The Nothing Ear (1) is almost everything you could want from a pair of true wireless earbuds. It’s affordable, sounds great and even supports active noise cancellation (ANC). In fact, its feature set makes it look an awful lot like it’s targeting the AirPods Pro in particular.
Apple’s effort hardly needs an introduction. It’s arguably the most recognizable pair of premium in-ear headphones in the world, and deservedly a member of the best noise-cancelling earbuds club. But if you’re in the market for a new pair, should you stick with what works or back the young upstart? That’s what our Nothing Ear (1) vs. AirPods Pro analysis will find out.
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Nothing Ear (1) vs. AirPods Pro: Specs compared
|Nothing Ear (1)||AirPods Pro|
|Battery Life (Rated)||4 hours ANC on), 27 hours (ANC on with charging case); 5.7 hours (ANC off), 38 hours (ANC off with charging case)||4.5 hours (ANC on), 5 hours (ANC off), 24 hours (with charging case)|
|Case Size||2.3 x 2.3 x 0.9 inches||1.8 x 0.9 x 2.4 inches|
|Case Weight||2 ounces||1.6 ounces|
|Special features||Active noise cancellation, transparency mode, EQ presets, IPX4 water resistance, Find My Earbuds, wireless charging||Active noise cancellation, transparency mode, adaptive EQ, spatial audio, automatic switching, customizable fit, audio sharing, Fast Fuel charging, announced messages with Siri, “Hey Siri” voice-activated assistance, wireless charging case|
Nothing Ear (1) vs. AirPods Pro: Price
The Ear (1) isn’t just cheaper than the AirPods Pro, it’s cheaper than the vast majority of noise-cancelling earbuds out there. At $99, Nothing earbuds teeter on genuine entry-level quality, though thankfully the overall quality belies the low price. The only downside is a lack of retailer choice, as Nothing (opens in new tab) itself sells the Ear (1) directly.
The AirPods Pro is more widely available but unavoidably more expensive. Right now, the best price you can expect for a new pair is $189: nearly double that Ear (1)’s price. This does represent a sizeable drop from the $249 MSRP, but this is still an easy win for the Nothing buds.
Winner: Nothing Ear (1)
Nothing Ear (1) vs. AirPods Pro: Design and comfort
There’s not much about the AirPods Pro design that hasn’t been said. Most tech-conscious bystanders would recognise those gleaming white stems from anywhere, and the use of replaceable in-ear tips both helps create a seal for the ANC and allows for a more secure, personalizable fit than the standard Apple AirPods.
The Nothing Ear (1) also has stems, but looks drastically different thanks to its transparent plastic casing. This showcases the circuitry inside, which at least to my eyes gives it a more interesting, industrial-tinged aesthetic.
Otherwise, though, these two pairs of buds have a lot in common on the design front. They both meet the IPX4 standard, for splash-proofing and sweat resistance, and their eartips have an almost identical oval shape. This means they feel remarkably similar in the ear; both sets are comfortable enough to wear for a few hours at a time, though neither proved particular secure in my ears. Out on walks, I’d usually have to re-angle them properly after they shifted loose.
Nothing Ear (1) vs. AirPods Pro: Controls and digital assistant
The Ear (1)’s touch sensors, which you can see through the casing, work pretty well. There’s a good range of inputs to use, a few of which can be customized, and unlike on the AirPods Pro you can adjust the volume with swipe gestures.
Still, the can’t beat the tactile feedback that the AirPods’ Force Sensors provide. And although the AirPods Pro limits its “Hey Siri” voice-activated controls to iOS source devices, the fact that it has such extensive digital assistant support is an advantage over the Ear (1). Nothing’s earbuds can deliver commands and queries through its microphones, but only when you’ve already woken the assistant on your phone. There’s no way to summon it with the touch gestures.
Winner: AirPods Pro
Nothing Ear (1) vs. AirPods Pro: Sound quality
Not only do the Ear (1) and AirPods Pro feel alike, they sound alike too. So while neither have the downright exquisite audio of models like the Bowers & Wilkins PI5, they’re on broadly equal terms for delivering powerful yet balanced music and podcasts.
On both buds, the bass response is controlled without being weedy or boomy, and vocal tracks exhibit impressive clarity. Honestly, there really isn’t much difference at all; spatial audio on the AirPods Pro gives it a big boost when watching movies in Dolby Atmos, but that’s more of a feature advantage than a general sound benefit. For music, the Ear (1) holds its own.
Nothing Ear (1) vs. AirPods Pro: Active noise cancellation
Unfortunately for the Ear (1), it can’t match up to the AirPods Pro on ANC effectiveness. Turning on ANC while the latter are in your ears makes ambient noise simply fall away; it’s excellent at blocking out low-frequency noise, and is more adept at quieting higher-pitched sounds like speech too. In fact, Apple’s ANC tech remains one of the very best on any pair of earbuds, only behind the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds and the PI5.
To be fair, the Ear (1) deserves praise for including ANC in spite of its low price, and it doesn’t work badly: for droning sounds like nearby traffic, fridges or air conditioners, Nothing’s noise cancellation is effective. But the AirPods Pro simply do it better, especially for particularly loud environments like subway trains, where the Ear (1) ANC struggles to get the volume down enough.
Winner: AirPods Pro
Nothing Ear (1) vs. AirPods Pro: App and features
The AirPods Pro doesn’t have an app as such, instead relying on what’s built straight into iOS. This naturally leaves Android users out in the cold, but the wealth and variety of goodies on offer is unbeatable: there’s fast pairing, fast switching between multiple Apple devices, the aforementioned voice controls, audio personalization via Headphones Accommodations, full spatial audio support with head tracking and even the ability to have Siri read out notifications into your ear.
The Ear (1) actually has a respectable selection of tools, especially for $99. It can use Android Fast Pair, and through the Ear (1) app offers touch control customization and a handful of EQ presets (though the best of these is the default “Balanced” profile). The Find My Earbuds feature is cool, too — you can force both buds to emit a high-pitched beep that’s loud enough to help you find a misplaced pair from dozens of feet away.
Nonetheless, the Ear (1)’s arsenal is considerable smaller than that of the AirPods Pro, and the latter’s voice controls and spatial audio are the kinds of bonuses you’d likely use much more often.
Winner: AirPods Pro
Nothing Ear (1) vs. AirPods Pro: Battery life
On paper, this is a narrow victory for the AirPods Pro: it’s rated for 4.5 hours of ANC playback, and the Apple H1 chip is effective enough at power management that you can actually expect that much in real-life usage. The Ear (1), meanwhile is only rated for 4 hours with ANC.
And yet, when we tested the Ear (1), it actually got closer to 5 hours than the AirPods Pro can — 4 hours 51 minutes, to be exact. And since both pairs promise 24 hours of total noise-cancelled uptime with use of their respective charging cases, we’d say the Nothing buds can pulled a little upset.
Both charging cases also support wireless charging, so the AirPods Pro can’t quite claim a consolation there, so its case is significantly more compact.
Winner: Nothing Ear (1)
Nothing Ear (1) vs. AirPods Pro: Call quality and connectivity
Both sets of buds deserve credit for how well they can handle headset duties. I called up a friend using the AirPods Pro, and after testing a few different conditions called back on the Ear (1) to repeat the process. Both pairs, I’m told, sounded perfectly clear both indoors and out.
A touch more background noise was reported with the Ear (1), at least when I stepped outdoors, and it apparently picked up a little more reverb in echoey rooms than the AirPods Pro. However, I’m told the difference was extremely minor, and that the Ear (1) actually exhibited smoother transitions when moving between rooms or going from indoors to outside.
There were no incidents of dropped, patchy or otherwise unreliable Bluetooth connections either, on either pair.
Nothing Ear (1) vs. AirPods Pro: Verdict
In a strictly technical sense, the AirPods Pro is the superior pair of wireless earbuds. Its ANC is noticeably more effective, it’s got a better range of useful and entertaining features, and its control scheme is far more advanced.
|Nothing Ear (1)||AirPods Pro|
|Price and value (5)||5||3|
|Sound quality (20)||17||17|
|Active noise cancellation(20)||15||18|
|Special features and apps (15)||11||13|
|Call quality (5)||5||5|
|Battery life (10)||7||5|
|Total score (100)||80||83|
However, I’m not sure I can say it’s the outright better set of buds, at least not insofar as which ones you should buy. The Nothing Ear (1) is much more affordable, yet manages to go toe-to-toe with Apple’s effort on crucial qualities like sound, comfort and battery life. Then there’s the fact that a lot of what’s great about the AirPods Pro vanishes when it’s connected to a non-Apple device.
Perhaps if you can afford it, and you have an iOS device like the iPhone 12, the AirPods Pro is the one you should buy. But the Ear (1) makes an incredibly ambitious attempt to match it, and comes close enough that anyone on a tight budget should absolutely consider it.
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