Nura bA couple of years ago I wrote about Nura headphones, then at prototype stage. They were the idea of a little Melbourne start up that was seeking $100,000 in crowd funding and, at the time I was writing, had overshot that by $1.6 million. Obviously lots of people liked the idea of headphones that give you a hearing test and then adjust their sound to the strengths and weaknesses of your hearing.

I promised I’d get back to you when I got a production pair to try. This took a lot longer than I thought. There were two false starts but third time lucky, I finally scored a cordless pair with Bluetooth AptX HD and noise cancelling for evaluation. Many readers have seen Nuras on social media and asked about them, so I’ll say right away that good conventional headphones beat them on comfort and sound quality.

They’re very different to conventional headphones. Despite being over-ear models they have buds moulded into the earcups that plug into your ear canals. These measure each ear’s response during the hearing test. They feel strange and although you get used to them the strangeness doesn’t go away. If you find buds uncomfortable you won’t like these, if not they’re okay for extended listening sessions but not great, I started feeling fatigue after two hours. I’d want longer when flying.

Nura fDownload an app for the hearing test and it sets your profile. A word of warning: Load the app onto your primary music source. I put it on my iPad while I mostly listen to a hi-res music portable. This worked fine until I opened a different app on the iPad and the music disappeared.

My profile indicated weakness in high range so the headphones gave the highs some extra horsepower. That was most welcome. The problem was that those highs were frequently sharp and brittle, even with Karen Carpenter’s completely unchallenging vocals. This is not what one expects when paying $500 for headphones. And I had to dial down the bass with a slide control on the app called ‘immersion’. It runs from ‘low’ to ‘front row’, taking the sound from no bass at all to so much that the distortion can completely overwhelm everything. For me about 20 per cent along was fine.

You can shift in and out of your listening profile and shifting out sends sound quality straight to the dogs. For example, shift out during Particles on Island Songs by Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds, and the gentle, moody vocals of Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir are swamped by the instruments. Some tracks sound like they’re coming down a concrete pipe. Perhaps switching out is why people inexperienced in quality headphones figure switched-in Nuras are wonderful – maybe they figure the switched-out sound is typical of regular headphones.

Nura cUnder an offer called ‘refer a friend’, if someone you have referred buys a pair they get 20 per cent off ($99.80), and if six of your referrals purchase you get a pair for free. This could explain why people are so enthusiastic about Nuras on social media.

Nura’s technology is ingenious and works beautifully, I wish it was in better headphones. Every pair of $500 headphones I’ve tried sounds significantly better to me than these. When you buy online you can’t listen first, so trying Nuras out costs $499. If you don’t like them you may qualify for the 30-day return policy. Look hard and you’ll find it on the website, explained in 1024 words. I emailed Nura customer support questioning a detail of it and received no reply.

First published on October 2010.