Nothing ear (1) Review Rating
The Nothing Ear (1) certainly don't justify all the hype, but they are good earbuds and a lot of the issues they do have could be attributed to this being the first product launched by Nothing. Things like the EQ settings can probably be fixed via an app/firmware update.
The sound quality wasn't for me, personally, but I appreciate peoples preferences vary significantly and they were certainly good compared to many affordable earbuds.
Overall - 78%
- Crammed full of features for the price (for better or worse)
- A more neutral sound profile than many affordable TWS earbuds
- ANC is better than other affordable earbuds
- App offers firmware updates and basic EQ
- Excellent comfort and fit
- Can sound quite harsh in the higher frequencies
- No aptX/LDAC
- Poor EQ settings
The Nothing ear (1) earbuds have probably been the most marketed and hyped earbuds in existence. As much as I like Carl Pei and what he did with OnePlus I have found the whole Nothing campaign cringeworthy and annoying. Weekly press releases for minor details quickly became tiring. It wouldn’t have been bad if it was a new and innovative product, but it feels like every company that exists has its own set of TWS earbuds.
If it is not clear, I approached this review with some negative bias, I wanted to hate the Nothing ear (1) or at least be proved wrong and be completely blown away by them.
The final outcome is a little more mundane. These end up being good, for the price, earbuds but nothing ground-breaking like the marketing team would have you believe.
- Powerful 11.6mm speaker driver
- Active noise cancellation
- 3x high definition microphones
- IPX4 splashproof
- A unique transparent charging case
- The earbud stem and housing is also transparent, showing off core components
- Larg 11.6mm dynamic graphene driver
- Bluetooth 5.1
- AAC and SBC codecs
- 3 High Definition Microphones (used for both voice and ANC)
- Active Noise Cancellation with Light mode for moderate noise cancellation and Maximum mode for noisier environments
- The case provides up to 34 hrs in the case (ANC Off); 24 hrs (ANC On)
- Up to 5.7 hours of listening time
- IPX4 Splash Proof
- In-ear detection
- Fast pairing
- ear (1) App which has things like EQ
Design / Fit / Running
Nothing has gone all-in on design and marketing. Even the packaging was well thought out.
The case and earbuds have generated a lot of attention by using a clear plastic to show off both the earbuds in the case but also the electronics within the earbud.
If it wasn't for the transparent design, I am sure a lot of people would call these AirPod Pro clones.
I can’t say I have ever considered how my earbuds look, if anything, I want them to be as discrete as possible. Nor do I care about how my case looks, but I guess all this looks good on social media. They do look good, though, and if you care about these things, then it is worth considering.
There has been a lot of reports of the case getting easily scratched, which seems inevitable considering the clear plastic design. I rarely take my case out with me, so it hasn’t been a problem for me, but you may need a case for your case.
Moving on to what I think is the important bit, the fit is actually very good for me. The earbuds fit well in my ears with both the medium and large tips, and there is little to no movement with a good head wobble.
You only get 3 sets of ear tips, this may be standard, but the size options you have, the better the fit will be.
Using these for exercise works well, on an 8-mile run, I encountered no issues with these slipping out. The IPX4 rating isn’t amazing, but it is better than nothing.
These are limited to the SBC/AAC codecs, whereas many earbuds at this price now feature one of the various aptX codecs or the Sony LDAC. I struggle to notice a significant difference in the higher resolution codecs, but it can help.
The mobile app allows you to modify the sound profile, but this is limited to four presets, I am not sure why they don’t allow manual adjustments. The presets don’t offer a huge adjustment either. However, it is still more than many other earbuds at this price point offer.
These offer a relatively neutral sound in the default balanced profile. Maybe because I am so used to listening to bass-forward earbuds, but I found these a little grating to listen to when listening to Frank Carter & The Rattlesnake album Blossom. The combination of guitar, cymbals and rough vocals became quickly fatiguing. I didn’t find that the EQ presets helped with this, making it frustrating that manual adjustments were not available.
Listening to Run the Jewels was a much more pleasant experience, bass wasn’t overwhelming, and vocals came through clearly with an overall smooth listening experience.
I would say the lows and mids of these sound good but it is the highs that suffer from quite a bit of harshness. I am quite sensitive to higher frequencies, and everyone hears things differently, so it is something worth considering.
I have also noticed that these earbuds seem to be getting wildly different reviews on the overall sound quality. Everyones perceived sound quality is very subjective, but these earbuds certainly seem to have a wider spectrum of opinions than standard.
Active Noise Cancelling
One thing I found immediately annoying about the ANC is that there is no vocal prompt when it is on/off; you just get some notification noise. While it should be obvious when ANC goes on or off, I much prefer some sort of vocal prompt. This especially helps during exercise when I inevitably try and adjust the earbuds and change modes, I am a little too busy on my run to pay much attention to the beep sound.
With that minor gripe out of the way, the active noise cancelling performance is good and better than the majority of sub-£100 earbuds. Using my standard airplane cabin noise test, the earbuds reduce the low-end hum considerably.
They won’t compete with the likes of the Sony WF-1000XM4, but it should make travelling and commuting a little less miserable.
Having an app for a £100 pair of earbuds is quite rare, so Nothing deserves some praise here. I noticed some early reviews criticising the app, but I experienced no issues with it.
Upgrading the firmware of the earbuds went through flawlessly.
You can then program the touch-sensitive buttons and also control the ANC and EQ. As mentioned, I would prefer better EQ control, but having this feature in the first place is quite rare at this price.
Calls / Microphone
The Ear 1 has three high-definition microphones with one of these placed at the bottom of the stem. Call quality is generally good and more than adequate at taking calls even with a moderate amount of environmental noise.
These are rated for 5.7 hours with ANC on and 8 with it off. Then up to 34 hrs in the case (ANC Off); 24 hrs (ANC On).
I have found that these underperform a bit with closer to 4 hours with the ANC on, but volume levels will affect this. So, you can probably get a bit longer at lower levels. This is not the best, but 4 to 5 hours with ANC is or was quite common, however, things have been trending upwards in recent years.
Price and Alternative Options
The Nothing ear (1) are priced at £99.99. They are currently out of stock with Amazon.co.uk, and I suspect part of the marketing campaign has been artificially limiting supply (the PR team sends me restock press releases).
The Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus cost the same, sound better and have aptX, have superior battery life and a better IPX5 rating. They lack ANC, wireless charging, and I prefer the fit of the Nothing.
Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro – These caught my eyes because the earbuds themselves look a lot like the Nothing, just in all white rather than clear plastic. They are priced at £109.99 but with a £30 off voucher available.
I was a big fan of the Huawei Freebuds Pro, while they currently cost £124, you can often get them for around £90. I prefer the sound quality of these, but they lack an IP rating.
Overall – Are Nothing earbuds good?
As much as I wanted to hate them, the Nothing ear (1) earbuds are good, though not as special as Nothing hyped them up to be.
Specifically, the Nothing ear (1) has a significant number of premium features while keeping the cost below £100, and it does everything quite well. In most of my reviews, sub-£100 earbuds lack an app, and the ones that have ANC often have quite poor ANC. So, the Nothing ear (1) compares favourably to many affordable earbuds, but I wouldn’t really regard them as the flagship killer you might expect a Carl Pei product would be.
The sound profile wasn’t quite to my liking, I experienced quite a bit of harshness in the highs. However, these have a more neutral sound than many other £100 earbuds, so this sound profile could be the selling point if that’s your preference. I can’t help but feel like the sound quality would have been improved if Nothing had made these a little less feature-rich, or perhaps spent less on marketing and design.
This review was posted on mightygadget.co.uk. If you see it anywhere else it has been scraped.
Last update on 2021-09-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API