Writing about headphones, earbuds, and earphones can be pretty boring at times. While it might sound exciting to get to try to so many options out, it can become mundane and tedious.
Mentally, I start out my reviews for earbuds by putting them into a price basket. Are these budget-minded and low-end options that hit the $50 and under mark? Do they swing a little harder, coming in around $100-$150? Or, might they be a pair of “premium” earbuds that command a price tag of $250 or more?
From there I start to look at what the specs are and whether they seem to fall in line with others. Indeed, I’ve already started to subconsciously grade them before even listening to a single note of music.
In doing this I’ve found that some models surprise me, and stick out from the bunch. Every so often I find a pair that are comfortable, long-lasting, and feature-rich, and at a price that seems almost too good to be true. That’s what I’ve found in the Nothing Ear 1’s.
As the first accessory from OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Were these going to be a decent effort with plenty of promise for the brand? Or, might they have fallen into the territory of forgettable and uninspiring? As it turns out, the Ear 1 have become my preferred option for listening around the house.
The Nothing Ear 1, in my opinion, sit at the intersection of fashionable and practical, with an eye on the horizon that is wide adoption. Priced just $99, I was surprised by the set of features and capabilities. And best of all, they sound pretty damn nice, too.
- 34 hours playback including case
- 11.6mm driver
- Available in black and white color options
- Active Noise Cancellation
- Case charges wirelessly
- IPX4 rating
The Ear 1 employ the stem design with a semi-transparent plastic which more or less lets you see into the inner workings. The “black” pair I’ve received are more along the lines of a smoky grey but you can see through them.
The square carrying case has its share of curves and soft edges but it’s largely a square that opens up like a makeup compact. Between the color choice, the use of metal, and a seemingly random circle indentation, it’s interesting to look at and different. And it’s very pocketable.
Included in the box are three silicone ear tips; the medium are in place upon arrival. All in all, they look similar to others yet somehow manage to look unlike anything else in the space.
The Ear 1 offer wireless charging and the carrying case has a couple of visible metal pieces on the bottom. The whole affair is fun and interesting to look at and the semi-transparent case seems to do a fair job in handling. Thus far I’ve yet to scuff the case and I’m not always the most precious about my tech. I suspect that scratches and wear might only add to the aesthetic if and when they arrive.
Cool headphones are nice and all, but I don’t care much for how they look — my focus is on performance. Do they sound good? Does the battery last? Are there any nifty or practical features?
The Nothing Ear 1 are a well-balanced pair of earbuds, with solid sound and long-lasting battery. You may find yourself toggling the various in-app EQ settings based on what you’re listening to, or on a general preference, but I’ve settled in and left things alone.
The soundscape is a bright and tight one, especially on the default settings. Once I toggled on the extra bass EQ setting I noticed quite a difference as it brought the lower end more into play. Initially I would go back to the more flat option for podcasts and books but have since stuck with the extra bass.
Don’t read this as to say these have a thump or heavy feel to music; they do not. I just find them to have a bit more overall presence.
There are two modes for active noise cancellation (ANC), one being stronger than the other. Additionally, there’s a transparency mode that lets you hear ambient or environmental sounds through music. I tend to favor either strong noise cancellation or transparency as the lighter cancellation sits closer to transparent.
One thing that tends to happen with less expensive models is that transparent listening leads to an “airy” or hissing sensation. That’s not the case here as it just feels more like Nothing has simply turned down the music.
Battery life is rated at around four hours with ANC enabled and upward of six hours with it turned off. As far as the carrying case goes, it looks to provide 24-34 hours total, based on how you listen to your music.
I found this to be accurate in my few weeks with the Ear 1 earbuds; I appreciate that my phone occasionally displays the percentage of each earbud and the case. Most weeks I only find myself charging the case one time, usually overnight or while showering. I never really have to think about battery.
I dig that the Nothing Ear 1 case charges up via USB C and wireless charging. The latter is one of those features where I was not quite sure if I’d get that in a $99 pair of earbuds. Plugging the case in for only 10 minutes is good enough to provide a few hours of music playback. Similarly, ten minutes of putting the earbuds in the case can get upwards of an hour of ANC listening.
Another feature I really liked is the IPX4 splashproof rating. Not that I get too sweaty or dance in the rain all that often, I do recognize that I’ll be outside and more active in the coming months. With that said, it’s nice to not have to worry about getting the Ear 1 earbuds wet.
I also really enjoyed the customization and freedom that comes with the app and playback. It’s easy to setup or change how you want the tap gestures to operate; you can listen with one earbud in and it doesn’t matter which one. Shortly after receiving my review unit I saw an update that brought about access to Google Assistant, something that I could enable in the app.
Often I will qualify a review with how the product sits in its price point, comparing it to others, and in the process suggest that maybe shaving $20 or $50 off might be the “sweet spot”. For the Nothing Ear 1 earbuds I am on the other side of that concept. Were they to charge $130 for these I wouldn’t bat an eye.
The Ear 1 punch above their weight, delivering on a whole bunch of fronts. They’re comfortable and light, last as long as I need them to, and charge quickly. Toss in a fully customizable app experience and water resistance and you’ve got a solid product. And that’s to say nothing of how interesting they are to look at, too.
I’m truly excited by the Nothing brand and look forward to anything and everything it has on the horizon.
Learn more about the Ear 1, or purchase a pair in either black or white, at Nothing’s website where they’re currently available for just $99.