Nuraphone’s super clever adaptive headphones now have active noise cancellation
New features alert: The Nuraphones are already a fantastic pair of headphones but they’ve just got even better with the addition of active noise cancellation, and a host of other features, via an over-the-air update.
The new ANC feature works impressively well to cut out ambient noise – it’s almost as good as Bose’s ANC for overall cancellation and better at cutting out high-frequency noise – plus there’s a selection of other features the update brings with it, too, including spoken battery life status, improved call quality and another new feature, dubbed “Social Mode”, which allows you to listen in to the outside world with a tap of the touch controls.
If you want to know more about why this makes the Nuraphone an incredibly good deal, even at £350, read on for the full review:
Nuraphone review: In full
The Hi-Fi world is notorious for overblown claims and overpriced equipment, especially at the top end. And headphones are no different: you can spend an awful lot of money for audiophile gear, with no guarantee that you’re going to hear any benefit in sound quality over a pair of more reasonably priced headphones.
This, along with the saturation of the headphones market, is why we’re beginning to see headphone tech branch off in new directions – one of which is audio personalisation. The idea is that we all hear music differently, and have different levels of sensitivity to various parts of the audio spectrum.
The Kickstarter-backed Nuraphone takes this to the next level, combining both innovative audio design and features with wireless operation and ear personalisation for the ultimate in high-tech cans. The question is, are they worth the money?
Nuraphone review: Design and features
This isn’t the first time I’ve tested headphones that claim to adapt to the sensitivity of your ear. That honour falls to the Audeara A-01 headset I reviewed a couple of months ago. However, they are the first to do it entirely automatically. They achieve this by monitoring the feedback your eardrums emit when they hear certain frequencies, and create a relative frequency map for each ear.
This isn’t the only innovative thing about the Nuraphone, though. They’re also the first headphones I’ve come across to combine in-ear with around the ear couplings. That’s right, within each of the strangely silky silicon-rubber earcups, – each of which house a bass/mid driver – is another earpiece on a soft rubber stalk, designed to plug into the top part of your ear canal and supply the high frequencies.[gallery:5]
They’re also the first headphones I’ve seen that employ haptic feedback to enhance bass response. This effect is adjustable through the Nuraphone app and works surprisingly well, but more on this anon.
Elsewhere, there’s a customisable capacitive control on each earcup that can be used to pause, play or answer calls via the integrated microphone. You can also switch between regular and personalised profiles, and a proprietary square port recessed into the right earcup allows you to connect the charging cable or one of the optional physical cables. Annoyingly, Nuraphone is charging £15 per cable, though you do get the USB cable included.
The key feature here, though, is the automatic personalisation and to achieve that effect, the headphones need to be calibrated. This doesn’t take too long: all you need to do is run through the tutorial in the app, which takes you through the pairing and fitting process, then plays a series of tones through the earpieces.
The whole process takes around five minutes, with the longest part adjusting the headphones so the inner ear part creates enough of a seal for the test to be run successfully. You can also set up three different profiles so you can compare how your personalised profile compares with other people’s.
It’s an amazing piece of technology and it’s intriguing to hear how different people’s hearing sensitivities compare; for the record, there’s no way I could listen to any of my colleague’s profiles for any length of time because they sound so different.[gallery:2]
Nuraphone review: Comfort, sound quality, Bluetooth performance
Despite all of the innovative features, the design and construction of the Nuraphone are very impressive. The steel headband feels sturdy and the silicone rubber padding around the earcups feels comfortable on the side of your head. What takes some getting used to is the dual cup/earphone construction.
To me, it just feels odd and this unusual sensation isn’t helped by the occasional soft “plock” sound as my ears shift around in the cup. Presumably, this is due to some of the rubber releasing tension as the inner part moves around. Still, I’ve now worn the things for a few hours without ever feeling particularly uncomfortable, so it’s something I could see myself becoming accustomed to over time.
And sound quality, despite the unconventional design, is pretty darned good. There’s loads of detail, plenty of atmosphere, depth and breadth to the audio and balance, too. The bass is powerful, although I’m unconvinced that haptic bass is the last word in bass quality. Listening to the final track on the Interstellar movie soundtrack, Where We’re Going, with its underlying crescendo of bass rumble sounds great.[gallery:4]
There’s a physical sensation here that you don’t get with other headphones, and it doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the frequencies either. However, it isn’t particularly agile, and if you turn it up (using the “Immersion” slider in the app) past the halfway point it starts to flap and sound distorted.
Also, a word on noise cancellation. Although there’s no active cancellation, the passive isolation provided by the cup and in-ear coupling is surprisingly effective at cutting out external noise – not as effective as, say, the Bose QuietComfort 35 for reducing the fatiguing rumble of aeroplane engines, but better than a pair of regular over the ear headphones.
The one big problem I had with these headphones concerned Bluetooth connectivity. I tested them with an iPhone 7 Plus and a OnePlus 5, and with both I experienced the occasional signal drop out when I put my phone into my front pocket and placed my hand on top. Not ideal.
And it looks like the Android app needs some work; despite the fact that the headphones connected perfectly via Android’s Bluetooth settings menu, the app kept insisting that it was unable to connect.[gallery:1]
Nuraphone review: Verdict
The Nuraphone is a unique product and one that, incredibly, actually seems to achieve its aims. Most importantly, perhaps, is it’s a product that achieves the rare feat of doing so while producing a product that’s both attractive aesthetically and actually sounds great.
There are some teething troubles with the Android app and Bluetooth connectivity, so it might be worth holding off for the moment, but if you’ve never got on with regular headphones, or you have a specific problem with not being able to hear high notes or low notes, then these are definitely worth tracking down and trying out.