Victorian startup Nura gives the world a better listening experience

A pioneering Melbourne startup is breaking new ground in the next generation of music listening devices.

A fledgling Victorian firm’s use of patented soundwave technology to reinvent the humble headphones has captured imaginations and investment funding from around the world.

Founded in 2015 with funding from the Melbourne Accelerator Program (run by the University of Melbourne’s School of Engineering) high tech start-up, Nura, raised a further US$1.8 million via a Kickstarter crowd funding campaign in July 2016.

This represents the highest amount ever rised by an Australian campaign, seeing more than 8,000 backers from around the world pledging A$199 a piece to receive their own set of headphones from the first manufacturing run.

The funds have been dedicated to creating a commercially viable product out of Nura’s design, which tailors the sound waves transmitted by the headphones to match the hearing profile of the owner.

The Nura design incorporates a miniature microphone used to measure a user’s hearing, from the outer ear to the brain, by detecting tiny sounds emitted by the ears.

This data can be used to create a unique hearing profile within 30 seconds of a user putting the headphones on.

Nura brings together the expertise of its trio of founders, Dr Kyle Slater, Dr Luke Campbell, and Dr Dragan Petrovic, who work in the fields of engineering, hearing science and sound, to create a better music experience for everyday listeners.

Nura’s chief executive, Dr Slater, is a University of Melbourne alumnus with degrees in electrical engineering and physics, whose PhD focused on the development of an implantable brain chip for the treatment of epilepsy.

In 2010, Dr Slater won a global prize from the Institute of Engineering and Technology for his invention of the SoundBeam, a highly directional speaker which can be used to generate a narrow beam of sound, only audible to intended listeners. In 2012, he designed the electronics used in Australia’s first bionic eye.

Chief technology officer, Dr Campbell, holds a medical degree from the University of Melbourne, where he is currently completing a PhD in the field of objective hearing tests and cochlear implants.

Nura’s chief operating officer, Dr Petrovic, is an electrical engineering graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, and has been involved in a number of successful Silicon Valley start-ups.

The Nura headphones are in production phase, and initial orders are expected to reach buyers by April 2017. The current pre-order price is US$299.

Melbourne has proved the ideal incubator for turning the Nura trio’s high tech vision into a product that has attracted extraordinary interest from music lovers from Tokyo to Timbuktu.

“We have been blown away by the diversity of customers – people who are passionate about getting the most from the music they love,” Dr Slater says.

He says ‘rapid prototyping and access to incredible resources (and amazing coffee)’ have made Melbourne an ideal location to base research and development operations.

“We’ve developed great links to Shenzhen, China, for manufacturing and prototyping, but all the design and research happens here in Victoria,” Dr Slater says.