In 2021, a young and hyped upstart – Nothing – launched its first product, the Nothing Ear (1), with a standout pitch of making tech fun again. Since then, an eclectic proposition with its maiden smartphone and another pair of quirky earbuds have followed.
Therefore, the Ear (2) is a follow-up with extensive hype and considerable expectations. There are some refinements and additions across the board, but it is clearly not a radical upgrade. It follows the same design ethos, and instead focuses on the quality of audio tuning and noise cancellation. But it’s also significantly more expensive than the asking price last time around.
Same same, but different
Like I said, the Ear (2) shares the same see-through design of the last-generation earbuds. It’s quirky and unique, and amidst a sea of wireless earbuds on my desk, this one definitely stands out.
There’s the same distinctive transparent design of the case as well as the transparent stalk of the earbuds that gives you a look at the innards. That said, the case is narrower and thinner this time around, even though it still is bigger than most TWS earphones in the market. At 4.5g for each earbud, the Ear (2) are marginally lighter than the Ear (1) even though the former has a marginally larger battery than the latter. They’re quite comfortable to wear for an extended duration of time and stay secure even when you’re out and about.
Instead of the tap controls, the Ear (2) can be controlled by squeezing the stems on each earbud which can take a few days to get a hang of. The controls work well, and can be customized via the Nothing X app, but adjusting the volume seems more intuitive with swipe gestures instead of the squeezes.
Unlike the IPX4 rating of the Ear (1), there’s IP54 rating this time around. So, while there’s the addition of dust resistance, the water resistance stays the same, which is essentially protection against occasional splashes but not submersion. Sweaty workouts are okay, but not a swim.
A more refined product
The Nothing Ear (2) isn’t a huge upgrade over the Ear (1). But the addition of a few quality-of-life features as well as the polish that a second-generation product deserves makes for an interesting offering.
It’s hard to express perceived sound quality objectively, but the Ear (2) sound far more balanced and refined than its predecessor. The Ear (2) retains the 11.6mm dynamic driver of the Ear (1) but clearly the magic is in the audio tuning this time around.
For most genres, the Ear (2) sounds livelier and more vibrant – quite an engaging experience on my classic rock playlist, for example – but in flatter songs or podcasts, you could mistake the two generation products for the other. You can customize the bass and treble, or select a voice mode that boosts vocals, in the companion Nothing X app but there’s no ten-band equalizer to fiddle with.
There is, of course, support for the LHDC 5.0 codec now – and hence the Hi-Res branding on Nothing Ear (2). Support for aptX is still absent though. Not all Android smartphones support the codec, so you’d be able to stream high-res music only if your smartphone supports LHDC. iPhone users though should be okay with support for AAC.
Ear (2) does a pretty good job at noise cancellation tuning out traffic sounds or the oddities of an Indian household when working from home. It does not compete with the best but offers a fairly satisfactory experience in most conditions. The customizability is a welcome addition, with three levels of noise cancellation. That said, I preferred setting the ANC mode to ‘high’ on most days. I found the ANC in adaptive mode a little inconsistent, despite the battery-saving benefits.
The Ear (2) supports Bluetooth 5.3 and offers seamless connectivity with Fast Pair (on Android). Setting up the Ear (2) out of the box is easy-peasy, and I didn’t face any connection issues with any of the smartphones or the laptop I tested the pair with.
The one new feature that I really appreciate is the multipoint connectivity, that is the ability to connect the earbuds to two devices at a time, such as a smartphone and a laptop. This feature continues to be absent on several more-expensive headsets, including my Samsung Galaxy Buds. Juggling between multiple headsets is messy and taking off the ones you’re using with your laptop while working to take a quick call on the phone is quite annoying. The Ear (2) takes care of the switch automatically and competently.
The microphone quality on the Ear (2) is more or less the same than the predecessor. The voice quality is clear and crisp in most conditions, but with some background noise, the voice often sounded muffled.
The other thing that hasn’t changed, and that’s unfortunate, is the battery life. The Ear (2) offers just over four hours of music playback from a full charge (about six hours if you turn off noise isolation) and that’s strictly average. Several other products in the category fare better, so if you need wireless earbuds with great battery life, you should probably look elsewhere.
Thankfully, there’s fast charging, which offers 50 minutes of music playback with a 10-minute charge. There’s also wireless charging, which the Ear (1) unfortunately skipped, that allows you to charge the Ear (2) case not just with the wireless charger on your desk or nightstand but also using the reverse charging feature available on several smartphones these days.
The Nothing X app, available for both Android and iOS, also offers a host of personalization features designed to tailor the sound quality on Ear (2) to your ears and preferences. For instance, the hearing test allows you to customize the sound profile to your liking or the feature that helps you find out if you’re using the right size of the ear tip. These personalization options offer a fine level of control on paper, but the usefulness of these is mostly hit-or-miss at the moment. Although, future software upgrades for the Ear (2) or upcoming devices from the company could benefit as these features mature.
The Nothing Ear (2) is a well-rounded pair of earphones that offers superior sound than its predecessor, polished off some bugs along the way, and has upped the ante on active noise cancellation. The battery life could be a deal-breaker for some, but for most folks that want a good-looking pair of earbuds that sound great, Nothing Ear (2) is a solid option on the table.
From a fashion-first pair, the Ear (2) also stake claim to be a competent performer in the segment. But at ₹9,999 this time around, it’s not a steal like the last time even if it is still cheaper in India than in other markets where it retails for $149. The Ear (2) will face stiff competition from the latest OnePlus Buds Pro 2 or the very popular Oppo Enco X2.
But Nothing deserves credit to put out a superior overall package even if it looked like an incremental update on paper.
Abhishek Baxi is a technology journalist and digital consultant