I had a chance to try Nothing's new buds, which offer great rock and indie audio performance.
Nothing's second-gen earbuds -- the Ear 2 -- have arrived. I've used them and found they offer good sound quality and solid active noise cancellation. They replace the first-gen Nothing Ear 1 buds, which were launched back in July 2021, and they'll cost $149 (£129, which converts to roughly AU$275) when they go on sale on March 29.
Nothing is the fairly fresh tech firm founded by Carl Pei, who's better known for having co-founded OnePlus. I've been impressed many of OnePlus's products since day one, so I was excited to see what its former CEO might cook up next. Nothing's first products including the Ear 1 buds and the Nothing Phone 1 echoed OnePlus' philosophy of not having "to choose between performance, quality and price."
When they launched, I admired the Ear 1 buds' stand-out design, decent sound quality and fair pricing. To be honest, not a lot has changed for the newer version. Physically there's very little difference. The Ear 2 buds come with an almost identical (although slightly smaller) clear perspex charging case and the buds themselves are almost indistinguishable from the previous model.
If you're hoping for wild new looks from Carl Pei's design team with every generation, you may be disappointed. But I like the look, even if it's not a departure from the Ear 1. The buds are small and lightweight which makes them comfortable to wear for long periods. I even found them unobtrusive enough to sleep in.
The touch controls have been adjusted, so you now need to squeeze the stems rather than tap them. This makes it less easy to accidentally change tracks -- a small update but one I found to be helpful in everyday use. They're also IP55 rated for water-resistance, so you don't need to worry about wearing them in the rain or during a particularly sweaty workout.
The case charges the buds, providing a total of up to 36 hours of battery life (with noise cancelling turned off) which is a slight improvement over the 34 hours of the last model. It also has fast charging giving 8 hours of use from just 10 minutes of charging.
So what about that all-important sound quality? Nothing says its audio engineers worked hard to upgrade performance, and indeed I noticed an improvement over the last model. Don Broco's track Pretty was handled well, for example. I could hear crystal clear cracks on the snare in the opening beats, and brightly ringing cymbals with a deep bass when it really kicked in.
The buds are a talented all-rounder, so if you tend to bounce between genres on your playlists then they'll likely suit you well. I found the buds to perform optimally, though, with rock and indie genres, with songs like Atreyu's Baptize sounding punchy and detailed, while Cage The Elephant's In One Ear struck a satisfying balance between the warmth of the bass and the crunch of the guitars.
There have been key updates on the software side, with the Nothing X app (available on both Android and iOS) offering sound tests to check you're wearing the right sized ear tips and a sound profile mode that aims to automatically tune the audio to your personal needs. I tried it but for the most part found I'd rather just use the "Balanced" mode in the app's equalizer.
Using the app to perform setup also allows you to tailor the active noise cancelling function to the frequencies you can -- or can't -- hear. I found the resulting cancellation effect to be excellent. It easily removed the background hum of my computers and fans and the road noise outside my window.
If you own the first-generation model already then there's little need to upgrade to the the Ear 2 buds. They perform similarly and look identical. But if you're in the market for a new pair of ANC earbuds, and you've been curious about the Nothing brand, then the Ear 2 buds are a solid option to consider.