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Nothing Ear 1 earbuds: We've used them and here's what you should know

We wrap our ears around the tiny wireless buds from new startup Nothing.

Nothing, the new company from OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei has launched its first product, a set of earbuds called the Ear 1. We've got 'em, we've used 'em, and we've put together the main things you need to know right here. 

OK, so what is Nothing? It's a new London-based tech firm led by Pei. His philosophy with OnePlus was to produce high-quality Android phones at prices that undercut its bigger rivals. So when Pei set out to do his own thing we were intrigued. And a bit confused by the choice of company name. 

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These headphones are the first actual product that Nothing has released.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

These headphones are the first actual product that Nothing has released. They're fully wireless earbuds, complete with active noise cancellation and a charging case that promises up to 34 hours of battery life in total. They'll be available globally from Nothing's website and other stores from Aug. 17, priced at $99 or £99 (about AU$190 converted). 

It's the design that's been Nothing's focus here, with Pei making a particular push for transparent materials. And indeed that's what we get with the Ear 1 buds, with a clear plastic casing around the stem allowing you to see some of the internal components as well as subtle Nothing branding. The main body of the earbud is white, however, which I feel is a shame, as it'd be cool to also be able to see inside to the actual audio drivers. 

They're tiny things, weighing only 0.17 ounces (4.7 grams) each, making them extremely comfortable to wear for extended periods and small enough that I was able to wear them in bed. Three sizes of soft, oval silicon tips are included to help you get a comfy fit. I found that the large size allowed for a snug fit and a tight seal.

The downside of the small size is that the internal batteries are also small, resulting in battery life of the buds being only "up to" 4 hours with active noise cancellation turned on, or 5.7 hours without it. That's a bit below Apple's AirPods Pro and falls short of Anker's SoundCore Liberty Air 2 Pro -- which our audio expert David Carnoy called "an excellent set of true-wireless earbuds." Anker's are physically larger -- hence the bigger internal battery -- and I personally find Nothing's buds to be more comfortable and more stable when you're moving around. For the joggers among you, that lower battery life is likely a fair compromise for a more stable fit.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Sound quality is excellent, however, with warm, punchy bass mixed with bright and clear high tones. I've listened to a range of music in my short testing time so far and I've found them to be adept with bass-driven rock tracks like Limbo by Royal Blood and Here We Go by Lower Than Atlantis, both of which were delivered with meaty low end, without sacrificing any of the higher details from the guitars and cymbals. 

Similarly, the beautiful orchestral production in the Red Bull Symphonic Orchestra's collaboration with Camo & Crooked on the track No Tomorrow was reproduced with excellent clarity and separation, with even the soft hammers against the piano strings being distinctly audible in the opening bars. 

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

I don't have the years of experience in audio testing that our resident expert David Carnoy does, so I'll be leaving the final verdict on audio quality up to him when he's had time to wrap his ears around them. From my perspective though, the Nothing Ear 1 buds offer excellent sound quality, particularly when you bear in mind the reasonably affordable price tag. 

The active noise canceling did a good job of keeping out much of the ambient noise around me when I was in my office and I found that sitting with them in, but without anything playing, offered a peaceful way of working, despite the raucous seagulls that hang out on my roof and never shut the hell up. 

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The transparent design of the buds extends to the charging case, which has handy magnets to easily guide the buds into position and a red dot on the right bud so you can easily tell which one goes where. The case charges over USB-C, or with Qi-enabled wireless chargers and it can fast charge the buds, giving around an hour of playback from just 10 minutes of charging. 

The buds are IPX4 rated for sweat and splash resistance. They have touch controls for pausing the music or turning noise cancelling on or off, and proximity sensors automatically pause the music when you take them out of your ear. Plus there's a "find my buds" option in the Ear 1 app (for iOS and Android) that makes them blare out a loud bleep -- make sure they're not actually stuffed in your ears at the time. 

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Overall Nothing's earbuds aren't revolutionary, or rethinking in any way how we enjoy our music. But they offer good sound, they're pretty cool to look at and they're not too expensive either. It seems that Carl Pei is applying the OnePlus mix of decent performance with a lower price and that's just fine. If you're in the market for wireless buds and you don't fancy sticking Apple's in your ear, these are well worth checking out.