If you’re looking for wireless headphones today, there’s no downside to choosing as such. The best TWS models from Samsung, Sony, Jabra, and Sennheiser offer incredible sound and come with useful features such as noise reduction control and a waterproof case. But what’s particularly interesting is how far budget wireless headphones have come in the last three years: these days, you can buy great-sounding headphones with a flagship feature set for even $100 or less.
So when Carl Pei (co-founder and CEO of OnePlus until 2020) announced that his new startup Nothing would release wireless headphones that will flip the audio segment, I was skeptical. But the story is on his side – Pei has already shaken up the smartphone market with OnePlus, and now it’s clear that he’s going to do something similar in the music industry with Nothing.
Pei used the same tactics to create hype as in the case of OnePlus. Over the past 12 months, specialized media have been writing about various announcements and teasers from Nothing – the brand has constantly remained in the news cycle and in every way attracted attention. As a result, ear (1) created an unprecedented level of interest in the media space for this category.
However, there are good reasons for such hype: first of all, Nothing ear (1) has a unique design, which makes them noticeable against the background of competitors and stands out not only among them – among all. In addition, the technical characteristics of the headphones are impressive, with a price tag of only $ 100. So does Nothing ear (1) have everything to accomplish its main goal, or is the hype pointless? Let’s find out.
Design: unique and stand out
Nothing ear (1) is completely unlike any other existing headphones. The case’s design is made in a traditional design, but it is almost completely transparent, and the upper part received a colored plastic finish. The transparent leg allows you to see the internal components of the headphones, including the built-in batteries.
The upper head is made of white plastic. The surface on it is glossy and has an additional coating that prevents the appearance of dust and stains. The design is thoughtful and very minimalistic, giving Nothing ear (1) a certain level of elegance that you will not find in other headphones in the category in question. The concept was developed by the Swedish audio manufacturer Teenage Engineering, which is also part of the founders of Nothing. The brand has made a name for itself over the past decade by producing branded OP-1, OP-Z synthesizers, and a line of handheld synthesizers called the Pocker Operator.
Few people mention it, but weight was a key characteristic when creating Nothing ear (1). Each earphone weighs 4.7 grams, and it’s amazing. Here the quality of fit plays a role: the headphones sit tightly and comfortably in the ears. I did not feel any discomfort even after using it for more than three hours at a time. The light design actually matters a lot.
The leg is flat along the entire length. The platform on it also acts as a gesture control area. They are easily customizable in nothing’s proprietary app. More on that later. Three sizes of nozzles are provided in the kit. The medium ones are set by default and were the most comfortable for my ears.
Each earpiece has a signature engraving called Nothing ear (1) in dot style and a visual indicator that allows you to distinguish between left and right. The latter looks like a small dot: white on the left side for the left earphone and red on the right side for the right. The case contains similar colored marks indicating the location of Nothing ear (1) inside. The idea makes the process of returning the headphones to the case a bit.
I like how nothing ear (1) looks, but the unusual appearance can be called their weakest point. In three days of use, I have already got a few scratches, so I doubt the durability of this solution, although it is beautiful in its own way.
Nothing ear Features (1)
Nothing ear (1) connect via Bluetooth 5.2. The latest generation protocol provides an extremely reliable connection. The connection is available to only one device. The overall functionality does not differ depending on Android or iOS. Headphones are resistant to sweat and water ingress, according to the IPX4 standard to be used for training. During the testing process, I wore them while doing housework and found no hint of loss of communication.
Problems with pairing headphones via Bluetooth are also not noticed. But if you want to unleash the full potential of Nothing ear (1), you’ll need an official app. It allows you to adjust gestures, views each earphone’s battery level, updates the firmware, and more. It is worth noting the geolocation search function Find my Earbud, which activates a loud alert. Thanks to her, it is not difficult to find the lost ear (1).
Like most analogs, Nothing ear (1) supports automatic pause and playback based on built-in sensors. The music stops when you take off one or both headphones and resume as soon as you insert them back into your ears. An outstanding addition, however, is active noise reduction. There are two levels of noise reduction – Light and Maximum – and the headphones perfectly cope with adapting to ambient noise, including the hum of the air conditioner or fan. The technology isn’t as effective when it comes to loud subway-type sounds, but you’ll definitely feel the difference with the mode on.
Together with noise cancellation, a reverse transparency mode is supported, which passes the surrounding sound. Works well. Each headphone has three built-in microphones. The answer, among other things, is for quality calls. Nothing ear (1) can suppress headwind noise at speeds up to 40 km/h so you can make crystal clear calls. And while where I live isn’t that windy, the conversations sounded great.
Gestures. You can customize gestures only in the app. At the moment, you can set gestures for a triple touch or a long touch. By default, a double-tap gesture is used to play or pause music, and the volume is adjusted by swiping up or down the earphone leg. At first, there were a few issues when the gesture settings were not saved on my smartphone, but the firmware update fixed the bug. Even though there are quite a few tweaks offered here, I’d still like to see more from Nothing.
Voice assistant. Another notable omission on the part of nothing developers is that ear (1) does not integrate a virtual assistant. You won’t be able to call Google Assistant or Alexa directly from your headphones, and there’s no word yet that the company plans to add such a feature sometime in the future. This is a significant blunder, given that the vast majority of headphones in the Nothing ear (1) segment offer standard support for any popular voice assistant. Probably, instead of the rest, to reduce the cost of the device, I decided to sacrifice voice control.
Yes, the design specifically makes Nothing ear (1) stand out from the crowd. Still, the crucial role is played by the sound quality – it determines whether the headphones can compete against the flagships of Samsung, Jabra, Anker, and other manufacturers. In this regard, there were pleasant surprises.
Nothing ear (1) is equipped with 11.6mm drivers. Teenage Engineering is responsible for optimizing the sound balance, which is a plus since the company has a wealth of experience and heritage in this area. The sound in the headphones is attractive: with dense bass, bright middle, and clear tops. I listened to Dark Light by HIM, The Dark Side of Moon by Pink Floyd, the Tron: Legacy soundtrack by Daft Punk, and older synth albums like Kraftwerk’s The Man-Machine. It was immediately obvious that Nothing ear (1) is equally worthy of playing as EDM and hip-hop, as well as heavy metal and progressive rock.
Then I switched to the Kronos Quartet (Pieces of Africa): this album has many African percussion instruments overlapping violins and cellos – Nothing ear (1) produces a full sound with a clear separation. The headphones did a great job of conveying multi-layered instruments and vocals. Impressive.
Undoubtedly, Nothing ear (1) has competent speakers with structurally designed sound. I kept reminding myself that headphones cost $99, not $199. I tested them simultaneously as the Jabra Elite 75t and Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro – Nothing ear (1) better. They are almost on par with the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro, which cost twice as much.
The tight bottoms make Nothing ear (1) a great option if you like to listen to music with powerful bass. The mode installed out of the box is quite balanced. Other pre-configured modes are also available. There are three of them: high bass, high frequencies, and vocals.
The only drawback in terms of sound is the lack of high-quality audio codecs. Nothing ear (1) supports AAC and SBC but does not work with AptX or LDAC. The minus is insignificant since the target audience of headphones is more likely to listen to music in streaming services like Spotify. For a similar scenario, the SBC codec is more than adequate.
To achieve the lightest possible design, it was necessary to sacrifice autonomy a little. Nothing ear (1) does not correspond to the nearest competitors in battery life – the indicators are strictly average. A 31 mAh battery powers each earphone. Dry numbers: up to 4 hours from a full charge and up to 5.7 hours without noise reduction on. Inside the case is a 570 mAh battery, it can charge the headphones six times. Thus, with a fully charged case, music playback reaches 24 hours with active noise reduction and 34 hours without it.
Against the background of TWS-headphones in general, Nothing ear (1) does not look backward – basically, the autonomy in the class does not exceed 5 hours. But much better headphones from Nothing make fast charging: 10 minutes will replenish the charge for 50 minutes of listening to music, the case is charged to 100% in 6 hours.
Finally, Nothing ear (1) added full wireless charging, a feature that is usually absent in budget models. The case can be charged using any device with Qi-standard, maximum power 5 W. Supports reverse wireless charging from compatible smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S21 or Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra.
In the process of charging faced one trouble. When the headphones are placed in the case, you need to check their position – they lie down with a tilt on their side and do not always connect to the contacts for charging. I realized this on the second day of use after I left the headphones to charge and then saw that the right one was charged 50% and the left one was 80%. I advise you to check whether the headphones are tightly attached when you leave them in the case.
Should I buy Nothing ear (1)?
Nothing ear (1) surprises with sound quality. It goes beyond what can be found in the category up to $ 100. For some, the cons may not be unforgivable – battery life is not ideal, voice control is not supported, and there is no AptX codec, but headphones are excellent at the heart of the form factor. The pros make up for the drawbacks. If you only care about sound, then they are the best.
- truly unique design;
- sound quality for $ 100;
- comfortable fit;
- wireless charging;
- good active noise reduction;
- sweat and water protection IPX4.
- battery life is lower than competitors;
- there is no built-in voice assistant;
- AptX or LDAC codecs are not supported.
- the body is easily scratched and loses its appearance.