Exceptional audio, top-notch ANC and a whole host of useful features place the NuraLoop among the very best earphones available
- Superb personalised sound
- Excellent ANC
- Comfortable and stable fit
- Limited touch control customisation
- Automatic on function is a bit finicky
Following a few minor delays, the highly anticipated NuraLoop – the second pair of headphones from innovative Australian audio company Nura – are finally here.
Using the same proprietary technology that earned their predecessor the Nuraphone critical acclaim, the NuraLoop analyse your hearing before creating you a unique sound profile. This time around though, that tech has been squeezed into a pair of in-ear headphones in what is a distinct departure from the slightly odd hybrid in- and over-ear Nuraphone.
We may have had to wait a little longer than expected to get our hands on them, but with wonderful audio, highly effective noise cancellation and intuitive controls, the NuraLoop have been well worth the wait.
NuraLoop review: What you need to know
The NuraLoop are in-ear headphones that take the personalised sound and features that defined the Nuraphone and combine them with a more compact, portable design.
Each earbud is connected with a short length of wire but the connection between your phone and the headphones is wireless via Bluetooth 5, and Qualcomm’s aptX HD codec is supported allowing for high-resolution streaming. Although you’ll probably primarily use them wirelessly, the Nuraloop can also be used wired with a detachable analogue cable that terminates in a 3.5mm jack.
In what is an impressive feat of engineering, Nura has ensured pretty much every feature present in the full-size Nuraphone has survived the miniaturisation process. There’s active noise cancellation, Social Mode, which lets through a limited amount of external sound, touch controls and Immersion Mode, which lets you boost the bass level.
Battery life is quoted at 16 hours at roughly half volume with Bluetooth on, which Nura describes as “industry redefining”, and ten minutes on charge will get you around two hours of playback. The NuraLoop are also sweat-resistant, making them well suited to physical activity.
But of course, the NuraLoop’s pièce de résistance is their ability to create you a personalised sound profile in the Nura app. I’ll be taking a deep dive into exactly how this is done and what the results are like later in the review.
NuraLoop review: Price and competition
With all of those features, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the NuraLoop are at the pricier end of the in-ear headphone market, retailing at £200. Nura’s personalised sound technology is patented, so the only other place you’ll find it implemented is in the Nuraphone, which cost £350.
For in-ear headphones that offer similar wired and wireless flexibility, your options are rather limited. The RHA T20 are your best bet and come Expert Reviews recommended.
The Bowers and Wilkins PI3 are a great pair of neckband-style earphones that deliver excellent audio but have half the battery life of the NuraLoop and lack active noise cancellation. Should you want ANC, the B&W PI4 add that to the PI3 package and have longer battery life but you’ll be paying £270 for those.
For a true wireless alternative with tremendous ANC, Sony’s WF-1000XM3 are our favourite earbuds for cutting out unwanted noise. Although the list price of £220 is above that of the NuraLoop, you’ll often find them at discounted prices.
There are plenty of cheaper options if you’re just looking for a solid pair of in-ear headphones but you’ll be making a number of sacrifices and of course, won’t be getting an individual EQ profile made for you. The Powerbeats from Beats by Dre are one such option and while they don’t feature any EQ controls or ANC, they offer big bass, sweat- and water-resistance, plus an extremely stable fit.
NuraLoop review: Design and comfort
At first glance, the NuraLoop look like many other wireless earphones, with their earbuds attached by a length of wire that runs behind your neck. On closer inspection though, there are a few design details that set them apart.
Housed in the centre of the cable is a magnetic connector that facilitates charging and enables the NuraLoop to be used when wired. When you need to top up your battery, the connector clips into a small dock on the end of the USB Type-A charging cable that comes in the box. You won’t find this type of cable kicking around at home so make sure you don’t lose it!
That’s also true of the analogue cable, which connects to the headphones in the same manner. The cable is long enough to allow for the 3.5mm jack to be plugged into an in-ear monitor receiver on a musician’s belt, which should go down well with will.i.am and Stevie Wonder, both fans of the Nuraphone.
The cables leading to each earbud are surrounded by a flexible sleeve which is looped over your ears and can be easily adjusted to ensure a stable fit. I’m a firm believer that earhooks are the most effective method of stabilising earbuds in your ears and the NuraLoop is a case in point. Once looped and tightened around your ears, they don’t move around at all, even during the most vigorous of workouts.
This is, of course, also dependent on having a secure fit inside your ear too, which I was able to achieve using the largest of the four sets of ear tips included. These are a little shallower than your average tips but create a solid seal, provide good passive noise cancellation and don’t cause discomfort when worn for long periods.
The outside surface of each earbud is home to what Nura calls TouchDials, which provide touch control over the NuraLoop. Commands such as play/pause music, next track and Social Mode can be assigned to a single tap on the left or right bud. Scrolling your finger around the dial allows you to gradually increase or decrease volume, social mode, or immersion.
It’s an intuitive system and worked consistently throughout testing, although being able to assign just four functions feels restrictive. I’d have loved to have been able to assign further commands to a double or triple tap, and map every feature to a touch control. As it is, you’ll have to head into the Nura app to make other adjustments.
My one other minor gripe with the design relates to the NuraLoop’s neck cable: it doesn’t lie flat against the back of your neck. This isn’t a problem when you’re wearing a t-shirt or collared shirt, but if you’re wearing a hooded top or a jacket with a large collar, the wiring does catch occasionally. It’s annoying, but the loops hold the earpieces in place so effectively you’re never in danger of them becoming dislodged.
When it comes to accessories, you get the aforementioned sets of four eartips, a USB charging cable and analogue connector plus five spare eartip meshes, which can be used to replace the pre-installed meshes if they get damaged. Also included is a pocketable and soft zip pouch. The overall build quality of both the headphones and accessories is excellent.
NuraLoop review: Sound personalisation and setup
Sound personalisation is where the NuraLoop really set themselves apart from the competition. If you already own the Nuraphone you’ll be familiar with the process but, if not, you’ll be prompted to download the Nura app when you initially put the headphones on. Once logged in, you’re then taken through the personalisation process.
First, the app tests to see how well the earpieces fit in your ear. It’s a simple step but an important one; if you don’t create an appropriate seal in your ear canal the subsequent tests won’t produce accurate results. The headphones then run a quick measurement of your hearing using their internal microphones. If any issues with the fit are detected, you’ll be prompted to readjust the headphones and rerun the test or proceed regardless.
The third stage sees the NuraLoop play a range of tones into your ear and this is where the magic happens. When the ear processes sound, it generates its own sonic responses, known as otoacoustic emissions. These are inaudible to the human ear but the NuraLoop’s microphones are able to pick them up and decipher information about how you heard the initial sound.
By playing sounds at various frequencies, the headphones build a profile that reflects how sensitive you are to sound at all levels on the human hearing spectrum. This information is then taken and used to create an EQ profile that’s unique to you. It’s a simple and painless process that doesn’t take more than a few minutes to complete.
The aim of all this is to ensure you’re able to hear every aspect of a piece of audio clearly. If you’re particularly sensitive to high range frequencies, they’ll be toned down in your profile so they don’t dominate. If you’re not very sensitive to bass tones, these will be enhanced, bringing them to prominence so you’re better able to pick them out.
When setup is complete, you’re left with your very own EQ, which is displayed graphically within the app. The graphic isn’t scientifically exact, instead serving as a striking aesthetic representation of your hearing sensitivity. If you treat your profile like a clock, 12 o’clock represents low tones with tones getting higher as you move in a clockwise direction.
NuraLoop review: Sound quality
So that’s a simplified scientific explanation of the technology; the big question is, does it work? Having created multiple profiles and listened to each extensively, I can confidently say the answer is a resounding yes.
You can create up to three profiles and I began by doing just that to see if I got consistent results. I sought out a quiet space and, while there were very slight variations across the three, the general pattern was the same. It turns out I’m most sensitive to very high frequency tones and mildly sensitive to upper mid-range and extreme bass tones. The two main areas I proved least sensitive to were at the higher end of the bass frequency range and in the lower mid-range.
Next up, I listened to a variety of songs, comparing how they sounded with my personalised profile against the NuraLoop’s neutral profile. The difference was like night and day. While I wouldn’t go as far as saying I could hear parts of songs that I’d not noticed before, my personalised profile sounded significantly better: everything was extremely well balanced and each aspect of every track felt defined. Higher pitch parts of songs that were ear piercing in the neutral profile and through other headphones suddenly became bearable and there was a real richness to the music overall.
My girlfriend then created a profile and we listened to them side by side, which proved to be an illuminating experience. Her sensitivity to frequencies throughout the bass range and lack of sensitivity through the mid-range resulted in a profile that sounded distant and washed out to me. Gone was the balanced, detailed musical representation I’d become accustomed to. It’s not that it sounded terrible, it just didn’t sound right. The same proved true with other members of the household – their profiles didn’t sound nearly as good to me as the profile created specifically for my ears.
NuraLoop review: Active noise cancellation and additional features
While personalised sound is undoubtedly the NuraLoop’s biggest draw, it’s important not to let it overshadow just how good their active noise cancellation is. External noise isn’t eradicated completely but sounds like the washing machine, kettle and my obnoxiously loud PS4 fan were reduced dramatically. While sitting in the garden without any music playing I could still hear the faint, high-pitched tweeting of birds but not much else – no chatter from the noisy neighbours or the sound of cars rumbling past the front of the house. Overall, it’s the most impressive implementation of ANC in any earphones I’ve used.
ANC is linked to Social Mode, which allows a certain amount of sound in from your surroundings. The two operate at opposite ends of a spectrum; when ANC is fully engaged, Social Mode is turned off, and vice versa.
Social Mode functions well as long as you’re listening at somewhere close to half volume. Any louder than that and I struggled to make out what people were saying over my music. It’s probably still easier – and more polite – to pause your music or take out your earbuds when talking to others but the feature will come in handy when listening out for important announcements or in crowded environments.
The final sonic feature you get to play around with is the Immersion Mode slider. The original Nuraphone implemented this by using haptic feedback to physically vibrate the over-ear cups, thus creating a feeling of being at a live performance. At maximum immersion, I found the vibration of the earcups overwhelming and uncomfortable to listen to for long periods. The Nuraloop abandon that method, simply using a standard, but effective, EQ bass boost. Given there’s no other way to adjust your personal hearing profile, the freedom to add a bit of extra bass when desired is very welcome.
Microphone clarity proved impressive, too. I used the NuraLoop for a number of Zoom meetings and phone conversations and had no problems being heard. Calls were distortion-free and the NuraLoop picked up very little background noise.
One feature I did have a few teething problems with was the earphones’ automatic on/off function. When you take out your earbuds, the NuraLoop automatically pause your music and, after a brief period of inactivity, enter deep sleep mode to conserve battery. This part worked perfectly well but getting them to wake up consistently proved a bit trickier. The NuraLoop were occasionally finicky about registering when the earbuds were back in my ears, which resulted in me having to fiddle around a bit before they turned back on. It’s far from a dealbreaker but was a little frustrating.
NuraLoop review: Verdict
The NuraLoop offer a unique and very personal audio experience. I loved mine – the headphones provided me with some truly memorable musical journeys. On top of the sensational sound, they offer exceptional ANC, hi-res streaming, a stable fit, outstanding battery life plus the ability to be used both wired and wirelessly. There’s just so much to like about them.
Granted, they’ll set you back a fair bit but given they’re probably the only in-ear headphones you’ll ever need, the NuraLoop are worth every penny. If you’re still on the fence, there’s something that may sway you. Nura is so confident you’ll love the NuraLoop that it’s offering a 30-day money-back guarantee. If you don’t like them, simply send them back. I think you’ll probably want to keep them, though.