Price: $149 / £129 / AU$219
Battery life (rated): 4 hours (ANC on), 22.5 hours (ANC on with charging case); 6.3 hours (ANC off), 36 hours (ANC off with charging case)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3 (SBC, AAC, LHDC codec support)
Size: 1.1 x 0.8 x 0.9 inches (per bud); 2.3 x 2.3 x 0.9 inches (charging case)
Weight: 0.2 ounces (per bud), 2 ounces (charging case)
The Nothing Ear (2) are the company's second set of ANC earbuds. They follow the Nothing Ear (1), the maker's very first audio product that launched in 2021.
For anyone unfamiliar with the brand, Nothing is a young British company looking to shake up the relationship consumers currently have with tech through inspirational and functional product designs like its Nothing Phone (1) that launched in 2022, offering a strong user experience at every level. Although not available at the time of this review, a Nothing Phone (2) is expected to arrive sometime later this year, and the Ear (2) look set to be perfectly positioned as the flagship accessory.
Although the Ear (2) earbuds look identical to the transparent original, the next-gen model moves things along. The re-engineered earbuds introduce both personalized sound and ANC, and boasts hi-res audio LHDC support, too. There's no denying the Ear (2) packs in plenty of flagship features for a remarkably attractive price, and Nothing has made sure they cost the same as the model they replace.
Are the new features and re engineered design enough to see the Nothing Ear (2) earbuds rank among the best wireless earbuds available, or have there been compromises along the way in the interests of keeping the price tag low? Read my full Nothing Ear (2) review to find out.
Nothing Ear (2) review: Price and availability
- MSRP $149 / £129 / AU$219
- White/transparent option only
The Nothing Ear (2) ANC earbuds are on sale now priced at $149 / £129 / AU$219 directly from the Nothing website store and online retailers including Amazon. They're also available from the physical Nothing Store Soho, London, and select Kith stores around the world.
Unlike the Ear (1) the Ear (2) only appear to available in a white/transparent option, but come bundled with the same clear plastic USB-C charging case that's also Qi wireless certified, and three different sizes of eartips.
The pricing matches the company's recently announced price increase for the Ear (1), which raised the original ANC earbuds by 50% to $149. This still puts the Nothing Ear (2) firmly within budget noise-cancelling earbud territory compared to its closest personalised sound ANC rivals, and is $100 cheaper than the Apple AirPods Pro 2, and $30 under the cost of recently introduced OnePlus Buds Pro 2.
Nothing Ear (2) review: Design and comfort
- Same attractive styling as original
- Comfortable with a secure fit for workouts
Nothing seems to have settled on the see-through design with drop stem as its signature look. I do genuinely like the style and the transparent design, and unless you look really closely, the Ear (2) looks almost identical to the model it replaces. The drop-stem styling mimics the AirPods design, and as such the Nothing Ear (2) are also only available in white.
As with the original, there’s plenty of an attention to detail on the Ear (2) 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 earbuds have been upgraded from the IPX4 rating of the original to IP54 for the buds, making them better protected from dust and resistant to sweat and moisture to the same level as the AirPods Pro 2. The Nothing Ear (case) is rated to IP55 dust and water resistance, again making the charging case better protected than the AirPods Pro 2 case enjoys.
Comfort levels were high during my testing, and I barely noticed the Ear (2) inserted into my ears during my listening sessions. The pre-fitted mid-size eartips worked well for my ears, and the Ear Tip Fit Test confirmed that they were indeed the correct size and achieved a good seal in my ears.
The slightly oval shape helped to made them feel surprisingly secure during my gym workouts, too, although it's important to point out that as with all earbuds, the fit of Ear (2) may be more secure for some wearers than others.
Nothing Ear (2) review: Controls and digital assistant
- Reliable touch controls with strong tactile feedback
- Controls difficult to access with larger fingers
- No digital assistant support
I found the touch controls to be more responsive than the AirPods Pro 2 when it came to registering tap and swipe gestures. A single press input gives play/pause, answer/hang up calls, while a double press enables skip forward or reject calls, and a triple press for skip back. Press and hold on either the left or right earbud will switch between Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency Mode, while volume adjustment, and manual voice assistant activation on your playback device can be assigned to either earbud via a double push and hold command.
The amount of tactile feedback I got when skipping back and forth between tracks was really positive, and I love the breath sound they make when switching to Transparency mode.
Nothing Ear (2) review: Sound quality
- Powerful sound
- Personalized sound balance is effective
- Sound quality needs refinement
Although I don't have the original Nothing Ear (1) to compare, on my first listen the next-gen Ear (2) sounded like a winner to me. Each earpiece is fitted with an 11.6mm dynamic driver that has been tuned by Nothing to give a balanced and rewarding sound across the frequency range right from the off. It's an impressive enough start even without any EQ tinkering, but Nothing has incorporated personalized sound in to the Nothing X app to tailor the sound following a short hearing test.
Just as I discovered with the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 review, to set up a personal sound profile for my ears, I had to take the test in a completely silent setting. It takes several minutes to complete, but once done, I was able to activate a frequency map tailored to my hearing. Users can select between "Recommended" and "Richer" profiles, and there's an intensity slider which appears to adjust the amount of low frequency energy. I preferred "Recommended" and with the "Intensity" slider set to 100%.
Users can also use the app to switch between four different EQ presets. I recommend sticking with the default “Balanced” profile for the most part, though, as it easily sounds the best most open. Bass is expertly conveyed and delivered with just the right amount of power to carry the Christine and the Queens song "Tilted" along with plenty of low frequency energy. It has just the right amount of power without being overly boomy and making me reaching for the EQ controls. Vocals are strong and the Ear (2) conjure up a nice sense of the soundstage for whatever track I'm listening to.
Sadly, it's not entirely good news for the Nothing Ear (2). Despite having the latest firmware and the Nothing X app installed on both my OnePlus 10 and iPhone, treble sounds in certain music tracks I played tended to fizz a little, and sounded increasingly unrefined. The more I listened, the more I struggled to mask what I can only describe as digital noise or artefacts behind certain elements withing the tracks I was listening to, and none of my adjustments via the Equalizer control could help me improve on the slightly brash and metallic way these recordings sounded.
I've heard this kind of effect before, and is largely the reason why Bluetooth audio originally had such a poor reputation among audiophiles. Codecs like aptX have come a long way to improve audio quality handling, but the Nothing Ear (2) doesn't offer support.
I was streaming content via Tidal HiFi, so this was lossless audio at its finest, but playing "I'm in Love With a German Film Star" by The Passions demonstrated the audio effect perfectly. The background hiss inherent in the recording behind the guitar playing during the song's opening fizzed away in an uncharacteristic manner, making this post-punk track sound far more edgy than the record producer ever intended. Better still, playing "Easy Money" by Ricky Lee Jones and I could hear alien-sounding background burbles along with the double bass playing during the opening to the song. And playing "Along" by OPN was the same.
It was a lot more noticeable when selecting the Personalized Sound Profile and although not as immediately obvious to my ears on every track, the digital noise that burbles and fizzes away behind the audio signal is there all the same. Once heard, it has an impact on the listening experience overall, to the point where I found myself listening out for the burbles rather than sitting back and enjoying my music, which is not what it's about at all.
Despite the lack of aptX Adaptive or aptX Lossless Audio support, Nothing says that LHDC audio codec is on board to give up to 900kbps data transfer over Bluetooth. This is similar to Sony's LDAC codec for better sound quality compared to AAC and aptX codecs.
I managed to try it out with a OnePlus 11 smart phone, and although it was difficult to tell if there was a significant boost to sound quality overall, the digital artefacts I'd experienced during my listening via other playback devices where noticeably absent. However, although the audio signal was cleaner and free from any obvious digital nastiness, treble details still sounded harsh with noticeable sibilance on some vocals.
Nothing Ear (2) review: Active noise cancellation
- Mediocre ANC performance
- Strong Transparency mode
- Good wind resistance
Nothing has upped the game with the ANC capabilities of the Ear (2), and introduces Personalized and ambient Adaptive ANC, as well as a Transparency mode. Noise cancelling isn't nearly as effective as Apple's AirPods Pro 2, or the world-class ANC performance from the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 ANC, but it's welcome all the same. It manages to reduce the overall background level of fellow passengers on trains or talkative colleagues in the Tom's Guide office, but some background sounds break through to the point where I found myself checking to make sure I had ANC enabled.
The number of levels has been increased from two to three levels, with High, Mid, and Low, plus Adaptive. I had the Ear (2) mostly set to High or Adaptive. The repositioned mics make picking up speech easier in Transparency mode without inadvertently boosting other sounds. It is also pleasantly untroubled by wind noise when stood on a blowy train station platform.
Nothing Ear (2) review: Special features and app
- Nothing X app works flawlessly
- Strong set of extra features
The Nothing X app is a vital download for Ear (2) users, providing 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.
Nothing Ear (2) review: Battery life and charging
- 4 hours with ANC enabled
- A 10-minute fast charge gives up to 8 hours
Nothing says it has extended battery life of Ear (2) by using a chip that optimizes overall power consumption. With ANC on, though, the battery life remains the same as the original earbuds at a mere 4 hours, which is lower than it's near rival the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 at 6 hours. The charging case pushes things closer to the industry average, with playback up to 22.5 hours with ANC or 36 hours without.
A 10-minute fast charge claims to give up to 8 hours of use with ANC off.
Nothing Ear (2) review: Call quality and connectivity
- Good call quality
- Robust connectivity via Bluetooth 5.3
In our Nothing Ear (1) review, our reviewer was impressed by how well they handled phone calls, and so it follows with the Ear (2). Without the Ear (1) to hand, it's difficult to make direct comparisons, but l'd say that performance on calls was just as strong, with both ends of the calls sounding clear and intelligible. Background noise was kept to a minimum and, once again, wind noise on calls made outside barely put in an appearance.
The Bluetooth 5.3 connection was robust throughout, and I could wander to different parts of my home without suffering dropouts.
Nothing Ear (2) review: Verdict
The personalization features of the Nothing Ear (2) score big for this next-gen model, but the battery life still feels short compared to rivals at the price. While I was very impressed by the slick app, personal sound profile, and the overall sound balance of the Ear (2), the lack of refinement on some audio elements was disappointing.
Overall, the Ear (2) are a better than average entry-level pair of earbuds when it comes to the amount of features on offer, but the sound balance and mediocre noise cancelling make it seem that Nothing hasn't concentrated as much on audio quality as it has on making sure it ticks all the latest boxes for flagship features.