The phrase “This is not a headphone” is plastered on the front of the Nuraphones box. While I assure you that a pair of headphones is indeed inside that box, they’re not headphones as you’ve come to know them.
Nuraphones are a combination of in-ear and over-ear headphones, but that’s not even the central feature of this gadget. The big selling point for Nura’s flagship headphones is that they create a unique sound profile for your ears by conducting a hearing test through their mobile app. As it turns out, when sound waves hit our eardrums, they emit a faint noise called otoacoustic emissions (OAE). Nuraphones contain tiny microphones that pick up those emissions, allowing these smart headphones to tailor audio to your ears through a system Nura calls “a self-learning engine.”
To set up Nuraphones and create your unique sound profile, the headphones play a series of sound frequencies for about 60 seconds to analyze your hearing. Think of it as a soundcheck for your ears. It feels a bit weird, but once this mobile app test is complete, you’ll be able to compare the neutral listening mode with your Nura personalized sound profile. The Nura app says this personalized mode is akin to “hearing in color,” which might be a stretch, but it’s still a pretty incredible upgrade from the traditional listening mode it provides.
The neutral mode doesn’t sound bad, but it’s not inconceivable that it was made to sound flimsy so the personalized profile would sound all the more staggering in comparison. Having said that, the personalized sound mix is beyond impressive—it’s sharp, the bass is much more pronounced and you almost get the feeling that the volume level of each instrumental element in the song was adjusted accordingly. Hypnic Jerks, the recent record from experimental noise outfit The Spirit of The Beehive, sounds spectacular with each strange effect and spoken-word interlude sounding crisp and dynamic. Tyler, The Creator’s newest record IGOR is an exceptional testament to the Nuraphones’ strong bass definition as the vocals never take a backseat to the low-end beats.
I’ve never been a big fan of bass-heavy headphones like Beats, but the bass on Nuraphones is bold enough without overshadowing other elements of the music. You can also adjust the bass levels via the Nura app, and you can even crank them up to “front row” mode; having personally stood against large PA speakers at countless shows, you definitely get a similar feeling in your head and chest.
For reference, my go-to headphones are the Bose SoundLink around-ear wireless headphones II ($229 retail), which sound thin and much less defined after using Nuraphones. Nuraphones retail for $399, which might sound steep at first, but you won’t get the amount of features or sound personalization with any other headphones at that price point—or frankly any other headphones.
The biggest advantages of Nuraphones over the Bose SoundLink are the overall sound mix, bass, noise-cancellation, sound personalization and battery life. The uniquely tailored sound mix is pristine and potent for any genre of music, plus you get the rumble that bass heads crave and the ability to scale it back if you prefer. Then there’s the unique in-ear and over-ear “inova” design and “dual isolation,” which passively blocks out sound, and you also get ANC (active noise cancellation) technology, which doesn’t hiss like typical noise cancelling headphones. Along with neutral and personalized listening modes, you can listen via “social mode,” which preserves its high sound quality and provides the ability to hear people around you or even the announcement for your bus or train stop. The mobile app also allows you to configure the touch buttons on the outside of the two headphone cups to perform tasks like volume adjustment, play/pause, answer hang/up calls and toggle between tracks with a single or double tap function. The only problem is that it’s easy to accidentally touch these buttons when putting your headphones on or taking them off. On full charge, Nuraphones boast 20 hours of battery life, while Bose perform slightly worse at 15 hours.
Despite the full-bodied sound and cool personalization features, the Nuraphones aren’t perfect. The primary issues are the weight of the headphones and the length of time you can actually tolerate having these earbuds squished inside your ear. As a music writer who literally spends all day with headphones on, comfort is key to making it through the day. The average person probably doesn’t spend more than eight hours a day with headphones on, but as someone who does, the lack of comfort of these headphones became increasingly bothersome. In fact, on most days, it was hard to get through two albums without wanting to take them off.
Nuraphones weigh 329 grams, which make the much lighter 198-gram Bose Soundlink headphones feel virtually weightless, and after wearing Nuraphones for a while, these Bose headphones feel like pillows on your ears. Nuraphones in-ear and over-ear design initially feels comfortable and the earbuds fit well inside your ears, but you’ll start to feel pressure on your head and ears, which for me, made wearing these headphones for more than two hours virtually impossible. And as a frequent gum chewer, listening with Nuraphones while chewing gum is not the best experience since the earbuds will shift inside your ears.
These bluetooth-enabled, wireless Nuraphones will excite any tech, music or gadget junkie. The self-learning concept might sound ambitious or unnecessary, but using Nuraphones via its personalized mode is a sound experience that’s as cool as advertised and worth the sticker price. As more and more electronic devices offer “smart” features, this could be the future of personal audio. It’s a bit strange that an otherwise premium product (design, sound quality, fancy magnetic carrying case and all) would forgo long-term wearability, but it’s clear that its innovative design and heady concept were the main focus. Whether or not you’ll be able to overlook the Nuraphones’ glaring comfort issues in favor of its superior sound quality is up to you.
Purchase Nuraphones ($399) here.