Nura Headphones: changing the way the world hears
Australian technology startup Nura is changing how you hear. Its innovative headphone design adapts sound specifically to your ears to create a crystal-clear audio experience.
Article by Imogen Brennan for Australia Unlimited
Headphones are a deeply personal item. They have the ability to transport you from your current environment – be it working, commuting or exercising – and into your own private space of music, movie, podcast or video game.
The quality of headphone audio is crucial to this experience. Australian startup, Nura, has created a world first: its headphones not only let you listen to sound, they listen to how you hear.
It is a groundbreaking concept, and one that has the potential to be a game-changer for the audio industry.
“Nura headphones speak to the ecosystem of music,” says Nura CEO and co-founder Kyle Slater.
“Nura headphones are benefiting not only the consumer, but also the artist who’s making the music. You think about how much effort goes into the production of a song, it's important to preserve all the detail.”
Nura uses each listener’s own “sound print”, to enhance the quality of audio we hear.
In the same way humans have unique fingerprints, everyone has a unique way of hearing. For example, some people hear more mid tones, while others hear more high or low tones.
The Nura headphones can measure which sounds are being heard, and adapt the sounds to enhance those aural black spots.
“It’s a totally new experience,” says Slater.
“The Nura headphones are creating richer and deeper sounds. This way of sonically moulding to your hearing is entirely new.”
The sound of music
Slater grew up in Canberra, in what he calls a “Von Trapp-like family
“I didn’t really have a choice about being musical when I was growing up,” says Slater.
“My dad was an opera singer, my mum a music teacher and both my brother and sister are professional musicians.”
As a child Slater was fascinated by electronics – forever trying to figure out how things worked. He built his first stereo amplifier when he was 15. A degree in electronic engineering and physics at the University of Melbourne was a natural progression.
During his PhD in psychoacoustics and music perception, Slater joined The Bionics Institute where he worked with the team behind Cochlear hearing implants. He then went on to design the electronics for Australia’s first bionic eye.
An ear for success
Slater met Nura co-founder, Luke Campbell when they were both working at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital.
Campbell also grew up with strong musical influences, but pursued a degree in medicine. He is currently training to be an ear, nose and throat surgeon, specialising in hearing sciences.
“It was the intersection of our experience which made the idea I had for the Nura headphones come to life,” says Slater.
“Together we were able to resolve how to put a hearing measurement machine into a pair of headphones.”
The two other members of the Nura team are equally talented. While Slater was a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, he met Dragan Petrovic, who later came onboard as Nura’s co-founder and chief operating officer.
“At the time, Dragan was working in Silicon Valley where he had years of experience. He understood the Silicon Valley ecosystem, and how to evolve a business in that space,” says Slater.
Nura’s first employee was Wilson Shao, who moved from China to Australia in 2008 to study engineering at the University of Melbourne.
He met the two Nura co-founders when they were supervising him at Melbourne’s Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital. They were so impressed by his attitude and work ethic, they offered him a job.
Shao brings a strong mix of bio-engineering and electronic engineering to the team, as well as his native language, which has been a huge advantage for the company while doing business with Chinese manufacturers and suppliers.
Accelerating business development
For Slater, the startup has been a particularly challenging venture.
He had little income while developing his concept. Renting out his bedroom on Airbnb, he slept in his laundry for six months, living on “the smell of an oily rag”.
Slater was finally able to afford a daily coffee when Nura was accepted into the Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP) and entrepreneurship program and startup accelerator.
“MAP teaches you to imagine that you have a product in your hand already, and to focus on the business development,” says Slater.
“The time we invested in understanding the business during MAP helped us realise that if we wanted to manufacture this product, we had to do so in Shenzen, China.”
As they say in consumer electronics, all roads lead to Shenzen. Almost all the headphones in the world are manufactured there.
The Nura team spent four months in Shenzen, after securing a place in the highly competitive HAX accelerator program - only three per cent of applicants are accepted.
HAX is is funded by a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, which specialises in intensive development for startup hardware companies. Those months in Shenzen were crucial to Nura’s success to this point.
Not only did they successfully secure a manufacturing partner, they were also able to spend time together as a team for the first time and focus on business development.
“We would not have succeeded without HAX and MAP,” says Slater.
“Having that time together learning about the industry and focusing on the business was so valuable.”
In May 2016, Nura was ready to launch its crowdfunding campaign.
The goal was to raise A$100,000 – Nura achieved it in just 14 hours. And the support didn’t stop. The team went on to break a Kickstarter record for an Australian campaign, raising A$2.5 million in total.
“That’s more than double the previous record for an Australian campaign on Kickstarter,” says Slater.
Almost 8,000 people backed the Nura headphoness campaign, and they will be among the first to receive the product when it starts shipping in May 2017.
As for what made Nura headphoness a record-breaking crowdfunding campaign, Slater says it’s tied to a universal love of music.
“We were able to hit a nerve by recognising how important music is to people. Most people love music. Most people see the value in it.
“When our Nura headphoness land on their doorstep, we want them to think ‘wow, these are brilliant’.”
A proudly Australian design that’s destined to change the way the world hears. You won’t know which sounds you’re missing out on until you’ve tried them.
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