OnePlus Buds 3 review

This OnePlus Buds threequel is gunning for best wireless earbuds

OnePlus Buds 3 in charging case held in hand in outdoors
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Future)

Tom's Guide Verdict

Strong ANC, versatile connectivity and great sound quality put the OnePlus Buds 3 among the top wireless earbuds at any price point.

Pros

  • +

    Refined audio with well-controlled bass

  • +

    Excellent feature set

  • +

    Powerfully adaptive ANC

  • +

    Responsive touch controls

  • +

    Superior call quality

Cons

  • -

    Real-world battery life is shorter than claimed

  • -

    3D Audio isn’t as effective as rivals

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OnePlus Buds 3: Specifications

Price: $99 / £78 / AU$150
Colors: Metallic gray, splendid blue
Battery life (rated): 6.5 hours (ANC on); 10 hours (ANC off); 28 hours (ANC on w/charging case), 44 hours (ANC off w/charging case)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3 (codec support: AAC, SBC, LHDC 5.0)
Durability: IP55 (earbuds); IPX4 (charging case)
Size: 1.24 x 0.79 x 0.96 inches (per bud); 2.07 x 1.97 x 1.01 (charging case)
Weight: 0.16 ounces (per bud); 1.43 ounces (charging case)

The original OnePlus Buds Pro wireless earbuds won me over with their superb design, great sound and incredible charging tech. Tom's Guide audio editor, Lee Dunkley, considered the Buds Pro 2 a notable upgrade successor, but they suffered from declining sound quality and an unwanted price hike. Those mistakes put the pressure on OnePlus to bounce back with authority, which it has with the all-new OnePlus Buds 3 and their greatest buds to date.

Although OnePlus has dropped 'Pro' from the name of its latest flagship wireless earbuds, don't be fooled by the shortened model name. These are a magnificent follow-up that match the lavish appearance of its latest smartphone, the beautiful OnePlus 12R, while improving several performance verticals: active noise cancelation, spatial audio, and voice calling. Advancements in connectivity and sound design also result in lively, lag-free music listening experiences.

Had it not been for some performance missteps (3D audio, battery life), the all-new Buds 3 could have superseded category staples such as the AirPods Pro 2, Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, and Sony WF-1000XM5. Nonetheless, they still rank among the best wireless earbuds available and are undeniably the best cheap wireless earbuds under $100.

OnePlus Buds 3 review: Price & availability

OnePlus Buds 3 in charging case placed on some stones

(Image credit: Future)

The Buds Pro launched at $149, while the Buds Pro 2 received a higher MSRP of $179. OnePlus made the shocking decision to release the Buds 3 at an entry-level price point: $99. They’re marketed similarly to the class-leading Sony WF-1000XM5 and top-selling AirPods Pro 2, and they undercut numerous luxury and mid-range wireless earbud rivals.

You can purchase the OnePlus Buds 3 in two colors — metallic gray or splendid blue — directly from the OnePlus website or online retailers.

OnePlus Buds 3 review: Design

OnePlus Buds 3 showing closeup of earbuds held between fingertips

(Image credit: Future)
  • Premium craftsmanship
  • Water-resistant designs for both the case and buds
  • Terrific touch controls

The Buds 3 come with a chic and compact charging case, highlighted by a soft matte finish that produces a nice shine effect when exposed to light. Opening the lid handsomely displays the buds, which boast an all-aluminum stem with plastic sound port and silicone tips. Larger mic grilles and slim touch panels were implemented. IP certifications for durability remain intact: IP55 for dust and water protection for the buds and IPX4 for moisture protection for the case. These buds also provide a comfy and stable fit.

What’s more attractive than the Buds 3’s overall design? The touch controls. OnePlus put serious effort into enhancing usability. Single/multi-tap and long-press inputs are highly responsive and instantly execute assigned commands. Google Assistant and Siri function well for hands-free voice commands; the intelligible mic array demonstrates prime speech recognition.

OnePlus Buds 3 review: Features

  • Lengthy feature set
  • All features available on both iOS and Android phones

It’s rare to find sub-$100 buds stocked with this many features. On the list: ANC, Dolby Atmos, Game Mode, LHDC codec support, and the numerous sound personalization settings. There are plenty more hidden within the Buds 3’s settings such as control customization, Earbud Fit Test, Find My Earbuds, Fast Pair (Google/OnePlus), and multipoint technology, which operates flawlessly when paired to two devices simultaneously. You even get niche features like the ability to snap photos (double-tap function) when using your camera.

Nearly every feature is accessible to OnePlus device owners and iOS/Android users via the HeyMelody app. The Game Mode setting isn’t visible on OnePlus devices, though the company confirmed that the buds automatically detect when you’re playing a game and activate the mode. 

OnePlus Buds 3 review: Sound quality

OnePlus Buds 3 in palm of hand with with phone

(Image credit: Future)
  • Stellar audio balance
  • Useful sound personalization
  • Spatial audio could be better

The dual dynamic driver units (6mm tweeter + 10.4mm woofer) give the Buds 3 a clean, energetic, and warm soundstage. Bass is still heavy, but better balanced on these buds than previous entries. Frequency range has also been fine-tuned to give vocals and high-pitched sounds more breathing room.

Classic rock tracks like David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” sounded fantastic. The singer’s expressive vocals were edgy, and the iconic guitar riff was impactful and distortion-free, something I’ve rarely heard on similarly priced models. Instrumental separation was exceptional on The Doors’ “Touch Me,” as the right channel fed my ears subtle hi-hats and thumpy snares, while the left channel fueled my energy levels with vibrant organ notes.

As previously stated, sound features are bountiful. LHDC is the default codec with compatible devices and streams music up to 900kbps, though you can switch to SBC for a lower bit rate (345kbps) to preserve battery life. Sound Master EQ hosts a customizable 6-band equalizer to manually adjust frequencies, along with three presets (Balanced, Serenade, Bass) and the BassWave setting, which has a slider to lower or raise bass response. 

OnePlus Buds 3 assessing Golden Sound in smart phone app

(Image credit: Future)

The latter works surprisingly well and boosts low-end fidelity. Hi-Res mode reduces distortion on boom-heavy tracks. Golden Sound (aka Audio ID 2.0) creates a sound profile tailored to your hearing; my profile was superior to OnePlus’ standard signature and unveiled more highs. Current OnePlus users can also enable Dolby Atmos and multiple sound profiles on their phone or tablet.

OnePlus 3D Audio is the Buds 3’s killer feature. Sound is more expansive, and instruments and voices are given greater emphasis. However, the technology has an airy presence to it that makes music sound less natural. Apple’s Spatial Audio and Bose’s Immersive Sound are more impressive. Furthermore, the feature doesn’t carry over to other devices; enabling spatial audio when connected to my MacBook Pro did nothing. 

OnePlus offers a low-latency Game Mode for mobile gaming and videos, but it’s unnecessary because audio synchronization runs smoothly — with or without the feature on.

OnePlus Buds 3 review: Active noise canceling performance

Reviewer testing ANC performance on OnePlus Buds 3

(Image credit: Future)
  • Greatly improved ANC over predecessors
  • Strong call quality

OnePlus significantly enhanced noise cancelation and voice calling areas on their third-gen buds. The same four ANC modes are selectable — Max, Moderate, Mild, and Smart — each designed to reduce noise at different levels. Mild is recommended for quiet places (e.g., home and office), whereas Moderate is suitable for outdoor settings (e.g., streets, malls) and Max for travel (e.g., airplanes, trains). Smart is an adaptive mode that seamlessly adjusts ANC for optimal performance, and it works very well. 

The best performance comes from Max since it employs full power to minimize ambient noise across the frequency spectrum. Low and mid-frequency sounds were muted. Some high-frequency noises were audible (e.g., ambulance sirens, bird chirping), but not distracting. Transparency mode was clutch for communicating with the missus around the house and increased my awareness in social settings and on walks. 

Call quality impressed me most. I had clients and friends on the opposite end very impressed, stating that my voice sounded loud and clear with zero background noise. Wind resistance was also strong and kept harsh whooshing effects from entering conversations.

OnePlus Buds 3 review: Battery life

OnePlus Buds 3 shown connected to a USB-C charging cable

(Image credit: Future)
  • Special features drain battery fast
  • No wireless charging

A full charge is said to provide 6.5 hours of ANC use and 10 hours with ANC off. That’s higher than the AirPods Pro 2 at 5.5 to 7 hours and the Bose QuiteComfort Ultra Earbuds at 6 hours. The charging case doesn’t support Qi-enabled wireless charging, but it holds up to 44 hours. A 10-minute charge equates to 2 hours of listening time, plus the case can apparently generate up to 7 hours within the same charging time, however that works. This all sounds amazing on paper. Unfortunately, using ANC, LHDC, and spatial audio at the same time will cut playtimes down by about 2.5 hours. If you want longer playback times, you'll need to be selective about the features you use.

OnePlus Buds 3 review: Verdict

The OnePlus Buds 3 set a new standard for inexpensive wireless earbuds. Their outstanding audio quality and plethora of listening modes allow for endless sound personalization. ANC does a standup job of eliminating unwanted noises. First-rate call quality also makes these some of the best headphones with a mic for voice and video calls.

OnePlus' 3D Audio is adequate for spatial listening, though there are plenty of better options. The bigger concern is the drain on battery life when using multiple special features. Thankfully, OnePlus’ portable-friendly charging case helps alleviate the problem.

If you’re on the hunt for bargain buds equipped with limitless functionality, there’s no better investment than the OnePlus Buds 3.  

Alex Bracetti

A lifestyle journalist with an affinity for consumer products, Alex has over a decade of experience and has worked with popular publications such as Complex, Thrillist, Men’s Health, Gear Patrol, AskMen, and Hoop Magazine. He currently focuses on audio, reviewing the most coveted headphones in the market for both Tom’s Guide and Laptop Magazine.