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Nothing Ear 1 vs Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation)
The Nothing Ear 1 are the first product from London-based tech company Nothing. Its mission is to provide good active noise canceling (ANC) earbuds at a more affordable price than the most popular competition: the Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation). Nothing’s earbuds retail for less than half the price of Apple’s, but tight integration in the Apple ecosystem and unique features like Spatial Audio, make it hard to deny the appeal of the AirPods Pro (1st generation).
Can the Nothing Ear 1 make for better daily driver earbuds than the famed Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation)? We’re pitting both earbuds head-to-head to find out.
Editor’s note: this article was updated on August 11, 2023, to add the Beats Studio Buds Plus and Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro to Alternatives, and to update formatting.
Does the Nothing Ear 1 have a better design than the AirPods Pro (1st generation)?
Nothing appears to have taken some inspiration from the Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation) in the design department, with a very similar feel and shape. In your ears, it’s almost impossible to tell the headsets apart. At only 4.7g, each Nothing Ear 1 earbud is slightly lighter than the 5.4g AirPods Pro (1st generation) earbuds, though both are so comfortable you’ll probably forget you’re wearing any earbuds at all.
The Nothing Ear 1 is available in white or black, whereas the AirPods Pro (1st generation) is still only available in a white color option. While both sets of earbuds come with multiple different ear tip sizes, only the AirPods Pro (1st generation) features an ear tip fit test (iOS only).
While the shape of the earbuds is similar, Nothing implements a much more striking transparent design than the AirPods. The transparent earbud housing is IPX4 water-resistant rated, which exactly matches the water resistance of the AirPods Pro (1st generation). Between the lightweight design and water protection, either set of earbuds makes for a fine workout companion.
How do you control the Nothing Ear 1 and the AirPods Pro (1st generation)?
Both the Nothing Ear 1 and AirPods Pro (1st generation) feature onboard touch controls, but the execution varies. With the Nothing Ear 1, you can control playback via a sequence of taps or swipes on the earbud. Double or triple-tapping controls music playback and answering calls, while swiping up or down on the stem controls volume. You can adjust some of the onboard controls from within the companion app (iOS/Android), so you can trigger ANC or go back to the previous song directly from the earbuds if you so choose.
The AirPods Pro (1st generation) features pressure-sensitive stems for increased control over playback. The squeezing action limits the possibility of accidental taps, though unfortunately, there is no way to control playback volume from the earbuds (for that, you can talk to Siri or use your phone). You can also adjust some of the onboard controls from within the settings on your Apple device, such as the option to launch Siri or activate ANC with a triple-press.
You'll need an Apple device to get the most from the AirPods Pro (1st generation)
In-ear detection is available in both earbuds. If you so choose, music will pause when you remove an earbud from your ear, and resume when you place the earbud back.
Does the Nothing Ear 1 have more features than the AirPods Pro (1st generation)?
To get the most out of the Nothing Ear 1, you need to download the ear (1) companion app (iOS/Android). Through the app, you get access to features such as find my earbuds, firmware updates, and adjustments to the touch controls. You can also adjust the noise canceling and transparency modes, or adjust the sound of the earbuds using the in-app equalizer.
The AirPods Pro (1st generation) doesn’t come with a companion app, with all tweaking done through the Bluetooth settings on your Apple device. For this reason alone Android and Windows users should steer clear of the AirPods Pro (1st generation), as you’ll miss out on a lot of the features and functionality that these earbuds have to offer.
If you own an Apple device, you can tweak controls, optimize battery charging, take the earbud fit test, use the Find My network, and use spatial audio with head tracking. Technically, you can listen to spatial audio on the Nothing Ear 1, it just depends on the media itself, but there’s not head tracking on the Nothing Ear 1. With the AirPods Pro (1st generation), you can listen to content mixed for Dolby Atmos, but you can also convert any audio to spatial audio using Apple’s Spatialize Stereo feature within the control center on your device. Fixed Spatialize Stereo creates a simulated surround sound effect, while Head Tracked Spatialize Stereo keeps the sound source in one simulated location in front of you as you turn your head.
How do the Nothing Ear 1 and the AirPods Pro (1st generation) connect?
Bluetooth 5.2 with AAC and SBC codec support ensures the Nothing Ear 1 stays connected to pretty much any device. AAC is optimized for Apple devices, so you may enjoy a slightly steadier connection if you own an iPhone. If you experience connection issues, make sure to update to the latest firmware of the earbuds. Android phone owners can go a step further by forcing the SBC codec in their device’s developer options.
Unsurprisingly, the AirPods Pro (1st generation) also uses the AAC and SBC codecs. Combined with the power of the H1 chip, the AirPods Pro (1st generation) retains an extremely reliable connection to Apple devices.
Pairing the AirPods Pro (1st generation) is as simple as opening the charging case and waiting for the pop-up card to appear on your Apple device. Once connected to one of your Apple devices, it will automatically connect to every device that you’re signed in to with the same Apple ID. Even though there’s no Bluetooth multipoint, this still makes it really quick and easy to switch from listening on your iPhone to your MacBook. You can also use the AirPods Pro (1st generation) with a non-Apple device such as an Android phone by opening the charging case lid and pressing and holding the pairing button on the back of the case.
The Nothing Ear 1 supports Google Fast Pair, so you can open the charging case and wait for the pop-up card to appear on an Android phone. You can also use the ear (1) companion app (iOS/Android) to pair the earbuds, or pair the earbuds manually within the Bluetooth settings on your device. Simply place the earbuds inside their charging case, and press and hold the pairing button on the case for 2 seconds.
Do Nothing or Apple’s earbuds have better battery life?
In our testing of continuous music playback peaking at 75dB(SPL), the AirPods Pro (1st generation) lasted 5 hours, 6 minutes, and this betters the Nothing Ear 1, which lasted 4 hours, 28 minutes. Combined with the charging case, you can get up to 24 hours of total listening from the AirPods Pro (1st generation), and 34 hours of total listening from the Nothing Ear 1. The AirPods Pro (1st generation) charging case now supports MagSafe charging in addition to Qi wireless charging or wired Lightning charging. On the other hand, the Nothing Ear 1 case charges via USB-C or Qi wireless mat.
Fast charging the Nothing Ear 1 case provides 8 hours of listening time from only 10 minutes of charging, while the earbuds get 60 minutes of playback from 10 minutes of charging. Charging the AirPods Pro (1st generation) earbuds takes slightly less time, with 5 minutes of power providing 60 minutes of listening time.
Which has better noise canceling, the Nothing Ear 1 or the Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation)?
Noise canceling performance of the Nothing Ear 1 is about half as good as the Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation). The chart above shows gross attenuation from the combined effect of passive isolation from the ear tips, as well as ANC. As you can see, the AirPods Pro (1st generation) blocks more low and midrange noise from 20-1,800Hz. At the end of the day, the amount of noise blocked by either pair of earbuds significantly depends on the fit of the earbuds. Suppose you’re unable to achieve a good fit. In that case, you may not be able to experience any significant noise canceling or isolation, the latter of which normally affects frequencies higher than 1kHz.
Neither of these earbuds filter out noise as well as some of the best noise canceling earbuds. Still, you can expect most environmental noise to sound between half and a quarter as loud when you enable ANC.
Does the Nothing Ear 1 sound better than the AirPods Pro (1st generation)?
Most people will enjoy the sound of both the Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation) and Nothing Ear 1. These earbuds both offer a relatively consumer-friendly sound profile that doesn’t egregiously over-emphasize or under-emphasize any areas of the frequency spectrum by a significant amount when compared to our headphone preference curve.
The 20-700Hz range is one place where you’ll hear a bit of difference in how each headset reproduces music, because this is where the fundamental frequencies of most musical sounds live. Since the Nothing Ear 1 amplifies these notes by about 5-10dB more than the AirPods Pro (1st generation), you’ll notice bass guitar lines and some vocals standing out slightly more. Male vocals tend to sound slightly emphasized, such as those in Bad Habits by Ed Sheeran or STAY by The Kid LAROI and Justin Bieber.
Both sets of earbuds feature impressive sound quality
Additionally, Nothing Ear 1 emphasizes higher frequencies (3-6kHz) more than the AirPods Pro (1st generation). This is the most sensitive range of human hearing, so some folks might experience discomfort when listening to the Nothing Ear 1 at extremely loud volumes. However, many people prefer this treble emphasis, as it is often perceived as increased detail and clarity.
The Nothing Ear 1 companion app features a couple of EQ presets to choose from, including bass boost and treble boost. On the other hand, there’s no easy way to EQ the AirPods Pro (1st generation), as these earbuds utilize Apple’s Adaptive EQ to adjust the sound profile to the shape of your ears. Still, you can equalize your music in your streaming service of choice to attain your preferred sound.
Do the Nothing Ear 1 have a better microphone than the Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation)?
The advantage of the protruding stem design of the Nothing Ear 1 and AirPods Pro (1st generation) is that it places the microphones closer to your mouth. As a result, both earbuds provide good enough microphone quality for taking calls on the go. You can listen to the microphone demos below and let us know which you think is better, but to our ears, these headsets sound very comparable and will do just fine for casual work calls.
AirPods Pro (1st generation) microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Nothing Ear 1 microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
AirPods Pro (1st generation) microphone demo (Office conditions):
Nothing Ear 1 microphone demo (Office conditions):
Which microphone sounds better?
Should you buy the Nothing Ear 1 or the Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation)?
The noticeable differences between these headsets are the better ANC and extra features that the AirPods Pro (1st generation) provides to Apple users. If you own an iPhone and can stomach the cost, the AirPods Pro (1st generation) is a better option than the Nothing Ear 1. Everyone else will be completely fine saving the extra cash and just getting the Nothing Ear 1 instead.
For almost every aspect of these two sets of earbuds is extremely similar. Right down to the design and feel of the earbuds, it’s pretty hard to separate them. Nothing certainly deserves props for delivering a quality product for less than half the cost of the Apple offering.
As someone deeply entrenched in the Apple ecosystem, I’ll be sticking with the Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation) as my daily driver earbuds for the time being. However, with a similar design and feature set, the Nothing Ear 1 is certainly worthy of recommendation for anyone interested in affordable wireless earbuds.
Loud and clear microphone
What are some alternatives to the Nothing Ear 1 and the AirPods Pro (1st generation)?
If you want something a bit more workout oriented with better ANC and suited to work with Apple, check out the Beats Fit Pro ($159 at Amazon). The ear wings keep the buds in place during most exercises, and the IPX4 water resistance matches that of the Apple and Nothing earbuds we examined today. With an H1 chip, these buds integrate well with iPhones, but you can use the Beats app on Android too. For a more comfortable fit, the Beats Studio Buds Plus are a worthy alternative for $169 at Amazon.
Let’s say you want Apple-like optimization on your Samsung phone. In that case, go ahead and grab the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2, ($99 at Amazon) or the slightly more deluxe, Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro ($179 at Amazon) and great sound quality to boot. You get Wireless PowerShare on compatible Samsung devices and an ear tip fit test on Android. Google phone owners who want a similar experience, get the Google Pixel Buds Pro ($199 at Amazon).
On the other hand, if you’re looking to save money, there are lots of good true wireless earbuds available for under $100. The Sony WF-C500 is cheap ($98 at Amazon) and sounds great, though doesn’t have active noise canceling.
Of course, it should be noted that both the Nothing and Apple earbuds have been surpassed by the Nothing Ear 2 and Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation). These have improved almost every feature on the Ear 1 and AirPods Pro (1st generation), but cost more money.
Frequently asked questions about the Nothing Ear 1 and Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation)
The Nothing Ear Stick is more like the AirPods (3rd generation): it’s the cheaper alternative to the Nothing Ear 1 and has an unsealed earbud fit. The Ear Stick sacrifices active noise canceling for a smaller and lighter design. You also get larger drivers with the Ear Stick and Bass Lock technology that measures how much bass is lost due to the fit of the earbuds in your ear and adjusts the frequency response accordingly.
The AirPods Pro (1st generation) will automatically update when connected to your Apple device, as long as you stay up to date with the latest version of iOS.
To update the Nothing Ear 1, open the companion app and click “Device Details” and then “Firmware Update”. Keep the earbuds in the charging case with the lid open until the update finishes downloading.
You can listen to a single channel of audio from the AirPods Pro (1st generation) simply by leaving one of the buds in the charging case. If you want to listen in mono so you don’t miss anything, go to Settings on your device, select “General”, and then “Accessibility”. Then select “Hearing” and enable “Mono Audio”.
The Nothing Ear 1 also supports mono listening, simply by leaving one of the earbuds inside the charging case.
We have a full article breaking down the differences between the Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation) and Apple AirPods (3rd generation). To summarize, the AirPods Pro (1st generation) (3rd generation) doesn’t feature passive isolation or active noise canceling, and therefore is not very usable in noisy environments. Most people should stomach the cost and get the AirPods Pro (1st generation), or look to an alternative option from another brand.