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Nothing Ear (a) review: A bold new er(a)

Front view of the Nothing Ear A headphones in a closed case being held in a persons hand
Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £99
inc VAT

With a striking design, excellent sound and solid ANC, the Nothing Ear (a) are a stunning pair of affordable earbuds with few drawbacks


  • Powerful audio
  • Standout design
  • Decent ANC for the price


  • Controls can be fiddly
  • Arbitrary app limitations

Hot on the heels of the Nothing Phone (2a), Nothing has added two new pairs of true wireless earbuds to its range, one of which is the Nothing Ear (a). As that bracketed suffix implies, these buds are a cheaper alternative to the new Nothing Ear, which themselves are a direct successor to the Nothing Ear (2).

Minor confusions about what initially appeared to be a straightforward numbering system aside, the Nothing Ear (a) show a lot of promise, poaching plenty of features from their pricier brethren and wrapping them up in the kind of striking package for which Nothing is known. But are the Ear (a) among the best wireless earbuds under £100? Let’s find out.

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

At £99, the Nothing Ear (a) are appealingly priced. That outlay gets you Bluetooth 5.3 connectivity with support for the standard SBC and AAC audio codecs, as well as a high-res double whammy thanks to LDAC and LHDC 5.0 compatibility.

Nothing landed on an earbud design it was happy with back with the Ear (1) and, barring the outlier Ear (stick), things have changed very little since. Like the Ear (2), the Ear (a) have plastic oval drums, silicone eartips and transparent stems with pinch controls on the sides, along with an IP54 rating for dust and water resistance.

One big difference for this release is the colour scheme; you can still get the Ear (a) in the same black and white styles that the Ear (1) and Ear (2) came in, but Nothing has added a splash of colour this time around with the bright yellow model reviewed here.

The case is also a little different, trading in the square style of the Ear (1) and (2) for a smaller rectangle that weighs a breezy 40g (just under 50g with the 4.8g buds tucked inside). The transparent lid slightly overhangs the rest of the body and two hollow bubbles on the top call to mind the googly eye-style cameras on the Nothing Phone (2a). It also gets a minor splash resistance rating of IPX2, which is far from common for earbud cases.

Despite the smaller profile, the case adds more battery life than ever before. With ANC disabled, the buds last for 9.5 hours in-ear, and the case pushes that total to a respectable 42.5hrs. With ANC on, the figures are 5.5 and 24.5 hours, which is the best of any Nothing audio product thus far.

The Ear (a) are also compatible with the Nothing X app, where you’ll find customisation options for the controls and equaliser, as well as a Bass Enhancer mode and noise cancellation settings. Alongside the transparency mode, there are three strengths of ANC – low, mid and high – as well as an adaptive mode that uses the three external mics to determine the ambient sound level and adjust ANC accordingly.

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Nothing Ear (a) review: What did we like about them?

After a few stumbles out of the gate, Nothing found its stride with the Ear (2) and it’s clear that the lessons learned there have been applied liberally here. The 11mm dynamic drivers put out impressively powerful audio with solid verticality: the higher-frequency vocals and instrumentals in Starship’s Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now are given plenty of space to breathe, with crisp treble reproduction maintaining fidelity to the ceiling.

The rest of the mix isn’t left out in the cold, either. Nothing Really Matters by Madonna quickly builds to a thumping bassline and the weight is represented fairly well as standard, but flicking on the Bass Enhance feature made it even better. There are five levels to choose from, but I would recommend sticking with the default level three, as it ups the bass without sacrificing clarity in the lower-mids. 

The addition of LDAC support is great to see, as it expands the availability of high-resolution audio beyond the pretty short list of phones that support LHDC. Switching to the high-res mode in the app, I immediately noted the greater level of detail that came through in the mix: something with a complex mid-section, like Rush’s Something for Nothing, benefits greatly from this, with the layered instrumental interlude given enough space for the frantic drum beats to land without disrupting the wailing guitar riff.

The other features offered in the app also performed well in my testing. I particularly appreciated the accuracy of the wear detection, which never once paused the audio when I adjusted the buds in my ears, while still pausing swiftly when I removed them.

Noise cancelling isn’t a guaranteed feature at this price, and it’s even less common to find ANC this good for under £100. On the maximum strength, it handily did away with my usual household tests, negating the noise from a boiling kettle and humming microwave, and the adaptive mode recognised when I was walking close to a busy road and quickly cut out most of the din – though the highest frequencies did still trickle through.

I wasn’t as impressed with the transparency mode, but it was a reasonable enough effort. Passed-through audio doesn’t sound too overprocessed, and will keep you aware of traffic and the like, but don’t expect to hold a conversation while your music is playing.

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Nothing Ear (a) review: What could be improved?

While I was perfectly happy with the default tuning, anyone who likes to get their hands dirty in the EQ settings will be left disappointed by the Nothing X app. With only a rudimentary three-band equaliser and presets for upping the bass, trebles and vocal frequencies, there’s not a lot of scope for personalisation.

I didn’t even find the preset tunings all that useful – bass and treble boosts came with too much sacrifice at the opposing end of the frequency spectrum and the vocal booster made podcasts sound thin and tinny.

What’s more frustrating is that the Nothing X app has an Advanced Equaliser with eight bands, as well as an audio personalisation hearing test, but they’re only available with the slightly more expensive Nothing Ear (£129). Considering that these are software differences, this feels to me a little too much like a manufactured obstacle, put in place to better differentiate between the otherwise cannily similar Ear and Ear (a).

My only other real gripe is that the controls can be a little fiddly to use. Playing and pausing is simple enough but the first few times I had to perform double or triple pinches, I found that either the first was registered as a single before I had time to do the second squeeze or the second one failed to register at all. Accidentally pausing when I’m trying to skip is a minor irritation but it happened often enough during testing to be worth noting.

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

While the bright yellow is a stark departure from the monochrome aesthetic that Nothing has so firmly established in the past few years, there’s no denying that the Ear (a) are as stylish as ever. They also sound excellent and offer a host of useful features, all for under £100.

I’m not thrilled about the unnecessary restrictions in the app, and the controls could do with some refining, but these issues are nowhere near drastic enough to fully detract from everything the Nothing Ear (a) get right. If you fancy the Nothing style but don’t want to spend over £100, they’re a terrific alternative to the more fully featured Ear and Ear (2).

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