I’m cutting straight to the chase to flat out tell you that Nura’s new NuraLoop earbuds are hands down the wireless earbuds I think you can buy right now. Superb sound quality across every type of music genre, long-lasting battery life on a single charge – making them ideal for long international flights, when we can take them again – and chock full of features to enhance your daily life. From the sound of it, you’s be forgiven for thinking that the NuraLoop is the best thing since sliced bread.
Well, it’s hard to beat sliced bread. Still, when it comes to spending your hard-earned money, especially in tough times such as now when many millions of people across the globe are affected in some way by COVID-19, you wan to make sure your investment is put towards the best wireless headset or earbuds available.
I’ve been testing out the NuraLoop alongside some of the titans of the earbuds industry, including Apple, Google, and my gold standard, the custom JH Audio 16 v2 mated with the Fostex TM2. Sadly, at $300, the Fostex TM2 alone costs more than the NuraLoop, which goes on sale today on Nura’s website for $199 USD.
Nuraphone vs NuraLoop: differences and similarities
Form-factor preference is a personal thing, but I typically prefer the in-ear earbuds over anything that sits over or on my ears, even if that may sometimes sacrifice overall sound quality. It meant that, impressed as I was with last year’s Nuraphone G2, the idea of a set of in-ear ‘buds paired with the tech from Nura’s headphones had me instantly interested. I’ll also admit to being a little skeptical that they could deliver on it, but features like Active Noise Cancelation and the excellent music quality have carried across with surprising polish.
So how did Nura replicate a similar level of sound quality in a pair of earbuds weighing just 25g? Before we get to the hardware, Nura’s secret sauce is, first and foremost, determining how you hear and perceive sound. During setup, you take a personalized hearing test via Nura’s app on iOS or Android. That creates a unique sound profile, and it’s the marriage between that and the hardware which makes the NuraLoop sound so much better than any other earbuds on the market.
To get precise readings, Nura relies on two microphones on each earbud. The first is placed at the tip of where you would insert into your ears, while the second is located at 9 and 3 o’clock on for the left and right earbuds, respectively.
Nura’s secret sauce: Otoacoustic
The microphone that’s placed inside your ear canal is critical for the success of the NuraLoop, Dragan Petrovic, Nura’s CEO explained to me. With the passive sound isolation from the ear tips, the inner microphone can “monitor otoacoustic emissions (OAEs) by detecting the activity in the cochlea inside the ear to learn the frequencies” that you’ll be more or less sensitive to. I know that sounds like marketing jargon, but once you’ve tested either the Nuraphone or NuraLoop, you won’t want to use another pair of earphones or earbuds (well, unless you’re spending close to $3,500 for the custom JH Audio 16 v2 + the Fostex TM2 wireless).
The Nura app guides you through the process of inserting the NuraLoop in your ears, and making sure that they’re properly fitted in the ear canals. Once everything is in place, you’re asked to sit silent and still while you listen to a rainbow of frequency tones, and by rainbow, it’s the entire spectrum of frequency ranging from a high pitched 8kHz down to a low 250Hz.
Nura is particularly proud of its hyper-sensitive microphones, which is claims are capable of picking up the otoacoustic emissions – essentially the itsy-bitsy vibrations – caused by the movements of microscopic hair cells swaying back and forth inside your cochlea. How low are the emissions compared to the regular sounds you’re hearing? Well, they’re 10,000 times softer. In fact, Dragan says, the microphones in the NuraLoop are the very same microphones being used by NASA for the Mars 2020 mission.
With seven- and nine-year-old girls on Zoom school calls daily, getting any work done or holding my own background noise-free call is a challenge. The first call I made to my colleague Ewdi using the NuraLoop, he asked where I was, and why did I sound like I was in a professional sound recording studio. Now Ewdi is an audiophile, and he’s often been my go-to test headset audio performance; when he tells me that in all the years we’ve been working together that this is the best sound quality he’s heard, I listen.
The key was that there was little to no background noise, he explained, and so we set up some even tougher challenges. We had a conversation next to the NAIM Mu-so wireless system, the washing machine, the dryer, the kids yacking around… nothing phased the NuraLoop. All he could hear was my voice, clearly transmitted to him all the way in Nagoya.
One of the biggest – and most frequent challenges – a headset can face is in-car noise. For that, I turned to a WhatsApp call while driving a Mercedes-Benz C300 Cabriolet with the top down at 70 mph on the freeway. My friend John (who happens to be the PR for hearing aid company Phonak) never once complained of background wind noise, and it was only later, when I asked him how I sounded during our call, that he told me he hadn’t even noticed I was driving.
Active Noise Cancellation (ACN): Yes I can year you, can you hear me?
That’s great for John, but you might be wondering how he sounded on my end? The good news is that his voice came through loud and clear, too.
Thanks to Nura’s Active Noise Cancellation, most environmental sounds – including the wind whizzing by – are ironed out of what you’re hearing.
Social Mode: yes I can hear you
You’d be forgiven for wondering whether driving while ACN is switched on was entirely safe, since hearing other traffic is important when you’re at the wheel. I’d agree, with you, which is why I had NuraLoop’s Social Mode switched on. It basically pipes through some external noise, so that you’re still aware of what’s going on in the outside world.
I configured the left earbud to active Social Mode and ACN. Since the surface of both earbuds is touch-sensitive, a tap on the left side activates/deactivates the pass-through audio. You can also granularly control how much sound to let in – up to five steps between 100% blockage (ACN) to 100% Social Mode – using your fingers to scroll around the left touch dial. This can also be done via a slider in the Nura app.
On my call with John, since I was driving, I had dialed down Social Mode two or three notches. That allowed in just enough sound in for me to be aware of other vehicles, but still isolated just enough to hear John’s voice comfortably.
NuraLoop’s ACN is actually so good that it made it difficult to hear my voice when I was on phone calls. I’ve reviewed a number of hearing aids over the past few years, and so I’m relatively accustomed to the deaf-like experience of having my ears plugged up. To work around that, I turned Social Mode up by a notch or two, just so that I could hear my own voice and avoid that unnecessary shouting that people wearing headphones sometimes do. I’d love to see Nura add an option to automatically enable Social Mode to a preset level when a phone call comes in.
Other benefits of Social Mode include safety when you’re out jogging, riding your bicycle, or for convenience. Again, when we’re back on planes, a tap will allows you to hear what the flight attendant is saying, without having to remove the NuraLoop or pause the music.
NuraLoop Sound Quality
JH Audio’s JH 16 v2 Pro in-ear monitor (IEM) is my gold standard, with its 10-stron configuration with quad low, dual mid, and quad high drivers. It’s incredibly difficult for off-the-shelf earbuds to come close to beating a pair of custom-mold in-ear monitor of this caliber. That said, the JH 16 v2 Pro plus the Fostex TM2 wireless modules cost more than 16 times what you’d pay for the $200 NuraLoop. With that in mind, let’s talk about sound quality.
If you’re expecting the NuraLoop to blow your socks off the way the Nuraphones do, then I’m here to burst your bubble. Without the ear cups, it’s harder for Nura to separate out the heavy bass. Those wanting maximum audio quality will still have to look to headphones for that, but NuraLoop is one of the best sounding sets of earbuds I’ve tried. I’m finding myself exploring new genres, listen to bands that are completely new to me while revisiting bands from my past, because I’m getting new detail from them.
The beats from Beat It by Michael Jackson, and the deep low-end in Hunger by Bjork or Eye of the Tiger all come to life with crisp treble and bass. I don’t normally listen to David Guetta, Queen, or even the Piano Guys, but NuraLoop’s custom profile gives them new depth to my ears. Of course, software and tech alone aren’t enough to make a pair of earbuds sound great, so that’s where the 8.6mm Graphene-coated dynamic drivers come in. It all sounds clean and precise, not too energetic as to overwhelm, but eminently listenable over extended periods.
Nura has made good use of the Active Noise Cancellation again here, too. It allows you to keep the volume lower, while still being able to enjoy the music without blow-out. If you want more low-end, meanwhile, the Nuraphone headphones donated their Immersive Bass mode. This pumps up the bass by a couple of notches, without sacrificing clarity.
Other Nura goodies
There are a few pain points that drive me nuts using other earbuds. Yes, they’re true wireless, which means each bud is untethered from the other. Sadly while that seems like a great idea, it does have one major drawback: what do you do when you need to use them on the airplane or plug them as an in-ear-monitor for musicians out there?
Nura borrowed an existing charging technology found in Apple’s early generations of MacBook Pro. The magnetic clip not only charges the earbuds, but allows you to plug the NuraLoop into a regular 3.5mm headphone jack. Included in the box is the older USB-A charging cable with a 4-in connector used to charge up the NuraLoop; it does mean that, if you lose this proprietary cable or forget to pack it, you might find yourself unable to charge when the battery hits zero.
Helping, there, is NuraLoop’s excellent battery life. We’re talking 16 or more hours of battery life from a charge, making them the longest-lasting earbuds I’ve ever tested. A 10 minute charge provides enough juice for an additional 2 hours of playback.
Nura has an automatic power feature, which saves battery by turning the earbuds off when you remove them. Both earbuds need to be out for the sensors to flip the off switch, which means you can pull one side out and not have them turn off completely.
I’m astonished by how much you get here for the NuraLoop’s $199 price. That said, there are a few areas I hope Nura tweaks for NuraLoop v2.0. The TouchDial, for example, is very sensitive; while that’s great when you want to adjust something, it’s equally annoying when you accidentally trigger it. Some way to lock – maybe a tap-and-hold – the sensors would be useful. I also wouldn’t argue with thinner ear hooks, which although adept at keeping the NuraLoop stable, can clash with your glasses or sunglasses.
At the end of the day, if you want a pair of earbuds that ticks all the boxes, then these NuraLoop, in my opinion, are the best $200 you’ll spend. AirPods Pro may be iconic and sound really good, while my colleague Chris Davies still prefers the Sony WF-1000XM3 over Apple’s ‘buds for their sound profile and long battery life. For me, my money is still on the NuraLoop over Apple, Sony, Sennheiser and pretty much everything else on the market today. Their combination of sound quality and the quality of the microphones, together with ultra-long battery life and a slew of convenience features, make them the clear choice for those who want customs-like sound without the hefty price tag.