After a middling first pair of cheap earbuds, OnePlus has absolutely nailed the sequel with the well-rounded Nord Buds 2
- Great audio for the price
- Impressive noise cancelling
- Dolby Atmos support
- Design feels cheap
- No wear detection
- No wireless charging
The OnePlus Nord Buds 2 are the second true wireless entry into the Chinese brand’s budget Nord range, following last year’s Nord Buds. While we weren’t all that impressed with the first-generation model, OnePlus has clearly taken a lot of feedback on board ahead of the second, delivering a more fleshed-out and fully featured product.
They’re not quite the complete package – there are still a couple of features missing that I’d like to have seen – but they’re a big improvement on the first Nord Buds. Noise cancellation is well implemented, audio is decent across the board and, despite not being the most attractive, the buds are still comfortable to wear. For what they cost, the OnePlus Nord Buds 2 are terrific value.
OnePlus Nord Buds 2 review: What do you get for the money?
For £69, you can pick up the Nord Buds 2 in either Lightning White or the Thunder Grey model reviewed here. That’s £20 more expensive than the first Nord Buds, but the price bump does at least bring some new features and upgraded functionality.
The buds operate over the latest version of Bluetooth (5.3), with support for the SBC and AAC audio codecs. Carrying over from the previous generation is an IP55 rating for dust and water resistance, meaning that they’re not fully waterproof, but will survive a jog in the rain or a trip to the beach.
The design is reminiscent of the first Nord Buds, with the same flat, rounded rectangle stems protruding from a plastic housing. Silicone eartips are used to secure the buds in your ears and three diferent sizes are included to help you find the most comfortable fit. OnePlus says it’s used recycled materials in the construction of the buds, and this is evident from the tell-tale speckling visible on the stems.
The charging case is two-toned, with the base using the same recycled plastic as the stems, while the lid is free of speckling and covered with a slightly glossier finish. The buds offer around seven hours of playback with ANC off and the case boosts that to a total of 36 hours. Switch ANC on, and these figures fall to five hours in ear and 27 hours overall. There’s no wireless charging, but a ten-minute fast charge should yield a further five hours of audio playback.
On the outside of each stem, there’s a small disc denoting the location of the touch controls. By default, these enable you to play, pause and skip tracks, as well as cycle through ANC modes and switch between paired devices. If this setup isn’t to your liking, you can assign different functions to single, double and triple taps, either in the quick menu on OnePlus phones or via the HeyMelody app elsewhere.
In the app, you’ll also find the option to manually cycle between the normal, noise cancelling and transparency listening modes, a toggle for the low-latency game mode and the equaliser options. These comprise a six-band graphic equaliser that you can tune to your own tastes, four sound profiles – Balanced (default), Bold, Serenade and Bass – and the new BassWave feature, which offers five levels that boost the bass and five levels that soften it.
The Nord Buds 2 launched alongside the Nord CE 3 Lite 5G and play pretty nicely with OnePlus’ latest budget smartphone. However, the CE 3 Lite doesn’t support one of the Nord Buds 2’s best features – Dolby Atmos. You’ll need to head further into flagship territory before you find Dolby Atmos support, which feels like a misstep, but that’s a problem on the phone side, not a fault of these earbuds.
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OnePlus Nord Buds 2 review: What did we like about them?
Like their predecessors, the Nord Buds 2 are fitted with 12.4mm drivers, but OnePlus states that these use a larger diaphragm to deliver clearer and more impactful audio. To put this to the test, I fired up a playlist of thematically appropriate Nordic music, and the results were certainly impressive.
For £69 earbuds, the Nord Buds 2 have a pleasingly spacious soundstage. Peter Gundry’s densely layered “Víðbláinn” was a great showcase for this, placing the airy, ethereal lead vocals and the backing throat singing distinctly apart, with plenty of room for the plucking strings and pounding drums to fill the space around them.
At first, I found the bass a little overbearing, with the drum-heavy low end in Wardruna’s “Helvegen” elbowing its way into the mids. Opening up the HeyMelody app, I quickly found the culprit – the BassWave feature was cranked up to the maximum. Knocking it down a couple of notches produced a much more favourable balance and gave everything room to breathe.
With the scales hanging more evenly, trebles got plenty of opportunity to impress. Eivørr’s “Trøllabundin” is a track filled with powerful soprano singing, and the lead’s striking range was only matched by the crispness of the Nord Buds 2’s reproduction. It’s not overly weighted in this direction, either; while the track is relatively light on instrumentals, the lead singer was accompanied by a steady march of war drums, and there was still enough space for their weight to hit home.
Noise cancellation also punched above its weight. All my usual in-house tests were handily swatted away, with neither the whistle of a boiling kettle nor the hum of a microwave intruding upon my listening. On my commute, things weren’t quite as eerily silent – a vague rumble carried through from the train carriage, and general murmuring from my office co-workers cropped up now and again – but it was still an impressive dent in the overall hubbub.
As tends to be the case in this price range, the transparency mode worked well but came with a couple of caveats. You’ll be able to hear passing traffic and shouting easily enough, but if you want to hold a full-blown conversation, you’ll need to drop your audio down to lower than 50%.
While the Nord CE 3 Lite 5G doesn’t support Dolby Atmos, I did happen to have a compatible device to hand, so I was able to test out the feature. Booting up “Kong: Skull Island” on Prime Video, I was immediately met with a disorientating barrage of flying bullets and soaring planes as an aerial dogfight played out offscreen. The virtual surround sound did a great job of pinpointing audio in the space and tracking objects as they moved across the screen, making for a deeply immersive and enthralling experience.
OnePlus Nord Buds 2 review: What could be improved?
If the audio quality and feature set give the impression of a more premium pair of earbuds, the chunky design is quick to bring things crashing back down to earth. The problem isn’t that the buds are made with recycled plastics – that’s the way the industry should be going – it’s that recycled plastics can look a lot more attractive than this. The House of Marley Redemption ANC 2, for example, managed to mould their eco-friendly materials into a much more stylish package, though they do cost more than twice as much.
Considering how cheap the OnePlus Nord Buds 2 are, these last couple of issues aren’t deal-breakers but rather entries on a wish list that would fully round out the package. Wear detection, for instance, isn’t especially common in this price range, so the Nord Buds 2 aren’t going against the grain by not including it, but the ability to automatically pause audio when a bud is removed and resume when it’s put back would be a welcome addition.
Similarly, wireless charging crops up every now and then in the budget bracket, so it wouldn’t be unreasonable for it to be included here, too. The battery life and fast charging are already pretty decent so the buds aren’t screaming out for the addition of wireless charging, but other cheap earbuds such as the EarFun Free Pro 2 (£70) and Tribit Flybuds 3 (£40) provide the option to top up via a Qi charging pad.
OnePlus Nord Buds 2 review: Should you buy them?
If you’re desperate for wireless charging, those two options are more suitable picks that won’t break the bank. Equally, anyone who can’t live without wear detection need look no further than our current favourite cheap wireless earbuds, the 1MORE PistonBuds Pro.
For everyone else, however, the OnePlus Nord Buds 2 are an easy recommendation: audio quality is terrific, the noise cancellation modes are effectively implemented and they’re one of the few pairs of buds under £70 that offer Dolby Atmos support – of course, that’s only valuable if you already have a compatible device. Sure, they’re not the most attractive earbuds on the planet, but for just £69, they’re still a bit of a beauty.