Nothing Ear 2 review: see-through earbuds with good sound
The Ear 2 are the latest competitively priced earbuds from the London-based tech firm Nothing, which hopes to tempt buyers away from the Apples and Samsungs of this world with novel see-through designs and good sound.
The noise-cancelling earbuds cost £129 ($149), undercutting rivals from OnePlus, Google, Samsung and Apple, while offering similar features and sound quality. They replace the outgoing Ear 1 from 2021, joining the novel £99 Ear Stick earbuds.
The buds have a more interesting look than most competitors, but a similar form with traditional silicone ear tips and a stalk hanging down. They fit well in my ears, staying secure and comfortable for a couple of hours at a time.
Squeeze the stalk for onboard playback controls: once for pause/play, twice and thrice for track skip. Squeeze and hold to adjust noise cancelling, and double-squeeze and hold for volume. They work well, but adjusting the volume is a bit cumbersome compared with the swipe gestures you get on some rivals.
The semi-transparent charging case looks cool and feels nice, but is a little bigger than the best in the market. The earbuds last four hours with noise cancelling active, and fully charge about 4.5 times via the case.
The earbuds support Bluetooth 5.3 with multipoint, so they can connect to two devices at once, such as a phone and laptop, to automatically switch between them – a feature that is still rare in the market.
Water resistance: IP54 (splash resistant)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3, SBC, AAC, LDHC5
Battery life: 4 hours with noise cancelling (22.5 hours with case)
Earbud dimensions: 29.4 x 21.5 x 23.5mm
Earbud weight: 4.5g each
Driver size: 11.6mm
Charging case dimensions: 55.5 x 55.5 x 22mm
Charging case weight: 51.9g
Case charging: USB-C, Qi wireless charging
Nothing estimates that the batteries in the earbuds and case last for at least 500 cycles while maintaining at least 80% of their original capacity. However, they are not replaceable, ultimately making the earbuds disposable. Out-of-warranty replacement earbuds or cases are available individually for £50.
The earbuds contain recycled tin, but Nothing does not offer trade-in schemes in the UK, nor does it use or publish environmental impact assessments, though it does estimate the earbuds’ carbon footprint at 3.1kg.
Sound and noise cancelling
The Ear 2 have a great, everyday listening sound that beats many at this price. They are well-rounded and can hit pretty low notes when pushed, with good separation of tones handling complex tracks well. They do a great job with many music genres, but can sometimes sound a little flat. They are an all-round improvement on their predecessors but still will not trouble the best in the business.
The earbuds support hi-res audio with certain Android phones, but the difference between it at standard quality using an iPhone was marginal.
The Ear 2 have active noise cancelling that, when set to maximum, did a good job of quietening the drones of engines and taking the edge off the commute, but they let through higher-pitched tones such as voices or taps on keyboards in the office. Their awareness mode is one of the better ones, sounding fairly natural for holding conversations or listening for traffic.
Call quality was excellent in quiet spaces but sounded a little artificial in noisy environments, letting through only a few sudden loud noises such as car horn beeps.
The Nothing Ear 2 cost £129 ($149).
For comparison, the Nothing Ear Stick cost £99, the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 cost £179, Google Pixel Buds Pro cost £179, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 cost £279.95, and the Apple AirPods Pro 2 cost £249.
The Ear 2 are a set of fairly refined Bluetooth earbuds with great everyday listening sound and a more interesting look than most rivals, particularly for their competitive price.
The noise cancelling reduces the rumbles of the daily commute well enough, but struggles to compete with the best for dampening distractions such as speech. They fit well and their squeeze controls are decent, as is their voice quality for calls. Being able to connect to two devices at the same time and having a cross-platform app for both Android and iPhone is very handy.
The earbuds also come up a little short on battery life: just four hours before needing a charge in the case. The biggest issue is that the battery still cannot be replaced in the earbuds or case, ultimately making them disposable and losing a star.
Pros: look great, good sound, good value, reasonable noise cancelling, comfortable fit, great call quality, decent controls, Bluetooth 5.3 with multipoint, cross-platform app.
Cons: disposable, battery life a little shorter and the case a little bigger than the best, noise cancelling struggles with higher tones, no head-tracking spatial audio support.