The Nothing Ear 1 — is it a game-changing piece of tech or just another bland attempt at marketing? Created by “Nothing”, a company founded by OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei, the Nothing Ear 1 is their first venture into audio technology. With generous funding from Google Ventures, tech innovators like iPod creator Tony Fadell, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, and Reddit CEO Steve Huffman, Nothing was made to buck the trend of repetitive and similarly bland-looking electronics on the market.
In conjunction with designers from Swedish firm Teenage Engineering, the Nothing Ear 1 is a unique wireless Bluetooth earbud with an emphasis on “transparency.” Coming in at just $99 per set, the Nothing Ear 1 was released on July 2021 to a lot of media and public hype eyeing it as an Apple AirPods killer.
Due to this early hype and public reputation, it is no wonder many are wondering about this product. Does it live up to that reputation, though? To help you make your own calls on it, we present our Nothing Ear 1 review!
Related: How Do Wireless Headphones Work?
Inside This Article
The Nothing Ear 1 is pretty feature-complete at first glance with a unique design and presentation. Some of these features, like the 11.6mm dynamic audio driver, are pretty good when combined with Nothing’s Clear Voice technology and the three high-definition microphones. The best part about it, though, is the price. Sold at just $99, there is a big price gap with competitors like Apple’s AirPods sold for $150+ or Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 2 sold for $299+. For its price, it is more than enough for everyday wear.
- Price at launch- $99
- Unique and Transparent design
- Weight – A light 4.7g
- IPX4 water resistance
- Acceptable noise-canceling and audio isolation
- Qi Wireless Charging
- So-so battery life
- Lack of aptX and LDAC codec support
- Hard Plastic Build
The first thing anyone would notice about the Nothing Ear 1 is its design. It doesn’t completely look different from Apple’s AirPods, but Nothing wants to place their Ear 1 as far from its competitors as they can. Designed by the creative minds in Teenage Engineering, they were in charge not only of the earbud’s design but also its box and carrying case.
The box itself is pretty well designed, with simple printed notes and a clear picture of the earbuds on display. Opening the box is part of Ear 1’s unique experience since the box is actually a pull tab and opens up like a box of Kraft’s Mac n’ Cheese. Inside that is a second silver box that carries the earbuds inside its transparent charge/carrying case. Alongside these are a quick-start instruction guide, a transparent Type-C charging cable, and a set of small and large silicone bud cups (the medium cups are already installed on the device).
The charging/carrying case is pretty easy to use and features a fully transparent design. You can see through the case and peer at the magnets holding the thing shut. While it is transparent, most of the internal workings of the case are still hidden by a solid plastic sheathe. Aside from the usual Type-C charger, the charging case is also capable of Qi Charging.
Teenage Engineering’s design also led to the earbuds having two distinct parts: the buds themselves and the body. With the same ideas as having windows or doors to peer into a house, its body or stem is fully transparent and showcases its internals with a stylized “Nothing Ear (1)” printed on the microchip. Meanwhile, the rest of the oval-shaped buds and the silicone cups themselves come in two colors, black and white.
Aside from its visual design, its liquid silicone cups and high-quality plastic construction allow the device to only weigh 4.7g or 0.16 oz; light enough for even the most sensitive ears. Combined with its charging case, the entire unit is only 61.2g or 2.16 oz and can be carried even in your shirt’s pocket.
Even with its relatively small 11.6mm audio driver, the Ear 1 measures up pretty well, at least compared to its competitors. Far from what people would expect with a cheap $99 product, the Nothing Ear 1 does not rely on the “bass-heavy” tricks other cheaper audio devices use. Instead, the Ear 1 actually has a pretty accurate low and mid-range audio profile that projects low and deep sounds clearly.
This sound projection is in line with Nothing and Teenage Engineering’s audio tweaking that aims to create a more balanced and natural sound output for the Ear 1. If you are not satisfied with the base audio tweaking done by the two companies, though, you can also tweak it yourself using the Ear (1) app available for both iOS and Android devices.
Active Noise Cancellation
Aside from these audio outputs, the Nothing Ear 1 has a hybrid active noise cancellation feature, three high-definition microphones, and an AI-powered environmental noise cancellation feature. While it does not offer the same level of active noise canceling as more expensive models like Sony’s WF-1000XM3’s, the Ear 1’s noise-canceling is decent enough for everyday use.
When it comes to sound isolation, the Ear 1 thankfully has three sets of silicone cups for your ears. The sound isolation feature is dependent on how closed off the cups have made your ears. A great seal will assure the blocking of most background noise and chatter, except for severely loud noise like heavy machinery or nearby construction.
Alongside sound isolation is the “transparency mode” which allows you to “hear” the noise and chatter around when using the Ear 1 through the microphones. There are two ways to turn this feature on. The first is to toggle the Bluetooth settings, and the second is to remove one earbud. Doing so automatically turns transparency mode on for the remaining one.
The Ear 1 runs on Bluetooth 5.2 technology which features a lower battery consumption cost compared to previous Bluetooth versions. Being on Bluetooth 5.2, the Ear 1 is backward compatible with all previous Bluetooth versions and can pair with both Android and iOS devices. It is not, however, a multipoint Bluetooth audio device and cannot automatically switch between paired devices.
While the Ear 1 has fast pairing and is compatible with devices on Android 5.1+ and iOS 11+, there have been reports of unreliability when connecting to Android devices. This is presumably slowly being patched out as upgrades to the Ear 1 app are pushed out. A similar connectivity problem is a lack of Google Assistant, Alexa, or Siri support which has since been patched into the device with firmware version 0.6700.1.86.
Aside from that, the Nothing Ear 1 also supports only the AAC and SBC audio codecs on A2DP, AVRCP, and HFP Bluetooth profiles. This means that more high-resolution audio like LDAC and AptX is unsupported.
Also read: How To Pair Airpods
As we mentioned earlier, due to its all hard plastic charging/carrying case, the Nothing Ear 1 does support Qi charging aside from its usual Type-C wired fast charging. Battery-wise, the device has a decently sized 31mAh battery per earpiece and a 570mAh battery installed to the case.
The battery and case combination allows it to operate for up to 34 hours with active noise cancellation off and up to 24 hours with it turned on. Individually, Nothing has rated both earpieces to last for up to 4 hours and 30 minutes with active noise cancellation turned on and up to 6 hours with it turned off.
It is quite simple to control the Nothing Ear 1 because of the few buttons available on the device. It has a few basic touch controls. These controls are double-tap to play/pause, triple tap to skip to the next song, tap and hold to switch between active noise cancellation or transparency modes, and slide up or down the stem to control the volume. Do note that these features work best when paired with an iOS or Android device that has the Ear 1 app installed on it.
There are a few other notable features of the Nothing Ear 1. The first is its IPX4 water resistance that protects from sweat and water splashes from all directions. Another feature is its Google Fast Pairing for Android devices. And the last is not exactly a feature but a production idea — the device’s carbon neutral build.
While it does not break any records or beat any of the big shot wireless earbuds out there, the Nothing Ear 1 is a simple, feature-filled, and cheap alternative. Just like Carl Pei’s other project, OnePlus, Nothing has found a nice niche between functional and inexpensive. If you want something hardy for everyday use without breaking the bank, the Nothing Ear 1 is just right up your alley.
If you are not sure about the Ear 1, though, you might want to look at other wireless earbuds like the Jabra Elite 85t or Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air 2’s. Those that want something a bit “fuller,” though, might go for open-backed headphones or gaming headsets instead.