The Nothing Ear (2) sound great and have solid noise cancelling, plus extra features at a very competitive price. However, the new high-quality audio mode doesn’t work well on the company’s own smartphone.
The Nothing Ear (2) are a weirdly named and unique looking set of wireless earbuds that punch above their modest $149/£129/€149 price point with excellent sound quality.
Compared to the Ear (1) from 2022, the Ear (2) have a smaller charging case, dual device connection, and Hi-Res Audio compatibility.
This Hi-Res mode is buggy on the Nothing Phone (1) but not on any other phone I tested, so ironically I can only recommend the Ear (2) to anyone who doesn’t own the only phone Nothing currently makes.
Design & build
Cool transparent design
Three in-ear tip sizes
The Nothing Ear (2) look exactly like the Nothing Ear (1), even though Nothing will be at pains to point out subtle design differences down to how the components are arranged in the transparent buds themselves.
It’s no bad thing that they are practically identical as they look great. The white bud and stem design is indebted to Apple’s AirPods but the black contrast transparent sides (complete with AirPod-esque pinch controls) pop nicely, and there’s a white dot on the left and a red on the right bud to differentiate them.
Henry Burrell / Foundry
The case is a little smaller than the Ear (1)’s and is made from a hardy see-through plastic. I dropped the case a couple of times, but it only has minor scratches and did not crack. It’s one of the coolest looking cases on wireless earbuds as it feels as though Nothing cares about the case’s aesthetics where rival designs are purely functional. Heck, the same extends to the actual earbuds design, too.
The buds are light and comfortable to wear at 4.5g each and although I often struggle with the fit of some of the best wireless earbuds, as I have narrow ear canals, but the Nothing Ear (2) fit me very well with the medium tips (there are small and large also included). The tips, like AirPods Pro, are more oval than circle, which helps a lot.
If you prefer, the Nothing Ear (Stick) buds have an open design with no silicone tips.
Excellent music sound
Great personalised audio
Buggy hi-res if on Nothing Phone (1)
The Ear (2) sound very good. They’ve got good bass and can drive rock and rap tracks very well, even if the treble is a little overpowering at times.
Most genres sound great but in busy rock tracks the mid tones can get lost. This might be down to the nature of the compressed audio I was listening to on Spotify, though.
When I played Obstacle 1 by Interpol on Spotify, the track sounded solidly reproduced. The same track via hi-res music app Qobuz suddenly opened new details to me, such as the clarity of the rhythm guitar in the verses. It makes a difference which music streaming service you use.
Though this step up in quality is down to the audio source rather than the earbuds, the Ear (2) are good enough to audibly reproduce the better quality, and this is particularly impressive at this price point.
Henry Burrell / Foundry
The pulsing synth sounds of UK Grim by Sleaford Mods have excellent stereo separation and the bass response is full enough where lesser earbuds distort. Acoustic guitars on Everybody’s Gotta Live by Love are beautifully rich, as are the strings on several renditions of Bach and Chopin.
Eric B. & Rakim’s Paid Full bops with a tight, controlled sound. The Nothing Ear (2) are among the best sounding earbuds in their price range, beating the Ear (1) and the $149/£139 Samsung Galaxy Buds 2. Ear (2) sound more animated.
Better still is Nothing’s personal sound profile in it’s Nothing X companion app. I had to go through the set up process twice before I felt the effect was good, but it was worth it.
The app takes you through a five minute hearing test that checks at what frequencies you can hear a beep above static noise. The result is the software boosting audio files in frequencies your ears might struggle to hear (it’s an age thing). I was very impressed with the richness and clarity the mode affords music, and it’s customisable too.
You have to re-do the test if you switch devices or unpair the buds, and there’s also an accomplished equaliser function if you prefer to toy about without the algorithms. It can’t match the NuraTrue earbuds, but they are understandably more expensive.
I observed all this goodness without the Ear (2)’s high-quality audio mode turned on. It’s a toggle in the Nothing X app and turning it on or off reboots the earbuds. It uses the LHDC 5.0 audio codec, and the app warns it will only take effect if your phone or tablet supports this hi-res streaming standard.
Henry Burrell / Foundry
I tested the Ear (2) on several devices including a Nothing Phone (1) with a preview build that allowed the codec to work, and then with the public release of the app. Unfortunately, the mode made all audio sound worse when using the Phone (1).
I even tried this on a second pair of Ear (2) after reporting this to Nothing. Most oddly, the audio degradation only happens on the Phone (1) – on other Android devices (the toggle is not an option on iOS) the function works perfectly, leaving audio as-is when needed and then streaming in hi-res when available.
In its current state, the high-quality audio toggle seems to give audio from Phone (1) to Ear (2) a scratchy quality and tracks have a static about them that makes the buds sound broken.
Tracks sound far better with it off, and I could not find a scenario on any app and on any device where it benefitted the music or video when using Nothing’s phone.
It’s not a dealbreaker for any phone but that one, oddly. If you have the Phone (1) then you should note that the hi-res feature currently is not currently usable. Streaming audio over regular AAC and SBC codecs is absolutely fine.
Wireless connection over Bluetooth 5.3 is solid when the source device is nearby, but cuts out when you are two rooms away, in my testing.
Henry Burrell / Foundry
Noise cancelling & smart features
Audio lag with video
Another feather in the Ear (2)’s cap is the solid active noise cancelling (ANC). It’s a level below the best-in-class ANC on the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 and less complete than the AirPods Pro 2, but again, for the price the quality here is more than passable.
As with the audio options, there is a pleasing level of control given to the user in the Nothing X app with ANC, which offers high, mid, low, and adaptive settings, plus a toggle for a personalised ANC that again takes your own hearing into consideration.
I found this less useful than the personal sound profile and tended to keep the default ANC settings on but the work put into genuinely useful and accomplished features here from what is a small start-up is noteworthy. The transparency mode is also good for when you want the buds in but be aware of your surroundings.
You can also connect Ear (2) to two devices at once thanks to Multipoint tech, so you can be connected to your phone and laptop or tablet simultaneously and receive the audio paying from either source. Again, a somewhat rare feature at this price point, but I found it a little unreliable. Linked to an Android phone and a MacBook Air, I would often lose the connection to the MacBook and have to manually reconnect.
I also experienced an audio/video lag when watching YouTube videos with Ear (2) connected to the Mac that I have not seen with any other wireless earbuds. It was quite noticeable and annoying.
Better is the clear voice tech Nothing has put in the buds, which callers reported made me perfectly audible on phone calls. You can also link the buds on set up to use with Google Assistant using voice match for hands free help from the Big G.
Henry Burrell / Foundry
Battery life & charging
4 hours with ANC
About four charges with case
USB-C or wireless recharge
Nothing promises six hours of playback on a full earbud charge with ANC turned off. I don’t wear wireless earbuds of any kind for longer than a couple of hours unless I’m on a train or plane journey, so I didn’t have any battery angst with the Ear (2), but the drop off is such that it starts to get dicey at around four hours with ANC on.
The case delivers 36 hours of playback overall when fully charged and recharging the earbuds, but again this is a figure Nothing says is with ANC off. You can recharge eight hours of playback into the buds/case with a ten minute charge. There’s a small USB-C cable in the box but no adapter (as you’ll find with all wireless earbuds).
As with the Ear (1), the Ear (2) case has Qi wireless charging built in, a feature that’s often hard to find at this price point.
Price & availability
The Nothing Ear (2) cost $149/£129/€149 – a very competitive price for wireless earbuds with ANC, wireless charging, multipoint, and hi-res compatibility.
A close competitor in price and features is the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 at $149/$139/€149, but having used both I would pick the Ear (2) for their better design, fit, and sound quality.
Nothing’s own Ear (Stick) are cheaper at $99/£99/€99 but lack ANC with an open design. The Nothing Ear (1) is still on sale at $149/£149/€149.
To get a substantially better product than Ear (2) you will have to spend big on the $249/£249/€299 Apple AirPods Pro 2, or the $249/£249/€279 Sony WF-1000XM4, though you can find the latter at a decent discount in 2023.
Check out our chart of the best wireless earbuds to see more options, and if you need something cheaper, we have a chart of budget wireless earbuds.
The Nothing Ear (2) don’t have the best battery life around, the Multipoint is a little dodgy and the Hi-Res feature is ironically broken when used with the company’s only phone, but for the price, this product excels on every other level. And hopefully, these things can be fixed with firmware updates.
If you want an attractive pair of wireless earbuds with solid noise cancellation and genuinely excellent sound quality, these are among the best – particularly when they cost nearly half of what Apple, Sony, and Bose are charging for relatively comparable earbuds.