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This article was published on August 23, 2021

Review: The OnePlus Buds Pro are legit AirPods Pro competitors for $150

OnePlus gets most of the basics right

Review: The OnePlus Buds Pro are legit AirPods Pro competitors for $150
Napier Lopez
Story by

Napier Lopez


Napier Lopez is a writer based in New York City. He's interested in all things tech, science, and photography related, and likes to yo-yo in Napier Lopez is a writer based in New York City. He's interested in all things tech, science, and photography related, and likes to yo-yo in his free time. Follow him on Twitter.

I haven’t been a huge fan of OnePlus’ various earbuds so far. They’ve either been uncomfortable, had poor controls, or didn’t sound that great. The one thing they’ve always had going for them is a low price tag.

The OnePlus Buds Pro, the company’s first model with noise-canceling — which are clearly ‘inspired’ by the AirPods Pro — finally get it right. Well, mostly. But at $150, it’s hard to fault them.

They’re pretty comfortable

The OnePlus Buds Pro are shaped a lot like the AirPods Pro, with their angled, oval ear tips and a long stem. Also like the AirPods Pro, the OnePlus Buds Pro aren’t trying to create the deepest, tightest seal, instead of focusing on providing an inoffensive fit that should work for most people. Active noise canceling (ANC) is on board, after all, so attenuating sound by passive means isn’t of paramount importance.

OnePlus Buds Pro in white
The Buds come in white too

I’ve been using in-ear monitors (IEMs) for years, so I do personally tend to prefer something with a more secure fit that goes deeper into the ear canal, but the OnePlus Buds Pro should be comfortable for most people who think silicone-tipped earbuds are like having plungers in your ears.

I also appreciate that the case is quite compact despite the earbuds themselves being on the larger end of the spectrum. It’s thin too, so it won’t give you a huge lump in your pocket.

The controls are reliable

Also much like the AirPods Pro, the OnePlus Buds operate via squeezing the stem, rather than the usual taps or pressing a button. Although it feels a little awkward and slow at first, I appreciate that this system helps avoid accidental touches. It also means the earbuds won’t randomly activate if they get splashed by some water or sweat.

Otherwise, the controls are pretty basic:

  • Squeeze once to play/pause
  • Squeeze twice to skip forward
  • Squeeze thrice to skip back
  • Squeeze and hold for one second to switch between ANC On, ANC Off, and Transparency Modes
  • Squeeze for three seconds to enter the ‘Zen Mode Air’ White noise mode (more on this later)

Mercifully, by default the controls are completely accessible with both earbuds, so you still have full access to controls when using just one bud. This is much appreciated as someone who often uses just one earbud when riding my bike (transparency mode isn’t useful when on my bike due to wind noise).

The elephant in the room is the lack of volume control, which you’ll have to do through your phone. This isn’t the biggest deal for me, but it’s not ideal.

Noise-canceling is decent

Long story short: The OnePlus Buds won’t blanket you in silence if you’ve used any high-end noise-canceling products like the Sony WF-1000XM3 or the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, but they’re better than most.

They attenuate some lower mid and bass frequencies but don’t reduce higher frequencies all that much, so they’re not going to be great for, say, reducing chatter in a crowded restaurant, or especially for quieting individual voices.

OnePlus Buds Pro

They’ll probably quiet the hum of an airplane engine, but not the baby crying in the next aisle. The headphones come with a ‘smart’ noise-canceling mode, but I just ended up turning it up to the max.

Your best bet to improve isolation further would be to get a stronger passive seal, so you might want to invest in some foam ear tips if noise cancellation is a priority, although the large air vents probably mean they’ll never be kings of noise reduction. Still, some cancelation is better than none, and as someone who doesn’t consider ANC a priority, I could live with the meager attenuation.

They sound fantastic

Perhaps the biggest surprise for this review was just how good the OnePlus Buds sounded. They sound fantastic. Frankly, they sound better than almost any wireless earbuds I’ve tested, whether aimed at audiophiles or not. To my ear, they flat out sound better than Sony’s much more expensive WF-1000XM4 out of the box.

The bass thumps, the highs are clear, the mids are largely free of coloration. They even have a surprisingly decent soundstage for earbuds too, likely aided by the vented design which prevents the pressure you get with bass notes on some IEMs.

I won’t share the headphone measurements I captured as I’m currently reworking my setup, but based on the data and comparisons with other earbuds, the OnePlus Buds Pro seems to track the Harman Curve pretty closely, with perhaps a bit of extra brightness around vocals and brass.

OnePlus Buds Pro
Credit: OnePlus

The Harman Curve is a research-backed target response for headphones that yields a response most people consider to be neutral and engaging — with tonality similar to a pair of good speakers in a room. It may not be the ideal response for everyone, but it’s a great bet for most listeners.

More importantly, if you know you like/hate the Harman Curve’s sound, you’ll know whether these headphones are for you.

The headphones connect via SBC (bad sound quality), AAC (good sound quality), or LDHC (great sound quality, but few phones support it). To be clear, LDHC is not the same as LDAC, the latter being a high-quality Sony technology built into every modern Android phone. OnePlus phones are some of the very few phones I’m aware of with LDHC in western markets.

That said, most people won’t notice the difference between LDHC and AAC though.

The white noise mode is actually pretty cool

Press and hold the earbud stems for 3 seconds, and you’ll enter ‘Zen Mode Air,’ a white noise mode. There are a few different soundscapes available, but it defaults to a forest-y type of sound.

I appreciate this feature I often find it easier to focus on certain tasks when listening to white noise as opposed to music. It’s hard for me to not get too invested in the music sometimes; yes I’ve tried working while listening to classical music, but Vivaldi can be as much of a headbanger as Metallica.

Some extra goodies

This is where I put the stuff I didn’t know where else to fit:

  • The headphones support low latency mode when connected to OnePlus devices.
  • They also support Dolby Atmos on OnePlus devices for spatial audio. I’m not sure if it works with other Atmos-compatible phones, but the feature doesn’t work on my Pixel 4A (which doesn’t offer any kind of spatial audio).
  • Battery life is rated at up to 38 hours including the extra charges in the case.
  • With OnePlus Warp Charge support, you get 10 hours of playback in a 10-minute charge. Most regular USB-C chargers will top them up pretty fast too.
  • The earbuds case also supports wireless charging.
  • They are IP55 water and dust resistant, so they should survive most rainfall.

They’re missing a few things I want

The headphones definitely aren’t perfect. Aside from the relatively weak noise canceling and lack of volume controls, here are some other things to note:

  • There’s no hotword detection for a voice assistant. I’ve been very spoiled by this on earbuds like the Pixel Buds and Sony WH-1000XM4. It’s great when carrying a bunch of groceries, doing dishes, walking my dog, riding my bike.
  • There actually isn’t a way to even access an assistant from the headphones by default. You can customize the left and right earbud to activate it with a triple squeeze, but then it means you can’t rewind on both earbuds independently.
  • The headphones sound great out of the box, but every headphone should come with EQ in case the sound signature isn’t too your liking. Sometimes a subtle change is all it takes.
  • There are no volume controls.

They’re easy to recommend — especially for OnePlus users

OnePlus Buds Pro

Despite some caveats, the OnePlus Buds Pro are an easy recommendation. They’re comfortable, the controls are mostly sensible, they have active noise canceling, and they have some of the best sound quality I’ve heard from wireless earbuds.

While they might not beat some of the more expensive headphones in terms of features, and the relatively lackluster noise canceling is disappointing, there are also headphones without any noise canceling that sell for more money.

While the earbuds are clearly best for people with OnePlus phones, for everyone else, the OnePlus Buds Pro still get most of the basics right. For $150, they are well worth a listen.

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