Every time I think of the Nothing ear (1), my mind goes straight to the clip of “Stupid Sexy” Flanders repeatedly saying “nothing at all.”
It may not evoke the most arousing image, but it sums up what the team at Nothing are trying to achieve with these earbuds and the brand as a whole. That is, to design a seamless digital future through consumer tech that “looks, lives, and feels like nothing,” alongside offering serious value for money.
And, as a first generation product, the Nothing ear (1) is the first expression of this future — a pair of transparent true wireless earbuds with ANC that cost $99. Do they live up to the hype? Let’s find out.
Nothing ear (1): Video review
Nothing ear (1): Availability and price
The Nothing ear (1) buds are available for $99 or £99, with the first limited stock drop coming July 31 at 09:00 ET / 14:00 BST on nothing.tech.
They will launch publicly on August 17 and be available at many retailers including Selfridges in the U.K.
Nothing ear (1): Design
When it comes to true wireless earbud design, colour is key. Every manufacturer brings a selection of shades to the market, giving customers options to express their personalities, whether through a bright, in-your-face red or a more restrained white.
Nothing has thrown the rulebook out the window by adopting a transparent design. The clear Nothing ear (1) look striking when put against the numerous colorful earbuds and pebble-shaped cases that are available in the world today.
Addressing the dimensions, the case measures 2.3 x 2.3 x 0.9 inches and weighs 57.4g (2 ounces). The buds themselves are 1.1 x 0.8 x 0.9 inches and weigh 4.7g (0.2 ounces). For the buds, these measurements are a little on the smaller side. For comparison, they are 0.1 inches smaller than the AirPods Pro and 0.7g lighter too.
The bigger differences come in the case, with it being wider and heavier, yet thinner than the Soundcore Life P3’s case, and when compared to AirPods Pro, the case is taller, thicker and 12g heavier.
The buds are IPX4 sweat resistant so you can use them when working out or in a light rain. But that’s enough for specs, let’s talk about the style.
I love the indent on the case, which is a perfect thumb-sized hole for me to spin these around in my hand. It’s like having a fidget spinner, but without the shame of owning the fad tchotchke.
Personally, I like seeing the electronic components inside the buds. Seeing the engineering, hearing the stories about Nothing going through eight different types of adhesive and requesting “beautiful magnets” for the buds is one of those fascinating “form follows function” design stories that defines a product.
To me, they’re beautiful, flaunting a retro chic aesthetic combined with a futuristic flair in an AirPods Pro-shaped bud. There are simple yet thoughtful additions like red and white dots to indicate L/R ear alongside the signature dot matrix printer branding. One improvement I’d like to see is for the bud enclosure to be fully transparent. I want to see the drivers in these, much like they are in the Nothing Concept 1.
However, I showed them to my partner and to the Laptop Mag team. You can see that discussion in my video review, but to say opinions about the design are divisive would be doing the levels of love and hate for these a great disservice. The core complaints center around one unavoidable problem: the transparent plastic makes the buds look cheap and tacky.
As someone who likes the look of them, I was initially combative to these complaints, but then, any transparent product will have its detractors.
Simply put, you will either love or hate the unique aesthetic of the Nothing ear (1). There’s no middle ground with the current design and I feel this could be answered next time with a full commitment to transparency alongside a non-transparent option.
Nothing ear (1): Controls and digital assistant
Much like the majority of true wireless earbuds, the Nothing ear (1)s are operated entirely via touch controls on the stems. But, unlike some of its rivals, these are responsive and unintended touches never ruin the party.
You have your easy set of morse code-esque touch patterns to remember, along with sliding up and down to alter the volume, which I really like. Testing across my iPhone 12 Pro, Realme GT and M1 MacBook Pro showed similarly impressive results. Plus, you can customise touch controls in the ear (1) app.
Nothing ear (1): Active noise cancellation and ambient listening
Shutting out the world, Nothing has packed the ear (1) buds with standard -40dB active noise cancellation, which pairs with your choice of three different ear tip sizes to deliver a strong level of isolation. You can pick from a maximum or light ANC mode, depending on whether you’re outdoors or somewhere quiet.
Even in gustier circumstances like walking along the river, these outperformed the likes of Soundcore’s Liberty Air 2 Pro and even the AirPods Pro. The three high-definition microphones pair with the algorithm to do a good job of identifying background noises and eliminating them.
Better yet, the transparency mode is strong as well — allowing me to hear conversations from across the room and discern each word being said.
Nothing ear (1): Audio quality
This is where it gets fun. Nothing starts strong with 11.6mm drivers enclosed in a 0.34CC chamber and tuned by Teenage Engineering. These are bigger drivers than even Master & Dynamic’s MW08 earbuds and, thanks to the careful attention, the ear (1) sound incredible.
In fact, they beat Apple’s AirPods Pro for pure depth and soundstage. It truly is an immersive listening experience; I could feel the warmth of the lows and pick out every instrument in the mids and highs.
The various instruments during the cacophonic orchestral uprising section in “A Day in the Life” by The Beatles sounded clean and clear. On many other buds at this price, these 30 seconds are a mess as the EQ tries to figure out what it’s trying to play. But with the Nothing ear (1), everything sounded pure.
Not only that, but more modern genres get a boost from this, too. Frank Ocean’s “Lost” adds a warmth to the vocalists’ lower tones in the chorus, while allowing the higher pitches to fly, and Enter Shikari’s “The Great Unknown” is just as dramatic with zero distortion.
Unfortunately, you get a limited number of EQ presets; I would’ve preferred a customizable version, but this speaks volumes to the confidence Nothing and Teenage Engineering has in its mix.
Nothing ear (1): App
The ear (1) keeps the visual flair going through to its accompanying app, which is simple to navigate and use.
All the essential features are there: noise cancellation switches, customizable touch controls, EQ options and a “Find my earbud” feature. Any special additions like Soundcore’s sleep mode stripped away in favour of functionality.
The initial firmware update was quick and connecting the buds was quick and easy — both are done via quick pair on Android or through the app on iOS.
Nothing ear (1): Battery life
Battery life is average. Nothing more, nothing less.
I hit the promised 4 hours on a single charge with ANC turned on, with the Qi wireless charging-enabled case giving you 24 hours. While the case’s longevity lives up to AirPods Pro, the earbuds could be better: 30 minutes less than Apple’s pro earbuds and a whole 2 hours behind the Soundcore Life P3s.
Quick charging means you can get an extra 6 hours of juice in the case after 10 minutes of charge, which is nice to have, but that doesn’t completely make up for you needing to charge these up halfway through a working day. I’d love to see Nothing squeeze an extra couple of hours out of its next buds.
Nothing ear (1): Call quality and connectivity
Another category where the Nothing ear (1) buds outperform the AirPods Pro is in call quality. Not once did I have to go through the annoying routine of switching to my phone’s earpiece. The three mics did a great job of isolating my voice both indoors and outdoors.
Not only that, but the use of Bluetooth 5.2 ensures a strong connection. I didn’t suffer a single dropout, even when I tested it up to a 30-meter distance from my phone.
Nothing ear (1): Reliability
It’s never a good sign to have a reliability section in a review. Alas, mid-way through reviewing these, our original pair of ear (1) buds broke. While listening to music, there was a loud pop in the left bud and now, whenever I turn ANC on, there’s a loud, low hiss over everything — similar to what you hear when you go to the beach and put a shell to your ear.
I’ve not had the same issue with the replacement pair, but this obviously raises some questions about reliability.
Response from Nothing on the issue
To address the issue, Nothing sent out a firmware update (version 0.6700.1.66), which seems to have fixed the problem. The hiss has gone and, as an added bonus, the auto-pause functionality when I remove an earbud has sped up.
Much like any gadget, reliability is always a work-in-progress of constant tweaks, and Nothing has done a great job rapidly responding and fixing the issue — something that we, as a publication
Nothing ear (1): Verdict
When buying a first-generation product, you’re always taking a gamble. It’s the company’s first attempt to show you who they are.
Nothing falls firmly into this category with the ear (1). These buds will be popular for their transparent design, which gives you something unlike anything else out there, while detractors will see them as cheap, tacky and naked. Design is subjective, so you’ll have to make your own mind up on this.
And that first-gen feeling extends to the reliability too which, if you face the same issues we did, is a major concern. But given the awesome sound that is undisturbed by powerful ANC, as well as the responsive touch controls and top notch call quality, these might be worth the risk. Nothing got close to releasing a must-buy with the ear (1) buds, and I look forward to the ear (2).