Headphones for hire are usually something you see at museums, pre-loaded with insightful commentary about the exhibits. But now Australian company Nura is offering a subscription plan for customers so they can get a hold of fancy headphones for a much lower price and for additional benefits.
Available from May 1 from $9 a month in the U.S. and £9 a month, Nura’s NuraNow service will give users a set of Nuraphones, which it will upgrade every two years as part of the package, and will let you keep the old pair, too.
It also comes with an analog cable if you don’t want to use the in-built Bluetooth, and a warranty in case of accidental damage or any other issues. Subscribers will also have access to exclusive draws and special offers for prizes from Nura’s partners.
It’s similar to Microsoft’s All Access model for the Xbox One, which gave you a console, games and other extras for a monthly price. This limited-time option has now been discontinued, but it shows that this concept is being explored by the big players in tech as well as startups like Nura.
The Nuraphones themselves are an interesting piece of audio technology. Originally a successfully funded KickStarter campaign, they are capable of creating individual sound profiles based on listeners’ inner ear structure. They cost $399/£350 to buy outright, so Nuraphone points out that the subscription model is a great way to get the headphones for a much cheaper initial payment.
There are three different versions, costing $/£9, $/£12 and $/£14, which differ only in how much you pay as an up-front fee in addition to the first month’s payment. You have to fork out another £80 if you want to take the £9/month option, and £40 for the £12/month option. For £14/month, there is no additional charge. There’s no cancellation fee either, and if you cancel within the first 30 days, you are eligible for a refund of the up-front payment.
While this sounds like it might be a deal, it’s important to remember that Nura are still in control of the devices it sends to you. If you cancel your membership, it will deactivate your headphones and request that you return it and any other devices you have been sent to the company within 30 days. If you fail to do this, your membership will be reactivated and you will continue to make payments.
It’s completely understandable that they do this: otherwise there’s nothing stopping ne’er-do-wells paying for a single month and then running off with the headphones once they’ve cancelled. But it’s a scary idea that Nura can control if your headphones work. This isn’t unusual from a digital content perspective, as Netflix et al. can switch off the video tap if you violate the terms and conditions, but when it’s a physical product, it feels like a considerably higher stakes purchase.
The battle here will be about if the temptation of continuous upgrades and whatever else Nura can offer subscribers will outweigh people’s desire to actually own their headphones.