Better than standard Airpods at half the price
Carl Pei is a marketing genius. His penchant for marketing a product is surprisingly astute, which makes him akin to the man he idolized – Steve Jobs. Growing up in China and Sweden, Pei followed his idol, which led him to co-found OnePlus. And he did it again with Nothing.
The name itself is so ingenious that when we talk about the Ear1 – its first product – you see the design and wonder which company made these headphones? And the answer you get is “Nothing”. But, before we get into the details of this review, the only notable thing about the Nothing Ear1 is that these are the most marketed true wireless earbuds since the original AirPods, which also received all kinds of negative publicity at launch. , because Apple had removed the headphone jack from the iPhone 7.
Carl Pei, however, does something quite different from what Jobs was known to do – the former’s products are affordable to the layman. It has never been Apple’s business. The Nothing Ear1 is a stepping stone to greatness, but even taking that step it created a product better than AirPods 2, looks cooler than any TWS product on the market, and comes in packaging that costs half of the category-defining Apple Wireless Headphones.
Everything about the Ear1 starts with the design because it’s unique, unlike anything we’ve seen on a TWS-style earphone. You get a transparent case which is super cool because it has a sinkhole that allows you to hold it properly or even use it as a fidget spinner and then you have that retro-futuristic design of the Ear1s themselves as they are transparent from upper, but transform into a more traditional look with white horns and removable silicone tips.
The good news is that you also get additional ear tips in the package so you can choose the fit that suits you and there is a USB Type-C cable in the package as well. The case itself even supports the Qi wireless charging standard aside from the Ear1’s fast charging. If I have a little problem, it must be that the case scratches very quickly and is full of scratches within a few days of use.
The design of the Ear1 is just very cool – it was very difficult to implement considering that we are talking about a wireless product. Transparency is a feature we saw in many wired EMPs, but doing the same on a wireless product was going to be a Herculean task. Fortunately, when designing the product, Nothing partnered with the audio alchemists at Teenage Engineering who not only helped tune the sound of these TWS headphones, but also the design. Teenage Engineering is a Swedish company known for making cutting edge synthesizers and their influence is massive on this first generation product.
The attention to detail is quite impressive. For example, as many people have noted, there is a red terminator eye style dot on the right earbud while there is a black dot on the left one. The components of the upper have also been aligned to keep aesthetics, acoustic balance and visual panache in mind. To most people, they look so cool that they’ll be sold regardless of how they sound. Then the two rods also incorporate intuitive touch controls.
A triple tap takes you to the next song and a long press lets you modulate the noise cancellation between a breezy light mode to something more hectic or to turn transparency on or turn everything off. Then there is also an IPX4 rating, which means that they are resistant to sweat; which makes them ideal even for runners. Yes, I said run because I run 5 miles a day and these surprisingly held up, which not even AirPods Pro or Galaxy Buds Pro do. They are some of the most comfortable TWS headphones I have ever used, perhaps because of their ephemeral weight of 4.7 grams and that means something.
But what makes them or at least breaks them for someone who cares about music is the sound. And the Ear1 impresses. They have a bass and a mid-heavy sound signature. Most people will like this kind of sound signature. In terms of hardware, nothing has equipped them with fairly substantial 11.6mm drivers on each bud mated to a 3-matrix microphone system, making it even ideal for calls.
The mid-heavy, heavy nature of these headphones means that they appeal with a wide range of modern music – whether it’s high distortion rock, pop and modern electronic music, they have a very pleasing sound signature. . The bass is tight and the mid frequencies are cut well. This trait also shines through when watching videos, as the Ear1 has a very nice stereo sweep.
The problems arise with older music that uses sharper-sounding instruments like a Fender Stratocaster guitar that has an intense shimmer in the tone of the guitar. So if you hear bands like Jimi Hendrix Experience, Buddy Guy, or say Prince, the sound needs to be evened out, but if you’re listening to something more layered or something that was mastered in the ’90s or beyond – Metallica modern, Madonna, Britney Spears, AR Rahman, the Strokes, Shankar Ehsaan Loy, Blot !, Solomun – I can go on – the point being that they sound better with music that was recorded after the mid 80s and will have struggling with some of the older stuff unless the signature sound isn’t inherently warm like in tracks from Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, or even Eric Clapton.
The active noise cancellation is one of the best for a product below Rs 15,000 and given that they only cost Rs 5,999 the cancellation is truly impressive. It also keeps things quiet enough, but at the same time, it doesn’t give you that vacuum-oriented head rush you get with active noise cancellation.
Nothing and Teenage Engineering have done a wonderful job with active noise cancellation as this makes it a great earpiece for making zoom calls with clear sound, and I’ve done shoots with the Ear1 microphones recording audio and this also worked very well.
Interestingly, these headphones do not use Qualcomm’s APTx technology, which means they work equally well on Android as they do on iPhone thanks to the Bluetooth 5.2 connection. Instead, Nothing uses something called Clear Voice which works like a charm.
Of course, all of this is handled through the Nothing Ear1 app which is simple to use, allows you to manually sculpt the sound signature to a certain extent, control active noise cancellation, and stream firmware updates. The whole pairing process was pretty painless which is also a good thing.
The battery life is also quite impressive on these TWS headphones. Even with active noise cancellation when using the compact body, you’ll still find the Nothing Ear1 to last you more than a day on a single charge.
In my testing, active noise cancellation on the Ear1 lasted about 3.5-4 hours on a single charge and lasted me over a day with a quick charge using the case. But when active noise cancellation was off, they lasted over 5 hours and the case would have enough juice for a day and a half. My numbers are in line with what Nothing claimed, which also makes it attractive from a longevity perspective.
Overall, Nothing Ear1 doesn’t promise the moon. But everything he promises, he keeps. Think about it – they look cool, they are comfortable, they sound really good, actually better than AirPods 2 and have active noise cancellation to boot, in a package that costs Rs 5,999 with a superb battery life of battery and an easy-to-use app.
Even though things could get better. They could sound better with slightly high pitched music, the app could provide more granular control to even out the sound, and maybe the case could be designed to avoid scratches, but all of that would probably cost more money, this So would be a story for the Ear1 Pro maybe if they had something like that in mind. But at Rs 5,999, they represent knockout value and impeccable performance, features and freshness. These are AirPods 2 that sound better, look better, and have active noise cancellation at half the price while working with both iPhone and Android. Carl Pei was surely listening.