Nothing is a London based tech company with big plans – and the Nothing Ear 1 earbuds are just the beginning of the story.
The company was started by former OnePlus CEO Carl Pei, has recently announced a smartphone, and there’s rumors of an inbound smartwatch too.
Its Nothing Ear 1 earbuds are certainly a statement of intent. A bold design and attractive $99/£99 price tag will turn heads. But are they any good? We took them for a spin to find out.
Nothing Ear 1 key features:
- 4.7g per bud
- 4 hours listening time with ANC (24 hours with case)
- 11.6mm driver
- IPX4 splash resistant design
- Active Noise Cancellation
- Price: $99/£99 | Amazon, Nothing
Build and comfort
First off the bat, we love the design of the Nothing Ear 1.
The skeletal stalks expose some of the technology inside, with a black and transparent plastic casing and a red dot that marks the spot for quickly slotting the right earbud into the corresponding spot in the case. It’s bold, and different.
And it’s not just aesthetics. The case (also transparent) is small and easy to pocket – albeit slightly larger and less rounded than an AirPods Pro case.
The buds themselves weigh in at just 4.7g each, and are slim and small. They mimic the shape of the AirPods Pro, and feel weightless in the ear, and use a silicone bud for a tight fit. For earbuds in this price point, they’re one of the lightest and minimalist we’ve tested.
For comfort and fit, we’d recommend the Nothing Ear 1 to people over the AirPods Gen 3 with their moulded plastic construction – although if you’re an Apple Music listener looking to get on-board with Spatial Audio then the choice becomes more difficult as the Ear 1's don't support high-res audio.
Despite their size, the Nothing Ear 1 still manage to pack IPX4 splash resistance, so you can workout without fear of sweat or rain taking its toll.
The stalks are enabled for touch control, and you can do a surprising amount from such a small area.
Those controls include:
- Long hold – ANC toggle on/off
- Tripe tap – skip track
- Double tap – start/stop
- Swipe up and down – change volume
There is a slight learning curve when using the on-ear controls, and it takes some getting used to – and at the beginning we found registering presses more than a little hit-and-miss.
And sliding your finger up or down for volume is extremely useful, but a little frustrating to use even with practice.
We’d prefer the area to be on the inside of the stalk rather than the flat outside edge, which felt a little unnatural to find with your finger.
Active Noise Cancellation
Despite the low cost and small build you do get active noise cancellation (ANC) on the Nothing Ear 1.
The ANC isn’t as powerful or pronounced you’ll find on the AirPods Pro, which creates a vacuum like feel even when no music is playing. On the Ear 1 it’s effective at cutting out public transport hum and traffic – or the typing of workmates in the office, but it’s not as isolating as many rivals.
Likewise, the pass-through microphones are just as subtle.They don't exactly pipe in every part of the world around you, but allow for a level of awareness of your surroundings, or hear an approaching car. It's a useful feature when listening for announcements on public transport or out for a run and want to avoid getting run down.
For the $99/£99 price, the Nothing Ear 1 sound good, and can be easily recommended.
The 11.6mm driver produces well balanced sound with enough bass when required. There’s no support for aptX high res audio, which is no surprise as these are not audiophile headphones, nor are they priced as such.
Separation of sound could be better, things sound a little thin compared to the best in the business – and there’s just a lack of richness thoughout the experience.
That richness is something we’ve become accustomed to using rivals such as the AirPods Pro and Powerbeats Pro – but the obvious admission is that those alternatives cost at least twice the price of the Nothing 1.
There are four EQ settings in the Nothing app, and you can choose Balance, More Treble, More Bass and simply Voice, which isolates vocals completely and could be useful for listening back to interviews or podcasts. There’s nothing subtle about the all-or-nothing EQ settings, and anything other than Balanced pushed audio quality into absurd areas.
In summary those looking for the best sound should look elsewhere, but the Nothing Ear 1 offers plenty to like when out for a run or on your commute.
We were impressed by the battery life of the Nothing Ear 1 with 4 hours of ANC playback, which will rise to 24 hours of playback with charging from the case. That was certainly borne out in our testing.
You get six full charges out of the case, and there’s a status light on the case that flicks from green to orange when you’re getting low. What’s more, 10 mins of charge time will offer 8 hours of playback from the case.
The case charges by USB-C, but also Qi wireless charging which is handy.
- Great price
- Small and light
- Middling sound quality