Nothing ear (1) review: AirPods could learn a thing or two from Nothing's ear (1) buds

Nothing Ear 1 Review
(Image: © Stephen Warwick / iMore)

iMore Verdict

Bottom line: Nothing's ear (1) buds offer a distinctive yet affordable way to enjoy noise cancelation.

Pros

  • +

    Very distinctive design

  • +

    Incredible touch controls

  • +

    Comfortable and easy to use

  • +

    Great sound

Cons

  • -

    Slightly lacking top end

  • -

    Buggy/connection quirks on iPhone

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Nothing's ear (1) buds were announced to much fanfare and excitement earlier this year. Now the company is back with its inaugural audio product, sporting a shiny new Black Edition. So with over 220,000 pairs shipped to date, what's with all the fuss?

There is no denying that Nothing's ear (1) buds are a unique and exciting offering when it comes to headphones, and the low price tag means that they could be considered as a possible cheap alternative to AirPods Pro. In fact, there are a couple of features that I wish would debut in Apple's own AirPods, including great touch controls and cheap noise-canceling.

Nothing's ear (1) buds are everything you'd expect from a new company's first outing. The bold and daring design and competitive price tag make them stand out, but some connection quirks and slightly disappointing high-end sound bring them down a peg or two. Truthfully though, I believe they stand alone in terms of pricing, performance, and features in today's packed best true wireless earbuds market. Here's what we thought.

Nothing ear (1): Price and availability

Nothing Ear 1 Review

Nothing Ear 1 Review (Image credit: Stephen Warwick / iMore)

Nothing's ear (1) buds cost £99 or $99. You can find them on Amazon in the UK but not in the US, where your best bet is through the Nothing website, which also sells to a large host of nations in Europe and Asia. Only a few months old, we've yet to see any significant savings or discounts on ear (1). However, there are some exciting developments incoming. First, from December 13, you'll be able to pick up Nothing's spicy new Black Edition (for the same price). Second, you'll also be able to pay using cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Ethereum, USD Coin, and Dogecoin in the UK, U.S., Canada, Japan, and a swathe of EU countries.

Nothing ear (1): What we like

Nothing Ear 1 Review

Nothing Ear 1 Review (Image credit: Stephen Warwick / iMore)

As noted, Nothing's ear (1) design is something to behold. Of course, design is a very subjective matter. But for me, it's nice to see a pair of earbuds that don't look like every other set of earbuds on the market. They do retain the fairly regular bud and stem shape of something like the AirPods, but the transparent design (on both the buds and the casing) adds a unique streak to them. I should say the transparency is done quite tastefully and doesn't remind you of the cheap transparency you sometimes see in tech. (Think those awful transparent Xbox controllers)

The Nothing ear (1)'s party piece, for me, is its incredible touch controls. You can use the touch-sensitive buds to play and pause tracks, skip tracks (forward or backward), adjust the noise cancelation, and my personal favorite, volume by swiping up and down on the stem of your buds. These can be customized in Nothing's app, so you can set triple tap and tap & hold to whatever function you like. Touch controls on buds can sometimes be gimmicky or useless, but I was blown away by how responsive and intuitive they were here a huge plus. As noted at the outset, I hope that one day Apple can apply something similar to its lineup of AirPods, as moving back to those after weeks using Nothing's touch controls felt like a big step back.

Nothing Ear 1 Review

Nothing Ear 1 Review (Image credit: Stephen Warwick / iMore)

Nothing's ear (1) buds are incredibly comfortable to wear. They come with three sizes of silicon bud, but I didn't even need to switch out the ones that come fitted. Over periods of extended use, they didn't give me any fatigue, and they were very light in-ear too. So if you've used earbuds before, particularly silicon ones, and have found them lacking for comfort over long periods, you should think about ear 1.

Nothing's ear (1) buds also come with an IPX4 rating for sweat and water splash resistance, and they also have Clear Voice Technology that makes calling on them very clear. Battery life is good for almost six hours and 34 hours when you include the case, which can charge them in just 10 minutes for eight hours of use. Battery life has never been an issue with Nothing's ear (1).

Overall, I have come to like the sound of Nothing's ear (1) buds. I wasn't sure at the start, but it has steadily grown on me to the point that I now really enjoy listening through them. As you'll see in the next section, I'm not sold on the high end, but the vast majority of the audio spectrum sounds good through these buds. They are powerful, but tracks come through clearly, without distortion, and feel amply spacious. They also have plenty of volume and a nice punchy feel across the lower and mid-ranges. I don't think these are headphones for audiophiles, and you get a more polished and rounded audio experience from AirPods. However, I still think the ear (1) buds punch well above their $99 price tag when it comes to audio, especially when you consider the excellent ANC, comfort, and touch controls.

They also have plenty of volume and a nice punchy feel across the lower and mid-ranges.

Nothing ear (1): What we don't like

Nothing Ear 1 Review

Nothing Ear 1 Review (Image credit: Stephen Warwick / iMore)

My only gripe with the audio was at the higher end, which sounds a little thinner, and slightly more prone to some hiss when pushed to the limit. They feel a bit lacking at the top end, and overall, this is certainly not a "premium" audio experience that you might expect from Bose, Master & Dynamic, or even the AirPods Pro, but then again, these cost less than $100.

I've had a fairly ropey experience with Nothing's ear (1) in terms of reliability and connection. The buds pack tremendous punch and comfort when they work, but I found that pairing them with iPhones was highly laborious. Android users benefit from quick pair akin to using AirPods with an iPhone. However, on iPhone, you'll have to pair them using Bluetooth in the Settings manually. Once that's done, they need to be paired inside the Nothing ear app. The app is extremely helpful for managing the touch controls, but it struggled to recognize my buds. For the most part, I found that it took multiple attempts to pair both buds at once, even on the latest firmware. Usually, I could only get one to pair, and forgetting the device and re-pairing them usually meant the other bud connected while the first disconnected.

The buds benefit from pretty snappy in-ear detection. And yet, I found this a bit overzealous at times, stopping the music during workouts or while walking because of my movement. This could be my funny-shaped ears and can be alleviated somewhat by ensuring you have the right tips in your ear. I found a firmware update during testing that improved the situation and have not noticed this problem since, but I can't say for sure that it's not a problem.

Nothing ear (1): Competition

Nothing Ear 1 Review

Nothing Ear 1 Review (Image credit: Stephen Warwick / iMore)

Nothing's ear (1) buds compete with a host of the best true wireless earbuds available but are somewhat unique given their price point and features. Indeed, these sound almost as good as Apple's entry-level AirPods, which dipped to $100 in the Black Friday sales, yet Nothing beats these with better controls and ANC. Of course, AirPods Pro headphones are definitely in the conversation. However, these are much more expensive than Nothing's ear (1). While you might get a more seamless connection experience and slightly more refined audio, they are not $150 better, and I honestly couldn't recommend them over the ear (1), even at their reduced price thanks to the best AirPods Pro deals. One contender is the Razer Hammerhead True Wireless earbuds, which cost $130. Like Nothing's ear(1), they don't have fast-pairing on iOS, but unlike Nothing's ear (1) lack wireless charging and in-ear detection. Another close contender is Apple's Beats Studio Buds, which can be found at a similar price to Nothing's buds and offer Beats styling as well as fast-pairing with your iPhone. That's probably the alternative I'd choose if I had to.

Of course, some people struggle with silicon tips in earbuds, which might make Apple's regular AirPods an easy choice. However, if you don't mind silicon, there are even cheaper options from Belkin, TRANYA, Anker, Urbanears, and more. At the other end of the spectrum, you could spend even more than AirPods Pro and get something like the M&D MW08. I firmly believe that Nothing's ear (1) buds stand alone in terms of price, performance, and features in the market.

Nothing ear (1): Should you buy it?

Nothing Ear 1 Review

Nothing Ear 1 Review (Image credit: Stephen Warwick / iMore)

You should buy this if ...

  • You're on a budget
  • You want cheap noise-canceling
  • You want punchy but not perfect sound
  • You're working with both iOS and Android devices

You shouldn't buy this if...

  • You can't listen using silicon-tipped buds
  • You want seamless audio integration with Apple
  • You must have audio perfection
  • Money is no object

If money is no object, you can get a bit more sound and compatibility with Apple's ecosystem for a lot more money. However, the Nothing ear (1) buds are in a class of their own for the budget-conscious.

The Nothing ear (1) buds have steadily grown on me since I started using them. The audio quality is commendable for buds at this price point, especially buds that pack in ANC, touch controls, and strong battery life.

The only reason you wouldn't buy these is that you had spare cash to throw away or because you absolutely have to have the best audio quality or seamless iOS integration.

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.

Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9

1 Comment
  • They look interesting, but ... I have to point out that there isn't one, single, *clear* shot of the earbuds in the entire article. How does someone know they might want them, when all they have are dark, blurry, "arty" (art-less) pictures of the pods to look at? Most of them don't even show them out of the case. Ridiculous