Nothing ear (1) earbuds review: When listening to nothing can mean something

Carl Pei’s solo tech venture Nothing sure looks like it’s done something with its debut product. The ear (1) earbuds offer high-fidelity sound with a breakaway design. But should you spend ₹5999 on them?

What is the longest time you have waited for nothing? What about Nothing, Carl Pei’s solo tech venture? After his departure from smartphone giant OnePlus in October 2020, Pei’s next venture — weirdly named Nothing — tech-lovers speculated just where the company would head: smartphones, PCs and even gaming consoles. But the most prevalent prediction was audio gear – proven right by the company’s debut product, the ear (1).

It has already garnered plenty of attention here in India given CRED’s Kunal Shah has invested in Nothing, aside from OnePlus’ fandom.

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Nothing has read the room well by making its first product a set of earbuds, with the standards for earphones rising in the last 18 months with work-from-home routines. This also makes business sense to test the brand’s ‘buyableness’ at launch.

Design and connectivity

Nothing has wisely avoided unnecessary frills of packaging for the ear (1), leaving more oohs and ahhs for the product and its design.

Given the Cyberpunky partially-transparent design of the earbuds’ drivers, magnets and other tiny components, I was immediately given a direct view of the craft of the product. This design breakaway is refreshing with the market saturated with all-white earbuds, similar to that of the Apple AirPods.

The packaging of the Nothing Ear (1) earbuds

The ear (1)s are significantly lighter than the AirPods and the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro. Instead of the homogenous fluid design, there are more discernible sections to the earbuds (like the stalks and the joints), giving them a robotic feel which is compounded by the transparency. Instead of the usual L and R to indicate where earbuds should be worn, the universally-known red dot is placed on the right ear (1). This leaves more real estate for the user to really examine what is inside the earbud.

Nothing ear (1) specifications

  • Dimensions per earbud: 28.0mm x 21.5mm x 23.5mm ; 4.7g
  • Case dimensions: 58.6mm x 58.6mm x 23.7mm ; 57.4g
  • Sound: 11.6 mm dynamic driver; Graphene diaphragm ; Chamber size: 0.34cc ; Hybrid Active Noise Cancellation AAC and SBC
  • Clear Voice: 3 High Definition Microphones ; AI Powered Environmental Noise Cancellation
  • Battery: Up to 34 hrs in the case with full charge (ANC Off) ; 24 hrs (ANC On)
  • Charge Compatibility: ear (1) charges inside the case; ear (1) case charges with QI compatible wireless chargers or USB-C chargers
  • Compatibility: Android 5.1 and later ; iOS 11 and later
  • Bluetooth: v5.2 ; A2DP, AVRCP, HFP profiles

The earbud design is a throwback to older earbuds that are still comfortable for many users. Instead of that ultra contoured AirPods design, the bulbous head on the earbud (which can be fitted with sized eartips) make for a non-invasive but sturdy fit – so whether working out with a complex asana or something heavier like outdoor cardio, the ear (1)s will stay put.

The case is quite pretty too. The transparent top makes it easy for you to remember that you have both earbuds in there instead of opening it and activating pairing. My favourite is the circular indentation on the clear case is both ergonomic and functional. The indentation is meant to be a stabilising feature to prevent the ear (1)s from wobbling inside the case. The kid in me ended up using that grip placement to turn the case into a makeshift fidget-spinner.

With the eye-catching design that will surely make the ear (1) easily identifiable, Nothing has not ditched function. The company’s collaboration with Swedish audio engineering house Teenage Engineering signals its move away from what many would probably deem a ‘China brand.’ But people do not just partner with a name like Teenage Engineering for marketing points – they want an audio product to excel.

Rich, booming sound

And ear (1)s deliver. They have an optional companion app for users who want granular control over their listening experience, i.e. adjusting bass and treble levels. But for simple listening, they do well on their own. With fast connectivity via Bluetooth v5.2, you can get to work or play quicker.

The graphene diaphragms in each earbud offer that silky smooth and detailed listening experience. The levels are balanced and produce a deep but not cringey bass-heavy sound that most music genres enjoy. Highs are detailed and precise, mids are gripping yet warm, while the vocals are super-clear (ideal for calls, podcasts and audiobooks). Look forward to a comfortable separation of instruments, too.

The transparent casing for the Nothing Ear (1) earbuds with the ergonomic and stabilising indentation

The transparent casing for the Nothing Ear (1) earbuds with the ergonomic and stabilising indentation
| Photo Credit: Divya Kala Bhavani

Team all this with the hybrid active noise cancelling and you can immerse yourself into any call, podcast, film, track or audiobook. The noise-cancelling, in my opinion, competes with that of Samsung’s popular Galaxy Buds but maybe not that of the impressive Sony XM4 earbuds.

Having used the ear (1)s for about a week now, I’m happy that I’ve needed to charge the case only once for about an hour, via USB-C. If you are using a wireless QI charging pad, reaching full charge will take longer. This is pretty standard for earbuds these days.

The ear (1)s are a refreshing addition to a growing audio gadget market but is it worth ₹5999 / US$99 / £99? There are more inexpensive ones in the market but not many with the visual appeal, long-time hardiness and performance of the ear (1)s. The pricing, apart from the collaboration, is a major sign that Nothing categorises itself as a premium brand of gadgets.

Nothing ear (1) earbuds will be available globally from July 31 for ₹5999 / US$99 / £99.

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