The Nothing Ear (1) are solid everyday earbuds, but underwhelming sound quality means they fall short of greatness
- Lightweight, comfortable design
- IPX4 splash resistant
- Well priced
- Mediocre sound quality
- Limited EQ controls
- Buggy firmware
It’s not difficult to see why the Nothing Ear (1) headphones have generated a lot of chatter. They’re full-featured true wireless earbuds that look great, have solid battery life and are temptingly priced. Not only that, but they’re the first product from a London-based startup whose CEO is OnePlus co-founder, Carl Pei.
However, despite plenty of promise, we’ve found that they fall a little short of our lofty expectations. They’re decent-looking everyday earbuds, but Apple Airpods Pro killers they are not.
Nothing Ear (1) review: What do we like?
From the minute you unbox them, it’s evident that the Nothing Ear (1) are a bit out of the ordinary. Their retro-styled, see-through case and earbuds are brilliantly different and, thankfully, it’s not entirely a case of style over substance.
The earbuds are very comfortable to wear for extended periods, and as I’ve already touched on, the Nothing Ear (1) have an impressive feature set for their price. Of these, the standouts are that they offer active noise cancelling (ANC) and transparency mode, which is unusual in earbuds costing less than £100.
With no good reason to travel since receiving the Ear (1), I’ve had to make do with testing ANC by using aeroplane cabin and train recordings rather than the real thing. In these circumstances, the Ear (1) performed solidly, doing a particularly good job of cutting the low rumble of aeroplane engines with ANC set to Maximum. They fared slightly less well when it came to attenuating the high pitch white noise you hear in the cabin but, overall, the noise cancelling was sufficient to allow me to comfortably listen to music at lower volumes.
As well as offering ANC, the Ear (1)’s are also IPX4 splash resistant. That’s not the highest waterproof rating I’ve seen on earbuds this price – Lypertek’s SoundFree S20 and Tronsmart’s Spunky Beat earbuds both have IPX5 certification – but it means the earbuds can survive splashes of water from all directions. This means you should have no problems getting them a bit wet either during exercise or in a sudden downpour.
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Battery life is solid enough, too, especially for earbuds with such a neat, lightweight design (each earbud weighs 4.7g). Indeed, Nothing claims the Ear (1) will last a total of 34 hours with ANC disabled and 24 hours with it turned on. Those numbers include the time afforded by recharging the earbuds in their carry case, which itself can be charged via USB-C or a QI-compatible wireless charger. On their own, the earbuds offer up to 5.7 hours of listening with ANC turned off and four hours with it enabled.
Perhaps the most attractive thing about the Ear (1), however, is the price. At £99, they substantially undercut the Apple Airpods Pro (£180) as well as other premium earbuds, such as the Sony WF-1000XM4 (£250) and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 (£190). Having said that, they’re not in a bracket of their own as far as sheer value for money is concerned, with JLAB, Oppo and Huawei also offering ANC true wireless buds for less than £100.
Nothing Ear (1) review: How can they be improved?
If the Nothing Ear (1) were among the best-sounding true wireless earbuds I’d ever heard, they’d be the complete package; sadly, that’s not the case. Although there’s sufficient clarity throughout the frequency range, the earbuds’ sound signature means they don’t always offer an enjoyable or engaging listening experience.
While the accompanying mobile app lets you tune the sound to your liking, it’s currently limited to just four simple options: balanced (default), “more treble”, “more bass” and “voice”.
With a sound that’s already boosted in the upper midrange and treble, you might well find that those EQ settings don’t offer enough control over how your music sounds.
With boosted bass, I found that the low-end frequencies sounded a little overbearing and, conversely, boosting the treble makes music sound too bright. The Nothing Ear (1) also lack the sense of instrument separation you get with premium earbuds and can sound somewhat compressed.
If Nothing were to add manual control over the EQ, as you find in the Sennheiser app, that might help, but it’s worth limiting your expectations when it comes to audio fidelity. The Ear (1) don’t sound terrible, but neither are they award winners.
In keeping with that theme, the news isn’t much better when it comes to codec support. The earbuds support only SBS and AAC, so if you were hoping to use AptX or AptX HD, you’re out of luck. That’s not a big deal if you’re planning to listen mainly via your phone, with both iOS and Android devices supporting the higher-quality AAC, but it could be a problem for other devices.
Another possible deal-breaker for some will be that there’s no option to summon your phone’s voice assistant via the earbuds. I’ve also noticed some sporadic connectivity problems along with some issues with the noise-cancelling and transparency modes. These only occurred briefly, however, and given Nothing is still making tweaks to the software, I’m confident they’ll be fixed shortly via firmware updates.
Nothing Ear (1) review: Should you buy them?
Overall, most of the Nothing Ear (1)’s foibles are related to one of the most important things to consider when buying any pair of headphones: sound quality. If they were cheaper, I’d likely look upon them a little more favourably but, at £100, I’m not entirely comfortable recommending earbuds that I don’t love listening to.
For a little more money, you can pick up a pair of the Oppo Enco X, which offer a similar feature set and lightweight design along with decent sound quality, albeit worse battery life. Alternatively, if you’re happy to do without ANC, the Creative Outlier Air V2 are a great-sounding option that last longer between charges, not to mention the fact that they’re quite a bit cheaper.
It’s frustrating, because with a tick in the sound quality box, the Nothing Ear (1) would be a truly compelling offering. They look and feel the part and offer a combination of features that you rarely see at this price, but fall just a little short.