Crowdfunded Nura headphones will change the way we listen to music

Kyle Slater of game-changing Nura headphones

Nura CEO Kyle Slater has developed a revolutionary pair of headphones that in 2016 broke the Australian crowdfunding record.

While working on his PhD at the University of California’s Berkeley campus two years ago, electronics engineer Kyle Slater was struck by the number of fellow students wired for sound. This got him thinking about developing what he calls “the perfect interface for music delivery, the perfect pair of headphones”.

Close to a year later, a still-ruminating Slater was working at Melbourne’s Bionics Institute with hearing specialist Dr Luke Campbell. He asked the surgeon if it was possible to place a hearing measurement machine into a pair of headphones, and then use that information to improve the sound for the wearer.

“He ummed and ahed at first,” says Slater, “but the next day he came back to me and said, ‘I think we can do it’.” 

Today, that same technology underpins the future of audio trailblazer Nura, the company Slater and Campbell subsequently co-founded (Slater is now CEO). Their first product, set for release in April 2017, is a pair of in-ear and over-ear headphones that automatically adjusts to a listener’s special hearing profile.

Everyone hears differently. An individual’s “aural fingerprint” is so singular that it’s like our ears are fitted with randomly tuned graphic equalisers at birth. To accommodate these many and varied hearing responses, Nura headphones are equalised to meet each wearer’s unique “earprint” within 30 seconds.

“We want to revolutionise the music experience.”

“Our ears produce a very faint sound called an otoacoustic emission,” explains Slater. “After you put on the headphones, we play a series of notes … and listen to your ear’s response to those notes. From that signal, we can work out which frequencies of sound you are sensitive to.”

Earlier this year, Nura’s crowdfunding campaign attracted close to 8000 backers pledging more than A$1.8 million, an Australian record. Slater says that crowdfunding was Nura’s first and only financing choice.

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“Crowdfunding gives you great exposure and an indication of the market interest, especially for new technology. You also have access to this community who provide an incredible resource,” he says, adding that the product now comes in Bluetooth as a result of backer feedback.

The headphones were available to crowdfunders at US$249, but the product will cost consumers US$399 after launch. The focus now is on manufacturing and on coming to grips with regulation and distribution. 

Design has been critical, with Nura enlisting the expertise of Hong Kong-based Office for Product Design (OFPD).

“We have no design experience in our core team, so OFPD was able to help us achieve a manufacturable product with the right image, while satisfying weight and comfort,” says Slater.

The company continues to refine the headphones and is confident that when it comes to promotion, “the product speaks for itself”.

“We want to revolutionise the music experience,” says Slater. “The speakers we use in our homes, cars and headphones could benefit greatly from understanding the way someone hears. 

“People will experience much more detail and richness in the music they love, and that’s what we’re striving to achieve.”

One piece of start-up advice

“Good solutions are only possible when the problem is well defined.”

Read next: Kaggle's startup advice: Ditch the daydreaming and start doing

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November 2016
November 2016

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