Nothing Ear (1) review: Potential Apple-beating earbuds at an amazing price
With active noise cancellation, seamless Bluetooth operation, clever voice sensing, and long battery life, Nothing could be better than Apple’s AirPods Pro.
⊕ Small, comfortable and stylish
⊕ Pleasing sound quality with active noise reduction
⊕ Battery life and quick charging of buds
⊖ ANC causes a bass boost
⊖ A custom EQ curve would be welcome
The market for consumer headphones and earbuds has exploded over the last few years and has become dominated by just a few (very) big-name players. It’s a brave startup that launches its inaugural product directly into the path of these behemoths, yet this is exactly what Nothing has done with their new Ear(1) earbuds.
Once set up and paired with a device (iOS, Android, Windows or Mac), popping the buds into your ears switches them on and tells your device’s audio system to use them. Weighing in at just 4.7g each, the buds have a smart, well-proportioned design, with an attractive charcoal and white colour scheme. The tips are made from a super-soft silicone that is exceptionally comfortable, even when wearing the Ear(1)s for long periods, and there are three different sizes of tip included. The main body of each bud houses an 11.6mm dynamic driver, while the shape of the bud itself has been carefully designed – ably assisted by audio design specialists Teenage Engineering – to enhance and tune the sound.
The stem section of Ear(1) is quite short and nicely in proportion to the rest of the bud. The stems are touch-sensitive, too, recognising a small number of taps and gestures that you can map to a handful of functions via the control app: stroke for volume control, double-tap for music start/stop, and so on.
The batteries inside the earbuds can be good for nearly six hours of use, but factors such as listening volume, features used, and Bluetooth signal quality affect this. With active noise cancellation (ANC) disabled, and a reasonable volume level, we generally got at least four hours of listening time from a charge, although this dropped if making calls. The included storage and charging case can deliver another six full charges to the buds, for up to 34 hours of use in total, and it does so very quickly too, delivering a good hours-worth of juice in under 10 minutes.
The tiny mics built into the Ear(1)s use Nothing’s Clear Voice Technology to process your voice signal, isolating it from the surrounding environmental noises. The mics also drive the ANC, sampling the noise and using phase reversal to filter it from the sound you hear. The system works very well, enveloping you in a bubble of sound (or indeed no sound at all: just wearing the buds brings blessed silence in a noisy environment!), although we did notice that the ANC caused a slight bass boost. The ANC technology also allows for Transparent mode, which blends environmental sounds into the buds so that you can stay alert to your surroundings.
Sound-wise the Ear(1)s are very pleasing. The bottom end is strong and assured, and is recreated with exceptional detail, the mid range is crisp, clear and well-balanced, and the top end has sparkle and clarity, although can sometimes hit a bit of harshness at very high frequencies. Responsiveness is brilliant, revealing all of the subtle details of the music, and distortion is non-existent, even when running the buds at full volume. The control app allows some tweaking of the sound, with a choice of four EQ curves (balanced, more bass, more treble and voice), although it would have been nice to have a user-definable curve too.
With features, sound quality and battery life that match, and even surpass, the best that the competition can muster, perhaps the most surprising aspect of Ear(1) is the price. At just £99, Nothing’s offering is vastly more affordable than Apple’s AirPods Pro, and remains excellent value when compared to comparable offerings from the likes of Samsung and Google. So rather than paying through the nose for a pair of earbuds, you should consider getting Nothing instead.
- Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity using AAC and SBC codecs
- 11.6mm driver
- Tuned by Teenage Engineering
- Active noise cancellation and Transparency modes
- Touch-sensitive stems with multiple gesture support
- Find My Earbud feature
- Up to 5.7 hours earbud battery life/ 34 hours with charger case
- Three tip sizes provided
- Splash and sweat resistant to IPX4 standard
- Weight: 4.7g each