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OnePlus Buds Z2 review: Great sound and ANC at a super-low price

The OnePlus Buds Z2 offers almost everything you want from a pair of earbuds at a great price

The OnePlus Buds Z2 in its charging case, next to a OnePlus 8 phone and a glass mug of coffee, on a wooden table with a Christmas tree in the background
(Image: © Tom's Guide)

Our Verdict

The OnePlus Buds Z2 pack in a lot for the price, with excellent build quality, plenty of features and even ANC. It's a must-buy if you have a OnePlus device, but should be on your shortlist no matter what phone you use.

For

  • Quality build
  • Low price
  • Punchy sound
  • ANC on a budget

Against

  • Slow controls
  • Some features unavailable on most phones

Tom's Guide Verdict

The OnePlus Buds Z2 pack in a lot for the price, with excellent build quality, plenty of features and even ANC. It's a must-buy if you have a OnePlus device, but should be on your shortlist no matter what phone you use.

Pros

  • +

    Quality build

  • +

    Low price

  • +

    Punchy sound

  • +

    ANC on a budget

Cons

  • -

    Slow controls

  • -

    Some features unavailable on most phones

OnePlus Buds Z2 specs

Price: £99/$99
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2
Drivers: 11mm dynamic
Battery life (buds only/total): 7/38 with ANC off, 5/27 with ANC on
Earbud size: 33mm x 22.4mm x 21.8mm
Earbud weight: 4.5g (black), 4.6g (white)
Charging case size: 73.15mm x 36.8mm x 29.1mm
Charging case weight: 40.5g (black), 42g (white)
Colors: Pearl White, Obsidian Black

The OnePlus Buds Z2 is yet another example of OnePlus’ unerring ability to create a great product at a price that undercuts the competition. It's not the most premium member of OnePlus' audio line-up, but it outperforms your expectations for the price by a large margin, offering features and quality you really wouldn’t expect for less than £100.

Compared to the base-level AirPods 3, or the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2, OnePlus has been surprisingly generous with the quality of the Buds Z2's components and audio experience, including some fairly effective active noise canceling. The only place it's a bit tight-fisted is with its special features, some of which are reserved for specific OnePlus phones only. I also have issues with how unresponsive the tap controls can be, but that aside there’s very little to complain about here.

You can read my in-depth OnePlus Buds Z2 review below, but here's the bottom line. If you own a OnePlus phone, these may be the best wireless earbuds for OnePlus users, even compared to the already great OnePlus Buds Pro. But more surprisingly, the low price makes me willing to recommend it to users of other smartphone brands, too.

OnePlus Buds Z2 review: Price and availability

You can buy the OnePlus Buds Z2 from December 20 for £99 in the U.K. and U.S. from Amazon in either black or white, or the OnePlus online store only in white, with the black model arriving in January.

The price has doubled compared to the original OnePlus Buds Z, which cost $49/£49. However the price hike seems to be worth it, and still undercuts a lot of the competition

Comparing that $99/£99 price to rivals, OnePlus really does offer a great deal. The new AirPods 3 costs $170/£169 (although you can still get AirPods 2 for $129/£119), while the Galaxy Buds 2 is $149/£139. OnePlus users are fortunate the company has a better grip on value for money than its main rivals. 

OnePlus Buds Z2 review: Design and comfort

There's nothing avant-garde about the look of the OnePlus Buds Z2, but it’s attractive enough without offering the premium design of the Buds Pro. The long stems are eerily reminiscent of the AirPods Pro, while the winged head leaves it looking slightly fussy; some people might prefer a simpler design, as on the Galaxy Buds 2.

One of the OnePlus Buds Z2, held between two fingers

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The build is as solid as you'd expect from OnePlus, and everything is made out of pleasant-feeling plastic that belies the Buds Z2’s low cost. You have a choice of Pearl White or Obsidian Black for colors, two options that should satisfy all but the fussiest buyer and more choice than you get with the AirPods. It doesn't match up to the four color options Samsung offers on the Galaxy Buds 2, however.

The charging case feels just as nice as the earbuds, but it's quite long and tall so as to accommodate the Buds Z2 in its horizontal storage position. You'll still be able to pocket the case well enough, but not as easily as sliding in an AirPods case.

Though the stems aren't used for controlling the Buds Z2, they do serve some practical purpose, making it easy to prise the 'buds from its case or position it in your ears without accidentally touching the controls. However, it feels unnecessary to the actual operation of the buds, making me wonder if OnePlus couldn't have made them smaller.

As for wearing the Buds Z2, the fit was great straight out of the case. You have three gel tip size options in the box, the standard amount for earbuds, but the medium tips fitted by default sat snugly within my ear. The tips hold the whole bud in place in your ear opening, leading to minimum irritation when wearing them.

The OnePlus Buds Z2 in the ear

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Buds Z2 are safe to use while exercising or in bad weather thanks to IP55 water/dust resistance. The case is also water resistant to IPX4 standard, which is a rare bonus to have among earbuds. These ratings are both the same as the OnePlus Buds Pro, and beat the IPX2 Galaxy Buds or IPX4 AirPods 3 with ease.

OnePlus Buds Z2 review: controls

To operate the Buds Z2 you tap the silver-colored plates between one and three times, or tap and hold them. By default you can play, pause, skip tracks, answer calls and enable/disable transparency ANC mode. However, if you download the HeyMelody app or use a OnePlus phone, you can customize these controls further, swapping them around or enabling new functions like summoning your chosen digital assistant and changing which ANC modes to cycle between.

A OnePlus 8 smartphone with the options for the OnePlus Buds Z2 on screen

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

One weird detail I found was that on the OnePlus 8 I used to try out the Buds Z2, it was unable to show a glyph for the right earbud. You can see this in the image above, though hopefully this is just a pre-release bug.

The control surface is plenty large enough, so you can find it easily each time you need to use it, although I again have to question why OnePlus has left the stems intact if the controls are here. Why not go for a total in-ear design like the Jabra Elite 85T or the Galaxy Buds 2? It was this way on the original Buds Z, though, so I suppose OnePlus has made its mind up for whatever reason.

My more substantial complaint in this department is that the controls can be sluggish. There's a beat between tapping the control surface and it beeping to confirm the tap has registered, then another beat between the beep and your music pausing. Likewise, when you tap to start your tunes up again. Sure, it’s a minor issue compared to others the Buds Z2 could have had, but it is frustrating, particularly when you use a multi-tap or hold gesture and the buds play three beeps or a long chime back in return.

OnePlus Buds Z2 review: sound quality

OnePlus has fitted these earbuds with 11mm dynamic drivers, the same ones you'll find in the OnePlus Buds Pro. As you'd expect from these larger-than-average drivers, the Buds Z2 is focused on bass tones, but it still produces a loud and well-rounded sound.

This works suitably well when you have loud and well-rounded tracks to play. It did a great job of filling in the whole orchestra accompaniment of Everybody Says Don't, sung by Harry Guardino, making Sondheim's second-act closer from Everyone Can Whistle land with the punch it deserves.

The OnePlus Buds Z2 in the ear, being tapped to control its functions

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I also liked how it highlighted parts of certain tracks I'd never spotted before. I've listened to Tame Impala's Lost in Yesterday dozens of times using my AirPods Pro and Sony WH-1000XM3s, but it wasn't until I was wearing the Buds Z2 that I discovered there's a "ticking" drum sound located in the right stereo channel.

If you want to tune the Buds Z2 more specifically, OnePlus offers movie, music and gaming presets within the HeyMelody app.

OnePlus Buds Z2 review: Active noise canceling

One of OnePlus' big selling points for the Buds Z2 is that it offers active noise cancellation at a price where few others do. It's not the smartest ANC around, but it does a good job all the same.

I tested the Buds Z2 against the AirPods Pro by swapping between them during a long ride on the London Underground, trying out music as well as podcasts. 

In my testing, the OnePlus earbuds have less powerful ANC than the AirPods Pro, but the Buds Z2 make up for the gap somewhat by having more powerful sound. At the same volume level when travelling through the noisiest parts of the Underground, I was losing parts of the engaging debunkings from You're Wrong About's hosts with the AirPods Pro that I could still hear fine with the Buds Z2, even if it was canceling less noise overall.

The best part of the OnePlus Buds Z2's ANC experience is the transparency mode. Even though it's piping external sound through the buds' microphones, everything sounds natural and clear. With Transparency active on my AirPods Pro, however, external noise is muffled, and I have to take extra care checking my surroundings when outdoors. I didn't feel this anxiety with the Buds Z2.

ANC isn't always about keeping your music unspoiled by the outside world; sometimes it's about just keeping the noise out, to allow you to concentrate or relax more effectively. As glorified electronic earplugs, the AirPods Pro do a better job. The two pairs of 'buds are neck and neck when you're trying to tune out nearby sounds, but the Apple 'buds silence further away sound sources more effectively. Given the AirPods Pro cost two and a half times as much as the Buds Z2, you can hardly be mad at the OnePlus device for not performing quite so well in this regard.

If you wish, you can actually change the level of noise cancellation offered by the Buds Z2, between Faint and Extreme. I didn't see any need to do this, since the earbuds default to Extreme, and as I mentioned above, that's already not the most effective ANC around.

OnePlus Buds Z2 review: special features

These days, earbuds need to do more than just play music to entice buyers, and OnePlus has given the Buds Z2 a few welcome toys for users to try out. Unfortunately, most of these are locked behind the HeyMelody app, with the rest exclusive to OnePlus phones.

Downloading HeyMelody on an iPhone or non-OnePlus Android device gives you individualized battery percentages for the two buds and the case, control customization, toggles to turn the ANC between Extreme, Faint, Transparency and off, and an earbud fit test. These options aren't to be downplayed, since they're very useful, but the more premium features are sadly the OnePlus exclusives.

One of the OnePlus Buds Z2, held in the palm of the hand

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

From the off, you can use Google Fast Pair to quickly set up your Buds Z2 with OnePlus devices. The 'buds also work with Google's Find My Buds feature, which lets you find a lost earbud through your web browser based on its last known location.

While it's not something I could really report on without specialist equipment, OnePlus claims the Buds Z2 has a latency as low as 94ms. However, that's only if you use it with a OnePlus phone and enable the Pro Gaming mode, so you may find worse results without that setting turned on, or if you're using a different device.

I've saved the worst for last. The Buds Z2 supports Dolby Atmos on the OnePlus 7 series or newer OnePlus phones in the flagship line. That's three years of backwards compatibility, which doesn't sound bad until you realize this doesn't include any Nord series phones. So hard luck even if you own the newest OnePlus Nord 2 or OnePlus Nord N200.

OnePlus Buds Z2 review: battery life and charging

The promised battery life offered by the OnePlus Buds Z2 is 7 hours for the buds and 38 hours total with the case, albeit with the ANC switched off. With the noise cancelling on, you instead get 5 hours and 27 hours according to OnePlus' own figures. 

The OnePlus Buds Z2 charging case

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The total battery life beats the Galaxy Buds 2, but the Samsung 'buds last half an hour longer without a charging case, both with ANC on and off. The AirPods 3 make it to 30 hours total, but remember that these don't have ANC at all.

Powering up the Buds Z2 again isn't much hassle: 10 minutes of charging gets you 5 hours of listening between the buds and the case, or 2 just counting the buds. A full charge takes 90 minutes. There's no wireless charging option here, but for most people I don't think that'll be much of a problem.

OnePlus Buds Z2 review: verdict

The OnePlus Buds Z2 isn’t perfect, but it’s easy to overlook its flaws given how cheap it is and how much it can do.

The OnePlus Buds Z2 in its charging case in front of a green wood background

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The audio is powerful, the ANC is nearly as effective as the top earbuds on the market, and the controls are customizable on any mobile device, even if you need to download an app to do it. You don't get the best performance possible in wireless earbuds, and you won't even get the best performance out of the Buds Z2 unless you have one of a handful of specific OnePlus phones. However, the low entry fee really puts into perspective how small these problems are.

It only costs another $50/£50 for the OnePlus Buds Pro, but unless you want the enhanced noise-canceling or the wireless charging case, you may as well save your money and go for the Buds Z2, which also provides the benefit of superior battery life.

You may be tempted to buy these 'buds for your non-OnePlus Android phone, or even your iPhone, and I think there's a strong argument there. You'll miss out on OnePlus' special features, plus whatever buying the equivalent Samsung or Apple 'buds would have got you, but if you're focussed more on budget and the basics than utilizing all the advanced features, the OnePlus Buds Z2 would still be a good purchase.

Richard is a Tom's Guide staff writer based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, gaming, audio and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.