Why the Nothing Ear (2024) are the brand’s best buds to date

nothing ear review
Nothing Ear (2024) review: The brand’s best budsSimon Cocks

Wave goodbye to the Nothing Ear (2) and the Nothing Ear (Stick) and say hello to the Nothing Ear (the numbers are gone, which is both cleaner and a little confusing) and the slightly more affordable Nothing Ear (a), both of which are now available to pre-order from Nothing’s site.

How affordable? Well, neither of these tiny buds are aiming for AirPods and Bose-level pricing: you can pick up the Nothing Ear for £129, and the Nothing Ear (a) for £99.

I've had my hands on both products for the last week – below is my initial review of the new flagship, and you can head to a separate review for my thoughts on the even more budget-friendly Ear (a) model.

nothing ear review
Simon Cocks

Nothing Ear (2024): First impressions

First up: the Nothing Ear. They're familiar if you used the Nothing Ear (1) or the Ear (2). And there were substantial upgrades between generations when going from the Ear (1) to the Ear (2), so is it more of the same story here?

The Ear (a) may be the most obviously "new" product with its fresh design, but I think the Nothing Ear gives me the clearest sign that the brand has refined its audio offering. Ear (2) owners may not need to rush out for an upgrade but these will be a revelation for anyone coming from Ear (1) or a cheaper pair of headphones or AirPods alternatives.

Nothing Ear (2024): Design and comfort

Put the Nothing Ear and Ear (2) side-by-side and you won't be able to tell them apart. That doesn't mean there aren't tweaks and upgrades, but as I said, these are refinements. The see-through buds come in white and black at launch, so thankfully you won't be waiting around for the black variant (our favourite) like you had to last year.

The transparent case design is similar, but meant to be more pressure and scratch-resistant – it maintains the same IP55 rating as before, while the buds are rated at IP54 for sweat and dust resistance.

Comfort is fantastic, just like it was on the Ear (2). That's mainly because these earbuds are much tinier than many of their rivals. Even if the price is much lower, the design is about as close to the AirPods Pro as we’ve seen, and that means I barely notice them and they stay comfortable in my ears for ages. And to get a great seal, you get small, medium and large tips in the box. Speaking of the box, it doesn't make much of a difference to the product itself, of course, but I'm still impressed by how diminutive and plastic-free the packaging is here.

nothing ear review
Simon Cocks

Nothing Ear (2024): Sound and noise-cancelling

When I reviewed the Nothing Ear (2) last year, I noted that they "stand out by delivering a refined and dynamic sound experience with a level of customisability that's rare to see at this lower price point" and the new Ear continues this approach into 2024.

Right out of the box, these 11mm ceramic drivers sound tremendous, with one slight caveat. By default, they're in a new "Bass Enhance" mode. Unless you’re addicted to bass, turn this off in the companion app first. After that, the audio reproduction is wonderful and balanced, with enough power to the low-end and detail to the highs without being tiring to listen to for long periods. Compared to the predecessor, they're just a little more natural and clean sounding, but it's hard to tell the difference without testing them side-by-side.

Much like with the Ear (2), I think this is a sound signature that'll appeal to both audiophiles and casual listeners alike. I'm yet to encounter any of my test tracks streamed in high-res from Tidal that don't sound good, and I've spent the last week listening to everything from Massive Attack, Nirvana, Billie Eilish and Arctic Monkeys to Mozart, Kendrick Lamar, Four Tet and Dua Lipa. Headphone testing requires you to have a bit of an eclectic taste.

Active noise-cancelling (ANC) and transparency are also similar to what I've experienced on the Nothing Ear (2) – the adaptive ANC is now slightly improved, though. Nothing says it’s a 13% increase over Ear (2) and I feel that ever so slightly more noise gets cancelled when compared to last year’s buds. These are more than enough to eliminate rumbling train noise and colleagues chatting in the office but they’re not going to beat Apple, Bose or Sony in this area. It’s the same story for transparency – it's good for situational awareness but not as brilliant as transparency on the AirPods Pro.

nothing ear review
Simon Cocks

Nothing Ear (2024): Controls and app features

There's a lot to like about the extra features available in the Nothing X app, which is well-designed and easy to understand. On the Ear, you're getting the same batch of additional app-enabled powers as you got with the Ear (2) – so, that means there's an ear tip fit test, the ability to take a hearing test that generates a personalised sound profile, both a simple equaliser and next-level advanced equaliser with all the knobs and sliders – catnip for audiophiles.

As mentioned, I find the default sound super appealing once the bass enhancement is turned off, and the personal sound profile makes things just a little richer and more tailored to my hearing. I appreciate all the little modifications that help you get the most out of the buds – many rivals have much larger price tags and don’t give you this level of customisation for such a personal product. These also have the same pinch controls as the Ear (2) - where you squeeze the stems rather than touch input – that’s all fine by me, they work well and are intuitive, responsive, and fully modifiable.

Within the app, you can also amend the high-res codecs in use and switch on Bluetooth multipoint to keep them connected to two devices at the same time. This is an ideal feature addition if you like to listen to music from your phone but you want to be able to hop right onto a Zoom call on your work computer without disconnecting and reconnecting. It’s getting to the point where this is so essential that if earbuds don’t have this feature in 2024, I’m going to be a bit disappointed with the overall package.

nothing ear review
Simon Cocks

Nothing Ear (2024): Battery life

Arguably, battery life is one of the areas where Nothing lags behind the competition. The Ear lasts longer than the Ear (2), offering just over five hours of playback with ANC on, and a total of 24 hours once you factor in the charging case. This increases to eight and a half hours, and a total of 40.5 hours if you turn ANC off, which shows just how much the noise-cancelling and ambient sound features eviscerate the battery.

While this isn't that competitive, especially when compared to the likes of the Soundcore Liberty 4 NC (which lasts for 10 hours on a single charge – with ANC switched on), it is good for the small bud size and essentially matches what you can get from Apple’s second-gen AirPods Pro. Ask yourself if you actually listen to music for over five hours at a time. In practical use, I think this ends up being more than enough, but I understand if you’d want to go up to a rival with a bigger battery. For charging, these have both a fast charge feature (a 10-minute charge gives you 10 hours of playback with ANC off) and support wireless charging, something the Nothing Ear (a) doesn’t have.

nothing ear review
Simon Cocks

Nothing Ear (2024) verdict

These make a great argument for themselves as the best-value earbuds in 2024. You’d typically have to pay far more for the sound quality, personalisation features, noise-cancelling and compact design available from the Nothing Ear. The stylish buds are a further refinement of the Nothing Ear (2) that deliver appreciable upgrades to the audio experience, noise-cancelling and battery life.

They don’t reinvent the product, though, so if you’ve already got the Ear (2), don’t rush out for the upgrade. If you’re levelling up from an older pair of earphones, though, this is a fantastic update that delivers many of the features that you could easily spend over £200 to get from rival brands.

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