Anyone who has ever consulted with Reddit on the matter of picking a gaming headset that gives you the best bang for your buck knows there’s only one reasonable piece of advice: each pair of headphones can be a gaming headset if you slap a mic on it — and it will probably sound better than any gaming headset marketed as such.
I’m being deliberately hyperbolic, but this argument actually holds water: there’s a marketing “penalty” to the price of almost every popular gaming headset, with some rare exceptions of course (HyperX, if you ask denizens of r/headphones). That means you often end up paying for the brand, not for the audio quality.
There are also certain limitations to gaming headsets. Some of them are locked to specific platforms or consoles, they won’t work with your phone, and they generally make for a poor music listening experience. That’s not to say they’re bad, they just tend to do only one thing well — gaming.
Unlike r/headphones members, though, I’ve got the ears of a brute and I usually care little for those other things gaming sets suck at. I’ve been using a pair of Astro’s wireless A50 and I’ve got no complaints. I was also pleasantly surprised by the sound quality of the cheaper Razer Kraken Ultimate.
I’m not really in the market for a new gaming headset. I’m more than happy with what I’ve already got.
But the question kept lingering in my mind: can it be that non-gaming headsets are actually better for gaming? I was desperate to know.
Well, I spent last night gaming with the Nuraphone and the new mic, and I’ve got some thoughts.
Looks can be deceiving
Let me put it out there: Instagram has been feeding me Nuraphone ads for ages and, while I was certainly intrigued by their design, I was skeptical.
The very sight of their unusual earcup construction gave my ears a visceral feeling of discomfort. I mean, it looks like the earcups suffered a mutation that made them spontaneously grow earbuds. I was convinced that wouldn’t feel good in my earholes.
I’ve got tight ear canals (or whatever the proper anatomical term is) and I suspected wearing the Nuraphone for a prolonged period of time — like a lot of gaming sessions are — would cause my ears to ache. Like Apple’s earbuds and AirPods do.
I was terribly wrong.
Plugging a set of premium earbuds in your canals always feels weird. The enhanced isolation almost gives an odd sensation I associate with having water stuck in my ears — without any of the unpleasantness that comes with it. But once you put on some tunes, the audio quality takes over and that strange feeling of unfamiliarity swiftly evaporates.
That’s how my first two minutes of wearing the Nuraphone felt like.
I’ve been playing Trentemøller’s “Still On Fire” on repeat for the past couple of days, so it was fitting to listen to it one more time with the Nuraphone.
I had only one reaction: FUCK. The sound was ridiculous, I could feel every little shift in tone and timbre. For the first time ever I felt like I knew what headphone connoisseurs are talking about when they bemoan cans that sound “flat.” The experience was unbelievably corporeal and nuanced.
I couldn’t wait to find out how that experience translates when it comes to sounds of gunshots, explosions, and blood spilling on the ground. So I strapped up and fired up Call of Duty‘s Warzone.
Not so fast
Welp, it turns out I had skipped an important step in the Nuraphone experience: fine-tuning the cans to the specificities of my own earholes.
An integral part of Nura’s marketing is that its headphones adapt the sound they produce based on your own hearing. I’ll spare you the details, since my colleagues Napier and Callum have already gone in depth about that process, but the bottomline is that you’ll have to download Nura’s app for iOS or Android to take care of that.
(I did ask Nura if there are any plans to roll out an app for Windows, but that’s not on the agenda for now.)
Downloading an extra bit of software always feels like a hassle, but I didn’t really mind it with Nuraphone, since I can technically use the cans for stuff other than gaming. It made sense.
Also, I found the difference between the neutral and the custom-calibrated sound profiles profound enough to make the process worthwhile.
Now onto Warzone.
A non-gaming headset for gamers
Prepping the Nuraphone for gaming is as easy as it gets.
Plug the mic attachment in the port under the right earcup and insert the 3.5mm jack in the respective port(s). There’s one caveat for PC gamers: you’ll have to grab a headphone / microphone splitter if you don’t have a combo port. Boom, that’s pretty much it.
There’s also a secure hook attachment to keep the mic firmly in place, but I ended up not using it. I probably would’ve if I was doing wagers or playing competitively, though — just for peace of mind.
The good thing about the mic attachment is that it doesn’t limit Nuraphone’s compatibility with other platforms and devices. Even when paired, Nuraphone will work on all major platforms, including PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, Mac, PC, and even mobile — as long as you have a 3.5mm jack.
Which brings me to my next point: using the microphone comes at the expense of wireless support. While the Nuraphone pairs with any Bluetooth-enabled device, the mic attachment turns it into a wired headset. It’s not a deal-breaker by any means, but certainly something to look out for if you’ve got a preference for wireless gear.
Switching headsets can often feel like you’re learning how to interpret sounds you’re otherwise used to all anew — and that’s certainly true when it comes to playing Warzone with the Nuraphone.
Although I kept the exact same settings I use with my Astro A50, the sound felt throughly different. Each little noise had a plump quality to it, the sound is just more defined, nuanced, and detailed than any other gaming headset I’ve tried.
The most striking example was during deployment. Each time I was parachuting down to the battlefield, I could feel the wind in my ears. It’s tough to put it into words, but the sensation is similar to the way wind tingles your ears when you’re going at a high pace on a motorcycle. It felt unusually real.
That extends to practically every sound in the game. Nuraphone adds a whole new level of realism to Warzone that other headsets I’ve played with simply can’t match. I did some digging to see what other Nuraphone owners think, and I came across a Reddit comment that puts it more poetically than I ever could.
“I’ve used them when playing Battlefield with the immersion slider at around 8/10 and now I have war PTSD,” one Redditor wrote.
That said, it took me a few games to get used to judging an enemy’s position based on the sound of their steps. Both the Astro A50 and the Razer Kraken Ultimate ship with their own spatial audio tech, but they sound somewhat flat compared to Nuraphone — and that extra detail can be somewhat confusing at first.
Does that mean you’ll be able to more accurately predict where danger looms, though? I’m not quite sure yet. Like I said, there’s a learning curve with trying out a new headset and I’ve only had about four hours to toy with the Nuraphone. I’m still more comfortable with the Astro A50, but I’ve got an inkling that won’t be the case after 10 more hours or so.
As far as the actual microphone goes, my teammates, who I regularly game with, couldn’t tell I had switched up hardware. The truth is most upper-end gaming headsets come with pretty decent mics, and there are diminishing returns past a certain point. That might be the case with the Nuraphone mic, too.
I compared recordings of myself with the Astro A50 and the Nuraphone mic, and my impression is Nura’s offering delivers a noticeably crisper quality. The difference might go unnoticed by your teammates, however.
What gamers will miss
Despite the primo audio experience the Nuraphone offers, there’s some stuff gamers might miss.
One notable feature that’s absent is active-noise cancellation for the microphone — sort of like Razer does with the Kraken Ultimate. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it makes for better comms these days — especially when tons of players are tuned into Discord calls while doing whatever else in-between games.
Fortunately, the attachment comes with a volume toggle and a mic switch you can use to selectively turn the recording capabilities on or off. Still, I’d have expected a standalone mic to have its own active-noise cancelling features.
(To be clear, Nuraphone comes with active-noise cancelling, but the mic itself doesn’t.)
Another aspect gaming headsets support, but Nuraphone doesn’t, is the ability to balance out game and comms volumes with physical buttons. I imagine this is something the company can easily change with a firmware update, since it already has capacitative buttons on the outside of both earcups. For now, though, that functionality isn’t there.
My only gripe with the new microphone is what’s included in the box — or rather, what’s missing. When I was initially setting up the Nuraphone for gaming I was under the impression the headset would connect to my PC over Bluetooth, and I’d simply have to plug the mic attachment to the corresponding port.
Wrong. As I already mentioned above, the 3.5mm jack requires a combo headphone / mic port, which consoles support by default — but that’s sadly not the case with PCs.
You can always get a splitter separately, but by not including one straight into the box Nura is bound to spoil the first-time enthusiasm of PC gamers who don’t keep splitters lying around the house. (I had to borrow one from a neighbor, for instance.)
Really, though, those are minor inconveniences that pale in comparison to the premium sound experience Nuraphone delivers.
So is it better than a gaming headset?
It’s an open secret that pro gamers don’t really use the gaming headsets they wear for in-game audio.
Anyone who watches esports has likely noticed an additional set of wires hanging from the ears of pros. That’s because they wear an extra pair of high-end earbuds, which they actually use for more precise game sounds. The branded headsets you see on the outside? Those are mostly for drowning out background noise, which can be excessive at LAN events.
Thanks to its in-ear design, Nuraphone offers the best of both these worlds. It comes with its own active noise cancellation features, and also supports premium sound quality.
It ticks off every major box in the requirements for a good gaming headset, with the exception of one — a microphone. That’s precisely the problem Nura is solving with its new mic attachment.
In my opinion as a self-described audio simpleton, Nuraphone blows any gaming headset out of the water when it comes to sound purity. But that’s sort of expected at the $400 price point it sells for.
But does that mean you should pick the Nuraphone for your next gaming headset? It’s a little complicated.
In addition to the $400 headphones, the Nuraphone mic itself will run you another $50 (or €60 if you’re on the other side of the pond). Yes, it’s a good combo, but at $460, it’s pricey even by gaming headset standards.
On the other hand, though, you’re not purchasing simply a gaming headset, but a pair of high-end wireless headphones with active-noise cancellation you can use for anything else — listening to music, watching Netflix, pretending not to be noticing annoying colleagues, and now with the mic attachment, gaming.
There’s lots of unhelpful advice you’ll find on Reddit, but I think r/headphones is onto something when they say each decent pair of headphones can make for a great gaming headset with the right mic attachment — and Nuraphone’s latest product proves that.
You can check out Nuraphone’s new gaming microphone here.
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Published October 7, 2020 — 15:02 UTC