Aussie duo invent 'perfect' headphones

Kyle Slater and Luke Campbell with the Nura.

Kyle Slater and Luke Campbell with the Nura.

Here's the pitch: Everyone has a different ability to hear different musical frequencies. So there are whole sections of music on your favourite song that you just cannot hear well.

Melbourne inventors Dr Luke Campbell, 30, and Kyle Slater, 29, claim to have invented a pair of headphones that can detect your personal hearing signature and adapt the sound of the music you're playing so you hear every element of the song.

"We think about it in terms of filling in your musical black spots," says Slater.

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The pair have raised more than A$700,000 in only a few weeks on Kickstarter, and already have prototypes and manufacturing partners locked in. They are calling it the Nura.

How it works

Your ears are constantly making a tiny sound in response to the sound they receive, too faint to be heard by humans. Let that sink in for a moment (it's called an otoacoustic emission).

The Nura comes with a tiny microphone in the cup. When you first put the cans on it runs a quick frequency-detection test, like something you might do at an audiologist's clinic. The Nura listens to the ears' own sound as it plays the test, calculating the ability of the ear to hear each frequency.

It then throws up a frequency response graph. Generally, as you age your ability to hear high-frequency sounds degrades; thankfully, the boys tell me my hearing is still quite fine, despite a lifetime of earphone abuse.

When you play a song the Nura re-equalises the music, emphasising the bits of the sound you don't hear so well.

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"There is no such thing as the perfect pair of headphones," says Slater. "There is only the perfect pair for you.

"The Nura sort of changes the colour of the sound – it's not to do with the loudness."

Nura has another trick – it incorporates a small ear bud inside the headphone's ear cup. The ear bud provides detail, the headphone bass.

How it sounds

I tried it on. Slater played me some Bjork using his own profile and then mine. The difference is dramatic – Slater's profile sounded woolly and the vocals weren't sharp.

When he switched it to mine, the wool lifted. The sound was rich and colourful, like Bjork was crooning right into my ear.

"There is no one who says I cannot hear the difference," says Campbell.

Admittedly this might be to do with the ear bud inside the headphone, which is always going to enhance the detail level. It's also pretty uncomfortable, but hopefully that will be fixed in the production version.

The grain of salt

A product making larger-than-life claims about "musical black spots" that's backed on Kickstarter – you're right to be sceptical.

But Campbell and Slater might just be the real thing.

Slater is a serial inventor. He recently worked on the engineering behind the revolutionary bionic eye.

And Campbell is a qualified medical doctor who was training to become an ear specialist before dropping his scrubs to wholeheartedly hitch his future to the new headphones. They met while working at the Bionics Institute in Melbourne.

The headphones are slated to ship April 2017. The proof, as always, will be in the pudding.

 - Sydney Morning Herald


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