Nothing ear(1): An extensive review.

nothing review by designersworkspace
Girl wearing nothing earbuds
image credit to Nothing

You’ve probably already heard about the Nothing ear(1), but have you already read an extensive review? Whether Carl Pei will be able to captivate the public with his new company, Nothing, or not remains a mystery — but thus far he has shown that he is capable of creating hype around his products. During the presentation, co-founder of OnePlus Carl Pei appeared alongside Casey Neistat and Lewis Hilsenteger to praise the new earplugs. In introducing the ear(1), there was an unexpected amount of humor peppered into the presentation. While this presentation may be unusual, it is also refreshing in the case of a typically serious and often lifeless product release.

Nothing intends to do things differently. Pei explained that the decision to start the company Nothing came from his lack of interest in new technology products. They felt stale and uninspiring. According to Pei, many earbuds look like some version of the Apple AirPods Pro, and he does have a point. Manufacturers often choose the safe route and use the appearance of an existing popular product as a source of “inspiration”.

Pei also emphasizes that Nothing is not an audio brand. The wireless earbuds called ear(1) are just the first product that will launch. Wireless earphones are still a market where there is low competition. A significant portion of the products in this space resemble Apple’s design. It is still unknown which products will follow the Nothing ear(1), but Pei does want to share the overarching idea: a seamless digital future. There must be a better mutual integration of tech products, whereby the design serves a function and the products do not just excel in one area, but perform well overall.

The unique design of the ear(1) will make heads turn.

The design of the charging case is innovative. Although not all charging cases look the same – contrary to what Nothing claims – this is a design that we have not seen before. It is not the smallest case that is out there, although it is quite thin. The case fits better in your pocket than cases by other manufactures like the Sony WF-SP800N, the Sony WF-1000XM3, or the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless II. However, the ear(1) case is a lot larger than those of the AirPods Pro, Huawei FreeBuds Pro, and the various Galaxy Buds earbuds. There is a small amount of space between the earbuds and the compartment where they are stored, making them easy to pull out. Smart—I still have a bit of trouble sometimes with my AirPods Pro in getting them out of their case.

The hardware of the ear(1), including battery, is tucked away in a small compartment at the bottom of the “white” case. This part also contains a larger battery than that of Apple’s Airpods. However, the larger battery does not reflect its capacity, as we will discuss later.

Back to the design. The first thing you might notice is the dimples on the lid of the case. These hold the stems of the earbuds in place. Perfect for extra grip (or to use it as a fidget spinner). It is functional and visually surprising, so we applaud this design.

Transparancy = Nothing

The transparency of the case ensures that you can see the hinge and the magnet that keeps the case closed. The magnets that keep the earplugs in place are also visible, without appearing messy. A red dot on the magnet indicates where the right earbud, also with a red dot, should be placed. That is a clever idea, and in my experience, it parallels the “left” or “right” indicator a little better. The status light is also visible, as also the earbuds themselves. The charging case, the hinge, and the plastic that they used feel quite sturdy.

There is a USB-C connection on the side of the case, with a button next to it. When pressing the button, the battery percentage is shown in color. A longer press and the case goes into pairing mode. If you hold it down for 6 or 7 seconds, you can reset the earbuds, indicated by a flashing red LED. Considering the price of these earbuds, it’s nice that they support QI wireless charging.

The earbuds are about the same size as the AirPods Pro. The silicone caps are oval-shaped and fit quite comfortably in the ear canal. Three sizes of caps are included. The housing contains the 11.6mm driver which is white with a black edge, the stem of the ear(1) earplugs is transparent. You can see the various parts, including the small PCB. That gives an aesthetically pleasing design that we appreciate. Transparency also has a practical advantage. The red and white dots are in the housing and are unaffected by wear and tear.

The weight of the earbuds is also worth mentioning. They are quite light. At 4.7 grams per earbud, they are about ten percent lighter than the AirPods Pro. The Samsung Galaxy Buds+, Huawei FreeBuds 3i, and Jabra Elite 75T earplugs are also heavier, and the same applies to most of the earbuds we tested. This contributes to the comfort of the Nothing earplugs. We’ve been able to wear the earbuds for extended periods of time without any issues arising or falling out. They have an IPX4 rating and can survive a rain shower or a sweaty workout.

nothing review by designersworkspace
image credit to Nothing

How long does the battery the Nothing ear(1) last?

The earbuds each have a 31mAh battery. The case has a rather low capacity of 570mAh, so you can only get about 9 charges from it which means that if you use your ear(1) more than just occasionally, this might be an issue for you in terms of portability. It takes 2-3 hours to fully charge an empty battery case via USB cable.

This charging time is comparatively slow compared to most other wireless headphones we’ve tested (it usually takes 1.5-2 hours to get a full charge).

It’s important to remember that the battery life decreases somewhat when your earplugs are a few years old. When active noise canceling is activated, they drain fast due to increased power consumption.

Active listening time isn’t that long.

According to Nothing, they will last you 8 hours without ANC and 6 hours with ANC on. This estimate is probably at a lower volume than we have tested. We’ve tested them at 80dB volume with ACN turned on and lasted about 3.5 hours. With 60dB volume they lasted about 4.5 hours without ACN on and 5 hours with it ACN turned off.

What functionalities does the Nothing ear(1) have?

Connecting the ear(1) earbuds is easy and similar to the AirPods Pro. With an Android device, you can use Google Fast Pair in combination with the ear(1) app. If you have an iOS device, you will have to put the earbuds in the connection mode and connect via Bluetooth. When taking them out of the case, the earbuds quickly connect to the last device we previously paired them with.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to connect to two devices at the same time; that is an option that, for example, the Jabra Elite 75T earplugs do offer. Occasionally, the right earbud of the ear(1) was unable to connect. To resolve this issue, we had to place them back in the case and take them out again. Taking one of the earbuds out of your ear will automatically pause your music, a function we regularly see with other models.

The operation of wireless earplugs may not always be as simple as it seems. While the majority offer control over volume, many models lack this feature and are less than ideal to use. Others require a tap on the outside of the bud in order for commands to register while others allow you to toggle noise cancellation but not adjust levels.

Nothing does things a little differently in this area too. With some other earbuds, you can initiate a phone call or pause the music with a single tap. With ear(1), this cannot be done, in order to avoid unintentional activation of these functions. That never actually happens to us, but apart from that, we don’t miss the functionality of tapping once.

The earplugs have both a tap and slide function, allowing users to play/pause with a single tap or skip songs by tapping the left cap three times. To go back a number of songs, you can set that so that for example getting back to track six would require three taps on the right cap. Tapping and holding toggles between three sound modes: noise-canceling, ambient sound amplification, and off. You can adjust the volume by swiping up or down on the outside of the stem.

Sliding on the stem works better than we are used to. It takes a bit of practice, but eventually, the swipe never fails and the volume goes up or down very quickly.

Person wearing the Nothing ear(1)
image credit to Nothing

Functionalites of the ear(1) app

The corresponding ear(1) app allows you to adjust the controls, but options are very limited. A triple tap will go to the next song and an option lets nothing happen when a user performs an action; there’s no way to summon your assistant.

The app that comes with these earplugs is limited. You can turn on the active noise canceling, turn on the ambient sound mode, or turn both off. On top of this, users can switch to a light or maximum noise-canceling mode. The equalizer is a bit disappointing. There are four options: balanced, more treble, more bass, and focused on voices.

The app also has a ‘dark mode’. While you can sign up, you don’t need to create an account, which is nice. There is a ‘lost mode,’ which allows you to make your earplugs emit a high-pitched noise if they are lost. This feature has been very helpful so far since the sound can be heard even if I’m upstairs in my house and it’s quiet outside, or similar scenarios.

The active noise cancellation of the ear(1) compared to its competitors.

It’s a nice fact that these Nothing ear(1) earplugs have active noise canceling. There are other earplugs available for around $100 with active noise cancelation, but thus far we have often been disappointed in their functioning, such as with the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live and to a lesser extent the Sony WF-SP800N. The noise-canceling of the Nothing ear(1) works reasonably well. Constant background noises, such as a robot vacuum cleaner or an active air freshener, are filtered quite well. The ANC doesn’t work as well when there is a lot of wind or miscellaneous background noise.

Don’t get us wrong, we don’t compare them to headphones. These earbuds are not one of the best noise-canceling products available, but they work adequately, given their price. We don’t see many $100 earbuds that have any significant ANC at all, so this is a plus from Nothing ear(1). That does not change the fact that ANC in the FreeBuds Pro and AirPods Pro works better.

The Ambient Sound Mode that amplifies ambient noise is quite nice. Whereas with some earplugs the highs are amplified way too much, with Nothing ear(1) it sounds quite natural, albeit a bit duller. You can understand people just fine without it sounding unnatural, and that’s the most important thing. We did encounter a bug. When walking outside with high winds, the Ambient Sound Mode sometimes turns off. You need to manually turn it on again. Hopefully, this will be resolved with an update.

Reviewing the sound quality during calls

The call quality of earbuds is often neglected in reviews. Nothing ear(1) has three microphones that work together to reduce background noise when calling. We’ve tested them in comparison with the Airpods Pro.

The difference in quality is really distinctive. The AirPods Pro sound a bit muffled and you still hear quite a lot of background noise. With the Nothing ear(1), the noise of traffic is less present, and the voice is easier to hear. I was happily surprised by the call quality.

What codecs does the Nothing ear(1) support?

The Nothing ear(1) earplugs do not support additional codecs than the bare minimum. That minimum support consists of AAC and SBC. All earplugs I’ve used in the past support that (and often more), although they were in the higher price ranges. Additional codecs are a nice addition if you listen to streaming services with higher bitrates than Spotify currently uses, and have invested in earplugs with great sound quality.

So, what is the sound quality of Nothing ear(1)?

The Nothing ear(1) has decent sound quality, but we found better quality of sound through other brands that are at a higher price point. This is especially true with hi-fi streaming services, such as with Tidal. When listening to this service on Sony WF-1000XM4 via the LDAC codec, we hear more detail and also greater dynamic range. We’ve noticed two clear differences between the Nothing ear(1) and the AirPods Pro.

The first major downside to the ear(1) is that the bass tones can sound less sharp and impactful. Another downside is that voices with a slightly higher frequency sound less good. An example of this would be Björk’s Hyper ballad. When listening with earbuds like the AirPods Pro and then with the Nothing ear(1), the voices sound a bit muffled.

Still, we wouldn’t have realized this if we hadn’t compared the earbuds to other sets. They sound balanced, probably thanks to Teenage Engineering’s tuning. Though we would not recommend these earplugs for the average listener, they will be an unsatisfactory purchase for those who are more stringent when it comes to sound quality. This might be a subjective opinion, and of course, everyone’s experience may differ greatly from my own.

Left earbud of the Nothing ear(1)
image credit to Nothing

The Nothing ear(1) is worth the purchase, if you want to compromise.

We like the first product from Nothing and Carl Pei! Don’t expect to get the best of the best for relatively little money or a set of high-end earplugs. ear(1) is not perfect and we can’t claim that they are the earbuds with the very best value for money. However, they are going in the right direction. There are earplugs with active noise canceling and an IPX4 rating at this price range. Additionally, there are also cheaper earphones that in our opinion sound better and have slightly longer battery life. However, the total package is worth it if we consider the price of $99.

You get a distinctive – partly transparent – design that fits comfortably in the ears with good sound quality. Audiophiles will have to look elsewhere, but we think most people are happy with the sound and design.

The active noise canceling is ok for its price range. It removes the sharp edge of mainly monotonous background noise and doesn’t come close to the AirPods Pro. But those are in different price classes altogether. It is quite bothersome that the Ambient Sound Mode does not always function properly and that one of the earbuds sometimes did not want to connect in the first place. Hopefully, these issues will be fixed soon with a software update. In the meantime, check out our other reviews!

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