What a distinction two years makes.
Again in 2021, Nothing, the patron tech startup led by OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei, had solely publicly existed for a couple of brief months earlier than launching the Ear 1 true wi-fi earbuds. They have been function wealthy for his or her $99 value level however, at launch, suffered from loads of bugs and so-so noise-canceling efficiency.
Two years later and it’s time for a refresh with the imaginatively named Ear 2 earbuds. They add some good quality-of-life options like assist for multipoint connectivity, however basically they’re similar to their predecessors. Put the 2 subsequent to one another, and it may be arduous to inform them aside.
In use, nonetheless, the Nothing Ear 2s really feel like a way more polished product. There are fewer bugs, extra succesful lively noise cancellation, and a a lot better and extra refined sound. It’s sufficient to show the Ear 2s from a handsome pair of earbuds with solely okay efficiency into an adjunct that (nearly) sounds pretty much as good because it appears to be like. It’s only a disgrace that, at $149, they’re not fairly the entry-level cut price this time round.
The Nothing Ear 2 earbuds now begin at $149, a 50 p.c improve over the beginning value of the Nothing Ear 1s unique $99 value level. That’s not completely sudden after Nothing elevated the worth of the Ear 1 earbuds by the identical quantity final October, however it impacts who the Ear 2’s rivals are. $149 is inside hanging distance of the (typically discounted) AirPods and the identical value as Samsung’s Galaxy Buds 2, for instance. It means Nothing’s buds should hit a a lot larger bar than their predecessors.
However aspect by aspect with the Nothing Ear 1s, the bodily variations look like minor. The Ear 2’s case is barely slimmer and lighter, and the earbuds themselves are barely taller and even barely lighter. However look, the scale are shut sufficient that the earbuds can bodily slot in both charging case (although they’re not functionally cross-compatible throughout generations). One useful change, nonetheless, is that Nothing says it’s utilizing extra sturdy plastic this time round, which ought to theoretically cut back the quantity of scratches compared to what we saw appear on our Ear 1 case.
Battery life is each higher and worse than the Ear 1 earbuds. With lively noise cancellation (ANC) on, Nothing claims the Ear 2s provide 4 hours of playback from the buds themselves (identical because the Ear 1s), rising to 22.5 hours with the case (barely worse than the 24 hours claimed final time). However flip ANC off, and people figures rise to six.3 hours and 36 hours (barely higher than the Ear 1’s 5.7 and 34-hour scores).
That battery life isn’t nice in comparison with numerous the Ear 2’s noise cancellation-capable rivals. Samsung’s Galaxy Buds 2 provide a extra spectacular 5 hours of ANC playback from the buds themselves (although admittedly solely 20 hours mixed with their case), whereas Apple’s costlier AirPods Professional 2 provide six hours of ANC listening from the buds, or 30 mixed with the case. Forged your eye over our purchasing information to the most effective wi-fi earbuds and plenty of of our picks provide six hours or extra.
Just like the Ear 1s, you continue to get wi-fi charging right here, which is particularly helpful when you have a telephone that may do reverse wi-fi charging just like the Telephone 1. In any other case, there’s a USB-C to USB-C cable within the field for wired charging. Like an rising quantity of shopper tech, there’s no charging brick included.
You get an IP54 relatively than IPX4 score this time round
One different notice to make about construct high quality is the IP score for mud and water resistance. Nothing says the Ear 2 earbuds are IP54 rated, which on its face is far more spectacular than the IPX4 score of the first-gen earbuds. However in actuality, the one distinction right here is the addition of 5-level safety from a restricted quantity of mud. Water resistance remains to be a “4,” which implies you get safety towards splashes however not submersion. It’s a center floor between the Galaxy Buds 2’s IPX2 score and the Galaxy Buds 2 Professional’s IPX7 score. Excellent news, in different phrases, in case you plan to sweat whereas sporting Nothing’s earbuds, however not if you wish to dunk them in water.
Moderately than the faucet controls utilized by the Ear 1s and different earbuds from the likes of Samsung, the Ear 2 headphones are managed by squeezing the stems on every earbud, just like how Apple’s AirPods are managed. The controls labored effectively in my testing; they weren’t susceptible to unintentional activations, and most may be personalized within the Nothing X app.
New for these earbuds are a number of personalization options designed to tailor them to your ears and listening preferences. They’re all accessible through the Nothing X app on iOS and Android. There’s a sound personalization function that makes an attempt to check your listening to by having you hearken to a collection of beeps at various pitches, an ANC personalization function that makes an attempt to routinely calibrate the earbuds’ noise cancellation to your listening to, and an equalizer to provide you guide management over your audio. One other function can inform you whether or not you’re utilizing the suitable dimension of ear tip, and there’s additionally an “adaptive” noise cancellation mode this time round that’ll modify its depth relying on how loud your atmosphere is to keep away from sapping your battery in quieter environments.
It’s good to have this degree of management, however the precise usefulness of the personalization choices generally is a bit hit-or-miss. The personalised ANC possibility and ear tip dimension assessments appeared to work effectively sufficient, however creating a private sound profile is a finicky guide course of that resulted in a setting that I believed sounded worse than the default.
Fortunately, all of those choices are non-compulsory, and I’d suggest having a mess around to seek out no matter mixture fits you. I simply want the sound personalization was extra automated, like we’ve seen from corporations like Nura prior to now, so there’s much less probability of person error being responsible for any inconsistencies.
Additionally new for these earbuds is multipoint connectivity (Nothing calls this “Twin Connection”), which permits the earbuds to connect with two units at a time. The earbuds fortunately maintained a connection to each my laptop computer and telephone whereas I labored at my desk, letting me shortly take a break from listening to music on the laptop computer to look at a video clip on my telephone, for instance. The change from system to system isn’t instant (it might generally take 5 seconds or so for the connection to switch over), however that’s commonplace for multipoint. It’s nice to see it included, particularly because it’s nonetheless absent on even Samsung’s costlier Galaxy Buds 2 Professional.
Though these are all good quality-of-life options, on paper, the Nothing Ear 2 earbuds aren’t an enormous improve over the Ear 1s. And also you’d be forgiven for considering they sound the identical besides. Sure, there’s now assist for the LHDC 5.0 codec alongside SBC and AAC in case your telephone helps it (LDAC and aptX stay absent), however the driver dimension is identical at 11.6mm.
However these specs don’t inform the total story in relation to sound high quality. The Nothing Ear 2 earbuds sound much more balanced and refined than their predecessor and are far more pleasant to hearken to consequently. Take heed to a busy observe like “Masayume” by Paranoid Void and the Ear 2 earbuds do a a lot better job at making each instrument within the music audible. The Ear 1s have been simply muddy and overly bassy as compared. It was an analogous story listening to “Saigo No Bansan” by Mouse on the Keys or Fox Seize Plan’s “Butterfly Impact.” The Ear 2 earbuds felt energetic and energetic, however the Ear 1s bass was simply an excessive amount of and left larger frequencies sounding hole.
Paper specs don’t inform the total sound high quality story
It’s not an evening and day distinction throughout the board. A much less complicated observe like Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight,” for instance, sounded very related between Nothing’s earbuds. I’d nonetheless nearly choose the Ear 2s over the Ear 1s, however it was extra of a toss-up.
The Nothing Ear 2’s noise canceling efficiency has seen related enhancements to the Ear 1’s. I had no drawback listening to podcasts because the London Underground screeched round me, and it did an appropriate job on my native rattly bus. However I did expertise a bizarre bug with the adaptive noise cancellation mode that will intermittently create a whooshing sound, nearly like an imaginary practice was rolling previous me in a station. Setting the ANC mode to “excessive” relatively than adaptive utterly eradicated the issue, however theoretically, which means you miss out on the battery-saving advantages of the adaptive mode. After I reached out to Nothing, I used to be advised it wasn’t conscious of this obvious bug.
In my assessments, the Nothing Ear 2’s microphone high quality was broadly in keeping with the Ear 1s. Though the three-microphone array picked up my voice barely extra crisply in a quiet room, the second I launched background noise, my voice began to sound equally muffled and muddy. Aspect by aspect with Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Reside, my voice was extra audible with Samsung’s earbuds.
The Nothing Ear 2 earbuds are one more reminder that specs aren’t the whole lot. On paper, that is an incremental replace to the Ear 1 earbuds, with a really related design and battery life, some improved sturdiness, and a few extra software program options.
However in observe, the general bundle feels quite a bit larger high quality. Sure, a part of it is because I didn’t encounter any main bugs throughout my time with the Ear 2s (the adaptive noise cancelation bug however), however largely it’s as a result of they merely sounded approach higher throughout many of the tracks I listened to. They really feel like a second-generation product.
At $149, the Ear 2 earbuds characterize a well-rounded pair of midrange earbuds. They’ve obtained all of the type of the Ear 1s however with out their tough edges. The likes of Sony, Apple, and Samsung should still rule the roost in relation to extra premium earbuds, however the Nothing Ear 2s are a succesful various in case you’re on a (barely) tighter price range, even when they’re not fairly the steal they might have been at underneath $100.
Images by Jon Porter / The Verge