Nothing Ear (2) hands-on review

nothing ear 2 review
Nothing Ear (2) reviewSimon Cocks

It takes some doing to buy a genuinely bad pair of earbuds in 2023. If you're not paying less than £20 and going with a brand name you've at least vaguely heard about (rather than something on Amazon that feels churned out of a username generator) then we're confident you'll be getting decent sound quality, solid connectivity and enough battery life.

So, in a market that's clearly overstuffed and where the average level of quality is impressive, it takes a lot to stand out as something special. With the Ear (2), though, Nothing has managed it and then some. These are some damn terrific earbuds, and it's a miracle they don’t cost more when you compare them side-by-side with rivals like the AirPods Pro and Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro with higher price tags of £200+.

nothing ear 2 review
Simon Cocks

Nothing Ear (2) key specs

  • Weight: 4.5g per bud (60.9g with charging case)

  • Battery life: 4 hours (up to 22.5 hours with charging case)

  • Wireless charging: Yes

  • Noise cancellation: Yes

Much like the Nothing Ear (1), you may get the sense that there's a lot of hype around these new buds from the London-based startup. But are they actually worth it? A lot of the fuss about the debut set last year was about the style and fit, which remain standout features, but it's worth paying attention to who is excited about the Ear (2). It's those wanting earwear that looks cool, sure, but also audiophiles who are loving the extra features and sound improvements stuffed into these tiny buds.

These flagship earphones prioritise exceptional audio reproduction while maintaining and improving on that distinctive design. Packed with impressive features like noise-cancelling and personalised sound profiles, the Ear (2) delivers a huge amount of value for £129.

Nothing Ear (2) design

Nothing hasn't changed much with the design of the Ear (2). The unique look of the semi-transparent buds is not only eye-catching and distinctive (and now getting imitated by Beats), but they maintain a compact and lightweight form factor. Weighing just 4.5g per earbud, they're lighter than the newest AirPods Pro and they are a comfortable fit for extended listening sessions.

We like that the charging housing looks like a proper presentation case, with a robust metal hinge and a satisfying clunk when its magnets close together. It's a little smaller than its predecessor and still supports wireless charging, which we find practical for a top-up for the buds overnight before dashing out the door in the morning. The overall case is arguably still a little chunky, but we think it's small enough for most pockets.

When it comes to the on-bud controls, like the Nothing Ear (Stick) they've been switched up to a squeeze input that you can customise within the Nothing X app on your phone. We've got it set up so we can control playback, noise cancellation and volume from the buds, but we've had to make it so that a press and then a hold is the way to turn the volume up (via the right bud) and down (via the left bud), which is a tricky thing to get right every time and not as reliable as the swipe gesture for volume on the latest AirPods.

One last thing to mention is that these now come in an absolutely stunning black finish. For now, that's available via Nothing's site, but it should become more widely available at other retailers in the coming weeks. The lack of colour choice is one of our biggest issues with the AirPods Pro, and we have a feeling we'll be big fans of the black Ear (2) variant when we get our hands on a pair.

nothing ear 2 review
Simon Cocks

Nothing Ear (2) sound quality

Where the Ear (2) stands out is by delivering a refined and dynamic sound experience with a level of customisability that's rare to see at this lower price point. Audiophiles and casual listeners alike will appreciate the balanced and accurate sound signature, which is neutral by default and impresses with the presence of detail and nuance evident with every track we played. That's true whether we used them with an iPhone 14 Pro, a Google Pixel 7 or Nothing's own Phone (2) – it has excellent codec support to deliver the best possible sound and solid connectivity from a range of devices.

We have been using the Ear (2) consistently since they launched, and have found them excellent for everything from listening to classic rock in high-resolution on Tidal, a bit of Taylor Swift's latest releases via Spotify, a few YouTube videos and TikToks or watching episodes of Secret Invasion on an iPad. It sounds great for a whole host of uses right out of the box, but where things get better is with the customisation in the Nothing X app.

Within the app, you can take an ear tip fit test, create a personalised sound profile with a hearing test and tweak the equaliser (which has just been upgraded with the addition of an "advanced equaliser" in the latest firmware) – we found all these features helped us fine-tune the sound to get the most out of the buds. And you can enable Bluetooth multipoint to keep them connected to two devices at once, ideal if you're listening to music on your phone but then need to pause and hop on a video call without unpairing and reconnecting.

Overall, this set of features is impressive when compared to more expensive rivals. We like that the buds offer a clean and energetic sound without overpowering bass, but you can also customise them with different sound profiles depending on your needs. One final note on sound is that we found the Ear (2) buds maintain detailed sound reproduction even at lower volumes, something we don't see often (the AirPods are good at this) and is just better for your ears in the long-term and a feat too many other premium earbuds struggle to achieve.

nothing ear 2 review
Simon Cocks

Nothing Ear (2) noise-cancelling and transparency

Active noise-cancelling (ANC) tech is one of the headline features in almost any new earbuds nowadays, and it's present on the latest Nothing buds too. Their microphones interpret all the external noise and work to eliminate it by playing an opposing soundwave to "cancel out" the distractions.

On these buds, it works well and is offered at multiple different levels of strength or an adaptive mode. We found them more than good enough for getting rid of most background noise like traffic, fan noise and office chatter, but they can struggle more with very loud noise like what we hear on the commuter train in the morning. For most uses, though, we reckon they're more than good enough but don't rival the top-tier ANC from models made by Apple, Bose or Soundcore.

These also have a decent microphone performance for calls, but we wouldn't use their transparency mode for much more than general situational awareness or using them to hear an announcement at the train station. Unlike on the AirPods Pro, we wouldn't feel confident using the transparency mode here to keep our earbuds in while holding a conversation.

Nothing Ear (2) battery life

We're of the opinion that the majority of earbuds in 2023 give almost every listener more than enough battery for practical use. In our experience, it's rare to ever sit down and leave your earphones in for a full five or six hours without ever putting them back in the case (where they'll automatically top themselves back up) so it has been some time since we've had an issue with the battery life on any model on the market.

With that said, the comparably lower life of these buds is something that many rival brands are able to outrank. The Ear (2) offer a total battery life of 22.5 hours and give you four hours of listening on a single charge with the ANC on – you can improve the longevity by listening at a lower volume or switching the noise-cancelling off entirely. Comparably, the AirPods Pro and Sony LinkBuds S last for six hours in one go, while the Soundcore Liberty 4 manage an excellent seven hours of uninterrupted use.

Because earbuds keep themselves at full power in the carry case, we'd argue that the life of the Ear (2) is more than enough, and it's the charging speed and multiple charging methods that make more of a difference. Firstly, they give you back eight hours of battery life after 10 minutes connected to a USB-C cable. That's ideal in a pinch. And, secondly, it's convenient that you can also pop them down on any wireless charging surface (or phone with reverse wireless charging) to gradually restore the case's battery if it's out of juice. Tick and tick.

nothing ear 2 review
Simon Cocks

Nothing Ear (2) verdict

The second time's the charm when it comes to the Nothing Ear (2). These brilliant buds build on the ideas present in the Ear (1) but elevate them with improved audio capabilities and extra features. You'll see positive reviews from audiophiles and tech fans, and these stylish earbuds live up to the hype with their standout design and fantastic value at £129.

The only downsides are that you can get more capable noise-cancelling and better battery life for less money in 2023, but the sound quality and customisability are terrific here and make them a rival to far more expensive buds from Apple and Samsung.

The Ear (2) delivers refined and dynamic sound reproduction, maintaining clarity even at lower volumes, and while that battery life is lower than some competitors, we've found it more than enough in everyday use. For those who like gadgets with a bit of fun and personality, you can't go wrong with the Nothing Ear (2).

Nothing Ear (2): Other earbuds to consider

If you are heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem, the second-generation AirPods Pro is worth considering. It offers better noise cancellation, transparency, microphone quality, and seamless connectivity with Apple devices – they also have excellent spatial audio support making them fantastic for watching TV and movies, and hands-free support for Siri.

Additionally, the Sony LinkBuds S and Soundcore Liberty 4 are close competitors that offer certain extra features you won't find on the Nothing buds. The Soundcore model delivers a better battery life and spatial audio support in addition to heart rate tracking, while the Sony pair has clever automatic switching between ANC and transparency, which we found great for commuting.

For a full buying guide explaining all the best options, we’d recommend looking at our roundup of all the AirPods alternatives we've tested and evaluated – everything on our list is small and pocket-friendly with long battery life and under £190 price tag.

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