Nothing ear (1) review
The ear (1) is the first product from the London-based Nothing. By now you must have read all about the company and its founding members — and if not, you can find more info here — so let me just cut to the chase and focus on the product.
The ear (1) are a pair of truly wireless earbuds. Available in the US, Europe, UK, and India, the ear (1) feature active noise cancelation, wireless charging, water resistance, and a unique transparent design for a starting price of around $99. They will be available globally on August 17 with a limited drop on Nothing's website on July 31.
The ear (1) come in compact paper packaging. The box features a paper sleeve on the outside that needs to be torn open with the pull tab to reveal the silver box.
Inside, you will find the earbuds, three sets of silicone ear tips in different sizes (one of which is already on the earbuds), and a short USB-C charging cable. The cable has a braided appearance but there is a clear plastic coating on top so it doesn't have the same feel as a braided cable.
The thing I thought was of special note was the paperwork inside a small sleeve. The ear (1) come with black paper booklets with white font, echoing the marketing and website design for the brand. The white-on-black print does look nice, even though it's quite small.
It would be fair to say that design is one of the pivotal features of the ear (1). Both the earbuds and the charging case feature a transparent design, which is fairly unique for this product category.
The charging case features a clear plastic base and lid. All the electronic elements and the battery is contained within a white plastic module with a dimpled finish, although you never get to touch it as it's encased within the clear plastic.
Looking around the case, you can find certain elements that would otherwise not be visible. This includes the metal hinge for the lid, the magnet that keeps the lid in place when shut (and has the serial number printed on it), and also the magnets that hold the earbuds in place when they are inside the case.
On the right edge is a USB-C port for charging as well as a button for initiating the pairing process.
Inside, the earbuds are placed facing away from each other in two of the corners. They sit pretty much on top of the case and don't go too deep inside. Removing the earbuds reveals the angled contacts as well as the magnets keeping the earbuds in place.
There's a small LED here that glows to indicate charging and pairing status. Also, the charging case seems to have a name — ear (CASE) — printed on the inside.
At this point, I probably should address the rather large dimple in the lid of the case. It's pretty deep, almost as much as the height of the lid, and serves as a nice place to rest your thumb while holding the case or pulling it out of the purse or pocket. But it also serves another, possibly more important function, which is to make sure the earbuds stay in place when the lid is closed. The dimple presses against the stems of the earbuds and makes sure they maintain contact with the charging pins.
The transparent plastic does have a few compromises. It only appears as pristine as it does in these pictures when it's brand new; after a few days of use the entire outside of the case was covered in smudges. The bottom of the case had also picked up several scratches from simply sliding around on the desk a few times. I can't imagine what being carried around in a bag or a purse on a daily basis would do to it after a few months.
The lid of the case also lacks a lip to make it easy to open. I found it much harder to open the lid the normal way as your thumb has very little to grip on to. It's much easier if you hold it sideways and use your thumb and index finger to pry the lid open to the side rather than away from you.
The earbuds carry over the transparent and white plastic combination. The short stems have a clear plastic that lets you see the logic board, microphones, and the battery, provided you have good eyesight. While none of these components are unique, being able to see them in all their miniature glory does give one a greater sense of appreciation for them.
The clear stems turn to black opaque plastic and finally into milky white opaque plastic for the part that actually goes inside your ears. At the end are the silicone ear tips, which have an oblong shape, similar to those on the AirPods Pro.
The white part of the earbuds that touches your ears features a capacitive touch surface. This is used by the earbuds to know when they are placed in your ears. This method of detection is cheaper than using optical proximity sensors but can be a bit less accurate with a higher chance of false positives. If the area touches the skin of your fingers, for example, when you are not wearing them then the earbuds could assume they are back in your ears and start playing.
The outside of the earbud stems is also touch-sensitive for using gestures. You can do things like tapping and swiping your fingers across them to control various functions of the earbuds (more on this later).
The ear (1) are water and sweat-resistant with an IPX4 rating, which is always a good thing to have.
Overall, the ear (1) are well-designed and well-built earphones. It's not easy to make a clear product without engineering it from the grounds up for it and it's certainly not something you'd see from a more generic, off-the-shelf item with parts shared with other products. The general fit and finish is good and the product feels well put together. This may have been expected if this was a particularly expensive product but it isn't so the level of design ingenuity and attention to detail is noteworthy.
While comfort can be a very subjective topic for headphones considering the wide variance in size and shape of everyone's ears, it would be remiss of me to not mention my personal experience of using the ear (1).
There are a couple of things working in the favor of the ear (1). First, the earbuds are quite small and are largely unobtrusive. This should let them fit inside most ears with relative ease. Secondly, the ear (1) are extremely light at 4.7g per earbud.
The oblong ear tips are somewhat shallow and don't go too deep in your ear canal. They have pressure equalizing vents so you don't feel any discomfort when you put them on or remove them.
I found the ear (1) to be moderately comfortable. I had to push the earbuds fairly deep in my ears to get a good seal from the shallow tips, which caused the white portion to apply a tad more pressure on my ears than I'd have liked, causing some fatigue after about an hour of use. It's not painful and I even managed to make it through the entire battery life run while wearing them but it wasn't the most comfortable experience. As usual, your mileage may vary.
The ear (1) do sit fairly snug in your ears and at no point did they feel loose or insecure. There was also no annoying bounce that some earbuds have when you walk with them as the ear (1) have relatively low mass with very little overhang that can oscillate.
I do think most people should find the ear (1) comfortable unless they have particularly small ears.
The Nothing ear (1) come with fairly basic software for both iOS and Android to help customize some features of the earbuds. The software used for this review was a pre-released version but seemed to have everything that should be in the public version that would go live by the time you read this.
On the main screen of the app, you find an image of the earbuds with their respective remaining battery percentages. If you have the case open nearby then that shows up here as well.
From the main screen, you can access two functions. From the ‘hear’ option, you can control the ANC and EQ. The ANC options include switching between Off, On, and Transparency mode. Also, there are two levels for On, light and maximum.
Then there's the EQ, which consists of just four presets. The default is ‘Balanced’, which is always enabled unless you choose something else. Aside from that, you can also go with ‘More Treble’, ‘More Bass’, and ‘Voice’. They do pretty much what you'd think they do except for ‘Voice’, which for some reason makes everything sound like it's being played over an old telephone.
The touch option lets you control the gestures for the earbuds. Both earbuds support a double-tap, triple-tap, tap and hold, and slide up/down gesture. Double-tap is set to pause/play on both earbuds and slide up/down is for volume. Neither of these is customizable.
Triple-tap can be set to next song, previous song, or no action. Tap and hold can be set to adjust the noise cancellation or no action. If set to noise cancellation, it cycles between ANC-on, transparency, and ANC-off modes. You cannot just pick two of these to switch between; it will always cycle through all three.
The other thing you can do with the app is toggle the in-ear detection, which can pause the music when you take out the earbuds and play when you put them back in.
There is also a Find My Earbud feature, which plays a loud tone through the speakers to help you locate them. A fair warning here: do not go anywhere near this option if the earbuds are still in your ear. Unlike some other apps that we have seen, the ear (1) app will instantly blast the tone at full volume when you press the button without any warning, countdown, or gradual increase in volume in case you are still wearing the earbuds. The tone is very loud and may cause hearing damage.
Lastly, you can also update the firmware for the earbuds here. Our review unit was on 0.6700.1.66 at the time of writing.
It's worth noting that whatever changes you make in the app to the EQ, gestures, and ANC settings get saved on the earbuds and get carried over to any other device you might pair them to. The changes are reflected in the app on the other device but if you were to pair them to a device that does not have app support, like a PC or a media player, then you will have no way to revert the changes you made on your previous device.
Overall, the app is easy to use and well-designed. However, it is quite basic, especially in the audio customizability department. Also, for some reason, there doesn't seem to be any way to use the gestures to launch the voice assistant for now. I would also appreciate it if Nothing added an option to warn the user before the Find My Earbud feature blasts a tune and melts their brain in case they still have the earbuds on.
The app was a bit buggy as was the firmware on the earbuds. Sometimes changes made in the app wouldn't reflect on the earbuds. Occasionally only one of the earbuds would engage ANC or transparency mode and had to be taken out and put back in to work correctly. The Fast Pair feature for Android also didn't work. Both the app and the firmware were pre-release versions so some glitches were to be expected. I expect these to be fixed by the time the ear (1) goes on sale next month.
Update: After over a month of use, the Nothing ear (1) continue to be buggy. In fact, I noted far more bugs since the review was published and most of them remain unaddressed.
The ear (1) feature a single 11.6mm dynamic driver in each earbud. The earbuds support up to Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity, although there is no multi-device pairing available.
The codecs on offer are SBC and AAC, which is a bit disappointing but ultimately there are many other more influential factors involved in deciding the final audio quality.
The earbuds don't seem to support dual-channel transmission as there was a small delay between the two channels when rapidly increasing or decreasing the volume. This suggests one of the earbuds is connected to the phone, and the other is connected to the first earbud in a primary-secondary configuration.
There are three microphones on every earbud, two on the outside and one inside the ear tip. These are used for voice calls as well as for the ANC feature.
Starting with the frequency response and tonality, the Nothing ear (1) feature a mildly v-shaped audio signature, with a greater emphasis on the treble region.
The bass response on the ear (1) is fairly linear for the most part. Teenage Engineering, who did the tuning for the audio, have added a small bass boost in the lowest regions of the frequency spectrum. This gives an additional bit of rumble and thump to the bass.
Crucially, however, it does not spill into the mid-bass region, which prevents the dreaded bloating and boominess that is far too common on budget earbuds. There's also no further spill into the lower mids, which also prevents clouding the vocals. This seems to be the most pragmatic way to add a bass boost to the sound as you get the effect you are looking for without obfuscating the rest of the frequency ranges.
The resultant bass has a fair bit of attack and slam but without a sense of muddiness to it. The pipe-organ in Interstellar had a full-bodied rumble to it and the explosions in Greyhound felt incredibly powerful. But switch to something like deadmou5 and the bass remains quick and articulate.
Mid-range performance is decent in the lower mids. The upper mids are slightly recessed, which can push female and some male vocals further back into the mix than intended. However, it doesn't hugely impact the overall tonality of the sound.
The treble is the controversial part of the sound and the one that will likely divide opinions. The ear (1) have a fairly hot treble response, especially in the upper regions. This produces a fairly audible sibilance in the sound, with the 's' and 't' sounds being quite exaggerated.
This sizzle at the top doesn't necessarily come across in every track. Most of the time it just adds a bit to the air frequencies, opening up the top-end and adding more definition to the cymbals and hi-hats. However, if you were to get a track with a lot of high-frequency activity then the sizable bump in this region can make things quite sibilant, which gets tiring very quickly.
Like the bass boost, the bump in the treble is fairly high up in the frequency range. However, unlike the low-end boost, this high-end bump doesn't do much to improve the overall experience and just adds sibilance to the sound. Had the treble boost been added a bit lower down in the frequency range then it would have potentially had a more positive impact on the sound for some listeners but I doubt this high-end hiss will find many takers.
And that's the confusing part as otherwise the sound is very well-tuned. You can tell there was a very conscious effort to not make something generic and to stand out in the crowd of bassy, muddy-sounding earbuds. For the most part, the tonality of the ear (1) is far superior to most other products in this segment, even taking into account the spicy treble response.
Moving over to the technical performance, the ear (1) have very good imaging performance. Sounds have very good positionality to them and, despite the in-ear nature of the drivers, were generally easy to locate.
Soundstage is underwhelming, as one would expect from in-ear speakers. These aren't, after all, big, open-back headphones. Still, there is some sense of space around the ears and the sound doesn't feel boxed in. It just doesn't quite have the large volume and depth that you get from larger headphones.
The detail retrieval is average. These aren't necessarily the headphones you wear to listen to micro dynamics and finer details in the recordings. You are, after all, listening to compressed AAC encoding. Then again, one could argue that applies to wireless audio in general.
The ear (1) also get reasonably loud. Most of my listening was done at around 60-70% volume, so there was enough power left if I wanted to make up for a quiet recording.
Overall, I think the Nothing ear (1) sound really good for the price. Like the design, the sound is anything but generic and you can tell they cared about the sound having its own identity while also largely being true to the source. I don't necessarily agree with all the decisions they made but I do applaud the effort that went into it.
The microphone performance on the ear (1) is average. Voices tend to be a bit quiet and you might need to speak up if you have an inherently quiet voice.
The background noise cancellation, however, is quite good and the earbuds managed to cancel out the cacophonies in the background quite well, to the point where it was barely audible in the recording.
However, this does tend to leave the obvious artifacts that we associate with digital noise reduction and can make voices sound a bit robotic. Still, the voice quality was perfectly adequate for voice calls. You just need to speak up a bit.
The noise cancellation feature on the ear (1) is mediocre. Like most budget earbuds, the ANC on the ear (1) mostly focuses on cutting down the low-frequency notes, which includes rumbles and hums from things like computer fans, air conditioners, and engine sounds.
In that department, it does an okay job. The ear tips passively block a fair bit of noise and then the ANC kicks in and cuts down on most of the noise in the bass and sub-bass region. This does make an audible difference, especially in moderately noisy environments such as homes and offices.
However, the ANC on the ear (1) does mostly nothing against the mid and high-frequency noise. The sound of people chattering nearby, the clacking of your keyboard, and the pattering of rain are largely left untouched. And while you may not hear the hum of the air conditioner, you can hear the air moving out of it.
I wouldn't say the ANC on the ear (1) is entirely useless as it does make a noticeable difference. It's not particularly useful in drowning out the ambient noise completely in loud surroundings but rather to reduce the noise floor just enough to make it easier to focus on your music in relatively quiet indoor environments. It also lets you get away with having a lower volume than if you had no ANC.
The ear (1) have a transparency mode, which is also okay. It's useful for when you want to talk to someone, listen to an announcement, or walk on a busy street while still wearing the earbuds.
The ear (1) do this clever thing where if you pull just one earbud out then the other one automatically switches to transparency mode. This way if you were to remove one earbud out of habit to talk to someone then you can also hear them through your other ear without having to take out both.
One annoyance is that the touch gesture doesn't let you toggle between just ANC On and Transparency and instead you have to cycle through all three modes (ANC On > Transparency > ANC Off) every time. An option to just select any two like on the AirPods Pro would be appreciated.
The ear (1) have good latency performance for video. There is a very slight delay between the audio and video but it's barely noticeable. I had no trouble using them for watching content even though I usually tend to be picky about these things.
That's not the case with gaming, however, as there was a sizable latency while playing on both iOS and Android. I would not recommend these for playing games unless it's very casual and you don't mind a bit of delay.
The connection performance on the ear (1) has been good for the most part. There have been only a couple of instances where the audio just paused for a second on both earbuds but then resumed promptly. This was with the phone sitting idle just a couple of feet away on the desk so there was no apparent reason for the drop other than possibly buggy firmware. I assume this should be taken care of with an update.
Aside from those instances, there were no other connectivity issues during my testing.
The Nothing ear (1) have a rated battery life of 4 hours with the ANC enabled and 5.7 hours with the ANC disabled. In my testing, I managed about 3.8 hours with the ANC enabled, which is within testing variance with the claimed figure.
However, the ANC-off figure wasn't that close, as I could just about manage about 5.1 hours in my testing.
The ANC-on figure is right on the cusp of what is acceptable for a TWS. Most people don't listen continuously for upwards of four hours and if they aren't listening to them then that means they are inside the case charging. So for most practical use-case scenarios, the continuous battery life with the ANC enabled is acceptable.
I did have higher expectations from the ANC-off figure, however. A boost of about an hour or so feels quite tame compared to what we usually find on other wireless ANC products. It also fell quite a bit short of the claimed figure. Regardless, it's still acceptable if a bit underwhelming.
Nothing also claims that a 10 minute charge inside the case will allow the earbuds to play for 50 minutes with the ANC enabled and 1.2 hours with the ANC disabled. In my testing, the ear (1) lasted for 65 minutes with the ANC enabled and 1.7 hours with the ANC disabled.
For charging the case, you have two options. You can either plug in a USB-C charger or just place the case on a Qi-certified wireless charger.
The Nothing ear (1) are an interesting pair of earphones. The most striking feature about them is undoubtedly the design. The use of transparent plastic for the earbuds and the case looks really cool, and there's nothing quite like it on the market.
I also found the sound to be quite enjoyable. It's not uncolored and the aggressively bright treble will certainly divide opinions. Having said that, I still found them to be better tuned than most other wireless earbuds in this price range.
There are, however, issues galore with the Nothing ear (1). The ANC feature really doesn't do much and shouldn't be a factor in your purchase decision. The software is not just basic but also quite buggy and as a result the earbuds often behave erratically at times. The latency for non-video content can also be quite high.
At $99, the Nothing ear (1) aren't an easy recommendation. I'd suggest waiting for a price cut or at least an update that fixes all the software issues.
- Unique and attractive design
- Great audio quality
- Water and sweat-resistant
- Wireless charging for the case
- Buggy software
- Harsh treble performance
- Mediocre ANC
- Limited codec support
- High latency for gaming
- Basic phone app
Last week bought a pair. Shit battery life. In 20 minutes of use battery comes down to 20% . sometimes right Head phone doesn't charge more then 60%. Such a bad experience. Don't recommend to anyone.
- 07 Nov 2021
They are literally the same price...
- 02 Aug 2021
- Suck Yu
and yet you couldn't recognise the difference in sound between your "CIEMs" and 100 yuan aliexpress buds
- 31 Jul 2021