(Pocket-lint) - The world of over-ear headphones can be an interesting place. There are so many different variations in design, materials and styling that each recognisable brand seems to have its own look. You have the trendy plastic seamless Beats, bulky comfort of Sony, stylish and minimal B&O Beoplay, among others.
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It's an interesting space for various technologies too. Each has its own take on drivers and noise-cancelling tech, but it's safe to say that none of those well-known over-ear brands approaches its sound like Nura. This company launched its Nuraphone personalised sound-profiling headphones last year, combining a combination of over-ear with in-ear fittings into its unique design. What's more, the company added more features to the headphones a few months after launching by enabling ANC (Active Noise Cancelling) and ambient noise pass-through via an update.
Here's why these cans are brilliantly clever, yet oddly confusing all at the same time.
- Slim metal headband
- Not foldable
- In-ear tips protrude inside cups
- Bespoke connector
From the outside, the Nuraphone looks like a classy high-end pair of headphones. Similar to Sennheiser's Momentum over-ear, the headband doesn't adjust, rather the earcups slide up and down a groove in the slim metal band.
This brings one notable design benefit: it enables Nura to create a headband that's just one thin single piece of metal. It's anodised with a dark, matte black finish with fairly minimal padding underneath made from a soft, thick silicon type material.
Things get more interesting at the earcup. Unlike most headphones, the Nuraphone has an in-ear component within its over-ear design. It's a little odd, to say the least, both to look at and to wear. Having an in-ear tip resting inside the ear is an unusual sensation when wearing over-ear headphones. Ultimately it means a little less comfort when wearing for long periods, when compared to something like the lightweight Bose QuietComfort 35 Mark II.
For those with a dislike for the in-ear feel, clearly, this isn't a pair of headphones you'll enjoy. Likewise, those who like in-ears for their portability probably won't want the over-ear bulk. But if you've no particular preference you might just love the Nuraphone.
There are other design choices worth mentioning here because there are plenty of decisions made which clearly show an emphasis on form over function.
Take for instance the fact that there are no buttons or LED lights anywhere. It adds that classy, seamless look, but also means the headphones are difficult to control at times. Each headphone has a touch-sensitive button on the outside which you can program to perform two of a handful of functions - whether play/pause, skipping a track or switching on the immersion audio effect.
Portability is one other sacrifice. Because the band is one single piece of metal, there are no hinges or pivot points anywhere, so you can't fold or collapse the Nuraphone. We don't find it very comfortable to wear these cans around the neck either. The included case - while stylish and study - isn't small either, so you have a size commitment on your hands.
Setup and smarts
- Tune to your ears for personalised sound
- Android and iOS app
Unlike most headphones that only require to be powered on and paired by Bluetooth, the Nuraphone needs to be connected to the associated app so it can be tuned to your ears for optimum personalised sound.
In all, the setup takes a little more than a minute and involves oscillating beeps and tones being played while the sensitive microphone inside the earphones measures the response of your hearing. Once it's gone through this process, and figures out which frequencies you're most sensitive to and how sensitive you are to them, it creates a personalised profile for your ears.
This unique sound profile is displayed as a visualisation of your hearing sensitivity, wrapped around a circular form. The low frequencies are at twelve o'clock position, with frequencies getting higher as the you move around the circle clockwise. The further away from the middle the frequencies display, the more sensitive you are to those sounds. For our own particular hearing profile, it showed a high sensitivity to the higher-frequencies, and some fairly high sensitivity to lower frequencies, but not much in-between.
Sounds like a gimmick, no? Well, it's not. By the time our personalised profile was complete the sound seemed perfect to our ears. The Nuraphone does what it claims to do - and does it well.
- Two drivers
- Dual layer sound isolation
- Personalised sound
- ANC and "Social Mode" added via firmware update
These days, when you're spending around £300 on a pair of headphones you expect active noise-cancelling (ANC) technology. Bose, Sony, Sennheiser and Beats (among others) all offer this feature as standard. Nuraphone took a different approach initially opting to put its efforts into advanced personalised sound profile building and AI (artificial intelligence) instead, but having nailed that, a few months after launch enabled ANC via software/firmware update.
That means you know get that active filter against, say, a droning train or plane, as well as the in-ear tip and seal around the ear cups doing a great job of passive noise-cancellation. What's more, they stop any excessive noise from escaping to your commute neighbours.
In addition to adding ANC, there's a new "Social Mode" which essentially works like other ANC earphones that offer ambient noise passthrough, or "audio transparency". When activated, the microphones around the headphones pick up noise from around you and amplify it so you can hear what's going on. It's not something you want on constantly, but it works well when needed, even allowing you to have conversations without needing to remove the headphones.
As for the sound quality, the Nuraphone combines dual drivers: one in the main headphone cup, designed as a sort-of woofer; the other, in the in-ear bud, offers the full-range of high, mid and that lower frequency range (without crossover with the other driver). Combined, they create a really full and balanced sound. You get plenty of bass, but rather than be overpowering, it's just good quality, clear bass that fills out the background really nicely.
It's hard to describe exactly, but it's not often we put on a pair of headphones, press play and just feel an instant "wow" that comes from listening. That's how it felt with the Nuraphone after first-time setup. The tuned sound is simply brilliant.
The clever part here is that - unlike most other other £300+ headphones - you have a pair that's tuned specifically to you. Most brands deliver a style of sound, which can also work well. But since we don't all hear the same the Nuraphone concept is great. We were so engrossed in the music and how great it sounded, we couldn't think of a single pair at a similar price that we'd rather be listening to.
To get the absolute most out of them, you need to take advantage of the aptX HD technology which gives you a rock solid connection and support for Hi-Res Audio (with compatible devices and relevant file types). So, while they sound great and work well with an iPhone, you'll get better audio from a Tidal subscription played through an aptX HD equipped Android smartphone (like the OnePlus 6 or Sony Xperia XZ2).
- Bluetooth aptX HD
- Up to 20 hours battery
- Lightning, USB-C, 3.5mm & Micro-USB cables provided
In our testing the wireless connection offered by the Bluetooth was very reliable. It didn't cut out once, not even for a split second. It's fairly rare to find an inconsistent pair of wireless headphones these days, so we were pleased to hear these match that expectation.
Nura claims its headphones can last up to 20 hours on a full charge, and we're happy to report that claim is completely realistic in real everyday testing. After between five and six hours of listening, the Nura app showed our battery level was down to 70 per cent.
Perhaps the one downside here is that Nura has equipped the headphones with a proprietary connector for charging and wired audio connections. And, while it supplies all the cables you need in the case - which, by the way, is made from recycled potato skins - there is a concern that if you were to lose any of these cables, you won't have anything lying around that might work. You can't just plug them into a power source using your spare micro USB or Type-C cables.
Nuraphone's sound profile matching technology is impressive, and yields results that really do seem to suit the individual, combining punchy high and mids from the in-ear tips and fulfilling bass from the over-ear component.
There are too many compromises though. We don't like how they feel in the ears, especially over longer periods of wear. Even after a week of use, we didn't quite get used to the feel of those in-ear tips. The non-folding design and bulky carry case also means you'll need to be dedicated to transport these cans about - and we've typically found it easier to grab our Beats. Lastly, the lack of LED lights and physical buttons makes controlling the tunes a little trickier than we'd like.
Nura should be praised for its sound personalisation. With that, the addition of aptX HD and a long-lasting battery, the Nuraphone is a pair of headphones like no other. If you can cope with the quirks, you might just love these to death. Or you might just find them never-endingly weird.
Alternatives to consider
Beats Studio 3 Wireless
For iPhone users who want a no-fuss, great-sounding, noise-cancelling pair of comfortable headphones, it's hard to look past the Beats Studio 3 Wireless. It has the W1 chip, which not only means really good battery life, but that once paired, it's paired with any other Apple device signed into the same iCloud account. Sound is a little bassy, but a massive improvement over previous generations.
Read the full article: Beats Studio 3 Wireless review
Bose QC35 ii
The Bose QC35 Mark II is among the most fully featured and accomplished pair of headphones you can buy today. Lightweight and comfortable to wear, these cans also fold up to become portable - which is ideal for travellers. Add Bose's classic easy-listening sound and very good noise-cancelling and you have pair of top notch headphones. As a bonus, this second-generation also has built-in Google Assistant, which is surprisingly useful.
Read the full article: Bose QuietComfort 35 II review
If what you want is really good active noise-cancelling, then look no further. Sony's recent headphones have been remarkable in that regard. What's more, Sony has an app that lets you control the sound in a number of ways, so you're not just stuck with the one sound the manufacturer decided was the best.
Read the full article: Sony WH-1000XM2 review