Nothing’s $149 Ear 2 wireless buds have improved connectivity and more customization

But just the white color option now.

Photo by Mat Smith / Engadget

Nothing’s revealed its second-generation Ear wireless buds. The eye-catching design sticks around and the company has tried to address some of the issues that bedeviled the original, with some much-needed improvements to connectivity and setup. Fortunately, the price of the Nothing Ear 2 is the same as the Ear 1: $149, which undercut a lot of the established true wireless competition.

Nothing hasn’t redesigned its buds and case – they look very similar side-by-side – but it’s made a handful of incremental changes. Most of them focus on the case, which is smaller and slimmer. The outer part of the case is still transparent, but part of the white structure is now exposed. There’s no textured surface, just a soft-touch panel. Nothing claims the see-through plastic is harder to scratch and damage than the original Ear 1. In my pockets and bag, getting shuffled around with keys or other objects has already left a noticeable scratch on the case. I also worry that this exposed panel could get muckier easier – the curse of all white gadgets.

Nothing Ear 2 wireless buds impressions
Photo by Mat Smith / Engadget

Tackling one the bigger complaints I had with the Ear 1, Nothing moved the microphones and antenna inside the buds to improve connectivity and stability – something it also did with the cheaper Ear Stick. The company’s first wireless buds were often finickity when pairing. The company has also changed the antenna structure for better reliability, and the initial pairing process seems to be less fussy and smoother than its predecessor. It’s also, finally, added dual connectivity, making it easier to switch between your phone and laptop.

Microphone placements have also been repositioned to reduce wind noise on calls, but I didn’t notice major improvements over the Ear 1. Nothing said its Clear Voice tech was tuned to just shy of 2 million sounds on the Ear 1 in order to filter them out, while that was closer to 20 million on its newest buds. However, I made several test calls, and I was still difficult to hear when it was windy.

Nothing says it improved sound detail with polyurethane components for clearer low frequencies (it’s been a while since a company has sold polyurethane as a feature), and graphene for brighter highs. There’s also a dual chamber design for a wider soundstage.

The Ear 2 will also be compatible with Hi-res audio at launch, although they weren’t at time of writing, and are compatible with the LHDC 5.0 codec, which all means they should work with premium audio standards where you can find them.

But does it sound all that different? Swapping between the Ear 1 and Ear 2, the newest version does offer clearer sound in the trebles and the bass has more oomph than before. But, compared to wireless buds that are often hundred dollars more expensive, like the AirPods Pro or Sony’s latest flagship buds, they don’t quite stand up, coming off a little flat.

Nothing Ear 2 wireless buds impressions

Nothing’s latest buds offer three levels of active noise cancellation (ANC): low, mid and high. The Ear 2 also offer a personalized ANC profile calibrated to your own hearing. The test is a lengthy five minutes, roughly, with a test dedicated to each bud. Your mileage and ears will different, but I didn’t note any marked improvements after calibration. The ANC isn’t perfect: At the highest levels of active noise cancellation still seemed to struggle with the reverberations on trains and the subway, leading to a jarring noise echo in my left bud while using ANC, despite recalibrating the buds several times in a bid to fix it. It’s, fortunately, happening much less often following a firmware update over the weekend. There’s also an adaptive ANC mode that will flit between levels depending on the noise around you, hopefully reducing the toll on battery life.

Nothing says there are battery improvements across both the buds (roughly an hour more, to over six hours) and the case, which can juice the buds for up to 36 hours of listening (with ANC off), two hours longer than the Ear 1. You should get 8 hours of audio from a 10-minute charge, too. There’s still wireless charging too, if you want it.

Setting up and switching between ANC modes is done through the updated Nothing X app, but the Ear 2, predictably, work best with Nothing’s Phone 1, with drop-down shortcuts and easier access to the fine-grain controls.

There’s also a custom sound profile calibration to hone in on frequencies you might not hear – thanks, aging. The equalizer, again inside the companion app, offers more options. You switch between treble- or bass-centric modes, a balanced mode and one dedicated to voice. My custom sound profile also came with the ability to augment my weaker audio frequencies I had trouble hearing with a richer profile, alongside the standard recommended mode. You can also tweak the intensity with a slider.

Nothing Ear 2 wireless buds impressions
Photo by Mat Smith / Engadget

Nothing may have added many minor features and improvements but the Ear 2 isn’t shaking up the status quo like its predecessor. Given the eye-catching hardware of the Ear 1, I wasn’t expecting a major redesign (they don’t need it) and the company has addressed my biggest problems with the first headphones. It’s hard to complain about the range of improvements, including upgraded water and sweat resistance rating: the buds are IP54 rated while the charging case is IP55.

The Ear 2 will launch in white on March 28th on Nothing’s own retail site, as well as on Amazon and Kith. Unfortunately, if you were looking to match your black Phone 1, there’s no plan for a black option.

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