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Nothing Ear (2)
Original: $149 USD
Case: 56 x 56 x 22 mm
Earbuds: 29 x 22 x 24 mm
4.5g (per bud)
Just like movie fans, when it comes to new technology, you can’t help but compare the sequel to the original. Looking quite a bit like its predecessor, the Nothing Ear (2) adds upgrades like a adaptive active noise canceling (ANC) and more personalization. Is it enough to justify replacing your old set? We spent five days testing the Nothing Ear (2) to see if the industry upstart has one-upped the Ear (1).
Editor’s note: this review was updated September, 13, 2023, to add a note about the Advanced Equalizer feature, the new colorway, and to add updated charts.
Nothing Phone (1) owners will benefit from the integrated functionality in their device with the Ear (2). Anyone looking for reasonably priced true wireless earbuds with ANC will like the value driven design that doesn’t look or feel cheap. People who like stemmed earbuds, but don’t want AirPods, can gain similar squeeze controls and compatibility whether you use iOS or Android.
What’s it like to use Nothing Ear (2)?
Appearing rather a lot like the rest of the Nothing true wireless collection, in clear at launch and (as of July 2023) in black colorways, the Nothing Ear (2) clearly builds upon the original Nothing Ear 1. The idea here is not to reinvent the wheel, but to refine it.
You get three sets of oblong shaped silicone ear tips with the Ear (2), but if you have larger ears, you might find that even the largest size is too small. The ear tips are easy to remove to try out different sizes. The smallest is about 12mm in diameter, 13mm for the medium, and the largest measures roughly 14mm in diameter across the longest end. My right ear wears the size large and my left ear wears the medium ear tip.
At 4.5g each, the Nothing Ear (2) feels light, and those accustomed to looser fitting earbuds will like this fit. There’s an ear tip fit test in the app too. While it doesn’t sit very deeply in my ear, the Nothing Ear (2) more or less stays put. For instance, during intense gusts of wind it does not budge, even if it doesn’t feel extra secure. If it weren’t for the ear fatiguing default tuning (more on that later), the buds would feel fine to stay in for a couple hours easily without discomfort.
The translucent case receives a similar aesthetic treatment as the buds, designed by innovative musical instrument company Teenage Engineering. The case fits relatively well in a jeans pocket, creating only a minor pocket bulge. With a pretty substantial magnetic lid and an indent for your thumb, it’s thoughtfully designed. Although there’s some slight lateral hinge play, it’s not too bad. Like most clear plastics, this one looks very susceptible to scratches.
How do you control Nothing Ear (2)?
Like the Nothing Ear (stick) before it, the Nothing Ear (2) uses pressure sensitive stems to trigger commands. This works with variable accuracy. Sometimes playback will pause when you try to switch listening modes, for example. Because the stems are pretty short, ear lobes can also sort of get in the way of the back of the stem. I often find myself guessing where the pressure sensitive panel is, and wishing it was closer to the bottom.
You can customize some of the controls in the Nothing X app, but out of the box the controls are as follows:
|ACTION||Left earbud||Right earbud|
Play / pause
Answer phone call / end call
Play / pause
Answer phone call / end call
Decline incoming call
Decline incoming call
Skip to previous track
Skip to previous track
One pinch and hold
ANC on / transparency mode
ANC on / transparency mode
Two pinches and hold
By default, to cycle ANC or transparency mode you squeeze and hold the stem for about two seconds, which feels too long. Rather than announce the mode, you get a (pretty hilarious) woman sighing to signal transparency mode, and a blippy sound to indicate ANC is on. You can assign some of the controls like volume, a voice assistant, and add no ANC or transparency mode if you wish in the app. You can also make one earbud’s commands different from the other in the app.
Should you use the Nothing X app for the Nothing Ear (2)?
The Nothing X app is laid out well. It performs updates to the Nothing Ear (2) pretty quickly, in roughly five minutes. You’ll find controls customization, and the only fixed control is a single pinch will always be pause/play or answer/end call. Everything else is changeable.
You can adjust the intensity of ANC, as well use personalized ANC. The personalized ANC doesn’t seem perceivably different. Nothing X also has a personalized sound profile feature that uses your date of birth in combination with how well you can hear beeps at different volumes buried in a mix with noise. Based on how well you hear the beeps, it raises or lowers the frequencies in the personalized EQ. It works okay, and you can pick modified versions labeled “softer,” “recommended,” and “richer.” Much is represented in graphics or abstract language, rather than anything technically informative, leaving you guessing.
You also get access to a three band equalizer. The labels for the equalizer read as “bass,” “mid,” and “treble,” which is not terribly informative, considering some of the treble frequencies are fine and some are too loud by default on the Ear (2). As of a July 2023 update, users can now access the Advanced Equalizer, which allows you to hone in on your desired tuning by offering a Q factor. So instead of the usual discrete EQ sliders, the Q factor controls how narrow or wide your adjustments apply to frequencies in the proximity of the one you’re altering. This is a highly unusual feature for a set of earbuds. You can also save your profiles and send them via QR codes to friends with the same model earbuds — pretty neat.
However, the many options are useful for different kinds of users. As is the low lag option for gaming. As apps go, Nothing X is pretty comprehensive. Visually, the things worth changing from an accessibility perspective are text size in menus, and using greater color contrast for toggles, because “on” looks a lot like “off” in dark mode.
How does the Nothing Ear (2) connect?
Where applicable the Nothing Ear (2) uses the LHDC 5.0 codec (not to be confused with LDAC) to transmit up to 24 bit/192KHz audio. It’s not a commonly utilized Bluetooth codec, but Android 10 and above can potentially support it. The Ear (2) additionally uses SBC and AAC codecs for iPhones, with a low lag mode for gaming in the app. In the Nothing X app you can toggle on the ability to connect to two devices, for example redirecting from a laptop to a phone if you get a call.
For Android users the Nothing Ear (2) has Google Fast Pair. You can open the case with the buds inside and hold it near your Android device to prompt pairing. There’s also Microsoft Swift Pair where applicable too.
If you have another device, like an iPhone, here’s how to pair the Nothing Ear (2). You can also try pairing using the Nothing X app, but this works whether you have the app or not.
- Turn on Bluetooth.
- Open the Nothing Ear (2) case with the buds inside.
- Hold down the button on the Nothing Ear (2) case until the indicator light pulses white.
- Select the Nothing Ear (2) in your Bluetooth settings.
How long does the Nothing Ear (2) battery last?
The Nothing Ear (2) battery lasts 6 hours and 7 minutes with ANC on. We test all batteries the same way with output set to 75dB(SPL) of continuous playback until the battery drains. This result is slightly above average, and considering that ANC is a real battery hog, it’s good for the price. In addition, the case has an impressive four or five extra charges on tap, depending on how much ANC you use.
You can see the battery power level by looking at the indicator light on the case. When the buds are in the case the light indicates the battery level of the buds, and when removed it indicates the case’s battery status. A white light means above 30% charged, and a red light means below a 30% charge left.
The Nothing Ear (2) fast charges with 10 minutes yielding up to 8 hours of battery life to the case.
Yes, you can charge the Nothing Ear (2) on a wireless Qi pad. It also comes with a standard USB-C to USB-C charging cable.
How well does the Nothing Ear (2) cancel noise?
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The Nothing Ear (2) on paper does a solid job of attenuating low-pitched noises with its ANC, when considering the lackluster Ear 1’s ANC. Due to its inherently looser fit, it does not isolate as well as you might expect, although it’s okay. The weak spot is where you’d typically hear traffic (see 400Hz to 1000Hz), and this is evident when walking along a very busy street. When it’s windy the ANC struggles, and you can hear it briefly amplify the wind until the ANC system adjusts.
Somewhat disappointing is that nowhere does the Nothing Ear (2) reach the 40dB of noise canceling advertised; it gets close to 40dB of noise canceling at the very edge of human hearing, but you probably can’t hear much noise there anyhow. Nevertheless, the Ear (2) does a decent job with dampening the environment, but it’s not the best.
Folks who are sensitive — and those who ordinarily aren’t — to the in-ear pressure caused by ANC might experience unpleasant in-ear sensations with the Nothing Ear (2). Certainly my left ear can feel some of that in-ear pressure that leads to vertigo and motion sickness with ANC on in some people.
How does the Nothing Ear (2) sound?
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The Nothing Ear (2) is tuned in a relatively consumer friendly fashion. However, you’ll likely notice that some higher mid frequencies seem disproportionately loud. Particularly around 5kHz the frequency response of the Ear (2) is 10dB louder than our headphone preference curve, which makes it fatiguing to listen on.
Between 400Hz and 1kHz the sound is scooped, cutting out some of the fundamentals. In combination with the exaggerated treble and mildly exaggerated bass and sub bass, your audio will sound somewhat one dimensional until you utilize the in-app equalizer.
Lows, mids, highs
Listening to Human Nature by Barrie with the default frequency response of the Nothing Ear (2) demonstrates the louder treble shown in the chart above. On the whole it sounds reasonably okay, however hi-hats and other cymbals play loudly. These compete with lower frequency parts, like Barrie’s vocals. You can still hear everything, but some of the more textural pads and mid range keys play quietly. Meanwhile, low end parts like bass lines and kick drum output at a good volume.
This is a really hyped consumer frequency response by default, so with tracks that don’t have a lot of super trebly instrumentation (like the song above), it’s okay, but a track with a lot of fast transients and high pitched parts will sound kind of bad. For instance, Make Believe by Tanukichan has an intro with a lot of cymbal hits, and in combination with the soprano vocals, it’s almost insufferably trebly on the Ear (2).
After giving the personalized sound profile a go through the Nothing X app, the same Tanukichan track sounds worse in the high mids and highs than before with most of the cymbal’s frequencies sounding too quiet in relation to other upper frequencies. Except for select frequencies that still come through comparatively loud, this uneven volume results in the open hi-hat cymbals sounding more like thin splash cymbals.
Although, treble fatigued ears welcome the slight decrease in treble volume, however imperfect, the personalized sound profile still retains some of that overly loud upper frequency area that ends up exaggerating vocal sibilance, which can exhaust ears. On the other hand, the vocals sound a little less congested with the personalized sound profile than the default tuning. It’s honestly a mixed bag, and most will notice a true improvement with traditional equalizing, as opposed to the personalized sound profiles, because the Ear (2) still favors very trebly tuning.
Can you use the Nothing Ear (2) for phone calls?
Under perfect conditions the Nothing Ear (2) mic does not sound the very best, however, it fares decently when confronted with various noisy environments. In offices, you’ll still hear clatter and keystrokes, however, the Ear (2) competently captures your voice more loudly than the competing noise. On the street, it’s able to convey most of your voice, and the Ear (2) attenuates the street sounds better than office sounds, although your voice will become quieter. Lastly, when it’s windy Nothing Ear (2) can struggle with filtering noise and not your voice.
Take a listen and let us know what you think.
Nothing Ear (2) microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Nothing Ear (2) microphone demo (Office conditions):
Nothing Ear (2) microphone demo (Street conditions):
Nothing Ear (2) microphone demo (Windy conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
Should you buy the Nothing Ear (2)?
For the price the Nothing Ear (2) is pretty good. It fits well, and the IP54 rating (and IP55 with case) is durable enough for daily life. Most of its unique features are found in the Nothing X app, such as personalized frequency responses, and personalized, adjustable ANC. Some of the terminology in the app seems unnecessarily obtuse (like “softer” and “richer” to describe audio) which can bother tinkerers.
The pressure sensitive pads for squeeze controls are not the most reliable, and sometimes not sensitive enough to register the intended command. Also, the controls occur with noticeable delays between commands and execution. Alongside the in-ear pressure the ANC mode can cause, these are probably the weakest points of the Nothing Ear (2).
Nothing lets you be as non-committal to any one operating system as you want.
On the other hand, the LHDC Bluetooth codec is a boon for Android users, and iPhones get the reliable AAC codec. While the default frequency response sounds too trebly, the app gives you a few options to adjust it. If you don’t experience the in-ear pressure caused by the ANC setting, the Ear (2) successfully attenuates a good amount of low pitched noises.
Additionally, the Nothing Ear (2) is quite portable and lightweight, and you get some niceties like in-ear detection, wireless charging compatibility, and dual device connectivity. Its price undercuts some tough competitors, and if you can hang with the Nothing quirks like the pinch commands, the robust app and Ear (2) build quality ought to keep you mostly satisfied.
How does Nothing Ear (2) compare to Nothing Ear 1?
The original Nothing Ear 1 garnered much attention at its launch with a highly competitive price tag, later increasing to its current price ($99 at Amazon). Both the Ear 1 and Ear (2) look remarkably alike, with the Nothing Ear (2) case seeing some millimeters shaved off the case size, and 0.2g off each bud.
Sound quality here is a rare example of new not always meaning improved. Nothing made the frequency response of the Ear (2) a bit worse than the Nothing Ear 1. The Ear (2) is just too trebly and too bassy without EQ. Sure, the Ear 1 does not sound perfect, but it gets closer to the ideal tuning in its default state.
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Most likely the main upgrade worth noting on the Nothing Ear (2) over its predecessor is the much improved noise canceling. While the overall isolation of the Nothing Ear (2) remains comparable to the original Nothing Ear 1, the ANC of the Nothing Ear (2) filters far more low pitched noises. For instance, the Ear (2) attenuates 20dB of noise at 100Hz, while the Ear 1 only attenuates 5dB.
Nothing uses the same app for all of their earbuds, which has a pleasant and intuitive user interface. In fact, the Nothing experience is basically easy from the start. If you like the Nothing Ear 1 and don’t mind fiddling with the app’s EQ, the Nothing Ear (2) is a worthwhile upgrade for the ANC. Conversely, if you don’t find yourself wanting better noise canceling, the Nothing Ear 1 sounds better than the Ear (2). The Ear 1 lacks the LHDC codec on the Ear (2) so if Hi-Res is high on your list, that’s something to consider too.
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The original Nothing Ear 1 has a better frequency response straight from the box. In terms of sound quality, the Nothing Ear 1 frequency response gets closer to our target curve than the Nothing Ear (2). While the Ear 1 boosts too much between 100Hz and 700Hz compared to our curve, it’s more consistent than the Ear (2) which scoops the volume unevenly in the same frequencies. The Ear (2) also exaggerates treble more than the Ear 1 by nearly 10dB at 6kHz. Both have healthy bass responses, and the Ear (2) has a little more bass on tap.
What should you get instead of the Nothing Ear (2)?
Android owners can’t be blamed for considering the natural companion, Google Pixel Buds Pro. Stuffed with interesting features like voice translation, effective ANC, and spatial audio with head tracking (with the right phone), it’s more productivity oriented than the Nothing Ear (2). The Pixel Buds Pro ($199 at Amazon) surprisingly only uses AAC or SBC codecs, unlike the LHDC codec available on the Ear (2). On the other hand, the ANC works better on the Pixel Buds Pro and the touch controls are more reliable than the Ear (2)’s squeeze commands.
Samsung owners can get some of the best ANC with the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro ($179 at Amazon). It also sports a better IP rating than the Ear (2). If you have a Samsung phone, the Samsung Seamless Codec is the proprietary alternative to the LHDC codec on the Nothing Ear (2). Unlike Samsung, Nothing appears to operate in a more open tech eco system, which is laudable.
Speaking of companies with closed eco systems, if you have an Apple iPhone the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) ($199 at Amazon) is perhaps not the most unique alternative, but it’s an obvious one for a reason. It works well with iOS, offers device switching between Apple products, even better noise cancellation, and spatial audio. If you can’t stomach spending that much, the AirPods Pro (1st generation) still competes (on the product’s website), despite its less effective noise canceling.
For folks avoiding committing to a specific operating system — a positive facet of the Nothing Ear (2) — there’s the Sennheiser CX Plus True Wireless. It doesn’t have the best noise canceling, though it is good. While the CX Plus True Wireless doesn’t use LHDC, it does use aptX (and AAC, SBC codecs) which ensures low latency and solid performance with Android and Apple. Lastly, it simply sounds good from the box, with an app focused more on sound than productivity. The price of $89 at Amazon isn’t painful either.
While each of the Nothing Ear (2) buds weighs a slight 4.5g, the 1More Comfobuds Mini buds weigh only 3.7g each. It’s one of the cheaper options (for $99 at Amazon) with decent ANC, although, like the Ear (2) it does not isolate amazingly, owing to its pint size. If value, small size, and noise cancellation are priorities, it’s a reasonable option.
Want another opinion? See the Nothing Ear 2 review at Android Authority.
Frequently asked questions
Sustainability and earbuds is rightfully a concern for many. Nothing has made some strides such as making the Ear (2) from completely recycled circuit boards, and manufacturing that uses renewable energy. The Nothing Ear (2) lifecycle is rated to produce 3.1kg CO2e.