To help us provide you with free impartial advice, we may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site. Learn more

Nothing Ear (stick) review: Clearly mediocre

Our Rating :
£99.99 from
Price when reviewed : £99
inc VAT

Nothing has listened to feedback on the Ear (1), but the changes it has made for the Ear (stick) aren’t universally positive


  • Eye-catching design
  • Effective controls
  • Decent call quality


  • Loose fit
  • Poor sound isolation
  • Light on features

The Nothing Ear (stick) are the follow-up to Nothing’s inaugural pair of true wireless earbuds, the Nothing Ear (1), which were launched in the summer of 2021.

Those buds received a mixed review from my colleague Ed Munn and the London-based startup has made some key tweaks to that formula for its second in-ear release.

Some of those changes work well and the Ear (stick) impress in a few areas, most notably their unique aesthetic. They’re a striking and affordable alternative to the Apple AirPods but ultimately lack the comfort and sound quality of the buds they’re desperate to disrupt.

Nothing Ear (stick) review: What do you get for the money?

The Nothing Ear (stick) will set you back £99, which is an appealing price given the third-generation AirPods cost £179 or £189 depending on the type of charging case you want. It’s also the same price as the Ear (stick)’s predecessors, the Ear (1), cost at launch, although Nothing has, rather brazenly, bumped those buds up to £149 in recent months.

In terms of specifications, there’s nothing particularly remarkable about the Ear (stick). They operate wirelessly over Bluetooth 5.2, support the SBC and AAC codecs and possess a perfectly respectable IP54 rating for dust and water resistance.

Unlike the Ear (1), the Ear (stick) have an open-fit design – as opposed to using silicone eartips to create a seal in your ear canals – but they retain the transparent housings that help them stand out.

The cylindrical charging case is see-through, too, and uses a clever twist-to-open mechanism to prevent the buds from falling out if you accidentally drop the case. The case is topped up via USB-C and Nothing says it provides up to 22 hours of battery life in addition to the roughly seven hours you’ll get from the buds at low volume. Wireless charging functionality – a welcome feature of the Ear (1) – has been ditched, and there’s no active noise cancellation (ANC) or transparency mode.

Other changes see the Ear (stick) incorporate 12.6mm custom drivers that are slightly larger than those found in the Ear (1), while the number of microphones on each earbud has been increased from two to three to improve call quality. The position of the Bluetooth antenna has also been moved from the inside of the stems to the outside of the earbuds to aid connection stability in busy areas – a common complaint about the Ear (1).

Furthermore, the Ear (stick) have new controls. The tap and swipe gestures used by the Ear (1) have been replaced by pinches on the stems, with single, double and triple squeezes complemented by press-and-hold and double-press-and-hold options. These can be customised via the Nothing X app (available on both Android and iOS) or through quick settings on the Nothing Phone (1).

Nothing Ear (stick) review: What do we like about them?

The transparent styling of the Ear (stick) is undeniably eye-catching. I enjoyed being able to get a glimpse at the circuitry of the earbuds and they look futuristic and flash when you’re wearing them.

The lipstick-like case that displays the buds in situ is a conversation starter, too, but the design isn’t just for showing the buds off; it also serves a practical purpose. To get to the buds you need to twist the case and the absence of a lid means the buds won’t come flying out if you happen to drop the stick. The system works successfully and having dropped the case a few times (purely for testing purposes) I’m happy to report that no earbuds were lost in the process.

The Ear (stick) also demonstrate clear improvements over the Ear (1) when it comes to connection stability and call quality. Connectivity proved rock solid, with the buds connecting quickly to my phone when I removed them from the case and they maintained that connection regardless of where I was and how busy my surroundings were.

Meanwhile, the additional microphone on each earbud makes a noticeable difference to call quality in louder environments. There wasn’t too much to choose between the two products when communicating from the quiet confines of my home office but those I spoke to when taking calls walking around London reported less background noise.

On the audio front, there’s greater clarity in the mid-range, which is a big benefit to tracks with a strong vocal component, and treble frequencies are a little crisper. I was impressed by how the intonations of both the male and female singer’s voices were articulated during the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Spitting Off the Edge of the World”, while the percussive elements on “Good Times” by Jungle were clean and rhythmically on point.

READ NEXT: These are the best headphones you can buy today

Here, it’s also worth applauding Nothing’s inclusion of in-app EQ options. This isn’t something that should be taken for granted at this price point and the simplicity with which EQ customisation is implemented will please those put off by graphic equalisers with multiple bands. In addition to four presets – Balanced, More Bass, More Treble and Voice – you can manually increase or attenuate treble, bass and mids. It’s an accessible approach to audio customisation, although it might prove a little basic for some.

In fact, the Nothing X app as a whole is commendable, allowing you to personalise all the touch controls save the single pinch, which plays and pauses audio. You can also use the device settings menu to toggle in-ear detection and low-latency mode for gaming, or play a buzzing noise through the buds to help you locate them should they slip down the back of the sofa.

Finally, I want to come back to the touch controls, which are an undisputed success. Some may prefer taps and swipes, but the consistency with which commands are executed via the pinch gestures is far superior to that of the controls used by the Ear (1).

Nothing Ear (stick) review: What didn’t we like about them?

That’s a pretty solid list of positives but the Ear (stick) do suffer from some pretty damaging flaws. Earbuds that leave your ear canals open are typically more comfortable for long listening sessions and provide increased environmental awareness but sound isolation and sound quality often suffer as a result. And so it proved with the Ear (stick).

This was exacerbated by a fit that didn’t suit my ears particularly well. Without tips to secure them in place, you’re entirely reliant on the housings fitting snugly to provide some isolation and prevent them from falling out. The left earbud sat in my ear reasonably nicely but the right one felt loose no matter how I positioned it and even fell out on a couple of occasions when I removed my hood or shook my head vigorously.

That loose fit naturally had a negative impact on my enjoyment of music. The Ear (stick) can adjust their EQ based on how the buds fit in your ears – something Nothing refers to as “Bass Lock” – but with such a discrepancy between the fit in my left and right ears, I struggled to get a consistent output across the pair.

The lack of effective passive sound isolation also meant I didn’t get the same low-end impact as I did with the Nothing (1). Listening to the same tracks on both pairs of buds, there just wasn’t the same oomph in the lower registers, although the bass reproduction itself was a little cleaner.

Your experience with the fit may well vary, but some people will find that the shape of the Ear (stick) simply doesn’t work for them. This isn’t a problem exclusive to the Ear (stick) – the same can be said for most open-fit buds, including Apple’s AirPods – but it does merit caution if you’re thinking about buying them.

While the decision to drop active noise cancellation makes sense given the open-ear design of the Ear (stick) – ANC is of little use when environmental sound is pouring straight into your ear canals – the absence of wireless charging is surprising. Although not everyone’s cup of tea, it’s the kind of feature I’d expect adopters of the Nothing brand to be fully on board with, so the fact it’s not supported is disappointing.

Nothing Ear (stick) review: Should you buy them?

The Nothing Ear (stick) improve on the Ear (1) in terms of microphone quality, touch controls and mid-range detail, and their unique charging case is a big hit. But issues with the fit, combined with the poor sound isolation, led to an underwhelming audio experience overall. The Ear (stick) also feel a little light on features compared to many other true wireless earbuds around the £100 mark.

That said, if the fit works for you, the Nothing Ear (stick) are likely to sound rather better in your ears than mine. And then their combination of distinctive looks, effective touch controls and impressive call quality may be just enough to seal the deal.

Read more