Nuraphone review: Brilliantly clever headphones that now come with active noise cancellation

Post

Latest Technology and Gadgets / Post 157 Views

The headphone market is among the most crowded, competitive markets in tech and there are hundreds of companies all vying for your money. Even little-known Chinese brands are producing products that sound pretty good these days.

In this sort of environment, it takes a special sort of product to make you sit up and take notice, to even care. But that’s exactly what the Nuraphones do. They’re quite possibly the weirdest and most innovative headphones you'll ever come across and, yet, at the same time they're also some of the most effective, best sounding headphones I've come across, too.

READ NEXT: The best headphones and earphones you can buy

Nuraphone review: What you need to know

When you're wearing them, they don’t look all that special but take a closer look and you'll see the Nuraphones are completely different, both in terms of their design and the way they deliver audio to your ears. Most obviously, it’s the way they sit on and in your ears that’s different.

Yup, that's on AND in.

Inside the Nuraphone's ear cups are a pair of mushroom-like protuberances designed, like some weird alien mind probe, to nestle in the top part of your ear canal.

Your high mids and treble are played through these parts, while the mids and bass notes are reproduced by a larger driver in the main body of the ear cup. And the Nuraphones supplement these two drivers with what the manufacturer calls “immersion”; effectively, haptic feedback that vibrates the outer body of the ear cups to reinforce the bass.

But wait, that not all. These headphones are also different in the way they interpret music and audio. By using tiny, ultra-sensitive microphones embedded inside each earcup, these headphones detect the frequencies your ears are least and most sensitive to and will adapt appropriately.

Plus, thanks to a recent software update, the Nuraphones also offer active noise cancellation (ANC) so you can enjoy your music, radio and podcasts without noise from the outside world impinging on your enjoyment. That software update also adds a selection of other features, including spoken battery status, the ability to pair to multiple sources and auto power-on and power-off.

Nuraphone review: Price and competition

All this comes at a price, though, and at £349 per pair the Nuraphones aren't cheap. Plus, they plenty of stiff opposition at that price. The strongest competition comes from the Bose QuietComfort 35 series 2, which are quite simply the best wireless headphones you can buy at this price. The Bose offer a similar subset of features as the Nuraphones, without the personalisation technology, and cost £330.

Sony’s top-end MDR1000mx2 over-the-ear wireless headphones are almost as accomplished, offering decent ANC and excellent sound quality at around £290. Then you have the Beats Studio3 Wireless headphones, which are a rung down in terms of sound quality and noise cancelling but are considerably cheaper and more attractive. They cost £245.

Nuraphone G2 review: Design and features

All these headphones offer a more conventional design than the Nuraphone and, it must be said, they’re all more comfortable to wear for long periods as a result. If you’re looking for a pair of headphone to wear on long-haul business flights, the Nuraphone is probably not it.

While they're not as uncomfortable as they look, I did feel the need to remove them to give my ears a bit of breathing space after a while. And the sheer size and weight of the Nuraphones don’t help in this regard either.

They’re absolutely beautifully built, don’t get me wrong. The steel headband offers just the right sort of spring to keep the headphones on your head without becoming uncomfortably tight. 

The soft silicone rubber ear cups and headband work surprisingly well and don’t get any more sweaty on your head than regular headphone materials. However, they do stick out a little too much for my liking, feel heavy on your head and the fact that they don't fold flat is a bit of a pain, too.

As far as other features go, the Nuraphones are best described as functionally minimalist. There are no physical buttons on the outside of the cups. Instead, they have touch-sensitive "buttons" on the left and right side allowing you to take control in a limited way. You can set them to adjust the volume, skip track, pause and so on – with a single or double-tap – and these functions are customisable through the app.

The headphones have wear sensors, too, that pause music when you remove them and resume it when you take them off although I found that these also tended to trigger occasionally when I hung the headphones around my neck. 

Everything else about the Nuraphones is high-class. As I said, they’re beautifully made but it’s not just the headphones themselves. The hard case they come with is a work of art, and even the cables – which are used to charge the headphones or provide a wired connection via Lightning, USB Type-C and 3.5mm analogue sockets – also feel luxurious.

Nuraphone G2 review: Sound personalisation and setup

The key feature of these headphones, though, is that they offer personalisation of the audio signal to your ears. They do this by playing a series of tones during setup, recording, via tiny microphones, how your ears respond and then producing a personalised EQ.

During the procedure, you’re taught how best to wear the Nuraphones (it's surprisingly difficult to get a decent seal the first time you put them on) and once you’ve done that you’re told to sit still while the measurements take place.

It’s a bit of a fiddle at first, but doesn’t take too long – it’s well worth finding a quiet place to do it, however. I went through the process several times in a noisy office environment and found that the audio map the app produced was noticeably different on each run. Sitting in a quieter room, the results were more consistent and the resulting sound was much cleaner and clearer.

It's also impressive to see how the headphones adapt to different people’s hearing. I tested them on my colleague Ed and his profile, while similar, didn’t sound nearly as good to me as it did to him. It’s clear the process works. It’s nice to be able to store up to three different profiles in the app, too, so you can compare and contrast, and choose the one that suits you and your music taste best.

Nuraphone G2 review: Sound quality and noise cancellation

The big question is, how good do the Nuraphones sound and how effective are they at killing off ambient sound? I’ll address the latter first, because it’s probably the most impressive aspect of the Nuraphones.

The feature has only recently been added to the Nuraphones via a firmware update, but boy is it good. By combining the passive noise isolation offered by the in-ear tips and surrounding ear cups with active noise cancellation, the Nuraphones deaden both high-frequency sounds and low-frequency rumbling with frightening efficiency.

They can’t quite match the jet-engine killing talents of a pair of Bose QuietComfort 35 series 2, but they do a better job of reducing high-frequency noises such as typing and the sussuration of nearby conversations.

As for sound quality, that’s variable depending on your ears and how well the profiling process went. Assuming you get similar results to me, though, you'll find the Nuraphones deliver a sweet balance between warmth and solidity in the mid- and low-frequencies and bundles of crisp detail without ever sounding harsh or tiring. I found listening to the Nuraphones a bit like listening to speakers with ribbon tweeters: you get all the detail you need but it’s never too bright.

Significantly, the sound has altogether more body and character than that produced by the Bose QuietComfort 35 II, although I’m not a huge fan of the vibrating "immersion" mode bass reinforcement. Turn the slider up too high and it sounds artificial. I preferred to keep it set very low, so it subtly reinforced the lowest frequencies without negatively impacting on overall clarity.

Possibly the weakest part of the whole package, though, is another new feature: “Social Mode”. This uses the external microphones on the Nuraphones to pass audio through to your ears so you don’t have to take the headphones off to hear someone talk to you or listen to what’s going on around you. At the same time, the headphones knock back the volume slightly so you can hear more clearly.

It’s a great idea and you can assign activation to one of the two touch-sensitive buttons on either ear cup for convenience. However, it’s flawed. While it works fine as a safety aid, for listening out for traffic or similar, it isn't as effective for momentarily muting the music so you can talk to someone without taking the Nuraphones off.

That’s because, when you engage Social mode with the volume turned up, the app doesn't drop the volume enough for you to be able to make out people talking to you. The upshot of this is you’ll have to pause the music anyway or adjust the volume down. Might as well just take them off.

Nuraphone G2 review: Verdict

This is a small gripe, though, and in no way does it significantly undermine the overall appeal of the Nuraphone, especially with the new addition of active noise cancellation.

Add the fact that they’re beautifully made, offer both digital and analogue wired connectivity on top of Bluetooth aptX wireless music, sound great and offer a host of clever features you won't find elsewhere, and you have a very fine pair of headphones indeed.

Comments