After months of teasing, Nothing has finally unveiled the Ear (1). These True Wireless headphones want to deliver a premium sound experience at a rock bottom price. They also rely on their very particular design. Promises are dreamy, but what about practice? Is the young British brand delivering a convincing product for its entry into the market?
Carl Pei is a name that might ring a bell. He is in fact the former boss of OnePlus, whom he left in 2020 to found his new company: Nothing. Its purpose is to create a real ecosystem of products and this is the first of them that we are testing today.
One would have imagined Nothing would hit the market with a smartphone, but the brand surprised its world by announcing True Wireless headphones. : the Ear (1). You have to understand: Nothing does not want to specialize in sound, since this is only the foundation stone of a larger catalog of a wide variety of products.
The Ear (1), therefore, must be striking to attract the public, technophile or not. To do this, they are focusing on two aspects in particular. Their careful design, first of all, which is intriguing by the use of a transparent shell, and then their quality / price ratio. Nothing indeed wants to offer headphones worthy of high-end for a very attractive price. It’s all on paper. Are the Ear (1) good headphones, are they worth the investment, and above all do they hold up against the competition? This is what we will see right away.
Pricing and availability
The Ear headphones (1) were announced on July 27, 2021. They will be available on the brand’s official website from August 17, 2021 and pre-orders will open on July 31.
The price is very interesting, since the headphones are displayed at 99 euros. In view of the characteristics of the product, it promises to be the one with the best quality / price ratio on the market. But between a data sheet and daily use, there is a chasm that we will rush to cross.
An attractive technical sheet
On paper, the Ear (1) are salivating. So we have True Wireless headphones that adopt a classic format, so a box and two headphones. Each of them is 4.7 grams, which is very light, and has an 11.6mm speaker as well as three microphones. The main advantage of the product is that it offers active noise reduction as well as a transparency mode to hear the world around you.
Read also – OnePlus Buds Z review: practical headphones but disappointing sound
The Ear (1) connect via Bluetooth to your smartphone or PC (Bluetooth up to 5.2). The box has him with a 570 mAh battery which can recharge the equivalent of 1.5 hours of listening in ten minutes. Nothing promises almost 6 hours of battery life for each earbud, for a total battery life of 34 hours. Finally, note that all of this can be managed via an application on Android and iOS.
An original and successful design
The first thing that strikes you about the Ear (1) is of course their transparent design imagined by Teenage Engineering, Nothing’s partner on this product. Plastic cases were all the rage in the early 2000s, but have fallen a bit into disuse. The brand brilliantly brings the idea up to date.
Both the housing and the headphones are provided with with a transparent water-resistant plastic shell. On the headphones, this allows you to admire (a little) the arrangement of the components, in addition to giving an “industrial” look to the whole. We admire the care taken in the dressing, which leaves no glue or screws visible. The Ear (1) do not avoid a few pitfalls, especially with the somewhat unsightly knuckles, but overall, it’s a great job. The case is of the same ilk. We particularly like the white trim to hide the battery and the fact that you can see your headphones when they are stored. An LED is also present to indicate the battery level (green, yellow, red).
This case is much larger than those of the competition and noticeably heavier (66 grams with the headphones, 57 grams without), but Nothing took care of the grip. For example, its surface has a hollow that allows both to wedge the headphones, but also to put your thumb in for a better grip during handling.
There is a USB Type-C port on the side of the case (for wired charging, but it is also compatible with wireless charging) as well as a pairing button. Finally, the valve closes via a very efficient magnet system. During our week of testing, it didn’t open once in our pocket. You have to force a bit to get there, which is great. The same system is used for headphones. So when you put them back in their niche, the magnets immediately hold them with force. This is ideal for limiting the risk of loss. Who has never been afraid of a wrong move when putting their headphones away in the street?
Headphones, precisely, adopt a very classic form. We notice the long rod that recalls Apple’s AirPods, the pioneers of the genre. Touch-sensitive, it lets you switch from one music to another, juggle between Active Noise Reduction and Transparency mode, or even adjust the volume by sliding your finger up and down or vice versa. Everything is responsive and works well in use.
The top of the headphones (in white) is reinforced by a silicone tip to fit better in the ear canal. If it doesn’t fit your ear, there are two other sizes in the box. A final highlight: there is no L and R on the shell, but two pellets, one white for the left ear, one red for the right. A way to purify the design even more and add a little touch of originality.
Beautiful design is good, but comfortable headphones are better. Successful mission for the Ear (1), since they know how to be forgotten. They adapt ideally to the shape of the bell, provided of course that you have selected the correct size of tip beforehand.
Less painless than Galaxy Buds Pro or AirPods Pro, all the same, they have the merit of keeping the ear excellently. Whether you go for a walk, exercise or various activities such as crafts, the Ear (1) are not at risk of falling out. You can even headbanger if you feel like it, they stay set no matter what. Add to this that the presence of the rod makes it easy to grab them when you want to take them off, but also to signal to others that you are listening to music, which is not obvious with more discreet headphones.
Finally, we must salute the tactile part which works perfectly. The volume control responds to the finger and the eye, just like the other operations (tap three times to go to the next song, keep pressed to activate the ANC …). It is of course possible to modify this aspect in the application and above all to assign different functions to each earpiece. For example, you may decide that tapping right three times skips to the next song and left to the previous song. You can also disable any touch option. We appreciate it, even if the personalization is very limited with only one or two proposals. Another damaging little thing: you have to tap twice to pause listening, when just once would have been enough.
But overall, these Ear (1) are a success in terms of comfort, support and use. There are still a few flaws, including insufficient customization, but nothing that can not be fixed via a software update.
A somewhat limited application
This limitation is also found in the companion application which allows you to manage the Ear (1). Available on both Android and iOS, it is not essential for the use of headphones, but allows to adjust two or three small things in addition to the touch operations.
We thus find what it is already possible to do without, such as activating or not active noise reduction or transparency mode. But the app allows you to go further by offering an equalizer (very succinct) or by leaving the choice to adjust the level of the ANC (weak or strong). It is also possible to make the Ear (1) “ring” in order to find them easily. A very high pitched sound will come out to help you locate them. If they are worn, this option is disabled for safety in order to preserve your eardrums. Finally, the application allows you to see the exact battery level of each earpiece and the case, which is not possible elsewhere (the LED just gives a vague idea). For example, we would have appreciated the presence of a Widget for that. Pity.
So here we have an application that is a bit of an act of presence and that we would have liked much more searched. Nothing that can not be fixed via an update, in short, but as it stands, we feel a bit constrained.
A very neat audio part
The important thing in True Wireless headphones is the sound. On this part, Nothing does well. Very well even. Indeed, the audio part is very neat and well finished. We note a powerful sound, well balanced and above all pleasant to the ear, regardless of the genres listened to.
Of course, not everything is perfect either. A small distortion is heard at very high volume (but almost inaudible) and we would have liked bass a bit more present. But overall we have a well mastered sound, both in terms of music and vocals. It is possible to switch between a podcast, an electro, classical or metal album without much hassle. The equalizer provides a welcome additional adjustment, despite its limitation.
Active noise reduction is present. If we would have liked may it be a bit more efficient (it does not completely isolate us from the world), it still allows you to create a bubble to be alone with your music, even in the middle of the street. When you’re not listening to anything, it plays white noise, ideal for resting your ears in a somewhat busy place, like an open space or subway after a hard day’s work. The transparency mode also fulfills its mission and allows you to stay aware of what is going on around you, even while listening to music. All the surrounding sounds are therefore transcribed into your ears thanks to the microphones. This keeps you alert, even if you are listening at high volume. Less impressive than that of the Galaxy Buds Pro (which are sold much more expensive), this mode will still find its use. We noticed that he focused more on low-pitched noises. In the street, it will therefore be easier to hear the engines of cars rather than the conversations, which is not a bad thing in terms of safety.
In short, for a price of 99 euros, Nothing offers a truly convincing listening experience, the best in its price segment. If we are also not at the level of the best headphones on the market for Android, we are getting close. A small feat for a product less than 100 euros.
One of Nothing’s big promises is its drums. The manufacturer boasts of offering a battery life of 34 hours, which is much more than the market average. If the Ear (1) are good in this segment, they are still below the promise. Each earpiece offers 6 hours of battery life on paper (active noise reduction off). In fact, we are approaching more than 5 hours, just over four hours with the ANC in operation. It’s a score below expectations, but still very good.
The great strength of the Ear (1) in this segment is its case, which can charge the headphones up to six times in a single charge. This gives us an autonomy that oscillates between twenty-five and thirty hours with the ANC turned off, which is already excellent. Here, the size of the case is therefore justified. In active noise reduction mode, we are no longer around 20 hours. Fast charging is of course part of the game, and the promise of an hour and a half of music in 10 minutes is kept. Note that the case is also compatible with Qi wireless charging, but unfortunately we were not able to test them. Finally, note that if no charger is present in the box, Nothing still provides a USB Type-C wire.