OnePlus Bullets Wireless Z Review
The Bullets Wireless Z are the third pair of wireless earphones from OnePlus. A replacement to the excellent Bullets Wireless 2 from last year, the Bullets Wireless Z are meant to be a more affordable option, while matching the design and features of its predecessor.
The Bullets Wireless Z are the cheapest wireless set from OnePlus so far, with the US pricing being half what the Bullets Wireless 2 cost. In India, the Bullets Wireless Z costs a third of the Bullets Wireless 2 and half of the original Bullets Wireless. In fact, the INR1,999 price is the lowest anywhere in the world and makes the Bullets Wireless Z a particularly enticing purchase.
And it's not just price reductions either as the Bullets Wireless Z also improves upon a few things compared to the models that came before them. They have the longest battery life, proper water-resistance, and a low-latency mode designed to work specifically with OnePlus phones.
We will be getting into all of the features and also all of the compromises that come with such drastic price reductions, so if you're interested in getting a pair of these, make sure you read on before you click purchase.
For the third time in a row, OnePlus has decided to stick with the neckband design despite the ever-growing popularity of truly wireless earbuds. Not that I am complaining - this style has its advantages, such as not having to worry about losing one of the earbuds, physical volume and playback controls, longer battery life, and not having to fumble with the case when you are done using them. The truly wireless earbuds may look cool but the neckband style is certainly more practical.
In the case of the Bullets Wireless Z, the design is nearly identical to that of the Bullets Wireless 2. They are so similar that since both our Bullets Wireless Z and Bullets Wireless 2 review units were black, we had to leave the label on our Bullets Wireless Z to differentiate them.
The only major difference between the Bullets Wireless Z and the Bullets Wireless 2 is that the latter uses metal construction for the earbuds while the former is entirely made out of plastic. This becomes obvious once you hold them but from just looking at them it's hard to tell them apart.
The only other differences we noticed were the lack of the red rings at the back of the earbuds on the Bullets Wireless Z and that they were a couple of grams lighter than the Bullets Wireless 2.
Of course, if you have the Mint, Blue, or Oat version of the Bullets Wireless Z then they would be far easier to differentiate.
The nearly identical design isn't a problem as the Bullets Wireless 2 were one of the better-built earphones, with a comfortable rubberized body that wasn't too thick or heavy around your neck. The remote control on the left cable was also easy to reach and operate. The earbuds also snap together magnetically when you're not using them and doing so deactivates them.
However, the design had some flaws, such as the soggy buttons on the remote and the tiny LED light that makes it annoying to check whether the earphones are charging or in pairing mode. The Bullets Wireless Z inherits these flaws as a result of its similar design.
New to the Bullets Wireless Z are sweat and water-resistance. The original Bullets Wireless claimed to be splash resistant but had no official certification and the Bullets Wireless 2 didn't claim any ingress protection. The Bullets Wireless Z, meanwhile, have IP55 certificate so you can use them for workouts and around water.
The packaging has changed slightly for the Bullets Wireless Z. The box is wider now but oddly has fewer things inside. You get the earphones and a short charging cable but OnePlus no longer bundles the silicone carry case. Can't say this is a big loss, as the carry case was always oddly cramped despite being an official accessory and occasionally resulted in the earphones inside being split apart from their magnetic lock, which caused them to power on and waste battery.
Overall, there's not much here to complain about. As far as neckband style goes, the Bullets Wireless Z are a well-designed pair of earphones that look and feel better than what the price might suggest.
The Bullets Wireless Z are superbly comfortable pair of earphones, just as the Bullets Wireless 2 were before it. The soft rubberized material for the neckband sits comfortably on your neck and the whole thing is light enough that after a whileyou barely notice they are there. The cables to the speakers are also long enough and don't rub against your face.
The shape of the earbuds is also superbly done as it perfectly fits the contours of your inner ear. This could vary from person to person obviously, but I've always found the Bullets Wireless Z/2 earbud design to be almost custom-designed for my ear size and shape.
The silicone ear tips are also made out of wonderfully thick and supple material. The original Bullets Wireless had rather thin and unpleasant stock ear tips but OnePlus really upped its game with the Bullets Wireless 2 and it's good to see the Bullets Wireless Z inherits those much improved ear tips as well. These are easily the best pair of silicone ear tips you'll see in this price range and makes everything else in its class and even some several classes higher feel like recycled car door lining.
The advantage of having supple ear tips is that apart from being comfortable they also create a good seal in your ears. As someone with a slight but not insignificant mismatch in inner ear sizes, I often find some earphones to not fit well in one ear or the other but the default size that comes with the Bullets Wireless Z fits me like a glove with zero seal or leakage issue. They also block a fair bit of noise and are usable on a plane.
Having spent countless hours on the Bullets Wireless 2, I can confidently recommend the Bullets Wireless Z for anyone looking for a comfortable pair of in-ear earphones.
Features and specifications
This is one area where the Bullets Wireless Z are several steps behind the Bullets Wireless 2, as OnePlus axed several niceties to make the lower price.
Starting with the stuff that did make it - the Bullets Wireless Z supports Bluetooth 5.0. You can have your phone be in the next room and the connection holds fine even through thick brick walls. If you have a direct line of sight, you can go as far as the claimed 10m. I didn't notice any drops or skipping during normal operation.
Unfortunately, OnePlus does not support pairing with multiple devices. This isn't a Bullets Wireless Z issue, as the previous models didn't do it, either. It does have a feature called Quick Switch that's carried over from Bullets Wireless 2, which lets you quickly switch over to the last paired device by double-tapping the power/pairing button. It's not as convenient as multi-device pairing but it's useful to have nonetheless and better than nothing.
OnePlus made some severe cutbacks to the codec support on the Bullets Wireless Z. The Bullets Wireless had support for SBC and aptX while the Bullets Wireless 2 supports SBC, aptX, and aptX HD. Meanwhile, the Bullets Wireless Z only supports SBC and AAC. Codecs need licensing so cheaper headphones often tend to leave them out.
However, the impact that these codecs have on audio quality isn't always cut and dry, meaning you aren't necessarily gaining a lot by having certain codecs nor does it mean you automatically get bad sound if you don't have them.
A lot of it comes down to the source that you are listening to and if it's mostly compressed music then you aren't going to notice any difference. It's even hard to measure these differences sometimes, as even the basic SBC codec has enough bandwidth to fully reproduce the audible audio spectrum while having low enough noise floor and distortion.
The differences then come from how your source device processes the codec, as Android devices don't handle AAC encoding as efficiently as Apple's. Different codecs also have different latency, which is a much more impactful factor than the minor differences in audio quality. So the lack of aptX or aptX HD here might be a smaller deal than what one might assume.
What you are far more likely to notice is the change in driver configuration compared to the Bullets Wireless 2. The Bullets Wireless 2 featured a triple-driver design, consisting of dual Knowles balanced armature drivers and a 10mm dynamic driver. On the other hand, the Bullets Wireless Z has a single 9.2mm driver.
There's a reason good speakers have multiple drivers with crossovers, as a single driver cannot handle all the frequencies, and it's better to have multiple drivers dedicated to handling different parts of the audio spectrum. But low cost dictates compromises so single driver it is.
The Bullets Wireless Z do have an ace up their sleeve, and that is a low latency mode designed to work exclusively with OnePlus phones (OnePlus 5 or newer). This feature claims to bring the latency down to 110ms, which isn't low in an absolute sense but lower than what Bluetooth audio latency generally is. The earphones automatically go into low latency mode when the Fnatic mode is engaged on the phone.
Unfortunately, as luck would have it, we didn't have a OnePlus phone with us at the time of testing and OnePlus couldn't send a device out in time. As and when we get the phone from OnePlus, we would update the review with our findings.
Another OnePlus specific feature is Quick Pair, which shows a prompt on a nearby OnePlus phone (OnePlus 5 or newer) when the earphones are in pairing mode. This is similar to the AirPods pairing method and was also present on the Bullets Wireless 2.
As with other OnePlus wireless earphones, the Bullets Wireless Z have no companion app of any kind, which means there are no options to adjust or software to update for this product.
The Bullets Wireless Z are decent-sounding earphones for the price. It lacks the refinement of the Bullets Wireless 2 but the new tuning should be more appealing to buyers in this price range.
The Bullets Wireless Z have a bass-driven sound typical of earphones at those prices. The sub-200Hz region has received a healthy boost but the mid-bass isn't quite as exaggerated. This results in less body overall to the bass and just more rumble to the sound. It's a slightly less refined way of adding bass as it just sounds like an overpowered subwoofer is playing in the room and makes the sound seem unbalanced.
Playing Better by Khalid had the bass just linger in the background with little decay, causing a constant rumble in your ears. Wow by Post Malone saw an unrelenting tsunami of low-end take over the entire track. Depending upon what your preference is, this could be desirable but there's no denying that the bass tends to overwhelm the rest of the sound at times.
The bass also sounds like it was pushed a bit past what the drivers can handle comfortably. It is harder to emphasize the lower end of the bass compared to the mid-bass, which is why you usually see most of the emphasis in the mid-bass region. But the Bullets Wireless Z goes ham on the lower-end, which causes some audible distortion at times in the low-end, which seeps into the mids.
Bass aside, the rest of the frequency response is unremarkable. The mids are a bit recessed, as you'd generally expect for a more fun-focused sound, but not aggressively so that you would have a hard time hearing the vocals or the instruments. Vocals in tracks like Kanye West's Black Skinhead come across loud and clear. The bite of the snare drum and Michael Jackson's hushed vocals in Blood on the Dance Floor were also quite forward as they should be on this track.
The mid-range does seem to have some dips, however, as some vocals and instruments didn't come out as well as others. Both the vocals and the electric guitar on Pneuma by Tool were under a layer of Vaseline.
Part of the reason why the instruments often feel toothless on the Bullets Wireless Z is the anemic top-end. A typical v-shaped sound would have a more exaggerated treble response but the Bullets Wireless Z dials it back way down for some reason, which rounds off some hot or particularly shimmery tracks but significantly clouds others. It's not overly dark or muted but you miss out on some of the sparkle and it does roll off fairly quickly.
When seen as a whole, the overall sound signature can often be pleasant on most tracks. But the lack of detail in the mids and highs is almost always felt, and on tracks with heavy low-end, the rumble tends to make things a bit fatiguing. However, some people do prefer their music that way, so your mileage may vary.
As for imaging and soundstage, the Bullets Wireless Z do fine with the former, with good object placement and movement. Unfortunately, the soundstage is fairly congested and focused in the middle of the listening sphere.
Comparisons to the more expensive Bullets Wireless 2 are inevitable, especially considering how similar they look, which might cause some people to assume they sound the same but they don't. The Bullets Wireless 2 are leagues ahead of the Bullets Wireless Z when it comes to the refinement of the sound. The bass has a nice punch to it without being overbearing. The mids are a bit recessed but not muddy and the high-end has actual air and sparkle to it. The soundstage is also so much more expansive with depth and dimensionality.
It's just a more pleasing sound overall while also being technically superior and why I loved the Bullets Wireless 2 so much back when I reviewed it as there were hardly any products in that price range that sounded as good. Unfortunately, with the Bullets Wireless Z, OnePlus is clearly dealing with lesser quality hardware (and just lesser hardware, if you compare the driver count).
The company made the arguably correct decision to tune the drivers in a way that would be more pleasing to buyers in this price category while the more expensive Bullets Wireless 2 had a more mature and refined sound that not everyone can appreciate.
So while the Bullets Wireless Z don't sound bad per se, they are the best you can get in their price range, especially when compared to the turbid Realme Buds Wireless that cost just a bit less. But the Bullets Wireless 2 are still the superior choice for those who value audio quality above all else. Too bad they aren't going to be on sale for long.
Update: When paired with a recent OnePlus smartphone, you get the option to toggle the 'Earphone sound enhancement' feature under Settings > Sounds & vibration > Dolby Atmos. This feature enables a custom sound profile for these earphones and makes a significant impact on the audio quality. It lowers the bass while boosting the mids and the highs. This brings the sound more in line with the Bullets Wireless 2. Needless to say, this has a pretty significant impact on the audio experience and because it's done on a system-level, it affects all audio played on the device. Too bad this preset is only available on select OnePlus smartphones only.
As far as the microphone quality is concerned, it is adequate for voice calls. The sound is a bit muted and not the clearest you'd hear, especially if you are coming from a wired headset, but is acceptable for a budget Bluetooth headset.
Finally, the latency when paired with an iPhone XR was also quite acceptable, both for watching videos and playing casual games. As mentioned before, I did not have a OnePlus smartphone at hand to test the low latency mode and that feature doesn't work with any other device.
Update: After having tested with a OnePlus 8 and a OnePlus 8 Pro, I can confirm that the low-latency mode doesn't make a massive difference. Toggling Fnatic mode in Fortnite only saw a minor reduction in latency. While any reduction in latency is appreciated, the latency was already quite acceptable to begin with so it doesn't make a significant difference to the gameplay. Since the Fnatic mode can only be triggered in games, you can't use the low-latency mode for watching videos.
One reason to still stick to the cheaper Bullets Wireless Z over the Bullets Wireless 2 is the battery life. While the Bullets Wireless 2 were no slouch at 14 hours of continuous playback, the Bullets Wireless Z claim 20 hours. On top of that, OnePlus also claims that with just a 10-minute charge, you can get 10 hours of playback time.
To test the first claim, I looped my usual test track at a comfortable volume until the battery drained. The Bullets Wireless Z went on for just a few minutes over the 20 hour mark, which means OnePlus' claim is right on the money. That much battery life could get you through any international flight, as and when flying becomes an option again.
As for the second claim, our Bullets Wireless Z actually managed to go on for a lot longer than 10 hours after a 10-minute charge. The reason for this is that OnePlus specifies a conservative 5V/600mA minimum charger to reach the advertised 10 hours claim. Since our charger was a lot higher than that, the earphones actually went on for around 13 hours. We expect most people to have chargers higher than 5V/600mA lying around so you'd easily be able to surpass OnePlus's claim here. And for those wondering, a full charge takes around 50 minutes from flat.
All in all, solid battery life from the new Bullets Wireless Z.
The Bullets Wireless Z are the best wireless earphones we have tested in their price range. They are well-designed, comfortable, and have quite a few convenient features. They also offer certified water-resistance, which is sure to assuage those who (still) go for a run or want to listen to music around water.
The sound quality is quite acceptable for the price. We have certainly heard better, most notably from OnePlus' own Bullets Wireless 2, but not in this price range. For buyers on a budget, the audio quality on offer should be perfectly acceptable and even enjoyable.
The cherry on top is the battery life. While everyone and their cat are after truly wireless earbuds these days, there's no denying that the neckband-style design still holds an advantage when it comes to practicality and the Bullets Wireless Z are a great example of that. And while 20 hours of playback is great, what's truly impressive is the 10+ hours you can get out of just a 10-minute charge.
Overall, the Bullets Wireless Z are our favorite budget wireless earphones and we highly recommend them to anyone looking to shop in this price range.
- 16 Mar 2023
- Vannak Luy
- 26 Nov 2022
Want to buy one of OnePlus Bullet Wireless Z
- 28 Aug 2022
I have bullet wireless z earphones. If one speaker stops working in one angle for sometimes, can it be fixed ?