Nuraphone review: A different take on audio quality

Posted: 8 March 2019 1:21 pm News

The Nuraphones are unlike anything else on the market in their approach to audio quality, and while they can sound great, there's also a few comfort quirks that could do with ironing out.

Quick Verdict
The Nuraphone headphone's use of audio testing is a unique concept that can work well in delivering better quality music to your ears, although they're not always the most comfortable headphones to wear.

The good

  • Audio testing ensures a better fit to your own hearing needs.
  • Configurable touch buttons work well.
  • Can sound great once the app is in play.

The bad

  • Buds plus headphones can't help but feel odd.
  • Heavy travelling case.
  • Custom charging cable.
  • Custom connection cables cost extra.


The Australian-produced Nuraphones are a distinctly different take on the concept of a pair of high-end headphones, partially due to their construction but mostly to do with the way they actually handle audio balancing for the individual user. Under the right circumstances they can sound very good indeed, but the same unique design also introduces some issues that mean they won't be the best choice for every music lover.

Nuraphone: Design

  • Generic looking design.
  • Both headphones and buds in one set.
  • Wireless by default.
  • Heavy carrying case.

I've tested a lot of headphones in my time as a technology writer, but never a pair quite like the Nuraphones. When you're wearing them, they look much like any pair of Bluetooth cans, almost to a fault. For a pair of premium-priced headphones, they're almost bland in design, with a simple top band with a small amount of padding leading down to the metal frame of the headband and the subtly logo-stamped earpieces themselves.

However, take them off and you can't help but spot the Nuraphone's unique point of design difference. They're full over the ear headphones that also incorporate in-ear buds within each earpiece. The idea here is that the bud sections aid in noise isolation, as well as being an important part of the way the Nuraphones are set up, which I'll get to directly.

Having buds within earphones is unique, but it also takes some getting used to. Frankly, the first few times you wear the Nuraphone headphones, you're going to have a somewhat confused head, because you won't quite be able to tell if you're wearing headphones, because the cups are pressed against the sides of your head, or wearing buds, because that part is nestled within your ear canal.

What's potentially more problematic for some users is the ongoing comfort of this arrangement. I found around 2 to 3 hours was about the level my ears were comfortable wearing the Nuraphones for any single stretch of time, but then I don't much like only wearing buds most of the time. Your own tolerance may vary, but it's worth keeping in mind.

That wearing arrangement also means that they're really not suitable for any kind of strenuous activity. I did experimentally try taking the Nuraphones for a jog, but the action of the cans and buds both jostling in my ears was rapidly way too much.

The Nuraphones come in a high quality carrying case that's certain to keep them safe from knocks and bumps. However, it's also quite large and heavy, so if you were considering them as a pair of travel headphones to rival something like the Sony WH-1000XM3 or the Bose QC35s, you'd need to give them a fair bit more packing space in your carry-on bag. It doesn't entirely help here that they're a weird shape for a carrying case, either.

By default, the Nuraphone headphones are designed to be used with Bluetooth as the primary connection, but there is support for connecting up to devices via standard 3.5mm headphone jack, lightning, USB-C or microUSB cables, depending on your needs. However, you don't get any cables in the default case besides the USB A charging cable. What's more, the Nuraphones use a custom connector, so any existing audio cables you have won't work. Instead, if you want cabled connectivity, you'll have to pay an additional $29.95 per cable to make it happen. Nuraphone did supply me with cables for the purposes of review, and if you do prefer direct connectivity, they work quite well – at a cost.

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Nuraphone: Installation

  • Installation is app based.
  • Involves the equivalent of a full hearing test.
  • Immersion bass control.

I normally wouldn't comment on the installation process for Bluetooth headphones, because it's typically a case of putting them in pairing mode, hooking up a sound source and getting down to your choice of funky tracks.

Again, Nuraphone approaches this task with a different viewpoint, and it's one that's rather central to the core appeal of these particular headphones. Setting up the Nuraphones requires you to download the Nura app for iOS or Android, as well as supply your email address for the purposes of pairing.

The Nuraphones come pre-charged, and there's actually no "on" button to be found. Instead, they power up when they detect that they're placed on your head. Getting them to actually fully connect within the app is a matter of making sure that the individual buds are sitting optimally in your ears, which the Nura app manages by measuring tone vibrations from each bud. Once they're balanced – a tricky, but not impossible task in my experience – you might think you were done.

But you're not, because this is when the Nuraphones kick in with an individual hearing test. You may not be of an age where hearing tests start becoming recommended, but if you've ever had one for whatever reason, the Nuraphone approach is broadly similar, with a range of beep tones that are played through your ears for around a minute.

Unlike a hearing test where you're asked to judge yourself, the Nura app sends the tones down your ear canals and then measures the echo response coming back to identify your own unique hearing characteristics.

Once it's done, you're presented with a pretty graph of your own hearing capabilities and asked to compare your personalised profile with the "neutral" setting of the Nuraphones. The technical idea behind the Nuraphones is sound, but there's some slight snake oil here, because the default "Neutral" setting sounds truly woeful, and anything else in comparison could only be an improvement.

That difference between neutral or with audio profile makes an immediate impact, but not as much as immersion. Immersion is essentially Nuraphone's take on bass, but again with a somewhat unique spin. The ear cups of the Nuraphones can vibrate to add bass immersion, and as part of the set-up you can choose just how much you want your ears to shake.

If you favour your audio on the bassy side – or just want to vibrate your ears a whole lot – go for full front row immersion. I found that a setting around 2/3rd of the way was about ideal, but obviously your ears may vary.

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Nuraphone: Performance

  • Worth setting up multiple profiles.
  • Good for album listening.
  • Good noise cancelling and isolation.
  • Customisable side buttons.

With set-up out of the way, it was time to get down to some serious listening, and, critically, to work out if all the fuss that Nuraphone makes about creating your own personal audio profile was actually worth it.

The answer is... maybe. What I found was that it's definitely worth playing around with the personalisation settings. You can store up to three individual profiles within the Nuraphone app, and while the differences in tests can be subtle, they can make a difference to the overall audio output that you can appreciate.

I tested with a wide variety of music styles, keeping the immersion constant at that 2/3rds level to avoid too much blowout on my ears. For a live version of Prince's Bambi the Nuraphones did a great job of delivering a concert-sounding audioscape while not losing the essential guitar growl of that track. For Bowie's Life on Mars, you could pick out the piano notes with lovely clarity, and for the Beastie Boys' Too Many Rappers, the electronic distortion at the front end of the track had some definite sharpness I'd not hit with too many other headphones.

Where I think the Nuraphones make the most sense though, is if you're an old school album fan. That's about the right length for wearing comfort, and they're best experienced when you can simply and comfortably sit down and enjoy the full album experience without interruption.

In a streaming music mashup age, the album might feel rather old school, but it worked well for listening through everything from Purple Rain to The Next Day. Yeah, I'm on a bit of a Bowie and Prince kick right now, if you were wondering.

The physical build of the Nuraphones gives them a level of noise isolation by default, because you've got buds in your ears covered with cans over your ears, but there's also an optional noise cancellation feature. It's decent for the most part, although I did have that slight "pressure" feeling that you can get from some noise cancellation microphones, and that's probably exacerbated by the in-ear nature of the underlying buds.

You can also reverse that and enable "social" mode, which lets you drop the music and listen into your surrounds at a tap on the app or on the small plates on the side of each bud. These can be configured for just about any function of the Nuraphones with single and double taps performing different functions, ranging from play/pause (or call pick-up) to enabling social mode or immersion.

The battery life of the Nuraphones is pretty decent, with an easy 15 hours or so capable, maybe more depending on your usage. You're provided with a USB-A type charging cable, but annoyingly it has a custom tip on the other end. That's problematic if you do lose it – Nuraphone do sell spares – but it also feels like a missed opportunity. Using standard USB C or even microUSB would have made it easier to keep the Nuraphone's batteries topped up.

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Nuraphone: Should you buy it?

  • Great audio quality.
  • Some comfort issues.

I'm genuinely torn on the Nuraphones as a set of headphones. I did ultimately find their audio quality to be genuinely good once the personalisation kicked in, and especially if all I wanted to do was sit back and enjoy a classic album or two.

However, these days that's not exactly how most of us use our headphones. We're out and about, or we're working at our desks, catching parts of songs while we balance spreadsheets, make school lunches or take phone calls. The Nuraphones don't automatically lend themselves well to that from an ongoing comfort perspective in my experience.

However, that's a totally personal and massively subjective experience by its very nature.

Nuraphone does offer a 30 day money back guarantee on the Nuraphones, and that's massively beneficial. You may find them far more comfortable than I did for prolonged periods, and if so, they're a good choice in the premium headphone space. If not, it might be wise to wait for Nuraphone 2, if it ever happens, to see if they can do something about the ongoing comfort and fit issues.

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Nuraphone: Pricing and availability

The Nuraphone headphones sell in Australia for $499 outright through Nuraphone's web site, or via Amazon.

Nuraphone

Nuraphone from Amazon AU

Nuraphone headphones are the world's only headphones that learn how you hear in order to deliver you music with no compromises in audio quality.

View details

Specifications

Nuraphone Specifications

Product Name
Nuraphone
Connectivity
Bluetooth, optional Lightning, USB C, 3.5mm cable, micro USB
Cable length
N/A
Controls
Touch buttons
Price
$499
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