May 27, 2024

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There are no new earbuds that prove they can sag (mostly) with heavy weights

There are no new earbuds that prove they can sag (mostly) with heavy weights

Nothing produces new earbuds at a faster clip than smartphones. The company just introduced the Nothing Ear and Nothing Ear(a), priced at $149 and $99, respectively. Together they represent Nothing's fourth and fifth product in the headphones category. First came the original Ear 1, which featured a partially transparent design but suffered from bugs and inconsistent audio performance. After that, nothing targeted a different audience with the open-style (and oddly named) Ear Stick. A year ago, the company boosted reliability and sound quality with its Ear 2 headphones. Now it's back for another round.

And imagine what? Yes, they still look very similar.

The Nothing Ear and Ear(A) maintain the design that debuted in 2021, with improvements once again focusing on everyday performance. On the flagship earbuds, the sound profile has been tweaked again and includes new customization options, and battery life has been extended by 25 percent. And there's a new bass boost setting to give the low end some extra kick when desired.

The Nothing Ear(a) headphones are the company's first product that isn't black or white.

Meanwhile, the more affordable Nothing Ear(a) adds a splash of color to the Nothing for the first time: it's available in yellow, a color somewhat close to the gorgeous Playdate. But the earbuds themselves look exactly like the more expensive ones, right down to the components you can see through the transparent portion of the stem. And they look identical to the Ear 2 once you put them on. They're comfortable, but nothing but three sizes of silicone tips, which doesn't always cover the full range of ear sizes.

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The similarities extend to how they work. Both have the same power of active noise cancellation and can mask up to 45dB of noise, which is double what the Ear 2 was capable of. Both pairs of earbuds have IP54 dust and water resistance, though the earbox is more flexible, with an IP55 rating compared to the IPX2 rating of the smaller earbox(a). Spending more on the Nothing Ear also gets you wireless charging. But in terms of Feel, I prefer the more compact Ear(a) box, which the company says was inspired by “everyday pill packets.” It's more fun! Nothing improved voice call performance and AI sound isolation on both sets of buds either.

What Nothing Ears excels at is the fidelity of the sound and the level of customization you can apply to it. Nothing says Ear has the “most advanced” driver system to date, which uses a ceramic diaphragm “rarely seen in audio products” to improve richness. I also participated with A company called Mimi To test your hearing in the Nothing I mostly stuck to the “Advanced” equalizer, which lets you adjust the graphical interface and create profiles for different music genres. Once Nothing Ears is released, you'll be able to share your favorite presets with other owners (and import theirs) via QR code.

Regardless of color, it's not easy to tell the difference between a $149 ear (left) and a $99 ear (a).

So far, I've been pretty satisfied with the sound of Nothing Ears. The Ear 2 was already around, so it's not all that different. Can they compete with all the tricks offered by Apple, Samsung, Google and others? No, there's no head-tracking spatial audio, for example.

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But from a sound quality perspective, they'll be dealing with earbuds from companies with far more resources. This does not mean that Ear A looks bad in comparison. It's honestly in the same ballpark, so you're not sacrificing much if you really want none of the colorful buds.

You still get Multipoint, Fast Pair (for Android), Microsoft Swift Pair, and a low-latency Game mode on the cheaper headsets. That's a lot of stuff packed into $99. Battery life was also quite adequate, lasting more than five hours on both buds with ANC enabled, or more than eight hours if you can do without it.

So, as it stands, both of Nothing's new earbuds are very solid value. And they'll become even more capable in the coming months: The company plans to add ChatGPT integration to its smartphones and earbuds, which will let you query AI through voice on the go. I think earbuds are a more compelling way to have these interactions, so I'm excited to test how it all comes together once this update is available.

Photography by Chris Welch/The Verge