True wireless earbuds are getting really good. With new competitors entering the market every year, not only is earbud technology improving, but most importantly, it’s becoming more affordable. Nothing is the newest company to enter the affordable true wireless market, with its inaugural product, the Ear 1 earbuds.
Started by OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei, and backed by Google Ventures as well as big names including Casey Neistat, Tony Fadell, and Kevin Lin, Nothing has drummed up a lot of attention around its first product launch. We put the Nothing Ear 1 through the wringer to see whether or not these earbuds live up to the fanfare.
See also: The best true wireless earbuds
Who should buy the Nothing Ear 1?
- iPhone users who don’t need all of the bells and whistles of the AirPods Pro should get the Nothing Ear 1 instead. Nothing’s earbuds cost less than half as much as Apple’s flagship buds, but still include active noise cancellation (ANC) and AAC for consistently high-quality audio to any Apple device.
- Minimalists looking for earbuds that just work. The Nothing Ear 1 isn’t on the bleeding edge of tech, but these are lightweight and comfortable earbuds that will satisfy most entry-level consumers.
- Workout enthusiasts will enjoy the lightweight and unobtrusive design, as well as the IPX4 rating for water resistance.
What is it like to use the Nothing Ear 1?
The first thing you’ll notice with the Nothing Ear 1 is that striking transparent design. Transparent plastic encompasses both the earbuds and the charging case; though despite Nothing’s claims to “reveal the raw beauty of technology,” most of the internals are still hidden. Magnets and a small divot in the case hold the earbuds in place, with white and red dots to identify the left and right earbuds respectively.
Learn more: What makes a good set of in-ears?
The shape and design of the Ear 1 earbuds is very similar to the Apple AirPods Pro, with a short, flat stem that protrudes from the driver housing. Nothing includes three different sizes of oblong silicone ear tips, so you should be able to find a good fit with a tight seal (sorry, folks, no memory foam ear tips here). At only 4.7g each, the earbuds are light enough to forget you’re wearing them. The earbuds also have an IPX4 rating that makes them a fine workout companion.
Pairing to an Android phone is as simple as opening the case near your device and clicking pair. iPhone users, on the other hand, have to hold the pairing button for a couple of seconds and then select the Nothing Ear 1 from within their Bluetooth settings.
Onboard touch controls are used to play/pause, skip to the next song, control volume, and enable active noise cancellation or transparency modes. The earbuds also feature in-ear detection that automatically plays audio when earbuds are in and pauses when removed. You can adjust or toggle these features in the mobile app.
Should you download the Nothing Ear 1 app?
Nothing focused on simplicity with the Ear 1 earbuds, so the mobile app (iOS and Android) doesn’t provide quite as much customization as other headset companion apps. There’s no custom EQ module; users can only select from four EQ presets (balanced, more treble, more bass, and voice). Likewise, there are just two noise cancelling intensity levels (light or maximum), though you can also completely disable ANC or toggle on transparency mode from the app.
You can customize some, but not all, of the onboard gesture controls with the Ear 1 app. A triple-tap can be used to control the next song or previous song on either earbud, while a tap-and-hold of either touch panel can either trigger active noise cancellation or have no action. The other touch controls (play/pause, volume) are unmutable.
Nothing focused on simplicity with the Ear 1 earbuds.
Additional app controls include enabling or disabling in-ear detection, and a find my earbud feature that will play a loud tone to help you locate your lost earbuds. You can also download and install firmware updates to the earbuds from within the app, which is necessary in order to stay up to date on the latest features and bug patches. The app is GDPR compliant.
We tested a pre-release version of the Nothing Ear 1 app, and will update this section of the review as Nothing releases software and firmware updates.
How well does the Nothing Ear 1 cancel noise?
Active noise cancellation performance on the Nothing Ear 1 is in line with other sub-$100 true wireless earbuds. The technology doesn’t cancel out the world around you as well as premium headsets like the Sony WF-1000XM4, but there is still noticeable attenuation to background sounds.
Isolation is highly dependent on your ability to get a good fit and tight seal, so you’ll want to make sure you’re using the right size ear tips. Isolation is key to blocking out high frequencies and incidental noise, while active noise cancellation more aggressively targets low-frequency sounds such as an airplane engine or AC unit.
The three hybrid mics on the Nothing Ear 1 measure sound between the earbuds and your ear canals, as well as surrounding noise beyond your ears. Most ambient sounds fall between 100-1000Hz, and the Nothing Ear 1 attenuates these frequencies by 25-50% with ANC set to maximum. Unless you’re frequently in extremely noisy environments, this attenuation will prevent you from turning up the volume on your earbuds to the point of damaging your ears.
What is transparency mode?
Transparency mode uses microphones to amplify sounds around you and transmit them through the earbuds while you listen to music. This mode works well whenever you need to be aware of your surroundings, say you often walk across busy streets or have to answer a train ticketer momentarily.
What Bluetooth codecs does the Nothing Ear 1 support?
Nothing Ear 1 features Bluetooth 5.2 with support for AAC and SBC codecs. AAC provides stable, high-quality playback on Apple devices, though performance on Android is unreliable depending on the handset. The lack of other high-quality Bluetooth codecs such as aptX and LDAC means that some Android users may prefer to force SBC streaming for more consistent audio quality.
Read more: The ultimate guide to Bluetooth headphones
How does the Nothing Ear 1 sound?
Most listeners will enjoy the sound of the Nothing Ear 1. Unlike other affordable earbuds, the Nothing Ear 1 isn’t super bass-heavy, opting instead for a more accurate low and midrange frequency response.
Lows, mids, and highs
Bass notes are present on the Nothing Ear 1, but aren’t overpowering to the point of masking other sounds. At 0:57 of Bad Habits by Ed Sheeran, the vocal and guitar are both come through loud and clear even as the kick drum and bassline play concurrently.
Mid frequencies from 200-600Hz are amplified by a couple of decibels relative to our house curve. This midrange amplification minimizes the loudness differential between bass and midrange notes, making it easier to hear vocal fundamental frequencies. In the song STAY by The Kid LAROI and Justin Bieber, both the voices are heard clearly above the instrumental din throughout the whole track. This boost also brings out details in the instrumental, as the reverb and delay on the synth are still heard even as the beat comes in at 0:22.
The emphasized high frequencies (4-5kHz) make it easier to hear cymbals and hi-hats on the verse of Beggin’ by Maneskin. Our brains tend to enjoy this kind of treble emphasis and actually perceive it as increased detail, or clarity.
If you are craving some extra oomph from your earbuds, the bass boost EQ setting adds a noticeable amount of volume to low-end frequencies below 200Hz. On the other hand, the increased treble EQ setting will make it easier to hear high-pitched sounds like cymbal and triangle hits. The voice setting under-emphasizes high and low frequencies; this makes it easier to hear mid-range frequencies where vocals live.
How long does the battery last?
Nothing claims the earbuds last 4 hours, 30 minutes with ANC turned on, and 6 hours with ANC off. That was pretty spot-on in our testing, as the earbuds lasted 4 hours, 28 minutes with constant playback at 75dB(SPL) and ANC set to maximum.
Related: How long do AirPods last?
With the charging case, you can get up to 34 hours of total playback. The case and earbuds both support fast charging: 10 minutes of earbud charging nets 60 minutes of playback, while 10 minutes of case charging provides up to 8 hours of listening time. The included USB-C cable charges up the case, and you can plop it onto a Qi charging mat too.
How good is the microphone on the Nothing Ear 1?
Three high-definition microphones in the Nothing Ear 1 aim to provide loud and clear vocal clarity. One of the perks of the elongated stem design is that Nothing was able to place a microphone in the bottom of the stem, closer in proximity to your mouth. The Nothing Ear 1 is more than capable of taking calls on the go. Listen for yourself.
Nothing Ear 1 microphone demo:
Should you buy the Nothing Ear 1?
The Nothing Ear 1 is worthy of consideration for anyone seeking out affordable true wireless earbuds. In its first attempt, Nothing manages to deliver a more complete true wireless earbud under $100 than nearly any other manufacturer.
Nothing nails all the essentials for a true wireless earbud: good sound, active noise cancellation, and a comfortable fit. Extras like IPX4 waterproofing, auto play/pause, and wireless charging has the Nothing Ear 1 standing above the crowded market of budget earbuds.
The Nothing Ear 1 is worthy of consideration for anyone seeking out affordable true wireless earbuds.
Some high-end features like Bluetooth multipoint, aptX support, and EQ customization are missing here. However, most people won’t notice or care about these absences, especially at this price.
These aren’t the best true wireless earbuds in the world, but for people on a budget, the Nothing Ear 1 makes for a great option.
What are some alternatives to the Nothing Ear 1?
At the same price point, the 1MORE Comfobuds Pro can match nearly everything that the Nothing Ear 1 offers. The Comfobuds Pro has very little customization and doesn’t offer wireless charging, but if you can find these earbuds on sale, you’ll get a very similar experience to the Nothing Ear 1.
On the other hand, if you want the most customization, the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro might be for you. The companion Soundcore app features tons of EQ and ANC customization options, and Anker provides nine different ear tip sizes. You can even take an ear tip fit test in the mobile app to ensure a good fit.
If you’re in the Samsung Galaxy ecosystem of devices, you should definitely check out the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus. The Scalable Samsung codec, reverse wireless charging, and Spotify integration offers a great experience for Galaxy phone owners.
See more: The best true wireless earbuds