For whatever reason, the wireless-headphone craze hasn’t quite caught on with me yet.
I think it’s because I’m struggling to find the ideal form factor to fit my routine. Over-ear headphones are my favorites for sound quality and isolation, but demand too much space in my bag and can hurt after extended wear. On the other hand, I fear that something truly wireless, like AirPods, will be too easy to misplace. (Also, as I currently carry around a Pixel 3 as my daily driver, there doesn’t appear to be a compelling counterpart to Apple’s buds in the Android space quite yet.)
And then there’s something that falls sort of in-between those two categories, like BeatsX or OnePlus’ Bullets Wireless — Bluetooth earbuds that are joined by a cable with an in-line battery and remote, but droop down from your neck like a pair of librarian’s glasses.
It’s unfortunate that I haven’t been able to find my happy headphone medium yet. Despite all my frustrations, though, last week I swallowed my pride with respect to the librarian thing and began using OnePlus’ new Bullets Wireless 2 in earnest. These second-generation buds have launched alongside the OnePlus 7 Pro, and I ended up liking them so much, they might have even become my new everyday pair — if not for one, deal-breaking flaw.
Design, fit and comfort
At $99, the Bullets Wireless 2 are $30 more expensive than the previous model, though still relatively cheap in the grand scope of wireless headphones. The buds don’t feel cheap, though. The entirety of the cable that joins the two buds are wrapped in a pleasing soft-touch silicone; the ends themselves are a mix of gunmetal- and red-painted aluminum. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the overly techy, macho color scheme, though I can live with it.
There’s an in-line mic/remote with volume up and down keys, as well as a play/pause/skip button in the center. There’s also another circular button on the left side of one of the battery compartments, which is really only used for initial pairing purposes.
The first-generation Bullets Wireless came with optional, winged silicone tips in the box, though I couldn’t find anything of the sort, aside from the standard small/medium/large wingless tips packed in with the new model. This didn’t prove to be a massive issue, however, as the new Bullets fit snugly in my ears, don’t hurt more than any other pair of headphones I’ve ever used, and never fell out easily during my usage, whether I was walking or biking. It really helps that the shape of the housing is more of an oblong one, which allows you to sort of twist the buds in your ear until they reach a point where they’ll stay in place.
Like the old Bullets Wireless, OnePlus says this new model is splash and water resistant, though it doesn’t recommend you subject it to “significant amounts of liquid” and the company “makes no guarantees regarding water or liquid resistance.” They should be fine enough for working out — they were for me — though I certainly wouldn’t take them in the pool.
Control and setup
Pairing the Bullets Wireless 2 to my Pixel 3 was a cinch. As soon as I uncoupled the magnetic buds, they powered on and started searching for another device. Within seconds, the headphones were connected to my handset after I selected them on my Pixel’s Bluetooth menu. I took delight in the convenience of it all, but little did I know at the time that those pesky magnets would be the Bullet’s ultimate undoing.
You see, the Bullets’ power state is always tied to whether the buds are magnetically joined or not. When they’re together, the headphones are off. When they’re separated, they automatically turn on and connect to the last paired device. And while that might sound like a wonderfully clever idea at first blush — I certainly thought so — it’s terribly annoying in practice.
If the headphones ever come apart in your bag or pocket, and if you always keep your phone’s Bluetooth powered on — as I suspect most people do — all of a sudden you’ll be routing audio to headphones you’re not using without even realizing it.
If that’s not bad enough, the Bullets’ packed-in-silicone carrying pouch somehow makes everything worse. The case is simply too small to easily fit the headphones, inflexible battery cable and all, without a considerable struggle. And once you do pack it all in there, the buds inevitably snap loose, connect to your phone, so you have to pull them on out, stick them together, and start the whole ordeal over again.
To be fair, I don’t think the whole magnetic power idea is strictly a bad one. Some reviews from customers and critics alike seem to be fond of it, and there’s definitely something magical to not having to press a single button to turn on your Bluetooth headphones. But it should never have been the only option. There’s a perfectly good pairing button sitting there dormant and you really never, ever have to use it after the initial setup. Why not make it double as a power key?
The only workaround I could figure out was to keep my phone’s Bluetooth radio off at all times except when I’m using the Bullets, though that would introduce an extra step for all of the other Bluetooth-related gadgets I own (including my car’s stereo). OnePlus’ headphones are good, but they’re not so good that I feel compelled to modify my life around them.
Audio performance and call quality
Weird design quirks aside, the Bullets Wireless 2 are a joy to use, thanks to a wonderfully balanced sound profile that maintains clarity and crispness without compromising the low-end oomph.
Much of that has to do with the new triple-driver design, as well as Qualcomm’s aptX technology — neither of which were present in the previous iteration of the Bullets Wireless. AptX enables high-definition audio via Bluetooth to accommodate higher bitrate tracks. Although OnePlus’ buds are hardly the only ones with the technology, the experience it provides is very satisfying for the price.
Listening to a classic dance track in New Order’s “Fine Time,” I could pick apart Bernard Sumner’s breathy vocals echo within the cacophony of burbling synths — a sensation that I don’t get from the muddy USB-C Pixel Buds I normally wear.
The Bullets proved as adept at delivering the frenetic buzziness I come to expect from required punk listening like Sleater-Kinney’s “Dig Me Out” and in rendering the shaky, pitch-shifting, aquatic R&B soundscape of Brockhampton’s “Bleach.” I was particularly impressed with the subtlety of the bass when I listened to Rae Sremmurd’s “Powerglide” — it was clearly there, but defined with nuance, compared to the muddiness I heard when using Jaybird’s Tarah Pro, which costs $60 more.
There’s really not much to complain about from an audio perspective, and thanks to Bluetooth 5.0, the Bullets Wireless 2 are pretty good at maintaining a consistent connection without drops and interference — something I struggle with while using other wireless headphones, like Marshall’s MID A.N.C. over-the-ear cans.
Unfortunately, call quality was a bit patchier. My correspondents on the other end of the line didn’t always have the easiest time hearing my voice as I walked on a busy midtown Manhattan street, even when I held the mic closer to my lips.
OnePlus’ smartphones are well known for their extremely fast-charging batteries, so it only makes sense that the Bullets Wireless 2 also power up very quickly as well. These headphones need just 10 minutes worth of juice via any standard USB Type-C cable and adapter to deliver 10 hours of playback. There’s a port on one of the battery compartments, meaning you won’t have to fiddle with pesky wireless docks. Keep them plugged in a bit longer for a full charge, and you should at least get close to the 14 hours OnePlus suggests — I averaged about 12 hours on a full charge.
The new Bullets are a well-rounded choice for neckband wireless headphones. At $99, they’re good for everyday wear and suitable for exercising, and the quick-charging battery and clean, no-fuss audio tuning make them quite versatile as well.
But at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I have to return to the magnetic design issue. You’ll either love or hate this aspect of the Bullets’ design; personally speaking, it’s far and away the worst aspect of these earbuds. If there was an option to use one of the buttons already on the device instead, I’d jump at it, and these would probably be my daily driver. But if it’s not a dealbreaker for you, you’ll find a lot to love in OnePlus’ sleek new buds.
Credit: Tom's Guide