Apple AirPods generate more revenue than many Fortune 500 companies. High price point aside, they are known to work seamlessly, delivering a magical user experience. However, the true wireless stereo (TWS) earphone market has expanded greatly, and in 2023, there are now more affordable options available that can provide a similar experience, especially for those not using an iPhone, iPad, or Mac. Two options that fit the bill are the recently launched Nothing Ear (2) and the new OnePlus Buds Pro 2, which have only been out for a few weeks. Both offer excellent sound quality and fashionable designs that will satisfy most users.
It all starts with the price, and both are very competitive.
The Nothing Ear (2) starts at Rs 9,999. OnePlus Buds Pro 2 at Rs 11,999. Both products have seen a slight increase in price since their first-generation models were launched in 2021. The Nothing Ear (2) has gained more in price, but feels justified once inflation adjusted. And the second-generation is a more complete product. The OnePlus is also a highly improved offering, so again one doesn’t mind the bump in price.
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Sound, noise cancellation, fit, and features
To the untrained ear, differences, when compared to AirPods 2 Pro, will be indiscernible. The Nothing Ear (2) has a more trebly sonic profile, which means that it does better with music that has vocals, loads of guitar, and instrumentation, and works excellently with content on streaming platforms. The OnePlus Buds Pro 2 have been tuned by Dynaudio and also has a sound profile designed by the legendary Hans Zimmer. It certainly is fuller sounding. But the fit, at least in my ear canals, was inferior to the Nothing Ear (2), which will make a huge difference in how one perceives sound. I feel the OnePlus will do better with bassier music and something that also has a chunkier mid-range — bass-heavy electronic music or guitar-heavy hard rock or chugging heavy metal.
For music purists, the support for the LHDC 5.0 high resolution audio codec is there on both products. Though the OnePlus also offers support for spatial audio, which is critical when watching science fiction content. The feature works seamlessly with content that supports it. But it’s not on par with Apple’s technology, or even what one experienced on the Pixel Buds Pro. This, despite OnePlus using the Google spatial audio stack. That being said, it is decent enough and is a critical extra feature that the Nothing doesn’t have.
Sonically, both wireless earbuds are excellent vis a vis music listening but also great for making phone calls. The Nothing Ear (2) has a slight edge over the OnePlus Buds Pro 2. Both have triple microphones, but Nothing Ear (2) is superior for calls thanks to its clear voice algorithm.
Similarly, if noise cancellation is key to your experience, the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 provides more cohesive and consistent noise cancellation, even though the Nothing Ear (2) takes a massive leap from its first model. In fact, I believe with a bit of software tuning, Nothing perhaps can catch up to OnePlus. Nothing’s transparency mode works better than OnePlus.
Similarly, the Nothing X app is a delight to use while the OnePlus Hey Melody app is quite complicated. This will be critical as the apps are going to be the way you dial in a customised sound profile. Nothing has also added mime, which allows one to do a hearing test enabling better calibration of sound as per your ears. OnePlus also does something similar, but I feel Nothing does this more effectively.
In terms of battery life, both are similar and make similar claims too. The Ear (2) does 38 hours with a fully charged case and noise cancellation turned off, while the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 does 39 hours with the same caveats. In my tests, I found both earbuds lasted for 4.5 hours with noise cancellation, and both could last more than a day with a fully charged case. Both support Qi wireless charging along with fast charging with the Nothing supporting 8 hours of use in 10 minutes of charge, and the OnePlus claiming 10 hours of use in the same charge time. Both are now IPX54 certified, and the cases being IPX55 water-resistant.
In features and performance, there is literally “nothing” in it between the two. Both also support dual connections with Google fast pair and Microsoft swift pair support.
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Design the differentiator
It is incredible that in six years TWS earphones have reached such functional excellence and at the Rs 10,000 price point. But as these are wearables, they are also supposed to be comfortable and fashionable. This will be a subjective choice at the end of the day. The Nothing Ear (2) with its transparent design is going to be more popular, and people will ask you what you are using. The OnePlus Buds Pro 2 look like AirPods Pro 2. They are rather discrete in their obsidian black and arbor green colors.
If you want something that is more fashionable, you have to go with the Nothing Ear (2), but if you’re looking for something more formal, I’d recommend OnePlus Buds Pro 2 in obsidian black. Like I said before, the fit of the Nothing worked better for me, but the OnePlus is also quite good.
The cases are interesting too. The case on the Nothing Ear (2), though it is bigger than the case of the OnePlus, is lighter than the one on the Ear (1). But the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 with their matte-finish case is compact and easier to carry around.
I just feel that Nothing has made a huge leap from their first-generation Ear (1) earphones, while OnePlus has taken a more iterative step. There is potential for the Ear (2) to improve further via software updates, something I don’t believe (on the basis of gut feel and experience) will happen with the OnePlus.
Sahil Mohan Gupta is Editor, Technology at Acko Drive. Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)