CMF Buds Pro review

Prasad, 26 September 2023

The Buds Pro are the first of the three products being launched under the CMF brand by Nothing. These are entry-level, affordable products, which Nothing wants to delineate from its main brand and its more premium offerings.

CMF Buds Pro review

The CMF Buds Pro are relatively basic earbuds with one major feature; you get active noise cancellation, which is rapidly becoming a must-have even in the entry-level segment. We see a lot of subpar implementations in this price range so it will be interesting to see how well it works on the CMF Buds Pro and how they perform in general.

Unboxing

Usually, there isn't a lot to talk about the unboxing experience of earbuds and that's somewhat true of the CMF Buds Pro as well. But it's not as much about what's inside the packaging that's important here but rather the packaging itself.

Packaging Packaging Packaging
Packaging

As with the other two CMF products, the Buds Pro ship in an incredibly minimal packaging that you'd normally expect from an aftermarket USB cable that you buy at the airport after you realize you left yours at home.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing as really there isn't any need for anything more elaborate than this. Just two pieces of cardboard with cutouts for the case and the cable work just fine, and also means you save a ton of space on the shelf and during transportation while making minimal dent in the environment during manufacturing and eventual disposal.

Design

The CMF Buds Pro case is roughly the size and shape of a hockey puck. The Dark Gray version I have here especially looks like something twelve burly men would want to violently fight over while skating on ice. If that's not your speed then it's also available in Light Gray and a scorching Orange.

CMF Buds Pro review

For a brand named CMF, which stands for color, material, and finish — a common term in the field of industrial design — the design and material aspects of its products will undoubtedly be scrutinized. In that aspect, the CMF Buds Pro don't necessarily break any new ground or stand out in any particular way.

The case has a matte finish and smooth texture, which does tend to scuff easily. The hinge has a shiny chrome-like finish to it. On the front is an LED strip and on the back is a USB port for charging. On the inside, you find a button flush with the surface for initiating pairing. The scooped-out interiors of the lid hide all the regulatory markings and the branding.

The earbuds have a long pill-shaped stalk and a touch-sensitive outer surface. There are two small vents on the top for the speakers and two at the bottom for the microphones. On the inner side is a window for the optical sensor that detects the earbuds being worn, which is rare for this price category as others usually tend to use just a capacitive touch surface to detect contact with the skin.

CMF Buds Pro review

The earbuds have an IP54 rating for dust and water resistance. This rating does not apply to the case.

The CMF Buds Pro were comfortable to wear over extended durations. They are small, light, and unobtrusive in the ear. The provided silicone tips are soft and pliant without feeling overly thin or cheap as is often the case in this segment.

Overall, the CMF Buds Pro don't necessarily have any standout aspects with regards to their industrial design. Perhaps the CMF name is just that, a name, and there isn't much need to read deeper into it, especially considering the price segment being targeted. It is strange, however, as this is usually the part of the review where Nothing products score big but the CMF Buds Pro end up being quite unremarkable.

Software and features

The CMF Buds Pro work with the Nothing X app for all their software control need. The app is available on Android as well as on iOS. On Nothing phones, you also get better integration within the Bluetooth settings and the notification toggles.

Integration with Nothing phones Integration with Nothing phones Integration with Nothing phones
Integration with Nothing phones

The Nothing X app has a handful of options for the CMF Buds Pro. You can adjust the EQ, which I will get to later. You can also change the controls. Here, you can customize the touch gestures for double, triple, tap and hold, and double tap and hold. There is no single tap, which should prevent accidental taps if your hand brushes against the earbuds.

You can also adjust the ANC modes in the app. You have noise cancellation with three levels of manual control but no auto adjustment as on the Nothing Ear (2). You can also engage the transparency mode or turn off ANC, both of which are indicated by unobtrusive beeps. For some reason, enabling ANC plays a different, deep bass tone. Nothing has had issues in the past getting the volume of these right and I still feel the bass tone while enabling ANC is too loud, especially when nothing is playing in the background.

Aside from that, the app lets you disable the in-ear detection, which only affects playback, and the ANC will still automatically enable or disable regardless of what this option is set to. You can also enable a low-lag mode, although it would have been nice if this triggered automatically as it does on OnePlus phones when a game is launched.

Finally, you can use the Find My Earbuds feature as well as the firmware update option in the app.

Getting back to the EQ settings, I have a bone to pick with Nothing. You are limited to the three-band EQ of the older Nothing earbuds and not the new advanced parametric EQ available for the Ear (2). Equalizer is a fully software-based feature and gatekeeping it for certain models is not cool.

Nothing X app Nothing X app Nothing X app Nothing X app Nothing X app Nothing X app Nothing X app Nothing X app Nothing X app Nothing X app
Nothing X app

This wouldn't even be an issue if Nothing had a good three-band EQ but it doesn't. It's impossible to get a half-decent tuning with it as it just sounds awful by default and making any drastic changes also drops the overall volume. The presets are equally awful and at this point just a meme. This entire section of the app feels like it has received zero care or attention from the sound engineering department, at least in the version of the app we had available at the time of testing (2.3.6).

Aside from intentionally bad features, the software experience on the CMF Buds Pro was pretty good overall. EQ aside, the app is well-designed and a pleasure to use. And the software was stable with almost nothing to complain about. The only other time this happened with a Nothing audio product was with the Ear (stick), which is funny since that was also a relatively low-cost product compared to the Ear (1) and (2), both of which had issues galore at launch.

Performance

Audio quality

The CMF Buds Pro have a single dynamic liquid crystal polymer + polyurethane driver. The earbuds support SBC and AAC codecs over Bluetooth 5.3. The earbuds also adjust bass frequencies in real-time based on the content.

Starting with the frequency response, the CMF Buds Pro have a straightforward v-shaped tuning. The treble is the usual Nothing spicy affair and this time around the bass has also been bumped up a couple of notches, leaving the mid-range in a valley so deep only Maverick in an F-18 can fly out of it.

The bass response on the CMF Buds Pro is rather aggressive. This is on top of the Nothing Ear (2) tuning, which had a more balanced but still very thumpy low-end. The bass is a bit better controlled than what we usually see in this price range but there's no getting over just how much there is. On bassy genres such as electronic music, the bass impact can easily get overwhelming and fatiguing but on less bass-heavy tracks it didn't nearly bother me as much.

CMF Buds Pro review

The low mid-range is compromised, much like on the Ear (2), where there is a very audible dip in the frequency response. This causes some instruments and deeper male vocals to be pushed back into the mix. It will also affect the discernability of vocals in content such as videos and podcasts.

The upper mid-range and treble can be quite hot at times, as has now become a tradition for Nothing's tuning. However, this does prove to be a boon rather than a curse in the case of the CMF Buds Pro. Having that much bass needs an immediate counter on the other end to prevent the sound from becoming lopsided and overly muddy, and the high treble energy does just that.

The fleshed-out upper mid-range means female vocals and a lot of male vocals sound distinct and lively in the mix. The upper treble energy can cause some sibilance at times but also helps imaging and spatial characteristics.

The overall sound is energetic and vibrant, with a decent sense of space and positioning. Timbre isn't particularly natural due to the uneven mid-range and things tend to sound slightly tinny or shouty. Detail and resolution are also lacking at times due to the submerged mid-range, which obfuscates a lot of finer information in the mix.

Compared to the immediate competition, the OnePlus Nord Buds 2, the CMF Buds Pro sound more balanced despite being just as bass-heavy. The Nord Buds 2 have a better lower mid-range presence with mellower vocals but the dull highs make the sound overall dark and muddy in comparison. However, OnePlus actually offers a very capable EQ in its app, something Nothing simply does not for the CMF Buds Pro, so you can actually make the Nord Buds 2 sound better than the CMF Buds Pro with a bit of manual tuning.

CMF Buds Pro review

The CMF Buds Pro sound, much like that of the Nothing Ear (2), is affected by the ANC. The aforementioned observations were with ANC enabled, which is the default. Disable the ANC, however, and suddenly the missing lower mids crawl out of the woodwork. The sound is also perceptibly less bass and treble heavy leading to an overall more balanced tonality. In a sense, disabling the ANC almost acts as an EQ preset that could be worth exploring if you don't need to use the feature.

Overall, the CMF Buds Pro are fairly decent-sounding earbuds for the price. However, I would have liked to see a more functional EQ being offered within the app to let buyers get the most out of the hardware without having to look into third-party alternatives.

Microphone

The CMF Buds Pro have mediocre microphone performance. Voices have a slightly muffled quality to them even when recorded in a quiet room with no background noise. It's not bad enough to be distracting during a call but you are certainly not getting any compliments for your microphone.

CMF Buds Pro review

This is one area where the OnePlus Nord Buds 2 absolutely smoke the CMF Buds Pro. The Nord Buds simply have more natural, better-sounding voices, making them a far superior choice for those who make a lot of voice calls and care about the microphone quality.

In fact, the Nord Buds 2 mic sounds better than even the 3x more expensive Ear (2) mic, which suggests that it's high time Nothing starts prioritizing microphone performance instead of just aiming for a passing grade.

Noise cancellation

The CMF Buds Pro feature active noise cancellation, which works in tandem with the six onboard microphones. As mentioned before, you can pick from three levels of active noise cancellation, switch it off entirely, or enable transparency mode.

At the highest setting, the ANC performance on the CMF Buds Pro is very good. The earbuds are surprisingly effective at low-frequency sounds but also have very decent coverage of the mid frequencies, something we don't usually see in the cheaper earbuds. It still lets in higher frequency sounds to some extent but that is somewhat unavoidable.

Compared to the OnePlus Nord Buds 2, the ANC on the CMF Buds Pro is in a different league altogether. The Nord Buds let in a lot more mid-range sounds and also don't have as good of low-frequency coverage as CMF. Compared to the more expensive Nothing Ear (2), the CMF Buds Pro have slightly worse mid-frequency coverage but the two are surprisingly close otherwise.

Lowering the ANC level has a drastic effect on the quality of the effect, with even the medium mode being way worse and not that much better than the low mode. I would not recommend using these lower modes and just leave it at high.

The transparency mode was disappointing. It does not amplify ambient sounds nearly enough and ends up sounding quite a bit muffled. You end up just removing the earbuds if you want to hear better, which defeats its purpose.

Latency

The CMF Buds Pro have poor latency performance. Like microphone quality, this is another area where Nothing struggles consistently and the CMF Buds Pro are no better. On average, the audio latency is anywhere between 200-300ms, which is a lot. Even videos, which when played on smartphones do tend to auto sync to account for Bluetooth latency, cannot sync far enough for these earbuds and tend to have a visible delay in speech. Gaming is simply out of the question.

CMF Buds Pro review

The earbuds have a low lag mode in the Nothing X app, which aside from having to be manually toggled even on Nothing phones, just doesn't seem to do much, if at all. The latency clocked in at roughly the same value regardless of whether you switch this on or off. It also turns off every time you put the earbuds back in the case.

Battery Life

The CMF Buds Pro have a 55mAh battery in each earbud, which is a rather substantial 67% increase over the Ear (2)'s anemic 33mAh batteries. The claimed battery life for the CMF Buds Pro is 11 hours with ANC disabled and 6.5 hours with ANC enabled.

In my testing, the CMF Buds Pro played for 11 hours and 41 minutes with ANC disabled and 6 hours and 26 minutes with ANC disabled. These are very good numbers and a far cry from what the Ear (2) managed. It's also way better than what the Nord Buds 2 could do.

Conclusion

The CMF Buds Pro cost £69/$69/₹3499. For the price, you get a lightweight, comfortable design, an attractive, easy-to-use app, decent audio quality, amazing active noise cancellation, thoughtful packaging, and a very good battery life.

CMF Buds Pro review

As for the downsides, there is no decent audio customizability available, the microphone quality is meh, and the latency is rather high.

These particular issues have always been present for all Nothing audio products at launch so that's nothing new. But in terms of the sheer number of complaints, this is the shortest list out of all of them so far, which makes the CMF Buds Pro the most well-received out of all its siblings. Add to that the lowest price yet and in a way this might just be the best audio product Nothing has ever made.


Related

Reader comments

  • Anonymous
  • 31 Jan 2024
  • t@J

I got it for 2299 rupees (around 29 usd), and for that price, I think these are absolutely amazing products.

  • johnf440
  • 28 Nov 2023
  • Fjd

Have you listened to them? For $49 and a quick EQ in Wavelet they sound surprisingly good at that price point. Also, the ANC is no joke on these.

  • Anonymous
  • 10 Oct 2023
  • m5B

When will they be available to buy in the UK?

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