The Nothing Ear (1), the first wireless earbuds release from OnePlus co-founder Car Pei’s Nothing company, has kept itself almost frustratingly mysterious. Ahead of the official July 27 reveal, though, Nothing has been more forthcoming with details, including key features and pricing.
Frankly, dropping the coyness is probably the best thing Nothing could have done for the Ear (1) at this point, because its suddenly starting to look — alongside the AirPods 3 — like it could be one of the most exciting sets of headphones this year.
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First up, the price. The Nothing Ear (1) will cost $99, barely more than many of the best wireless earbuds and a refreshing change from how most of the big-name brands have been charging in 2021. Most have tended towards premium pricing; the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro and Sony WF-1000XM4 both being prime examples. It’s a very pleasant surprise, considering Nothing’s prior Ear (1) hype struck a more aspiration tone, with claims of combining “notes of transparency, iconic form, and refined functionality.”
It might still do that, but it would be for a much more affordable price than I, and likely most other onlookers, were expecting. And it gets even better, as Nothing has also announced the Ear (1) will feature “state-of-the-art” active noise cancellation.
ANC is attainable yet exceedingly rare below the $100 point, and a new shaker in this lower end of the market could be a very good thing for consumers. And ANC may not be the only premium feature to make it: Pei told TechCrunch that “Feature-wise, [the Ear (1) is] similar to the AirPods Pro.”
You shouldn’t expect Apple-specific extras like full spatial audio, but it’s a deeply intriguing sign that Nothing is targeting the $249 AirPods Pro with a set of buds that will cost less than half that. Maybe some of the AirPods Pro’s other tricks, like fast-switching between devices or IPX4 water resistance, could help make the Ear (1) a bigger bargain.
Nothing has also confirmed that the Ear (1) will use a transparent design, ditching the usual metals and plastics of other earbuds. So the concept design released earlier this year might come close to the final product after all. And even if the dimensions are completely different, it’s arguably high time that wireless earbuds design branched out a bit.
Just recently, the WF-1000XM4 and Beats Studio Buds demonstrated why manufacturers shouldn’t stay beholden to in-house design conventions. But these are still fairly conventional-looking earbuds in a more general sense. A pair that looks, and maybe feels, completely different is an enticing prospect.
My interest in the Nothing Ear (1) shouldn’t be confused with faith in some kind of unproven excellence — it could sound terrible, or the see-through design could be uncomfortable, or the battery life might be too short. As with any piece of tech, the best thing to do is wait and see.
But with such a low price, and a potential killer feature in ANC (if it works), at the very least it seems like Nothing is serious about the Ear (1) being a serious competitor. And even in a crowded wireless earbuds market, that’s deserving of a little attention.