We’ve been test-driving the Nothing Ear (stick) wireless earbuds for over a week now, and we have some thoughts on these futuristic $99 headphones.
If you’ve never heard of Nothing, you’re not alone. It’s a fairly new name to the tech world, but it’s led by an industry veteran: Carl Pei, one of OnePlus’ co-founders. Nothing lately has had the main goal of producing beautifully designed, quality products at affordable prices, and the Ear (stick-shaped) headphones are the latest example.
They’re a more affordable alternative to Nothing’s Ear (1) earbuds, which have been bumped up to $149. The Ear (stick) is $50 cheaper and offers a decent balance of specs, but are they worth the money? Let’s find out.
A Premium, Unique $99 Pair of Earbuds
If you’re looking for an affordable pair of earbuds that will stand out from the crowd, the Nothing Ear (Stick) is just what you’re looking for. Note that it lacks active noise cancellation, which you can find in many similarly priced competitors.
Great sound quality for music and podcasts
Considering Nothing is a relatively new company with little experience in the headphone market, my expectations for this review were tempered. However, I was pleased to find that the Ear (stick) tips actually sound pretty good.
Nothing uses dual 12.6mm drivers to connect your device for sound and Bluetooth 5.2. After putting them in my ears and pairing them to my phone, I quickly played tunes like Florida Georgia Line’s “Life” and Brantley Gilbert’s “Little Piece of Heaven.” Both are country songs, and they share a similar acoustic rock star aesthetic that comes to life in a pleasing way by ear (rod). I also listened to a lot of other songs—my favorite track on the two test headphones was “Shook Ones, Pt.” Mobb Deep’s “II” and George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” – Know all about how these buds perform, and the experience is consistent. It’s balanced, wide and musical.
I also love listening to podcasts on these buds. They render vocal-heavy recordings with great clarity and detail, and you even get some nice low-end to round out the sound profile.
The Earbuds (stick-shaped) are from a lesser-known company and cost a little less, but they don’t sound as good as Apple’s AirPods or Samsung’s Galaxy Buds 2. But that’s easily forgiven, as few new brands make earbuds that sound as solid as these — especially for the price.
Great design and unique charging case
If you like to stand out, Ear (stick) earplugs are for you. The buds come in a box reminiscent of those designed for lipsticks. You open them by twisting until the opening of the case is over the earbuds, which triggers the buds to connect to your phone. It’s a very unique design and I’m a fan of it.
The earbuds themselves are translucent, like the Ear (1) earbuds, with clear plastic on the outside and an accent color covering the inside. They look super cool and futuristic, and the sound they make when you put them in your ears adds to the beauty.
I’m happy with how long the Earbuds last on a full charge. Nothing advertises seven hours of listening, and I found that to be mostly true. A few times they died before the seventh hour struck, but they were generally reliable. For context, that’s about an hour longer than most other earbuds, like Apple’s AirPods and Samsung’s Galaxy Buds 2.
The clear case offers a little more than three extra charges, so you get about 29 hours of listening time in total. They offer fast charging via USB-C — 10 minutes plugged in is enough to last just under two hours — but you won’t find any wireless charging here. That’s okay, in my opinion, because their unique design really doesn’t give them a place to put a Qi charging coil.
Easy-to-use companion app on Android and iOS
The app paired with the Ear (stick) is simple and easy to use. It’s available for both Android and iOS, so you get the same experience on both platforms, making everything from setting up your headphones to adjusting EQ settings a breeze. You can also customize the touch controls if you have your own way of using the earbuds.
I’ve tested a lot of earbuds this year, and nearly every pair I’ve tried has some form of active noise cancellation. So when I got the Ear (stick) tips, I was very disappointed to find that they didn’t come with them.
You might not think having ANC on your earbuds is a big deal, but when you’re using a pair of headphones, Do Include it and you can never go back. I am sitting in a local cafe writing this review on a particularly busy day. I turn on the earbuds (the sticks) to listen to podcasts, but I can’t hear anything I’m playing at all because of the background noise. I immediately switched to AirPods Pro with ANC, and it’s a huge improvement.
A few years ago, it was easier to forgive a pair of $99 earbuds for not including ANC, but that’s not the case now. The cheap earbuds market has become competitive and aggressive, with competitors like the Anker Soundcore Space A40 and OnePlus Buds Z2 offering ANC for the same price. At the end of the day, it’s a shame to see nothing drop ANC on the ears (the sticks), especially since previous $99 earbuds(1) had it.
The design isn’t for everyone, and it kills the bass
There’s no denying that Ear (stick-shaped) earplugs look great, but actually wearing them is another matter. They feel loose and poorly optimized to a lot of people’s ears, including mine. The most I can do while wearing these buds is munch on my breakfast – anything stricter will cause them to slide out quickly. The buds try to get rid of the lack of silicon tips by slightly changing the angle of the drivers themselves, but it doesn’t fit snugly into your ear canal in any meaningful way.
The loose fit also results in a loss of sound quality, especially at the low end. While sound quality is generally good, there’s a noticeable lack of bass, which takes away some of the gravitas associated with music and movies. No one says it uses a feature called “bass lock,” which automatically adjusts bass levels when the bass stays in your ears for an extended period of time, but I don’t know if it actually helps.
Because the ear (stick) tips tend to slip out of your ears, you have to adjust them often, which I found resulted in a lot of unintentional shortcut triggers. You can squeeze the sound of the buds to do things like play music, adjust the volume, or activate the voice assistant. It’s very convenient in concept, but since the earbuds are so sensitive, I found that I got far more false touches than I’ve tried with other earbuds.
The Nothing Ear (Stick) offers nothing revolutionary in the earbud market. They sound good, have decent battery life, and are reasonably priced at $99. But with a lack of ANC, good bass, and a solid fit, they’re a bit of a tough sell, especially since the barrier to entry for headphones with ANC is around $30 higher. The Galaxy Buds 2, Jabra Elite 4 Active, and OnePlus Buds Z2 all offer a similar experience, but at a higher price, and all include ANC.
Regardless, if you’re looking for a decent, affordable set of earbuds that look a little different from the competition, I think you’ll like the Ear (stick) earbuds. Just be aware of what you’re getting yourself into.