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OnePlus Buds Pro review: Better than I thought they'd be

The OnePlus Buds Pro are AirPods Pro clones that perform well and cost $150.

The OnePlus Buds Pro ($150, £139 or approximately AU$260) may have some chrome on their stems, but they're pretty much AirPods Pro clones, right down to the same pinch controls. But their charging case is different, at least, and they deliver good sound quality and noise canceling, as well as top-notch ambient noise reduction for voice calling. In short, they're a good set of true wireless earbuds that cost less than the AirPods Pro and have a companion app for Android and iOS devices. 

Announced alongside OnePlus's new Nord 2 phone in July, the OnePlus Buds Pro -- available in glossy white or matte black -- were billed as the company's first venture into the premium earbuds arena. The buds get the core features right, have a special Warp Charge quick-charge feature and support Dolby Atmos when paired with certain OnePlus devices. 

8.2

OnePlus Buds Pro

Like

  • Lightweight AirPods Pro-like design offers a comfortable, snug fit for a variety of ear sizes
  • Good sound and active noise canceling
  • Excellent headset performance for calls
  • Compact case with wireless charging
  • IP55 water-resistance
  • Companion app for Android and iOS devices

Don't Like

  • Ear tips could better
  • Some features only available for certain OnePlus devices

I wasn't able to test the OnePlus Buds Pro with a OnePlus phone. But if you do have one, there's native support for the buds; no separate app is required. And I can tell you right now that if you're invested in the OnePlus brand, these are easy to recommend as a companion accessory for your phone. That said, I'm reviewing these more from the perspective of someone who isn't invested in the brand. 

Read more: Best true-wireless earbuds for 2021

The Buds Pro are equipped with Bluetooth 5.2, and I paired them with an iPhone 12 Pro, Google Pixel 4 XL and Galaxy S21 Ultra. They pair quickly when you take them out of their charging case (they lie down in the case instead of sitting upright like the AirPods Pro) and I had no issue with Bluetooth hiccups.

Three sizes of oval ear tips are included and you can do a fit test in the app to check whether the seal is good. I usually use a large tip but I ended up feeling like I was in between the medium and large tips. But with the medium on, the buds fit more securely in my ear, so I went with that.

oneplus-buds-pro-water-resistance

The buds are IP55 water-resistance while the case is splash-proof with an IPX4 rating.

David Carnoy/CNET

Fit affects noise cancellation

This may sound like a weird complaint, but I thought the silicone ear tips could have been better. They look like the AirPods Pro tips but they don't have the same feel -- they seem like cheap knockoffs. In fact, I recently used similar ear tips with the Nothing Ear 1 buds, which carry a list price of $100. I bring this all up simply because, as with all these types of noise-isolating buds, you'll need to get a tight seal for optimal sound quality and noise cancellation. And the silicone tips can make a big difference.

I was able to get good sound with the included tips but the noise-canceling performance was notably better when I swapped in another set of round tips (my ears don't seem to like oval-shaped ones). When I used my own tips with the noise canceling set to the maximum level, it seemed more effective than the AirPods Pro's. There are three noise-canceling settings: low, smart and max (I didn't notice a big difference between smart and max). In the smart mode, the buds apparently monitor the ambient noise around you and adjust the amount of noise cancellation.

The OnePlus buds did a good job muffling the sound of an HVAC unit in my apartment, which puts out a fair amount of noise. They also did a decent job muffling sound in the streets of New York, even as traffic streamed by on a rainy street. The noise canceling seems solid. 

oneplus-buds-pro-sensors

There are three microphones on each bud.

David Carnoy/CNET

Good sound quality

The AirPods Pro have decent but not great sound, so it wasn't surprising that the OnePlus Buds Pro sounded a little better than the AirPods Pro. They use 11mm drivers, according to OnePlus, and I thought they sounded cleaner, with slightly more definition in the bass and better overall clarity. 

The companion app for the Buds Pro is called, for better or worse, HeyMelody. In the app, you can do an Audio ID test to create a sound profile based on your hearing (in fact, you can do multiple tests). I prefer to manually make my own EQ tweaks, but it's there for you to try out and you may find you like the custom auto-tuned setting preferable to the default setting. The app also lets you handle firmware upgrades for the headphones.

The AirPods Pro may sound a tad more open, but the OnePlus were close in terms of the size of their soundstage, and they're pleasant to listen to overall. However, sound-wise, they're just not up there with the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds, which deliver bigger, bolder and slightly more refined sound with a bigger soundstage. You can hear the difference on a track like Silk Sonic's Leave The Door Open. It sounds good on the OnePlus but comes across with more energy and kick on the Sony. That said, the OnePlus Buds Pro measure up well against buds in the $150 range for sound. They're also lighter and smaller than the Sony buds and potentially more comfortable for some people.

OnePlus says the Buds Pro support the high-definition LHDC audio codec (Android devices only), but it wasn't supported on the Pixel 4 XL I was using along with a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. "Among OnePlus phone models, said feature shall be limited to the OnePlus 9 Pro/9, devices scheduled for upgrade to the next OxygenOS version within 2021 via OTA and subsequent smartphone releases," OnePlus says, adding that Nord will not support LHDC. There's no AptX support, so most people will stream using the widely compatible AAC codec. 

oneplus-buds-pro-in-hand

The buds lie flat in their compact charging case.

David Carnoy/CNET

Excellent voice-calling performance

While audio codecs and which features (including Dolby Atmos) are supported by which devices can be confusing, one thing is clear: The Buds Pro are good for making voice calls. I made calls from the streets of New York and in a gym with music playing in the background and callers said they could barely hear any background noise as my voice came through clearly. For calls, these are among the better buds I've used. Alas, they don't offer multipoint Bluetooth pairing, which would allow you to pair them with two devices, such as a phone and PC, simultaneously and switch the audio between them. However, OnePlus says it's working on adding that feature with a future firmware update (I'll update this review if it does). 

The AirPods Pro's transparency mode is considered the gold standard when it comes to letting sound into the buds and making it seem like you're not wearing them. I can't say the OnePlus' transparency mode beats the AirPods Pro's, but I thought it sounded natural. No complaints there.

As I said, these use the same control scheme as the AirPods Pro's -- you squeeze the stem to control playback. You can customize those controls in the app a bit, but you can't program to raise or lower volume. I thought they worked as well as the AirPods Pro's controls (I like the stem-squeezing control scheme but others don't). 

For those who like to use a single bud for calls or listening, that option is available, and these buds do have sensors that auto detect when the buds are in your ears -- or not -- and pause your music when you take them out of your ears and resume playback when you put them in. 

oneplus-buds-pro-flower

The tips could be a little more premium. 

David Carnoy/CNET

In terms of extra features, there isn't much else. There's a low-latency gaming mode, but once again it's only available for "select" OnePlus devices. Some people may appreciate the Zen More Air white noise mode. You have a couple of short white noise loops (birds chirping in the woods, camp fire, waves crashing) to choose from and you can add a few more. The Meditation track is what you might expect to encounter during a treatment session at a spa.

Battery life is rated at 5 hours on a single charge at 50% volume with noise canceling on and 7 hours with it off, plus an extra 23 hours in the case (with ANC on). The AIrPods Pro have similar life numbers. As noted, these have a Warp Charge feature that adds 10 hours to the charging case with 10 minutes of charging via USB-C (the case can also be charged wirelessly at slower speeds). However, it's not quite as big a deal as it first seems because any fully depleted charging case would initially charge very quickly. I charged the case when it was at 50%. and it got to 70% after 10 minutes of charging -- a nice little bump in a relatively short time. 

I'll finish by saying these are suitable for sporting activities. I used them at the gym and for a short run. They stayed in my ears well and worked fine after I let them take in some rain (for an even more secure fit, I'd try foam tips, which I use with my AirPods Pro for running). The Buds Pro have an IPX55 water-resistance rating, so they can withstand sustained sprays of water and they're dust-resistant, too.

OnePlus Buds Pro: Final thoughts

With some of Buds Pro's features and spec numbers I found myself diving into the fine print at the bottom of their product page on the OnePlus website to get a more complete picture. There's a bit of hype with some of those features and numbers, but the good news is OnePlus got the core stuff -- like sound, noise-canceling and voice-calling -- right.

While the Buds Pro are almost embarrassingly similar to the AirPods Pro and don't have much of a design identity beyond the their chrome accents on the stems (I prefer the black model but asked for the white one because it's easier to photograph), these are very good true-wireless earbuds. They cost $150, but probably have room for discounting, and I think they need to be more in the $120 range to compete with everything that's already out there.

The fact is the AirPods Pro can be had for $180 and probably a little less in the coming months and it will be hard to draw iOS users away from the AirPods Pro with such a small price delta. Android users also have plenty of attractive choices in this price range, including Samsung's Galaxy Buds 2 ($150) and even some budget AirPods clones like the Edifier 330NB ($60). In other words, in such a competitive market with a lot of good products, OnePlus will have to overcome being a value brand selling a sort-of-premium product at a just-below-premium price tag. Don't get me wrong, I like the Buds Pro at $150. But I'd like them even more at $120.