It's not often a pair of headphones gets the tech world talking - especially ones that come in at under £100/$100. But that's what has happened with the Nothing Ear (1) earphones.
These transparent ear buds have been created by Nothing, a new tech brand headed up by ex OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei and backed by some of the biggest online luminaries around - including YouTube sensation Casey Neistat, the co-founder of Reddit, Steve Huffman, and the co-founder of Twitch, Kevin Lin.
Nothing's first gadget release are these see-through Ear (1) true wireless buds that are far more budget friendly than we were expecting.
Designed by Teenage Engineering, they - in Nothing's words - are meant to offer the following: "raw beauty meets precise sound for a pure sound experience."
We've been using the Nothing Ear (1) ear buds for a few weeks now. Here are 5 things you need to know...
1. The design is unique - and that's a good thing
You can see from the box and the buds themselves, that Nothing has gone for something a little different when it comes to the design of its Ear (1) buds. We are happy with this. The idea of transparent tech is nothing new, but seeing the innards of the earphones is a great little USP and we really like the see-through box as well.
The earbuds themselves are tiny and fit well in the ear - there's no protruding found here and the never felt like they were going to fall out.
Other than the white buds and transparent shaft, the only other bit of design is a white and red dot indicating which ear the bud is for. Simple but very effective.
2. Setup is simple, we had them working in seconds
While there is a companion app to download, setup to listening was mere seconds. We have tested A LOT of wireless ear buds and this isn't always the case, so we're glad the Nothing has itself sorted in that department.
As for the companion app - it's a good one. You can see, instantly, how much juice both ear buds have and the extra features are split between Hear and Touch. It's really easy to increase the power of the noise cancelling, by clicking Hear and choosing between light and maximum. You can also choose transparency (ANC off and the mics allowing external noise) and ANC off. The equaliser options are just as simple: more treble, more bass or balanced. We like the simplicity of the whole thing, which mirrors the design of the ear buds.
Head to Touch and you can change the functions of the gesture controls. Without going into the app we wouldn't have thought there were actually any gesture controls, given there isn't much real estate on the side of the ear buds to tap but these gestures do work surprisingly well.
3. ANC is stronger than we were expecting
We used the Nothing Ear (1) on public transport a number of times and the ANC is decent enough to mask the majority of outside noise, and the sung fit in the ear canal means that there is a nice bit of passive ANC through the ear buds, too.
Given that it is a rarity to have ANC on a pair of ear buds that hit that 'under £100/$100' we are impressed with this.
The buds worked nicely in the gym, too. Again, the fit means that the don't feel like they will fall out (and they didn't while we were smashing it on the cross trainer). While sweating didn't seem to be an issue at all for the Ear (1), it is worth noting that they are only IPX4 splash resistant, so no singing in the shower for you!
The buds also auto pause when one is taken out of an ear, and they will automatically go into transparent mode until both are placed back in - this is a nice touch.
4. Battery life is decent, but the case needs work
We were impressed with the battery life of the Nothing Ear (1) ear buds. They don't last as long as others on the market but it's pretty close.
We clocked around 5.5 hours with the buds completely out of the case, but a full 24 hours is quoted when you include the charging case. This rises to 34 hours if you turn the ANC off, but we can't really seeing you do that given ANC is one of the biggest reasons to get these true wireless buds.
About that case. You can charge it through USB-C or chuck it on a Qi-compatible charger. It takes a few hours to fully charge but that is nothing out of the ordinary.
We were a little annoyed with the case, though, especially in a rush. The way that ear buds fit into the case is a little fiddly and we found ourselves trying various different ways to put the ear buds back in properly until they fit. We got used to it but you might find yourself fiddling around far more than you want to - and while we appreciate the see-through design, it doesn't help in this situation.
5. Sound is solid, dependable
Now, we mentioned that we loved the simplicity of the limited options with the equaliser in the app, some may be yearning for a bit more manual control with the audio that is piped through. We liked what we heard, though, especially as these are budget-friendly.
The bass was strong when listening to the Chemical Brothers' We Got To Try, and Unkle's If We Don't Make It sounded big and bawdy.
The mid-tones did well to tackle The Last Man on Earth by Wolf Alice and The high notes of Manic Street Preachers' Orwellian were replicated nicely.
You may not get the clarity and warmth in the sound from the Nothing Ear (1) buds, that you would get from a higher-priced true wireless ear bud, but you certainly won't be disappointed.
Nothing Ear (1) review: Final Verdict
Earlier reviews of the Nothing Ear (1) buds do mention some issues with software bugs but since we've had our pair, there have been numerous firmware updates and we couldn't find any issues.
What we got were a decent, unique set of of true wireless earphones that don't look like anything else in the market. The sound is solid, but doesn't soar, the ANC worked well when we needed it to.
The Nothing Ear (1) buds don't feel, or look, like you are wearing a pair of earphones that are almost half the price of the likes of the Apple AirPods Pro or other rivals - and Nothing has to be applauded for that.
We're excited to see what the company does next!
- Head to Nothing.tech to buy the Nothing Ear (1) earphones now. They are also available from Selfridges.