Nothing Ear Review: These ANC Wireless Earbuds Are My Favorite Anti-AirPods

Nothing’s personalized sound profiles really sing thanks to a new ceramic driver that’s smaller, more powerful, and a heck of a lot more clear.

Inverse senior editor James Pero testing the $150 Nothing Ear A transparent wireless earbuds
Lais Borges/Inverse; Photograph by Raymond Wong

Looks can be deceiving.

If you put Nothing’s last-gen Ear 2 next to its brand-new Ear wireless earbuds, you’d be hard-pressed to spot the differences. The case looks the same, save for a slight tweak in branding, the buds sport the same semi-transparent plastic that put Nothing on the map, and the colors are also a continuation of Nothing’s original design language (there’s black and there’s white).

But what’s not the same — unlike the playfully bright yellow Ear A wireless earbuds — is what you’re not seeing. For the Ear, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

New Drivers, Who Dis?

The main thing you need to know about the Ear — which, at $150, is now the premium option in Nothing’s wireless earbud lineup — is that Nothing is using ceramic drivers for the first time.

I could write a thesis on all of the things audiophiles claim to be benefits of ceramic drivers, but all you need to know is that — in my three weeks of using the Ear — they sound crisp, clear, and dynamic. Helping that crispness is added space inside the buds (Nothing made its driver more compact) and added air vents that help airflow and reduce sound distortion.

In short: They are definitely an upgrade over the Ear 2, which I’ve been using as my main wireless earbuds since their release last year. And, to a lesser extent, the Ear are more premium-sounding than the Ear A.

The Ear look almost unchanged from the Ear 2, but on the inside, things are different.

Photograph by Raymond Wong

That’s not all the Ear is bringing to the table over the (very solid) Ear A wireless earbuds. This time around, Nothing is turning its “personalized sound profile” feature into a premium one. That means only those who buy the Ear can go into the Nothing X app and take a hearing test that tailors the buds’ frequency ranges to their specific hearing.

I’d done the sound profile in the past and was maybe slightly underwhelmed with the results, but I did it again and noticed a fairly big difference between the Ear pre-hearing test and post. It’s hard to say exactly what’s behind that noticeable shift. Maybe my hearing has changed, maybe a new algorithm has made the sound profile test better, or maybe the new drivers on the Ear just do a much better job at actually tailoring frequencies to my hearing.

They are definitely an upgrade over the Ear 2.

Whatever the case may be (my money is on the latter) the Ear make Nothing X’s premium features feel more important, and if you’re planning on buying a pair of these wireless earbuds, I highly recommend you take the time to actually pull open the Nothing X app and take the test. For the uninitiated, that process involves taking a fairly brief hearing test in which you listen to beeps of varying frequencies. All you have to do is use an in-app button to indicate when you hear the beep start and when you hear it fade away.

Photograph by Raymond Wong
Photograph by Raymond Wong
Photograph by Raymond Wong
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And if an algo doing the heavy lifting for you isn’t really your style, you can take advantage of the other premium Ear-only feature made available via the Nothing X app: advanced EQ. In my opinion, unless you’re really, really, nerdy about your audio, this probably won’t be a huge selling point. But if nothing else, it’s nice to have.

As far as hardware goes, battery life has performed as expected; Nothing estimates up to 24.5 hours with the Ear charging case and 5.5 hours of playback outside the case when using active noise-cancellation. Pretty much everything else is the same: squeeze controls, a very similar-sized case, and see-through plastic for exposed circuitry. And as long as we’re talking about battery, you should know that by shelling out $50 more for the Ear, you’re getting wireless charging as well.

Not AirPods

Looks and software separate Nothing from the pack.

Photograph by Raymond Wong

It’s impossible to talk or think about wireless earbuds without comparing them to AirPods, and the Ear are no different. The Ear, like its predecessor, the Ear 2, bring some unique selling points to the table. For one, there’s the design — the Ear, while basically unchanged in terms of aesthetics, still don’t look like other buds on the market, AirPods included.

Then there’s granularity. AirPods have a lot of great software accompaniments, including spatial audio, Adaptive EQ, and conversation awareness that will mute the buds when you start to talk, but all of those are still take-what-you-can-get kind of features.

I am more than pleased with the quality and nuance of the sound I’ve been getting from the Ear.

Like I wrote back when the Ear 2 was released, there’s a freedom in Nothing’s approach to software that reveals itself in adjustable and other preset EQ options as well as personalized sound profiles. That ethos of freedom has only gotten stronger. Right now, Nothing’s wireless earbuds are the only product of its kind that come with a ChatGPT integration which, while annoying to use at times, is a pretty interesting promise for the future of voice assistants. One-size-fits-all may work for a lot of people, but why not make your wireless earbuds work for you?

Then there’s the price: The Ear cost $150, which is $100 less than what second-gen AirPods Pro retail for. I’ve not used AirPods Pro 2 enough to give a hard opinion on which pair of wireless earbuds sounds better, but I can say for certain that I am more than pleased with the quality and nuance of the sound I’ve been getting from the Ear — especially after taking the time to do an ear test and create a sound profile.

That’s all to say that Nothing’s Ear represents not just an improvement on its own lineup — this is a solid successor to the Ear 2 — but also a noteworthy addition to earbuds in general. I wrote back in the day that the Ear 2 are one step ahead of AirPods, and a year later, Nothing seems to be keeping that stride.

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