Sounds Like a Revolution

It has taken the music world by storm by achieving the seemingly impossible – creating the perfect headphones. All it took was two engineers, a doctor and a lot of coffee, writes Lisa Smyth.

Nura co-founder Luke Campbell plays the piano, although he doesn’t consider himself a musician. But then, he never really had a choice when it came to which instrument he would take up.

“I am the second eldest of seven kids, and in my family everyone played piano. Growing up, there was never a quiet moment in my house – someone was always still learning and playing terribly. I don’t know how my parents put up with it,” Luke says, chuckling, from his company’s office in Brunswick.

Campbell grew up in Horsham in western Victoria, and is a trained doctor currently studying for a PhD in hearing science. In 2016, he co-founded nura with fellow PhD student and electronics engineer Kyle Slater, and US-based electrical engineer, Dragan Petrović, when they had an industry-changing idea about how we hear sound.

Obvious beginnings

“We all loved music, and we knew that companies spent a lot of time and money trying to design the perfect headphones,” explains Luke. “But, as we worked in the sound and hearing industry, we also knew that all humans hear differently. No one system would ever work for everybody.”

Their idea – to use an automated test to detect an individual’s unique hearing profile then adapt whatever music was playing to match that profile – seemed so obvious they were surprised no one had thought of it before. So the trio launched a Kickstarter campaign that raised US$1.8 million (about A$2.4 million), becoming the most-funded Australian campaign in history.

Today, only Luke and Dragan remain, and both were there when the first shipments of their ground-breaking product, the nuraphone, went out six months ago.

Reception to the headphones has been rapturous, to say the least. declared the nuraphone “the sonic equivalent of transitioning from black and white to Technicolour”, and WIRED proclaimed nura’s headphones are “a prescription for your ears”. The test, taken using the nura app, can be completed in just 60 seconds. The self-learning engine of the nuraphone automatically measures your hearing by monitoring otoacoustic emissions – the faint echoes your cochlea sends back through your eardrum – and creates your distinctive hearing profile.

“There are a lot of people kicking around Melbourne who know a great deal about hearing technology and engineering due to the fact that the cochlear implant was invented at the University of Melbourne almost 50 years ago,” says Campbell.

Melbourne leads the way

As a child Luke was always interested in technology and programming, and nura provides the perfect intersection of medicine and technology. He is quick to point out, however, that Australia, and Melbourne specifically, has been at the forefront of hearing science for a long time.

“There are a lot of people kicking around Melbourne who know a great deal about hearing technology and engineering due to the fact that the cochlear implant was invented at the University of Melbourne almost 50 years ago,” says Campbell.

“Most people don’t know this, but Cirrus Logic, the global company that makes microchips for smartphones, actually does most of their speech processing algorithm work out of Melbourne – the people here are the best in the world.”

Given the expertise in the city there was never any reason to relocate to Silicon Valley or another tech hub. “Plus, the coffee’s great,” he says. “I find it hard to drink coffee in any other city, so I’ll think we will stay here for now.”

Building a community

Nura’s success has seen it grow quickly from three people to a staff of 40, and many employees are musicians, producers and DJs.

“We knew we had to have actual musical artists and music producers testing the nuraphone,” says Luke. “It needed to deliver a true representation of thousands of different types of music, and that led us to launch /G2.”

/G2 is the first of a series of free software upgrades to the nuraphone hardware that enables features such as noise cancellation and social mode. While you can only buy the nuraphone online from the nura website or Amazon at the moment, the company hopes they’ll be in retail stores just in time for Christmas.

“I think everyone has an innate love and enjoyment of music, and now people can hear their favourite music the way they were meant to hear it.”

History uncovered The story of contemporary local music is laid out at the Arts Centre Melbourne’s Australian Music Vault. Along with reams of memorabilia, there is also archival footage and stories recorded from some of the country’s most epic events. Plus, you can make your own Spotify playlist when you visit.

Recording live St Kilda’s 140-year-old live music venue, The Espy has had a $30 million dollar revamp and is re-opening in November this year. There will be live music across three stages, a new attic cocktail lounge and, just in case you like your podcasts as live as your music, two soundproof studios where you can plug your headphones into the wall and listen to interviews with visiting artists.

Old tech, new sound Local boy Jamatar arrived on the electronic music scene in 2016 with a bang, receiving high praise for his inventive use of 90s hand-held Gameboys to make music. Nostalgic and futuristic at the same time, Jamatar is playing at The Penny Black in Brunswick on 6 October.

Lisa Smyth ( @northorbit) is a lifestyle, business and travel writer who has trouble staying still. She has lived around the world, from Myanmar to Germany, telling stories for the likes of the ABC and the United Nations.