Most casual music fans now love the freedom that wireless earphones have brought, but in terms of audio quality it has meant a downturn
However, a few months ago I got a chance to test out the NuraTrue Pro headphones – wireless earbuds with a unique selling point: CD-quality lossless audio.
Wireless headphones reduce quality compared to wired due to the limitations of the amount of data that can be transferred over Bluetooth and the compression format (codec) used to encode the audio.
The default Bluetooth audio codec, sub-band coding (SBC), offers audio quality up to 16-bit 48Khz at bitrates of 328 kbps – all devices support this, but it is adequate, but no more. Better is the AAC codec used in all iPhones, which supports up to 24-bit 48Khz up to 264 kbps, and then next best is aptX HD, which is a Qualcomm proprietary, found in many Android devices, which supports 24-bit 48Khz, up to a higher bitrate of 576 kbits/s. The issue is that all of these codecs are lossy, which means the compression format throws away information in order to send it over the air more efficiently.
What the Nuratrue Pro headphones bring is support for AptX Lossless, which, you’ve guessed it, sends data without throwing anything away – so that’s up to 16-bit, 44KHz, at a bit rate of up to 1,411 kbps. That’s CD quality, over wireless, for the very first time. Cool.
However, it’s not as simple as getting the headphones; the source also needs to support aptX Lossless. Nura says that devices that feature Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 Mobile Platform, should support it, (though it cannot guarantee it will be present – you have to check the specifications per device. As of writing, the only confirmed handsets that have it are the:
· Motorola Edge 30 Pro
· Asus ROG6
· Asus Zenfone 9
What about iPhone users? Well, they’re out of luck. Apple supports AAC exclusively, and there seems little chance it will ever adopt a third-party solution. We can only hope that Apple is working on its own solution and will eventually bring it to iPhones. It was late to the party with lossless audio but now offers it with Apple Music, so, it seems logical that it will want to complete the circle, especially as it was the one that started the move to wireless earphones by ditching the headphone jack from the iPhone.
This then is a long-winded explanation of why, as an iPhone user, I could not test the headline feature of the NuraTrue Pro earbuds when I first got them. However, having been sent an Asus Zenfone 9, I finally had a chance to find out what I was missing out on if anything. Let’s listen.
To test, I listened to music in a quiet room on both an Asus Zenfone 9 and an iPhone 12 Pro Max. I used Amazon Music HD on both devices, as it supports content in CD-quality HD and high resolution and displays the bitrate and sample rate of the content you’re playing – so you can see if it’s 16-bit 44KHz or higher.
I used the NuraTrue Pro’s multi-point feature to easily switch between them. I only tested with stereo music, rather than Dolby Atmos content, which is always compressed. I also turned off the headphone’s spatial audio feature as well as the active noise canceling to keep the output as pure as possible.
Of course, both the Zen Phone and the iPhone will display tracks a 16-bit 44KHz in Amazon Music, only the Zenfone will be playing it back losslessly courtesy of AptX Lossless.
While the iPhone will also playback at this quality note that with the Nurafone and Zenfone 9 combination this is being sent uncompressed. Was there a difference to my ears?
The answer is… yes, but you need to be listening carefully. I’d liken it to looking through a slightly foggy window that had been cleaned. On the iPhone, the sound was always good, but with close comparison, it was a touch thicker. The dancing saxophone on Miles Davis’s Freddie Freeloader on the Kind of Blue album was clearer and a tad more “3D” (even with no Spacial setting applied).
For me, the track that revealed the difference most definitively for me was Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack. About ten seconds in you can hear what sounds like a xylophone-type instrument in the background and I could denote these more clearly and with more detail. The strings were also fuller and richer than on the iPhone. It’s a similar story with Frozen, by Madonna, where background instrumentation could be delineated just that bit more precisely, enhancing the whole composition.
It made me somewhat disappointed to realize that once I returned the Zenfone 9 if I wanted to get the same quality sound from my iPhone I’d have to switch to a wired pair of headphones.
Another improvement since I first reviewed the Nura’s is that it has updated the firmware to introduce the promised Pro EQ setting which enables you to tweak the sound to your preference still further, which is a feature that gives it an edge over the standard NureTrue’s.
Overall, I’d still recommend the NuraTrue Pro even to iPhone owners, as they are excellent, well-featured headphones. But if you have access to a phone with Aptx Lossless they are now an even more appealing prospect.