When were talking about the best true wireless earbuds, it's safe to say competition is fierce. For a brand with little in the way of heritage to come in and take the crown, they'd need to pack some serious credentials.
This fashionable, relatively affordable pair of ANC earbuds is looking to do battle for your cash. But will it succeed? Let's dive into the review and take a look.
Nothing Ear (2): Price and Release Date
The Nothing Ear (2) retails £129 in the UK. Check the widgets on this page for pricing and availability where you are, and to be sure you're getting the best deal.
The Ear (2) was released on Wednesday 22nd March 2023 and is available immediately in Nothing's retail stores. Wider sales start from the 28th of March.
Nothing Ear (2): What's new
So what differentiates this from the Ear (1)? Well, first things first, the custom 11.6mm driver has been re-engineered for improved sound quality. A new custom diaphragm is made with a combination of polyurethane and graphene, to improve the low-end and high-end frequency response.
Elsewhere, users can take to the app to create a personalised profile of their hearing. This allows sound to be tailored to your ear specifically, to ensure the best possible sound for you.
The process for creating a personal sound profile was effortless. Simply sit in a quiet space and press the button when you hear certain sounds. It takes around five minutes and then you have a distinct setting that is designed to improve how you hear sounds.
Water resistance also gets a boost here. The buds themselves are IP54 rated, while the case is IP55 rated, up from IPX4 on the Ear (1).
The battery also gets a boost, with a case life of 36 hours up from 34 last time out. That's good, but the real star of the battery department is the inclusion of wireless charging on the case. It's not quick at just 2.5W, but it should enable you to add some extra juice in a pinch – Nothing say a ten minute charge can add up to eight hours to the battery!
Nothing Ear (2): Design
Nothing are masters when it comes to design, so these earbuds are every bit as gorgeous as you'd expect. The casing on the stem of the buds is completely transparent allowing you to see the circuitry inside in all its glory. Fans of the Nothing Phone (1) will be familiar with this industrial design queue, which has become something of a staple for the brand.
In the white colour option which I have here for review, the contrast between the black stem and the white driver casing is really sleek. It's a properly bright white too – no hint of any gentle shading here. That did make me a little more conscious of getting them grubby, though I haven't had any issues in my time with them. The only splash of colour is a red dot to denote the right earbud, which is replicated in the respective housing, too.
The case looks identical to the one used before. The top half is entirely transparent, with a bottom half that is clear beneath the housing for the buds, while a white plastic casing covers the internal circuitry. There's almost no interruption to the white casing either. On top, simple 'ear(case)' branding is applied between the buds, while the regulatory information and stamping on the base is applied in a pale shade of grey. The hinge and the magnetic catch are both a matte metal finish.
Nothing Ear (2): Performance
After unboxing these, my first thought was "if these sound as good as they look, they're going to be unstoppable." And they really don't disappoint.
Let's start with the raw sound quality, which is impeccable. Starting with the standard 'Balanced' profile, I was greeted with a really top-notch audio offering. The full sonic spectrum is nicely portrayed, with fantastic detail and a level of excitement that other headphones I've tested just couldn't match. It's hard to describe without a flurry of meaningless adjectives, but everything just sounds a little more "alive" through these earbuds.
Using the other profiles to highlight the low, mid and high range frequencies yielded good results too. I found the 'Voice' profile, which boosts the mid-range, and the 'More Treble' profile to be a little superfluous – they do exactly what you'd expect, but I couldn't find a scenario where upsetting the balance of the high end was worthwhile.
The bass boost did come in handy when listening to tracks with heavy low end, though. It managed to pull off some seriously impressive sub-frequencies, without seeming to tarnish the rest of the track.
I had similarly mixed results with the Personal Sound Profile, though I think that was more down to user error than poor software. The app recommends silence for completing the initial test, and while my setting wasn't obnoxiously loud, there was enough background noise to interfere with the process. It did do exactly what it said though – my profile suggested that I struggled to pick out high-end frequencies and it added those back in.
The noise cancellation on these earbuds is another fantastic feature. Up to 40dB of ANC is on offer, allowing you to totally block out the sounds around you. It's good enough to completely kill the hubbub of a train full of festival-goers – no mean feat!
The star of the show, though is the transparency mode. I've struggled in the past with headphones that claim to offer transparent sound and just don't. But with the Ear (2), it works flawlessly. External sounds are able to pass through relatively unencumbered, allowing you to keep an ear out for messages on the train, or the doorbell when at home. I even felt comfortable enough to wear both earbuds while walking around, without fear that I'd unknowingly wander into traffic and miss the cries of onlookers.
One thing I will note though is the range of sound effects used when swapping between profiles. Okay, they're not too offensive, but they are slightly unnerving, particularly if you have the volume up high. The breathy 'ahh' when you engage transparency mode is a personal least-favourite.
Battery life is good – not stellar, but definitely more than enough for most users. I found myself averaging about five and a half hours of buds-only battery life, when dotting between the ANC and transparency modes as needed. The case also stayed well charged, offering about 35 hours based on my usage.
Nothing Ear (2): Verdict
I expected to get to the end of this review and tell you they were 'good value for money' or they 'had a high price to performance ratio'. But that doesn't do justice here. Forget the money, these are just a really fantastic pair of earbuds.
The sound quality is superb, the app is great and works flawlessly, giving you a whole host of added control, and they look divine. Sure, I'd have liked a little bit more battery life or wireless charging to be a bit quicker, but that's being picky.
Factor in the price and this is an absolute no-brainer purchase for almost everyone. At £129, these are considerably less expensive than some of the competition – just don't let that fool you.