I swapped AirPods Pro 2 for Nothing Ear at the gym — here's what happened

Nothing Ear in their charging case next to some weights at the gym
(Image credit: Future)

As audio editor, I spend a lot of time listening to music on great audio devices. I'm fortunate to work mostly from home where I assess the best wireless earbuds, speakers, soundbars, etc., but several times a week I break my working day and head to my local gym to maintain a level of fitness. My trips to the gym are also an ideal opportunity to assess candidates for my buying guide roundups and to try models out on different activities and in different environments.

I've tested dozens of wireless earbuds as workout companions over the years, and have settled on Apple's AirPods Pro 2 as my go-to gym buddy. They rank among the best workout headphones and are the perfect addition to my iPhone. They're great at delivering my favorite motivational playlists with powerful and engaging sound during gym sessions and have robust durability to withstand the wear and tear of a sweaty workout.

That being said, I recently received the new Nothing Ear buds to review and with their IP54 to protect them from dirt and moisture ingress, they seemed like they had potential to replace the AirPods Pro during my workouts. Here's how it went.

Apple AirPods Pro 2: My go-to gym buddy

Nothing Ear and AirPods Pro 2 in their charging case on a Technogym strider workout display

(Image credit: Future)

Listening to great-sounding audio with an up-tempo playlist for aerobic exercise can help you run for longer (and sometimes faster). It can also help to make the time pass quicker so that exercising doesn't feel like an endurance test.

It's no secret that a little musical inspiration can help with your workout routine: Listening to great-sounding audio with an up-tempo playlist for aerobic exercise can help you run for longer (and sometimes faster). It can also help to make the time pass quicker so that exercising doesn't feel like an endurance test.

The catch here is that your earbuds need to stay in the whole time, no matter how intense the workout gets.

The good news, for me at least, is that the security of the fit has often surprised me on AirPods Pro 2. Although some users experience issues, they always manage to stay in my ears no matter what my pace is on the treadmill or strider, and there's hardly ever any slippage no matter how hot and sweaty my ears get. 

Music sounds balanced, too. I love the natural sound the earbuds bring to voices during song vocals, and the level of detail on high frequencies without sounding edgy or overly bright. Bass levels may not be as warm and heavy-sounding as some, but it's sufficient enough to energize my workouts without becoming overbearing and tiring to listen to after an hour or so.

The only criticism I can level at the AirPods Pro 2 are the short battery life that has seen me forget to keep on top of recharges; several times I've found them depleted in my gym bag.

But are the Nothing Ear built better for pumping iron?

Nothing Ear vs AirPods Pro 2 listing image

(Image credit: Future)

Battery life for the Nothing Ear is a little short but comparable to AirPods Pro 2. One area where they excel is that they have slightly better audio specs in terms of codec support when connected to Android devices. They're undoubtedly aimed at attracting Apple fans though, and have a similar drop-stem design that's available in both white and black color options. They also come at a more affordable price. By comparison, the AirPods sell for $249 whereas the Nothing Ear buds retail at $149.

Comfort levels and fit stability using the Nothing Ear are similar to my regular AirPods Pro 2 gym buds. They weigh around 0.2 ounces, which is approximately the same as the AirPods Pro 2. With medium-sized eartips fitted, they remained fixed to my ears on the treadmill and strider machine with no sign of slippage even after 40 minutes of continuous cardio exercise, which makes them a great gym alternative to my regular buds.  

I rarely find myself using touch controls unless I am carrying out tests, but when I did I found Nothing's controls were more responsive than the AirPods Pro 2 at registering my gestures. There's a good sense of tactile feedback when initiating commands, and I love the breath sound that confirms Transparency mode has been selected. 

Nothing Ear: Great sound at the gym

Nothing Ear earbud in Ryan's ear

(Image credit: Future)

I found that the Nothing's almost Beats-esque approach to the bass delivery made music feel more energized, which was a positive motivational element that distracted me from the annoying music playing over the gym's PA system.

Although I mentioned in my original review that I felt there was a lack of openness in the mid-frequencies and loss of detail in the high frequencies compared to the AirPods Pro 2 sonic balance for serious listening, many listeners will barely notice the difference when working out. In fact, I found that the Nothing's almost Beats-esque approach to the bass delivery made music feel more energized, which was a positive motivational element that distracted me from the annoying music playing over the gym's PA system.

Nothing claims an improvement in ANC performance that's almost twice as effective as its predecessor. They can account for background distractions with Adaptive ANC to automatically apply one of 3 noise cancelation levels: high, medium, and low.

In practice, the tech reduces the overall background level of external sounds, but it doesn't match the pool of silence achieved by some of the best noise-canceling earbuds. For example, I could still hear music from the gym's PA system and the person on the rowing machine behind me. So, although they go some way to reducing background noise distractions, they don't quite match the level of external noise reduction I typically get when wearing the AirPods Pro 2 during my workouts.

Should you replace your workout earbuds?

Neither the Nothing Ear nor the AirPods Pro 2 are marketed as fitness buds, but both are versatile options and suitable candidates for active lifestyles: The Nothing Ears have a strong fit so long as you use the correct size ear tips (there's an ear fit test to help with that), and there was no sense of them falling out even on vigorous workouts. Sound quality is punchy, which many will approve of when performing energized workouts, and there's sound personalization and adjustable EQ modes if you don't.

One of the most surprising factors about the Nothing Ear though, was how effective they were at isolating the sound of my footsteps. I've discovered many wireless earbuds that are impractical for exercising because of the microphonic effect that amplifies the sound of my footsteps in my ears while I'm running. The Nothing Ears kept them a bay and are well isolated. Their ANC may not be the strongest, but they make an attractive gym alternative and cost $100 less than Apple's AirPods Pro 2.

Long story, short? If your gym's monthly dues have hosed your bank account, the Nothing Ear offers a budget alternative to the AirPods Pro 2 that gym-goers will love.

More from Tom's Guide

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.