Wireless earbuds are incredibly common these days, but it wasn’t always the case.
Cast your mind back to 2016.
OK, that’s a little hard to do because we’ve all been living in 2020 and 2021 for an eternity, but give it a go.
Most people had retired their iPods and MP3 players in favour of their smartphones. We all simply took our headphones and plugged them in – easy!
Then Apple released the iPhone 7 without a headphone jack on the same day as weird little white sticks called AirPods. The smartphone and headphone industries followed suit.
Fast forward to today and wireless headphones and earbuds are everywhere and made by every brand. It has become increasingly difficult for brands to stand out or differentiate themselves.
However, Australian brand Nura is giving it a good go, alongside splashing out on a huge All Blacks sponsorship deal, by making audio products that claim to offer ‘personalised sound’ by scanning both your ears.
This creates a personalised sound profile of your ears, which affects how sound is played back to you.
I’ve been testing the company’s latest wireless earbuds, the NuraTrue. I quite like the unique design; flat circular black pieces with a silver logo on each, but you might not.
The Nura app takes you through a set-up process where you find the best fit with the several different sizes of included eartips and wings.
The units are quite chunky, even with the smaller tips, so if you have small ears, they might put quite a lot of pressure on your outer ear when wedged in.
Once comfortable, the NuraTrue blast a range of beeps and tones into both ears.
Nura says its tech can measure the faint sounds your ear uniquely generates in response to these sounds. From there it encodes a personal ear profile for you that the buds remember, no matter which app you're using.
Your profile is displayed as an amorphous blob that doesn’t really convey any data but does look pretty. I set up a few profiles with different tips and the blob changed shape along with the subtle differences in sound.
Highs and lows
A downside to the buds and app compared to many other wireless earbuds is you cannot adjust your sound profile. Nura thinks it knows your ears best, and you cannot tweak the EQ or balance.
An ‘immersion mode’ does let you boost the bass response with a sliding control, but my profiles were sometimes lacking treble for my tastes. Tough luck, it seems.
The app also has a slider so you can see your personalised soundstage versus a ‘neutral one’, a simple way for Nura to show off how much better the music sounds with its smarts.
To me, the neutral option sounds like it has been intentionally dulled to make the personalised profiles sound more impressive. But I let that slide in the end because the audio output is excellent when you get the right fit and profile setting.
Instruments in ‘Bodysnatchers’ by Radiohead sounded very well separated, and a song I know very well had accentuated texture to it that cheaper, less smart earphones cannot convey.
The Chemical Brothers' ‘Let Forever Be’ rattled by with a clarity you cannot get from lesser earbuds, the bass notes clear despite the busy mix.
The highest compliment I can pay the NuraTrue is they sounded great whatever genre I put them through – but maybe this is their great trick. It doesn’t mean these songs would sound great to everyone, they sound best to me and me only.
‘Peace Signs’ by Sharon Van Etten sounded enormous, just as a recital of Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 5 in F Minor did.
Whether I was blasting Bach, the Beatles, Beethoven, or the Beastie Boys, the NuraTrue were more than capable of drowning out the dull monotony of Auckland’s lockdown. Surely that comfort alone is worth the price, which at $299 is relatively competitive.
If the bud fits
With personalised sound also comes potential personal fit issues. I found the buds uncomfortable to wear for more than two hours at a time due to the pressure on my ears.
The design is bulbous for small ears like mine and despite top-quality sound, taking them out after a few hours of use left my lugholes aching somewhat. Your mileage may vary, and that is why is it often very difficult to recommend earbuds to everyone.
The buds have active noise cancellation (ANC), a feature that cuts out ambient noise. I found the natural seal the eartips made was enough to shut out the outside world nicely. Apple’s AirPods Pro with ANC cost $449, so the $299 asking price here is something of a steal.
A ‘social mode’ can be activated with a tap of a bud to let through external noise, so you can talk to people without taking them out (still a social faux pas in my book) or to better hear traffic on busy streets.
With sweat resistance and customisable touch controls on the flat outers, these are also great for exercising. Six promised hours of listening time on a charge proved accurate, and the case provides an additional 18.
Unfortunately, it’s quite easy to put the buds back in without lining up the small charging connectors and several times I went to listen to something and one of the buds had no battery.
Thankfully, I had zero Bluetooth connection issues to my devices.
The smartphone is the central computer to most people and undoubtedly the most personal. If you are after headphones that are just as personal, the NuraTrue will fit the bill.