Nothing Ear (2): Two-minute review
The Nothing Ear (2) stick with the same form factor as the Nothing Ear (1), but bring some welcome upgrades in the form of a smaller and more robust charging case, added features, slightly bumped up specs and some cool personalization options.
Since then, Nothing has also launched the Nothing Ear Stick, another set of true wireless buds which also sound much better than their sub $100 / £100 price tag would suggest.
The Nothing Ear (2) design is undeniably eye-catching, with a transparent casing and sleek black, white, and red detailing. They fit well too, I found them to be among the most comfortable and stable buds I’ve ever tested.
The ANC performed well, and overall the buds deliver a really enjoyable listen. Features-wise there’s a lot going on, including a high-res audio codec for some handsets, and multipoint pairing for all.
The only major downside is that the battery life isn’t the best – and I imagine some people won’t like the design too, but for what it’s worth I’m a big fan.
There’s a lot to love here, but the Nothing Ear (2) are entering a competitive space. While they come very close to being in our best earbuds or best noise cancelling earbuds guides – they’re being edged out at the price by the five-star Sony WF-C700N, which are cheaper and are kind of mind-blowing when it comes to the sound. But they’re pretty generic looking – if you want to stand out, the Nothing should be very tempting.
Nothing Ear (2) review: Price & release date
- Released in March 2023
- Priced at $149 / £129 / AU$219
The Nothing Ear (2) are a little more expensive than the Nothing Ear (1) were when they first came out in 2022, priced at $100 / £100 / AU$150. This makes sense considering there are some solid upgrades in these latest buds, which pushes the Nothing Ear (2) just into the mid-range category. Although it is worth mentioning Nothing had since bumped up the price of the Nothing Ear (1) to $149 / £129 / AU$219 as well.
At this price, there’s fierce competition from buds like the JBL Live Pro 2 at $149.95 / £129.99 / AU$199.95 – which we highly commended for their amazing ANC and powerful audio – or the phenomenal Sony WF-C700N at $119 / £99 / AU$199.
However, the Nothing Ear (2) buds stand their ground, delivering good features and a great design that might not put them head and shoulders above their rivals, but worthy of a position next to them.
They are obviously much cheaper thatn the AirPods Pro 2 and Sony WF-1000XM4. Do the Nothing Ear (2) perform better? No. But they do offer a range of features and outshine certain top-performing, all-rounders in some categories at half the price.
Nothing Ear (2) review: Specs
|Active noise cancellation||Yes|
|Battery life||4 hours (buds); 22.5 hours in total (with case)|
|Weight||4.5g per bud|
|Frequency range||Not listed|
|Waterproofing||IP54 (buds), IP55 (case)|
|Other features||Multi-point pairing, fast pairing, low lag mode (Nothing phones), EQ, personalized sound profile.|
Nothing Ear (2) review: Features
- Personalized sound profile
- Easy-to-use app
- Below average battery life
One of the biggest differences between last year’s Nothing Ear (1) and the Nothing Ear (2), is the latest buds bring you a more personalized listening experience. From within the app – which is just as stylish as the buds themselves – you can take a sound personalization test, which promises a more immersive experience while allowing listening at reduced volumes without losing detail. I certainly noticed some added clarity to music after taking it, but would say the difference is subtle.
You’ll also find a customizable EQ with some presets, ways to change the touch controls and some other handy features you can switch on and off, including in-ear detection – pop a bud out and music pauses – as well as multipoint pairing, which allows you to listen from one device and then quickly switch to another with ease.
The Nothing Ear (2) are Android and iOS friendly. The buds paired quickly with both my iPhone 13 Pro and Nothing Phone (1). There are new Bluetooth specifications in the Nothing Ear (2) buds compared to their predecessors, too. The LHDC 5.0 codec brings high-res audio to some Huawei, Oppo and Nothing smartphones – everyone else gets the standard AAC and SBC codes. There a few extra perks if you’re using a Nothing Phone (1) too, such as automatically engaging a low-latency mode when gaming.
The buds’ accompanying charging case juices up wirelessly or via USB-C. I was disappointed by the battery life from these buds. Four hours from the buds with ANC on is absolutely rock bottom of the market, though 22.5 hours in total with the case isn’t bad at all. You’ll get nearly double that battery life from similar-priced rivals such as the Earfun Air Pro 3 and JBL Live Pro 2.
Nothing Ear (2) review: Sound quality
- Good noise cancellation
- Enjoyable sound for everyday listening
- A little tiring in mid-range vocals
The Nothing Ear (2) buds are not all style over substance. They sound great most of the time, bringing lots of energy and excitement to my favorite tracks.
I found they had a balanced sound overall and I enjoyed listening to a range of genres with them. For this reason, I’d recommend them as a solid pair of buds for everyday listening.
Powerful and energetic tracks tended to be my favorites to listen to with the Nothing Ear (2). The electronic sound effects in Crystal Castles’ Baptism really popped, the vocals were clear and the bass was thumping without being overpowering – I hit a few new personal bests at the gym when I took these buds and it’s easy to see why. I liked pop music with a heavy bass line too, like The Weeknd’s The Hills and FKA Twigs’ Two Weeks.
However, these buds aren’t the best in sonic performance and can’t beat the best options out there – like the Sony WF-1000XM4 – for sheer sound alone. I didn’t feel like there was much of an expansive soundstage here, the audio very much felt like it was coming from inside my head rather than delivering a more natural experience. Of course this is not unexpected from in-ear buds, but some do it better than others.
What’s more, I had issues with some vocals, and the mids more generally, sounding a little brash and tinny at times and distanced at others. This meant I felt a little fatigued by certain tracks that I’d normally love listening to, such as Miley Cyrus’ Flowers.
The good news is you can also fine-tune the audio with the app’s EQ settings, which allowed me to smooth out some of the issues I was having. I also enjoyed cranking up the bass and power with the More Bass setting. You can also manually tweak the EQ. This is fun, and you should play around with it because it really added something to certain genres.
With a Nothing phone you’re meant to get the LHDC codec for high-res audio. I did notice a greater level of detail when I used the device, but found the difference to be marginal.
Active noise cancellation was impressive. It’s at a level I’ve come to expect from buds around this price, where it significantly dampens down ambient sound around you. When working in a coffee shop, the conversations close by were all but silent. Higher pitched sounds, like a panini-making machine alarm, were significantly muffled but audible. Commuting is a similar story. Expect to be wrapped up in a bubble of silence most of the time. However car horns and the rumble of heavy lorries on busier roads did seep through.
You can select from High, Mid, Low or Adaptive ANC. Adaptive wasn’t drastically different, but was the option I used the most. You can also select personalized ANC, which is based on your hearing sensitivity and the personalized test I mentioned earlier. Again, I’m not sure I noticed a great deal of difference before and after, but regardless, ANC worked well and it’s a kind I prefer, allowing me to stay vaguely aware of my surroundings.
You won’t get the silence of better noise-cancelling buds, such as the Apple AirPods Pro 2 or Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, but I wouldn’t have expected that at this price. What you’re getting is ANC that’s more than good enough to make your commute and busy working space more peaceful, which is all most people want.
Like the Nothing Ear (Stick), there’s Clear Voice Technology here, which means there are three high-def mics working to filter out background noises and amplifying your voice so your calls sound clear no matter where you are. I found this to be the case for the most part, although wind did affect the clarity of my voice at the other end.
- Sound quality score: 3.5/5
EarFun Air Pro 3 review: Design
- Gorgeous, distinctive look
- Lightweight (4.5g per bud) and comfortable
- Unusual charging case design
The Nothing Ear (2) are the most comfortable buds I’ve tested this year – which is saying something considering the amount I’ve twisted into my ear canals over the past few months.
They also stay put too, even when I took them to the gym during a particularly sweaty workout. What stands out here is that although they stay put, they didn’t give me an uncomfortable build-up of pressure feeling, which some people experience with other brands. In keeping with the customization theme here, there are S, M and L tips to choose from, and an ear tip fit test too.
The design is the standout feature of the Nothing Ear (2) buds. They look incredibly cool with a mostly transparent outer casing, which means you can see the tech inside along with some simple black, white and red detailing. I’ve tested so many buds that I’ve become a bit desensitized to them (don’t hate me, many do look identical). But the Nothing Ear (2) buds felt special to unbox and use. Granted, other people I asked weren’t so keen, but each to their own.
We didn’t rate the charging case of the Ear (1) last year, saying that it was too big compared to rivals. It’s not been significantly redesigned here, but it’s a little smaller and lighter. Like the buds themselves, it has a transparent design. It’s also rectangular, which is a refreshing change to others on the market. Although it does mean it might not slip in your pocket quite as easily.
Despite the plastic casing, the buds and case feel very robust and well-made. The buds also have an IP54 rating (the same as the AirPods Pro 2), which means they’re splash proof and perfect for sweaty workouts. The case also has an IP55 rating, which is handy, and not all that common amongst rival buds – it means they can take being splashed.
The Nothing Ear (2) buds have a simple, short-stemmed design. The stem is touch sensitive and this is where the Nothing Ear (2) touch controls live, which you can activate through a series of single, double and triple pinches, which I found handy and responsive. I also liked the tactile feedback and little sounds which accompanied the controls. You can also change these from within the Nothing app.
If you want buds that look different, these are the ones to buy. I loved the look of them, but would have given them a 5/5 rating even if they weren’t my cup of tea because they’re such a refreshing change.
Nothing Ear (2) review: Value
- A fair bit of competition at this price – but nothing looks as good
- Good features for a mid-range pair of buds
- ANC works well here
The Nothing Ear (2) buds don’t outshine all the competition at this price. But if you’re looking for distinctive, stylish headphones that sound good, offer quality ANC and have great features, they’re a solid choice.
For battery life, sheer sound performance and immersive ANC you’ll need to look elsewhere. However, although some buds at a similar price offer better specs in a few of those areas, you’d have to pay almost double the price to knock the Nothing Ear (2) out of the water completely.
Even then, you’ll be getting a similar experience in terms of comfort and no one is offering a design that is quite so swoon-worthy – no, not even you, Apple.
Should I buy the Nothing Ear (2)?
|Features||Personalized sound profile. Easy-to-use app. Battery life is low.||4/5|
|Sound quality||Good ANC. Enjoyable sound for everyday listening.||3.5/5|
|Design||Gorgeous, distinctive look. Lightweight (4.5g per bud) and comfortable. Unusual charging case design.||5/5|
|Value||Competition is fierce, but these buds offer great features and a lovely design for the price.||4/5|
Buy them if…
Don’t buy it if…
Nothing Ear (2) review: Also consider
|Nothing Ear (2)||JBL Live Pro 2||Sony WF-C700N|
|Price||$149 / £129 / AU$219||$149 / £129 / AU$199||$119 / £999 / AU$199|
|Active noise cancellation||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Quoted battery life||4 hours (buds), 22.5 hours (case)||10 hours (buds) 30 hours (case)||7.5 (buds), 15 hours (case)|
|Weight||4.5g per earbud||4.8g (per buds) 48.4g (case)||5.3g per earbud|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth 5.3, USB-C||Bluetooth 5.2, USB-C||Bluetooth 5.2, USB-C|
|Frequency range||Not listed||20Hz – 20kHz||20Hz – 20kHz|
|Waterproofing||IP54 (buds), IP55 (case)||IPX5||IPX4|
|Other features||Multi-point pairing, wireless charging, low lag mode (Nothing phones), EQ, personalized sound profile, Nothing app support||Mulitipoint pairing, JBL app support||Sony 360 Reality Audio, Sony app support|
How I tested the Nothing Ear (2)
- Tested for two weeks
- Used in a home office, at the gym, working in a coffee shop, on public transport and walks in the countryside
- Tested with Spotify and Apple Music on iPhone 13 Pro, Nothing Phone (1) and MacBook Air
The Nothing Ear (2) buds went everywhere with me for two weeks. They became my new musical BFFs working in my home office and with me in the gym doing a mix of high and low-intensity training. These were perfect opportunities to test the ANC to see if it could help me focus and the fit and comfort levels to see if they’re suitable for all-day listening and can withstand some sweating at the gym.
I took the Nothing Ear (2) buds to a crowded coffee shop and on many short and long distance bus and train journeys. This was when ANC was tested against loud conversations, screaming babies, and low, rumbling vehicle noises.
I also used the buds while walking through the countryside on wet and windy days. Again, this allowed me to test the fit, the ANC, and the sound quality and see how well I could hear (and be heard) during calls.
To check the sound quality, I listened to a wide range of playlists, including smooth jazz, shouty punk and epic movie scores, on Apple Music and Spotify using my iPhone 13 Pro and a Nothing Phone (1). I also listened to podcasts on Apple Podcasts and audiobooks on Audible. I paired the buds up with my MacBook Air and watched some TV shows on Disney Plus (The Mandalorian) and YouTube tutorials.
I’ve been writing and testing tech for more than 10 years, focusing mainly on the tech you wear – smartwatches, heart rate monitors, fitness trackers and earbuds – which is why I’m interested in what’s comfortable to wear, easy to fit into your routine and intuitive to use day in and day out.
Read more about how we test.
- First reviewed: June 2023