(Pocket-lint) - While the general consumer market is moving in the direction of true wireless in-ears, Nura is doing things in its own way. The company - which launched Nuraphone in 2018, delivering a product with both over-ear and in-ear components to tailor the sound profile for the listener - has launched its second pair of headphones, NuraLoop, which is a tethered pair of wireless in-ears that feature the same personalised sound capabilities.
With the promise of sound that suits each individual ideally, a price point that isn't too high, and strong battery performance, could this be the only pair of in-ears you ever need?
- Sweat/splash proof
- Tethered design but wireless
- Proprietary connector for charging/audio
With Nuraphone the design and look was very unconventional, in that the earcups contained a protruding in-ear element. With NuraLoop, the design is a little more conventional, but there's still plenty here that makes it stand out as different.
At a glance you might categorise the NuraLoop as a pair of neckband in-ears. But really, it isn't. The two earbuds are connected to each other with a slightly chunky rounded cable, but there's no collar as such, and it's not long enough to rest on your shoulders.
Right in the centre of this cable is a unique connector. It's a proprietary connector that Nura has designed to be versatile. It rids the need for having a 3.5mm input and a USB Type-C port taking up space on one of the earbuds. Instead, this connector is capable of delivering power via the clip-on charging cable, or delivering sound via cable if you want to plug them into an output with a 3.5mm port.
The earbuds are almost completely round from the outside, while the protrusion with the tips at the end curves and snakes to fit around the shape of the inside of you ear. It doesn't protrude too far in, so sits nicely, blocking the cavity. There are no in-ear fins to hold them in place, but we found the fit was nice and snug, even without moulding the over-ear hooks to the shape of our ears.
These hooks feed directly to the aforementioned cable and mould really nicely over the top edge of the ear, ensuring you can make it fit your ear size. The end result is a fit that's secure, but without it feeling uncomfortable.
Because the two are connected by that cable, you do sometimes get that tugging feeling if you're adjusting the fit as the cable pulls on the ear. It's not an issue once you have the fit you want, it's just not as freeing an experience as having two completely tether-free separate earphones.
Smarts and noise-cancelling
- Active noise-cancelling and social mode for noise passthrough
- aptX HD and Bluetooth 5
- Touch controls
- 16hr battery
- Auto on/off
One of the things striking about the original Nuraphone was the distinct lack of buttons. NuraLoop takes that buttonless approach and runs with it. That means there's nothing to click and press to power on the NuraLoop. These in-ears automatically turn off when you take the 'buds out of your ears and leave them out for a couple of minutes. Likewise, the 'buds power up when you've placed them in your ears.
For controlling volume, skipping tracks and adjusting the level of noise-cancelling technology there's a big touchpad on both earbuds. Like most touch-sensitive panels on earphones, it's easy to trigger accidentally when adjusting the earphones' fit. But as touch controls go - when it comes to deliberate action - the pad control is wonderfully intuitive and works really well.
By default you can run your finger around the edge of the right earbud to adjust the volume, turning it up or down. Tapping the earbud plays and pauses the music.
The left side has similar controls but for the noise-cancelling and social mode - the latter which adjusts how much noise passthrough is allowed in. Tapping the earbud enables social mode, or activates noise-cancelling, then scrolling around the edge adjusts the sound coming in from outside.
As social modes go, Nura's is one of the best we've used. It's so good at letting in the sound from outside that you can have full conversations with people without having to remove your earbuds. That makes it great for announcements on trains, or brief interactions with bus drivers, coffee shop baristas, or any other time you just need to quickly reply to a question.
For musicians on stage, that could mean you still get to hear some of the ambience coming from any crowd watching, or a get a bit of the audio coming from the front of house speakers, while still getting your personal in-ear mix.
The noise-cancelling is similarly effective. Part in thanks to the seal of the in-ear tips, you can more-or-less completely block out noise from the outside world and be locked into your own wonderfully immersive, personalised world of music.
With up to 16 hours of music playback on a single charge, your world of music can last a good chunk of time too. We never struggled with battery life, and while we didn't quite make it to the full 16 hours, we were certainly got pretty close in testing. Plus, the 10 minute charge providing two hours of music was great in a pinch.
Add that to the fact these are equipped with aptX HD for high-res audio and a lag free connection with your Android phone, and the NuraLoop makes for a very capable pair of in-ears.
The science (what makes Nura unique)
- Dedicated microphone for detecting cochlea response
- Creates personalised profile based on measurements
Nearly all headphones and earphones come with a distinctive sound profile. Bass, mids and treble are mixed in a way that manufacturers think sounds the best. Some let you adjust those frequencies with an in-app equaliser, others don't. Nura is quite significantly different to that approach. It personalises the sound to match your ear's responses to sound.
Nura's argument is that - like a pair of shoes - while common sizes offer a pretty close representation of what fits you, it's not ever going to precisely fit your foot unless you get your foot mapped, and get a pair of shoes that matches all the contours and bumps of your feet perfectly. It's the same with sound, or - more specifically - it's the same with the way your individual ears react to sound that's played into them.
Each of us has different sensitivity to each frequency - whether through ear canal shape, damage over time, perception to certain frequencies - and Nura's earphones can measure that. Inside the tip of each earbud on the NuraLoop is a highly sensitive microphone which has one purpose: to measure your ear's sensitivity to sound.
According to Nura's research, when sound is played into your ear, activity in your cochlea - that's the spiral-shaped part of the ear responsible for turning vibrations into the electronic signal your brain interprets as sound - produces sound as it's doing its job. The microphone then picks up these new sounds produced by the cochlea, and can use its algorithms to determine what that says about your hearing.
When you first open up a pair of Nura earphones - either the NuraLoop or Nuraphone - you download the app, connect via Bluetooth, and then run through the process of analysing your hearing. Unlike some other more clunky solutions from other manufacturers, the process is completely automated. The headphones play a series of bleeps and noises in different frequencies and volumes, it takes very little time, and once it's done you'll have a personalised sound.
So does it actually sound good?
The short answer to the question is: yes. As we found with the Nuraphone headphones, the end result is a sound that's immensely enjoyable. All that clever tuning and adjustment seems to produce a sound that's close to perfect for our own particular tastes.
There are lots of elements that make these in-ears fantastic to listen to, but, as Nura's technology claims, we could clearly hear all elements of any track, even with multiple layers playing over each other. There's no sense of bass drowning out the rest, or the mids disappearing into nothingness. Sound is full and detailed. And personalised - so what you hear will be different to what we do.
What we like is that some songs have details in that in a handful of other earphones weren't prominent, whether it be that subtle hi-hat work, or the quiet guitar finger-picking in the background. In the first song on Kesha's Rainbow album, there's a part near the end that builds up and features some electric guitar and brass parts we didn't really pay much attention to before, yet these earphones bring that right to the fore, without taking over the track.
There's plenty of bass capability too. It's not over-powering, but there's definitely enough of it to help you feel a song. A good one for testing this is Orphans by Coldplay. The bassline is the primary driver of the song, and so is loud and prominent. We've found with some headphones this bass gets too boomy, killing the texture and timbre of the bass strings being played, but with the NuraLoop it sounds great.
Similarly, when the bass gets really low, it doesn't perish or just disappear, it's still there, well controlled and doing its thing.
While Nura's scientific approach to personalised sound makes a difference, we found one tool that made a huge impact on the enjoyment of the sound. It's called Immersion Mode - and essentially transforms whatever music you're listening to. It turns it from sounding like it's coming from two little earbuds on either side of your head - which, obviously, it is - into a sound you're actually immersed in. It's like the pseudo surround you can get from more advanced car systems.
The app has a slider allowing you to adjust how much of this immersion you want. We were loving it so much we cranked it up to about 70 per cent, but you can fine tune it to suit you. If you need a more flat sound because you're analysing a recording, or using the NuraLoop as an in-ear monitor, you can enable that too.
As an overall package, it's really difficult to fault the NuraLoop. Offering great battery life, exceptional sound and noise-cancelling, plus a social mode which actually works really well.
However, the touch panels - while intuitive for deliberate use - are too easy to touch accidentally, while the proprietary connector means carrying extra cables around for charging and wired audio (if you want to use those).
But then there's that unique engine that measures the feedback from your ear to see which frequencies you're most sensitive to, and creates a sound profile that's individual to you. That remains the NuraLoop's big selling point - because the sound from these in-ears is personalised and the result is out of this world.
Shure Aonic 215
Admittedly, it's quite difficult to find anything quite like the NuraLoop, but Shure's true wireless system - like Nura's - is a little unconventional. But, like Nura, these in-ears sound fantastic, plus you can connect them up to a cable for in-ear monitoring during performance if you want to.
If you want all that personalised audio goodness but in the form of an over-ear headphone, that's what the NuraPhone is all about. It's the company's first pair, and - again - while a little unusual, the personalised sound is great (even if the in- and over-ear combo is a little odd).