Nothing Ear 2 Review: Nothing 2 Lose
While its name might make it the subject of many jokes and puns, Nothing has done reasonably well as a technology company in its relatively short existence thus far. What’s also commendable is its steady approach to its product lineup, which started out with the decent Nothing Ear 1 true wireless earphones in 2021. Now, with a couple of other products launched along the way – including its first smartphone – comes the company’s first ever second-generation product, the Nothing Ear 2, which offers some noteworthy improvements over its predecessor.
Priced at Rs. 9,999 in India, the Nothing Ear 2 promises some significant improvements over the Ear 1, including support for the LHDC Bluetooth codec and an improved app experience. Going up against strong competition from brands such as OnePlus and Jabra, is the Nothing Ear 2 the best true wireless headset under Rs. 10,000 that you can buy right now? Find out in this review.
Nothing Ear 2 design and features
The radical and unique design of the Nothing Ear 1 was quite impressive back in 2021, and still looks good on the Nothing Ear 2 despite the fact that it isn’t novel anymore. This new headset looks quite like the old one at first glance, with the only notable difference that sets them apart being the ‘NOTHING ear (2)’ name printed on each earpiece stem. It’s a sensible choice to stick to this design, in my opinion, and it’s still just as eye-catching as before.
For now, the Nothing Ear 2 is only available in a single colour option – transparent and white. Unlike the Nothing Ear Stick, the Ear 2 has a proper in-canal fit, which ensures a proper seal with passive noise isolation, which is necessary to ensure effective active noise cancellation.
Another big change is in the controls; the earlier tap gestures make way for a force-touch system, similar to what’s on the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) and OnePlus Buds Pro 2. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – this is considerably better and more accurate than simple touch controls.
Usefully, these controls are also customisable through the companion app, and you can choose to control playback and volume, invoke the voice assistant, and switch between ANC and transparency modes. The earpieces also have in-ear detection to automatically play and pause music when put on or taken off, but this didn’t work very reliably during my review, and I found it easier to manually pause and play as needed.
Apart from this, the Nothing Ear 2 earpieces are IP54 rated for dust and water resistance, while the charging case has a slightly better IP55 rating – both are good enough to handle splashes of water and a bit of exposure to dirt. Each earpiece has three microphones, which work together for ANC and voice functionality. Included in the sales package of the Nothing Ear 2 is a USB Type-C to Type-C charging cable, and a total of three pairs of silicone ear tips of different sizes.
The charging case of the Nothing Ear 2 is visibly smaller than that of the Ear 1 and has a lower battery capacity, at 485mAh. However, Nothing states that optimisations and improved battery life on the earpieces cover for this, offering comparable overall battery life. I’ll get into the specifics of battery life later in this review, but the this case is a lot more convenient and pocketable. Qi wireless charging (up to 2.5W) is present as well, and you can always choose to charge with a standard USB Type-C cable.
Nothing Ear 2 app and specifications
The Nothing Ear 2 has 11.6mm dynamic drivers just like its predecessor, but there are big improvements in the Bluetooth connectivity on the newer headset. The Ear 2 uses Bluetooth 5.3, with support for the SBC, AAC, and LHDC Bluetooth codecs. Usefully, there is also support for Google Fast Pair, Microsoft Swift Pair, and multipoint connectivity for up to two audio sources simultaneously.
LHDC is a 24-bit advanced codec that enables the headset to receive more audio data from a compatible source device, thus improving sound quality. This codec is currently only supported on select Android devices, and in my case, I was only able to get it working on the Nothing Phone 1 (Review).
Attempts to use the LHDC codec with a OnePlus 9 Pro (which supports it) didn’t work, and I was limited to the AAC codec, despite enabling the option in the app and through the phone’s developer settings. If you’re using the Nothing Ear 2 with an iPhone, you’ll be limited to the AAC codec anyway. This did have an impact on sound quality, which I’ll talk about in detail a bit later in this review.
From customisation and settings to various tweaks, the Nothing X app (available for iOS and Android) is the key to getting the best out of the Nothing Ear 2 headset. If you’re using this headset with the Nothing Phone 1, most of the core functions of the app, including being able to check battery levels, toggle ANC mode, adjust equaliser settings, and change the gesture controls, can be done within the phone’s UI. Strangely though, certain functions such as activating multipoint connectivity can only be used through the Nothing X app.
The app is well designed and offers plenty of useful features, including setting equaliser presets, setting the ANC intensity level, and creating personalised profiles for the sound and ANC separately. Indeed, there’s a lot to go through, but it’s worth the effort as it helps you set up the headset to your liking.
Nothing Ear 2 performance and battery life
Ecosystem benefits are a big deal now, and many brands are following Apple and Samsung’s lead in designing their products to work well together. Nothing tends to have similar ideas as OnePlus for obvious reasons (Nothing founder Carl Pei previously co-founded OnePlus), and you can see some of those philosophies in how the Nothing Ear 2 works with the Nothing Phone 1. Indeed, you’ll get the best experience and the entire feature set if you’re using the two devices together.
That said, with only a few exceptions, you’ll get a fairly wholesome experience even if you pair the Nothing Ear 2 with other smartphones. One of those is the advanced LHDC codec, which I was only able to use with the Nothing Phone 1. Sound quality is audibly better with this codec in operation, and while LHDC is technically compatible with various other devices, getting it to work may be tricky depending on version compatibility on other devices.
When using the Nothing Phone 1 as my source device with high-resolution tracks streaming from Apple Music, the experience was quite impressive, particularly when you consider that this is a Rs. 10,000 true wireless headset. Although the sound was initially not to my liking, I found that the default equaliser preset boosted the bass, and switching to the Balanced preset (the natural sonic signature of the Nothing Ear 2) made all the difference in improving the sonic signature and fidelity.
Listening to Lavender (Star One Remix) by Frenchfire, the Nothing Ear 2 was able to keep up with the fast, progressive start to this dance track, flowing with its quick changes and sudden bass attack rather smoothly. Some of its high-frequency electronic elements sounded distinct and sharp, with the whole track exuding a strong sense of direction that gave the soundstage a lot of appeal.
The low, catchy beat sounded equally clean, playing well with the busy details. The same track sounded almost as good on the Nothing Ear 2 paired with a different smartphone with the AAC codec in operation, at least in terms of the sonic signature retaining a balanced and all-purpose approach. However, the detail level and the extensions sounded a bit more distinct and striking with the LHDC codec in operation.
I had active noise cancellation enabled for much of my review, and there were moments when I wondered if it was indeed on. The soundstage and imaging on certain tracks such as E Samba by Junior Jack sounded very open and wide, almost fooling me into thinking I’d accidentally turned on the transparency mode on the Nothing Ear 2.
Turning up the volume made everything sound better, and I found that going to over the 90 percent mark made for the best sound in terms of detail and attack. That said, the level of detail and the deep punch in the lows at such high volume did get tiring quickly and I had to drop it to a reasonable level. Fortunately, but the fun factor in the sound didn’t go away even at the 50 percent mark.
Active noise cancellation on the Nothing Ear 2, while acceptable for a headset priced under Rs. 10,000, isn’t exceptional by any means. Both indoors and outdoors, the sound reduction wasn’t much, with plenty of indoor sounds such as the whirring of a ceiling fan and hum of an air conditioner still slightly audible. This was combined with a rather strong vacuum effect with the ANC, which many might think is a sign of good noise cancellation even though it’s actually the opposite.
Of course, the Nothing Ear 2 does offer enough noise reduction to make it easier to listen to anything playing at even moderate volumes, and the good soundstage might just be able to distract you from the unnerving feeling of the vacuum effect. Transparency mode did its job reasonably well, but the extra amplification does get tiring after a while, and you’ll probably just want to take the earphones off.
Battery life on the Nothing Ear 2 is similar to that of the Nothing Ear 1. The earpieces ran for around four hours on a single charge with ANC on, and the charging case added a little over four additional charges, for a total runtime of around 22 hours per charge cycle. Given the smaller charging case, this is a decent overall figure, and you can extend this by quite a bit by keeping ANC off.
The Nothing Ear 1 was particularly impressive because of what it offered at its launch price of Rs. 5,999, even if the company eventually adjusted it to a little over Rs. 7,000. In comparison, the Nothing Ear 2 doesn’t come at a shockingly low cost, and indeed doesn’t even need to; it’s a very good pair of true wireless earphones that feels just about right for its price of Rs. 9,999.
It goes up against slightly more expensive competition such as the Oppo Enco X2 and OnePlus Buds Pro 2, and manages to hold its own in terms of sound quality and overall performance. Perhaps the only drawback is that it needs a Nothing Phone for optimal performance, particularly the ability to use the LHDC Bluetooth codec. That said, it’s a good looking pair of headphones and performs reasonably well even with other source devices, making it worth considering if you have a budget of Rs. 10,000.