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Nothing Ear 1 vs Apple AirPods Pro
The Nothing Ear 1 is the first product from London-based tech company Nothing, and its mission is to provide good active noise cancelling (ANC) earbuds at a more affordable price than the most popular competition: the Apple AirPods Pro. 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.
Can the Nothing Ear 1 make for better daily driver earbuds than the famed Apple AirPods Pro? We’re pitting both earbuds head-to-head to find out.
Does the Nothing Ear 1 have a better design than the AirPods Pro?
Nothing appears to have taken some inspiration from the Apple AirPods Pro 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 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 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 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. 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?
Both the Nothing Ear 1 and AirPods Pro 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 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
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?
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 cancelling and transparency modes, or adjust the sound of the earbuds using the in-app equalizer.
The AirPods Pro 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, 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. Spatial Audio is Apple’s version of surround sound that utilizes software algorithms as well as accelerometers inside the earbuds. Not only can you 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.
What Bluetooth codecs do the Nothing Ear 1 and the AirPods Pro support?
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 also uses the AAC and SBC codecs. Combined with the power of the H1 chip, the AirPods Pro retains an extremely reliable connection to Apple devices.
Pairing the AirPods Pro 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 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 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, and 34 hours of total listening from the Nothing Ear 1. The AirPods Pro 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 earbuds takes slightly less time, with 5 minutes of power providing 60 minutes of listening time.
Which has better noise cancelling, the Nothing Ear 1 or the Apple AirPods Pro?
Noise cancelling performance of the Nothing Ear 1 is similar to the Apple AirPods Pro. 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 blocks slightly more mid-range noise from 200-1000Hz. At the end of the day, the amount of noise blocked by either pair of earbuds significantly depends on the fit of the earbuds. If you’re unable to achieve a good fit, then you may not be able to experience any significant noise cancelling or isolation, the latter of which normally affects frequencies higher than 1kHz.
Neither of these headsets blocks noise as well as some of the best noise cancelling 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?
Most people will enjoy the sound of both the Apple AirPods Pro 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 target curve.
The 100-500Hz 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 5dB more than the AirPods Pro, 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 high frequencies (1-6kHz) more than the AirPods Pro. 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, 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.
Which headset has a better microphone?
The advantage of the protruding stem design of the Nothing Ear 1 and AirPods Pro 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 microphone demo (Ideal):
Nothing Ear 1 microphone demo (Ideal):
AirPods Pro microphone demo (Office):
Nothing Ear 1 microphone demo (Office):
Which microphone sounds better?
Should you buy the Nothing Ear 1 or the Apple AirPods Pro?
The only noticeable difference between these headsets is the extra features that the AirPods Pro provides to Apple users. If you own an iPhone and can stomach the cost, the AirPods Pro 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.
From sound quality to noise cancelling, 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 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 a recommendation for anyone interested in affordable wireless earbuds. Considering this is just a first attempt from Nothing, we can’t wait to see what the future holds in the competitive true wireless earbud space.
What are some alternatives to the Nothing Ear 1 and the AirPods Pro?
The Beats Studio Buds falls somewhere in between the AirPods Pro and Nothing Ear 1. Not only is the price right in between the two, but it also works equally well on Android as on iOS. However, aside from the design, there aren’t many standout features on the Beats Studio Buds.
If you want the best of the best when it comes to ANC wireless earbuds, check out the Sony WF-1000XM4. These buds are packed to the brim with features, including some of the best isolation and noise cancelling you’ll find in any earbuds, with the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds giving it the closest run for its money.
Let’s say you want Apple-like optimization on your Samsung phone. In that case, go ahead and grab the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 which has better ANC than the Galaxy Buds Pro 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 A-Series.
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 and sounds great, though doesn’t have active noise cancelling.
Frequently asked questions about the Nothing Ear 1 and Apple AirPods Pro
The AirPods Pro 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 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 and Apple AirPods (3rd generation). To summarize, the AirPods Pro (3rd generation) doesn’t feature passive isolation or active noise cancelling, and therefore is not very usable in noisy environments. Most people should stomach the cost and get the AirPods Pro, or look to an alternative option from another brand.