There’s lots driving on the Ear 1 wi-fi earbuds, that are the primary product to come back from Nothing — a brand new firm created by OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei. Backed with funding from GV, Tony Fadell, and influential creators like Casey Neistat, Nothing is aiming to construct out a whole household of merchandise that observe the design ethos debuting with the Ear 1. Transparency is on the coronary heart of that: the Ear 1s have a transparent “stem” that allows you to peer at their inside elements, and the unconventional charging case has a clear lid to maintain the buds in view always.
Pei has stated his motivation for beginning Nothing was a shopper tech trade that felt stale, unimaginative, and awash in devices that each one really feel very same-y. I don’t actually purchase into that viewpoint; certain, AirPods clones are all over the place, however the most effective earbuds from Samsung, Sony, Google, Amazon, and different massive gamers are all visually distinct. Regardless, Nothing doesn’t see itself as “an audio firm,” in keeping with Pei, however the booming true wi-fi earbuds market appeared like an advantageous place to start out. He’s additionally aiming to seize the identical price-to-performance magic that was related to OnePlus in its early days.
At $99, the Ear 1s embody energetic noise cancellation, wi-fi charging, IPX4 water resistance, and smaller conveniences like in-ear detection — options that price anyplace from $150 to $300 from Nothing’s massive model opponents. Their sound has been tuned by Teenage Engineering, an organization effectively versed in audio electronics. They’ll go on sale broadly beginning August seventeenth, however you may seize a pair early from Nothing’s web site on July thirty first.
Like all clear tech, the Ear 1s are enjoyable to look at up shut. On the outward-facing a part of the stem, you may see the voice / ANC microphones, contact sensors, and a dot — purple (proper) or white (left) — to point which ear that bud is for. On the aspect dealing with your ear, there’s some circuitry, magnets, and the pins the place the earbuds hook up with the charging case.
Nothing says it was so obsessive over small particulars (like sharpening the magnets) that some manufacturing vegetation turned the startup away. Discovering the correct glue to bond the 2 sides of clear casing collectively with out leaving any ugly remnants behind was additionally apparently fairly a problem.
The Ear 1s positively look cool, however do they arrive off as radically completely different? I’m not seeing it. If the clear stem have been opaque white as a substitute, these earbuds would look similar to Apple’s AirPods Professional or any variety of opponents. Nothing’s early idea photographs confirmed a extra unorthodox design, however the last product appears principally regular with a splash of distinctive fashion — and possibly that’ll be sufficient to promote some individuals on them. Not reinventing the wheel makes for good consolation, not less than. Three sizes of silicone suggestions come within the field, and I discovered that the Ear 1s have the same in-ear really feel to the AirPods Professional. They match snugly, really feel ethereal gentle (every earbud is 4.7 grams), and didn’t come free throughout runs or whereas I used to be consuming, that are two situations the place true wi-fi buds generally get dislodged.
The charging case is the place Nothing positively will get extra on the market with design. It’s a squished-down sq. with rounded corners that opens and closes with satisfying spring rigidity. There’s a USB-C port for wired charging, and also you additionally get Qi wi-fi charging; that’s at all times good to see at this value. However for all of the visible aptitude, it appears like I’m doing extra work to seat the Ear 1s again of their case in contrast with different earbuds I’ve bought round. The magnetic maintain isn’t significantly sturdy, and laying the earbuds flat as a substitute of plopping them into deep charging cradles takes extra direct consideration. The large dimple within the high of the case helps preserve the earbuds in place, with a aspect impact of turning the case right into a enjoyable factor to fidget with and twirl round in your fingers. Nonetheless, I believe Nothing might’ve give you one thing extra environment friendly and compact. This case is kind over operate and clearly meant to showcase Nothing’s clear aesthetic. Simply don’t anticipate it to remain pristine: my evaluate unit has already collected scratches on the case’s backside, and it’s solely a matter of time earlier than the highest picks up some, too.
By way of sound, the Ear 1s and their 11.6-millimeter drivers don’t pull off any big upsets towards extra premium competitors. However in addition they don’t sound dangerous or “price range.” They’ve simply bought some weaknesses that earbud lovers will decide up on. The treble and excessive finish — significantly on acoustic-driven tracks — can often come off as excessively sparkly. I listened by way of John Mayer’s Eighties-influenced Sob Rock and whereas Nothing’s earbuds punched barely above what I’d anticipate for $99 and had good readability and a pleasant thump-y bass driving beneath every thing, their heat and element don’t measure as much as earbuds within the $200-300 vary. However they’re nonetheless an pleasing hear in lots of circumstances, which got here by way of once I converted to “Cease Making This Harm” by Bleachers. The Ear 1s offered effectively with good stereo separation and nothing sounding muddled.
Nothing’s companion cellular app is offered for each Android and iOS and has easy EQ changes for “extra treble,” “extra bass,” and “voice,” however you may’t take full management over the sliders your self. You may end up turning to that bass increase every now and then. Nothing has stated it and Teenage Engineering aimed for a pure, balanced sound signature, however don’t confuse that with flat or colorless. The earbuds assist AAC and SBC Bluetooth codecs.
Noise cancellation is… satisfactory. On the “max” setting, it might remove low-frequency hums inside my native espresso store, however I by no means actually forgot about my environment. Total noise isolation was stable due to the nice seal I bought from the ear suggestions, and I’d attain for these earlier than the $99 Pixel Buds A-Sequence, which require me to crank the quantity to beat close by noise. However Nothing isn’t on the identical degree because the equally priced Amazon’s Echo Buds 2 in the case of noise cancellation — not a shock since that is the corporate’s first swing at it. Transparency mode is enough, however doesn’t match the pure really feel of the Echo Buds or Apple’s AirPods Professional. Nothing does embody some good tips; in the event you take one earbud out, the opposite will change into transparency mode till each are again in your ears. They usually’ve bought auto-pause / resume when an earbud is eliminated, as effectively.
Regardless of having three microphones and algorithms meant to assist isolate your voice from background noise, the Ear 1s have been a disappointment for voice calls. My voice got here by way of muddled and warbly even in a quiet room when recording to voice memos, and folks I referred to as had issue listening to me clearly.
Nothing says the Ear 1s can final for 4 hours of steady playback with ANC on, and the case has sufficient for twenty-four extra hours. When you go away ANC off, these numbers enhance to five.7 hours and 34 hours, respectively. The battery estimates for listening time have appeared on level in my assessments to date. The earbuds use faucet controls for many features: you faucet twice to play / pause, 3 times to skip ahead or return to the earlier music (relying on aspect), maintain to toggle NC modes, and so forth. However there’s additionally a swiping gesture up or down the stem to regulate quantity, which has labored reliably and feels intuitive.
Nothing continues to be engaged on the Ear 1s as they strategy launch. In my time testing them, I’ve definitely encountered bugs and sporadic points.
- Transparency mode has gone on the fritz every now and then. Generally it prompts unexpectedly once I’m on a name. In different, stranger situations, I’ve heard temporary boosts of ambient sound when turning my head.
- I’ve observed the earbuds seemingly switching modes between NC on and off on their very own.
- Android Quick Pair isn’t but useful. Nothing says this can be working by the point the Ear 1s ship to clients in mid-August. I’ll replace the evaluate as soon as that occurs.
- I encountered odd charging conduct with the case, the place the LED wouldn’t replicate that something was taking place. A current firmware replace appears to have cleared this up for probably the most half.
Nothing has already pushed out a pair firmware updates throughout my evaluate interval, and I’d anticipate extra earlier than the Ear 1s arrive to consumers. However these are my impressions as of the corporate’s late-July evaluate embargo; I’ll replace to say any adjustments or enhancements when the earbuds ship in August.
With their full potential unrealized and efficiency nonetheless on the buggy aspect, it’s troublesome to conclude whether or not the Ear 1s are placing Nothing heading in the right direction as a brand new shopper tech model. These earbuds supply an formidable bundle of options for $99, and so they’re inevitably going to get buzz and a spotlight due to their clear design (even when they resemble AirPods in different methods) and presence in swanky vogue storefronts like Kith. The Ear 1s are the brand new hypebeast earbuds and have a enjoyable air of freshness. However proper now, their particular person elements — sound high quality, noise cancellation, and many others. — fall wanting excellence and go away loads of cause for sticking with a kind of “boring” established gamers.
Images by Chris Welch / The Verge