the time of review, there doesn’t seem to be a quoted frequency response.
Frequency response is not what Nura products are about though. The NuraLoop is designed to make use of the same technology that the larger headphone does. This means that each earbud has a microphone built into it. Download the Nura app and follow the prompts and the NuraLoop performs a roughly ninety second program of test sweeps and measures the feedback from your ears. It then EQs the performance of the driver to match this feedback.
Now, I’m going to say the same thing that I said about the Nuraphone but I think it bears repeating. There is no feedback on your responses. The NuraLoop will not give any information as to whether you’re deaf as a post or of use to the CIA. There is no demonstrated target that the EQ is shooting for and you can only adjust the level of processing and not the target of the processing itself. As I don’t know anyone else with Nuraphones or NuraLoops, I can’t listen to their calibrated examples and find out how different the results are from my own. It is an article of faith that the process is what Nura says it is and not an elegant graphics sequence and some Dr Who sound effects buried in the app. Obviously, this is critical intellectual property so I understand the reasons for it but it does mean that there are questions about it I can’t answer.
The rest of the specification is easier to discern though. The primary connection method is Bluetooth which is Bluetooth v5.0 (although it seems that the earliest versions shipped with 4.0) which includes aptX HD. There is no AAC fitment which means that this is very firmly in the Android camp of devices (and it’s worth noting that the last year or so has seen aptX disappearing from cheaper handsets there too). A wired option is also available which I’ll cover in a bit.
This is partnered with a four microphone based noise cancelling system that can be bypassed for voice passthough. Battery life is quoted as 16 hours and this does seem to be broadly in keeping with what can be expected in the real world. As you might expect, you can make and receive calls through the NuraLoop and there is a facility to pair more than one device at once and toggle between them.
The design of the NuraLoop is less quirky than the full size headphone but there are still some interesting decisions. As much of the category moves over to untethered buds, the Nuraloop retains a wire between the two earpieces. Furthermore, this cable is very short indeed. I imagine this is a sideways manner of admitting that I have a big head but with both earpieces placed comfortably, there is no more than an inch of give to the cable across the back the neck. A more active friend of mine has pointed out that this does mean that the NuraLoop is ideal for gym bunnies as there’s no slack but still a tether if an earpiece makes a bid for freedom. I am happy to take her word for it.
At the centre of the cable is the most distinctive design decision that Nura has taken. The NuraLoop combines its charging and analogue audio input into a single bespoke connection on a circular blob on the cable. This has some positives and negatives. In the good pile is that the NuraLoop has an analogue input. Leaving aside audiophile pretension for a minute, it means it can use in flight connections and isn’t decorative when the battery goes. If the battery does go, the charging section of the connection can deliver some serious charging oomph. Nura says a ten minute charge gives two hours of play and this does genuinely seem to be the case. In the not so good news, the connection is proprietary. This means another charging cable for the inventory and the analogue cable comes from Nura.
There’re some other design decisions that will either delight or frustrate too. One that had my ear canals puckering when I saw them (can ear canals pucker? Mine certainly felt like they did) is the odd ‘half dome’ fitment of the seals. I am happy to state though they they work very well indeed. There is also an evolution of the control button system that the Nuraphone has. Each earpiece has a touch sensor that allows for three functions; tap, double tap and rotate to be mapped to it. This works to a point. The buttons themselves are responsive and the process is intuitive (standard caveats about people watching you tap the side of your head apply) but if you adjust the fitting of an earpiece in your ear while it is playing, they will go bananas.
The build and design of the NuraLoop feels in keeping with the price. They are sweat resistant but no specific water resistance value is quoted. The design is smart without being gaudy and you get a decent carry case that has space for both the earphones and the charging cable. The NuraLoop seems to be in active support with ongoing software updates and patches being released. This is not necessarily an AirPod killer (not least as there’s no AAC) but they are a solid piece of industrial design.
Download the Nura app and follow the prompts and the NuraLoop performs a roughly ninety second program of test sweeps and measures the feedback from your ears
How was the NuraLoop tested?
Follow the prompts to perform the calibration process via the Nura App and, at its completion, you have the option of listening to the NuraLoop with and without the software engaged. Theoretically, this should be a fascinating comparison point but… it isn’t. I am happy to state that if the NuraLoop genuinely does sound as the ‘non processed’ option suggests it does in the comparison phase of the app, then I’ll eat them. Suffice to say that the default state of both Nura devices should be on and it’s then a matter of choosing the amount of processing.
This is partially equivalent to a decision as to how much bass you want. The intent of the Nura processing is to emulate a live rather than a studio performance and based on the manner that it works, I suspect that the engineers have spent more time going to see Death from Above 1979 than they have Diana Krall. I settled on a position on the slider between a quarter and a third. The top third of the slider is unlistenable; a combination of huge, flabby slabs of bass and a weird echo effect.
With things set less aggressively though, the NuraLoop shines. I think it’s worth saying from the outset that if you want the unvarnished, warts and all, fly on the wall of the studio style of presentation, this isn’t the absolute target of the design process. What it is though is extremely listenable. There’s a bounce and energy to the way it presents music that is hard not to like. The downtempo coolness of Nicholas Michaux’s Parrot is a head nodding, infectiously groovy romp. It’s a song that’s supposed to sound fun and it really does here.
There’s some genuine musical talent on offer too. The NuraLoop has a consistent level of space and three dimensionality to its presentation that, when combined with its fairly comfortable fit is enough to ensure that you can forget you are wearing earphones. Yello’s Point, another slickly produced effort with an effortlessly Hi-Res feel to it, is something that feels huge on the NuraLoop. This also means that this is a fine partner for TV and film use… provided that you can install the Nura app on it. With the LG, a device with a superb Bluetooth implementation but no means of running the app, it defaults to the unprocessed sound which, as previously mentioned, is not good. Via the iPad though, even with the lack of aptX, thanks to being able to log in and apply your profile, it manages to sound quite a bit better.
On the whole though, the Bluetooth implementation is excellent. It has been stable with all the connected devices I’ve used and the range, while possibly not effective to the quoted ten metre maximum, is still quite sufficient to ensure you can wander away from the streaming source without losing the sync. This has been the case out in public too although in what might become an interesting historical footnote or a portent for the future, no testing of the NuraLoop has been done anywhere busy because there is nowhere truly busy to test them (and I don’t really want to be there anyway).
One feature of the NuraLoop that is straight from the Nuraphone is that the integration with the noise cancelling software is absolutely sensational. Even a few generations in, most products will demonstrate a slight tonal shift as you turn it on and off. Perhaps it’s a function of the customisation that the software undertakes but that simply isn’t present here. There is no performance deficit with it in either setting and it is arguably the most effective I’ve tested. The amount of noise cancelling is sufficient to take the edge off most noisy locations without incident and I’ve had no issue leaving it on as the default.
What this combines to is an earphone that is consistently enjoyable to listen to and use. They have become the earphone most likely to be in a pocket for use at the supermarket and I’ve found them something I can listen to for extended periods. I think its fair to say that they might not class as a truly ‘Hi-Fi’ product; testing them against the Campfire Io, a Zortoo Ztella DAC and using USB Audio Player Pro, suggests that a fair bit of tweakery is going on with the Nura but the result of that tweakery sounds consistently enjoyable. Throw in the noise cancelling and the Nura is the device that stands up to a day out and about better.
One feature of the NuraLoop that is straight from the Nuraphone is that the integration with the noise cancelling software is absolutely sensational
- Sound great and adjust to your hearing
- Well made
- Decent battery life and fast charge
- No AAC Bluetooth
- Proprietary cables
- Yoke cable is very short
Nura NuraLoop Wireless Noise Cancelling In-Ear Earphone Review
The NuraLoop is no less distinctive than its full sized stablemate. Some of the design decisions taken are ones that will not be to everyone’s liking but I find myself largely won over by what these earphones can do. If you’re looking for a robust pair of wireless earphones, designed to handle a life out and about and particularly if you are an Android owner, the NuraLoop is a seriously clever piece of engineering that earns an enthusiastic Recommendation.
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