Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs Nothing Ear: Which noise-canceling buds win?

Nothing has been a clear challenger to Apple's AirPods Pro 2 — ranked as one of the best wireless earbuds —  since it introduced its first transparent Ear (1) earbuds back in 2021. We pitched the AirPods Pro versus Nothing Ear (1) at launch and then again with the Nothing Ear (2) versus AirPods Pro 2 face-off in 2023. As the third model in the series, the Nothing Ear 'buds are considered the closest AirPods Pro 2 rival from the young British company so far, so it's time to update the conversation. 

They both have a drop stem design and the latest flagship versions have evolved to bring similar generational advances to noise-canceling performance, sound quality, and battery life. But one model costs considerably more than the other. 

Read on to find out how they compare in terms of specs, design, performance, battery life, and more in our AirPods Pro 2 USB-C versus Nothing Ear analysis.

Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. Nothing Ear: Specs compared

Nothing Ear vs AirPods Pro 2 listing image

(Image credit: Future)
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Header Cell - Column 0 Apple AirPods Pro 2 USB-CNothing Ear
Price$249 / £229 / AU$399$149 / £129 / AU$249
Wireless charging caseYesYes
ChipH2Not stated
Noise cancelationAdaptiveAdaptive
Battery life (rated)5.5 hours (Spatial Audio and Head Tracking on) 6 hours (ANC on); 7 hours (ANC off); 30 hours (charging case with ANC on); 34 hours (charging case with ANC off)5.2 hours (ANC on), 24 hours ANC on with charging case), 8.5 hours (ANC off), 40.5 hours (ANC off with charging case)
DurabilityIP54 (buds and charging case)IP54 buds; IP55 charging case
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.0 with SBC, AAC Bluetooth 5.3 with SBC, AAC, LDAC, LHDC
Size1.22 x 0.86 x 0.94 inches (per bud); 1.78 x 2.39 x 0.85 inches (charging case)1.1 x 0.8 x 0.9 inches (per bud); 2.3 x 2.3 x 0.9 inches (charging case)
Weight0.19 ounces (per bud); 1.79 ounces (charging case)0.2 ounces (per bud), 2 ounces (charging case)
Special featuresAdaptive transparency mode, adaptive EQ, personalized spatial audio, automatic switching, Ear Tip Fit Test, Find My (AirPods), “Hey Siri” voice-activated assistance, MagSafe charging case with built-in speaker, lanyard loop supportPersonalized EQ, Transparency mode, dual connection, Ear Tip Fit Test, find my earbuds

Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. Nothing Ear: Price and availability

The Nothing Ear pricing has remained the same as its predecessor at $149 / £129 / AU$249. This puts them firmly in budget noise-canceling earbud territory and makes them $100 cheaper than the Apple AirPods Pro 2, which cost $249 / £229 / AU$399. The Nothing Ear come in black or white color options and are available from the Nothing store as well as online retailers including Amazon

Apple kept the AirPods Pro 2 USB-C version at $249 / AU$399, which is the same price as the original AirPods Pro launched in 2019. In the U.K. though, the USB-C version got a surprising price drop to £229 (down from £249). They are available from the Apple store at the full asking price, but they can also be found regularly discounted at online retailers. They come in white only.

Winner: Nothing Ear

Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. Nothing Ear: Design and fit

Nothing Ear 2024 in black in charging case on stones

(Image credit: Future)

Most people will recognize Apple's AirPods, and there's not much about the AirPods Pro 2 design that has changed from the original, or that hasn’t already been discussed. 

Likewise, the Nothing Ear follow the same design as previous generations and there's plenty of attention to detail that you just don’t see on many earbuds. From the tiny printed lettering on each stem to the clearly visible touch sensors and three microphones in each earpiece, the design of the Nothing buds makes the AirPods Pro 2 look bland by comparison.

While I've not encountered any difficulties with the comfort or fit of the AirPods Pro 2, during my recent testing I barely noticed the Nothing Ear inserted into my ears. During my listening sessions, the pre-fitted mid-size ear tips worked well and the Ear Tip Fit Test confirmed that they were indeed the correct size and achieved a good seal in my ears. 

Both earbuds have slightly oval-shaped tips, which helps to make them feel secure during gym workouts, although it's important to mention that the fit experience may be different for different wearers.

Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs Nothing Ear charging cases side by side on a gray painted surface

(Image credit: Future)

Both the Apple and Nothing charging cases are compact and portable-friendly. The AirPods Pro 2’s case has built-in tracking, while the Nothing is larger but displays the buds in the charging case.

Both models are rated at IP54 for the buds for protection from dust, sweat, and moisture. The Nothing charging case is rated at IP55, which is higher than the AirPods Pro 2 charging case at IP54.

Winner: Tie

Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. Nothing Ear: Controls

Nothing Ear and AirPods Pro 2 buds side by side

(Image credit: Future)

As with the Ear (2), I found Nothing's controls to be more responsive than the AirPods Pro 2 when it came to registering gestures. I got a good sense of tactile feedback when initiating commands, and I love the breath sound that confirms Transparency mode has been selected. 

A single pinch input gives play/pause, and answer/hang up calls, while a double pinch enables skip forward or decline incoming calls, and a triple pinch for skip back. Pinch and hold on either the left or right earbud will switch between Active Noise Cancelation on or off, and Transparency Mode, while volume adjustment and manual voice assistant activation on your playback device can be assigned to either earbud via a double pinch and hold gesture. 

Reviewer wearing AirPods Pro 2 for running and using touch controls

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Apple added touch volume controls to the Force Sensor, which work flawlessly on the AirPods Pro 2, using slide gestures to seamlessly adjust volume instead of pressing the sensors. You can still activate commands through single, multi-, and long-press gestures, which execute commands with precision. Motion detection is available to initiate auto-pause when taking out one bud. “Hey, Siri” wake word functionality completes the package to enjoy excellent hands-free digital assistance.

Winner: Tie

Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. Nothing Ear: Sound quality

The Nothing Ear worn by Tom's Guide's Ryan Epps.

(Image credit: Future)

They may lack spatial audio support, but Nothing has taken its personalized sound to the next level via a suite of features in the excellent Nothing X app. The personalization test takes several minutes to complete, but once done, listeners can activate a frequency map tailored to their hearing. Wearers can select between "Recommended" and "Richer" profiles, and there's an intensity slider that appears to adjust the amount of low-frequency energy. Following my short test, I found I preferred the Recommended option with the Intensity slider set to 100%.

The sound quality is great even without any EQ tinkering, with a rich and powerful bass. I prefer connecting over Bluetooth via LDAC on supported devices such as my Sony Xperia 1 IV for higher-quality streams. But as I'm comparing the Nothing Ear with the AirPods Pro 2 I'm using my iPhone 12 Pro, which limits Bluetooth connectivity to AAC. 

I enjoy the extra punch the new 11mm ceramic drivers and tuning bring to my music listening. However, when using the new Bass Enhance mode, the additional energy given to the lower frequencies is at the expense of clarity with song vocals. 

There's a lack of openness in the mid-frequencies and loss of detail in the high frequencies compared to the AirPods Pro 2 sonic balance that makes certain tracks I listen to regularly sound almost too big. It feels as though Nothing might have adopted Beats' approach to bass, and can quickly feel like too much of a good thing. Luckily there are plenty of advanced EQ options to tune the sound output to your liking, and I recommend experimenting with the Advanced EQ settings.

AirPods Pro 2

(Image credit: Future)

The AirPods Pro 2 have adaptive EQ, new drivers, and custom amplifiers for richer, energetic sound. You can still tweak audio performance by switching between numerous EQ presets in iOS. Lastly, you get Personalized Spatial Audio with dynamic headtracking. This updated version scans your ears and head to create a personalized sound profile that enhances 3D effects when listening to Dolby Atmos-supported content. 

The overall sound balance is one of total balance across the frequency range, giving tracks the punch and delicacy they deserve in equal measure. The AirPods Pro 2 may max out at 320kbps using the AAC codec, but it always sounds smooth and is a master at disguising any digital artifacts caused by low data transmissions of audio signals over Bluetooth.

Winner: Apple AirPods Pro 2

Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. Nothing Ear: Active noise cancelation

Nothing Ear earbud in Ryan's ear

(Image credit: Future)

Apple claims that active noise canceling for the AirPods Pro 2 has been significantly improved, and can “reduce up to two times more unwanted background noise.” That's difficult to accurately assess, but subjectively the ANC is very effective. I use them regularly on my gym workout sessions and can vouch for their strong capabilities at blocking out external sounds of my fellow gym goers, and they rank among the best noise-canceling earbuds around.

Apple AirPods Pro 2 in hand of reviewer

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Nothing claims an improvement in ANC performance that's almost twice as effective as its predecessor. The buds feature what's described as a new smart ANC algorithm that checks for noise leakage between the earbuds and the ear canal, and adjusts noise cancelation accordingly. Ear also accounts for background distractions with Adaptive ANC and automatically applies one of 3 noise cancelation levels, high, medium, and low.

In practice, the tech is effective and reduces the overall background level of external sounds, but it doesn't block them out completely. When swapping to the Nothing Ear at the gym, I could still hear music from the PA system and the person on the rowing machine behind me. It's a tough test, but the Ear's ANC didn't match the level of external noise reduction I typically get when wearing the AirPods Pro 2 while working out. 

Winner: Apple AirPods Pro 2

Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. Nothing Ear: Special features and app

Nothing Ear control app

(Image credit: Future)

The Nothing X app is a vital download for Ear users, providing slick access to touch control customization, Noise Control, Ear Tip Fit Test, Find My Earbuds (within range), Personal Sound Profile, Dual Connection, and Firmware Updates.

Google Fast Pair and Microsoft Swift Pair are also on board, and you get on-ear detection, which works flawlessly. Music is paused almost instantly upon removing an earbud and resumes quickly once it’s back in place.

Showing fit test screen for AirPods Pro 2

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The AirPods Pro 2 have an even longer list of features, including ANC, adaptive EQ, announced messages with Siri, audio share, automatic switching, control customization, Ear Tip Fit Test, EQ, Find My support, “Hey Siri” voice activation, Live Listen, Personalized Spatial Audio, and Transparency mode.   

The AirPods Pro 2’s charging case sends out a tone through the speaker that indicates charging statuses, low battery, pairing or to help locate the case when misplaced, which is tracked through the Find My app. Overall? Control via iOS is flawless.

Winner: Tie

Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. Nothing Ear: Battery life

Nothing Ear 2024 in black in charging case on distressed woodwork

(Image credit: Future)

Nothing has extended the battery life of Ear to 5.2 hours with ANC on, which translates to around 8.5 hours without ANC. That's not quite as strong as some of the best cheap wireless earbuds, but it's a step up over its predecessor at just 4 hours with ANC enabled. The charging case capacity has also been boosted with total playback up to 40.5 hours compared to 36 hours for the Ear (2). A 10-minute fast charge claims to give up to 10 hours of use.

Apple increased the battery life between the AirPods Pro 2 vs. AirPods Pro. Now, a full charge gets you 5.5 hours of listening with ANC, and 30 hours total with the charging case. 

Both charging cases offer wireless charging and quick charging features, but the AirPods Pro 2’s case supports more charging solutions, including MagSafe and compatibility with Apple Watch chargers.

Winner: Tie

Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. Nothing Ear: Verdict

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Header Cell - Column 0 Apple AirPods Pro 2 USB-CNothing Ear
Price and value (5)45
Design (15)1515
Controls and app (10)89
Sound quality (25)2219
Active noise cancelation (25)2219
Connectivity (10)810
Battery life (10)66
Total score (100)8583

The Nothing Ear are stacked with features at the price. They are the perfect example of how the mid-market wireless earbuds sector has grown and consumer expectations at the price. While Nothing's battery life still feels short, I was impressed by the slick app, personalized sound profile, and the overall performance on offer at the price. 

Apple should be taking note when it comes to the price point of its next AirPods model launches. For $100 less than the MSRP of the AirPods Pro 2, the Nothing Ear work across both iOS and Android platforms, support high-quality audio codecs, and are a match for many Apple features.  

Despite the price disparity the AirPods Pro 2 still manage to take the win, thanks to stronger noise-canceling and a better balanced sound overall. 

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Lee Dunkley
Audio Editor

As a former editor of the U.K.'s Hi-Fi Choice magazine, Lee is passionate about all kinds of audio tech and has been providing sound advice to enable consumers to make informed buying decisions since he joined Which? magazine as a product tester in the 1990s. Lee covers all things audio for Tom's Guide, including headphones, wireless speakers and soundbars and loves to connect and share the mindfulness benefits that listening to music in the very best quality can bring.