OnePlus Buds Z2 review: Budget ANC wireless earbuds are too good now

There’s nothing groundbreaking about the $99 OnePlus Buds Z2 — but good enough is pretty great.

OnePlus Buds Z2 review: Budget ANC wireless earbuds are too good now
Ian Carlos Campbell / Input

The OnePlus Buds Z2 doesn’t give me much more than I expected for $99, but for anyone not tangled up in Apple’s ecosystem, or not looking to spend a pretty penny on wireless audio, they’re more than enough.

Technically a sequel to the dirt-cheap $49 OnePlus Buds Z, the Buds Z2’s main change is the addition of active noise cancellation (ANC), a feature that’s fast becoming standard even in the most affordable of entry-level wireless earbuds. Just like many other wireless earbuds, a long press of the touch-sensitive panel on the Buds Z2 toggles between ANC modes like transparency and full-noise cancellation. In my experience, the ANC is not as dramatic as other wireless earbuds I’ve used — in fact, I didn’t even notice it at first.

The OnePlus Buds Z2 charging case charges over USB-C and are ridiculously glossy and fingerprint-prone. Even the matte inside picks up smudges easily. Ian Carlos Campbell / Input

With a proper seal from the rubber tips (OnePlus supplies multiple sizes, perfect for my randomly smaller left ear), the OnePlus Buds Z2 seems to work best blocking talking and higher frequency noises. They struggle with street noise like plenty of other wireless buds, and as expected, over-the-ear headphones like Bose’s QC45 II are still going to give you the best noise cancellation experience. You can tweak sound and noise cancellation performance in the companion MyMelody app OnePlus offers, but out of the box, the Buds Z2s are fine, not great. You can pay more for better ANC performance, and you probably should if that’s what matters most to you in your wireless buds.

From the outside, the Buds Z2s share a lot of similarities with the design of the original Buds Z. Inner-ear rubber tips, AirPods-esque microphone stems, IP55 water and sweat resistance, and touch-sensitive area for controlling playback. The Bud Z2 manages to feature 15 percent shorter stems (call quality is fine, but I still think Apple’s AirPods remain the gold standard) and last for around seven hours on a charge with ANC off or five hours with ANC on.

The OnePlus Buds Z2 earbuds are about the size of the second-generation AirPod, with a flat touch-sensitive surface for controlling playback.Ian Carlos Campbell / Input

Those battery life estimates improve when you take the Buds Z2’s unfortunately glossy charging case into account, allowing for 38 hours of battery with ANC off and 27 hours with ANC on, according to OnePlus. If you’re like me and compulsively turn ANC on and off throughout the day, your battery life will likely vary more dramatically. Still, I made it through a day of casual, on-and-off-again use with the Buds Z2 without issue, just like my typical daily carry, the new third-gen AirPods with spatial audio.

The technical details aside, the Buds Z2 sound really great. The wireless earbuds provide surprisingly loud, crisp, and clear sound for an affordable wireless audio option, and while I can’t help but wish for deeper bass, I think the performance here is solid. OnePlus attributes the Buds Z2s audio wizardry to the 11mm drivers from the OnePlus Buds Pro that are now in the Buds Z2s, but whatever the reason, I think it’s more than worth it at $99.

The OnePlus Buds Z2 features shorter stems and just okay microphone performance. They don’t look half-bad though!Ian Carlos Campbell / Input

I had no issues using the OnePlus Buds Z2 with my iPhone 11, but the wireless earbuds naturally work even better on Android, or with a OnePlus phone. The Buds Z2’s support Google Fast Pair and offer additional features on OnePlus phones, including a low-latency Pro Gaming mode for improved audio performance.

What’s really compelling about the Ouds Z2 is the price. For $99, you get more than acceptable ANC in either black or white buds (white is available asap, black is coming in 2022), and pretty fantastic sound, at least to my ears. These could be a real threat to the Nothing Ear (1), which also retail for $99. The Buds Z2 don’t look nearly as distinct, though. I wish the charging case came with USB-C and wireless charging, but in comparison to other entry-level wireless earbuds, the Buds Z2 still feel like a great deal, whether you’re a committed OnePlus fan or just looking for an affordable way to experience ANC and wireless audio. Good enough can be pretty great, for the right price.

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