What is the Nuraphone?
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 Design
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.
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.
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.
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.
How was the Nuraphone tested?
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.
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.
- Genuinely impressive musical performance on offer
- Well made
- Some useful extra features
- Odd fitment
- Cables cost extra
- Don't fold
Nura, Nuraphone review
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.
Ease of Use
Design and usability
Value For Money
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