Gadgets & apps

This article was published on March 3, 2022

The OnePlus Buds Z2 is a $99 ANC champ

Gives the Nothing Ear 1 a run for its money


The OnePlus Buds Z2 is a $99 ANC champ
Ivan Mehta
Story by

Ivan Mehta

Ivan covers Big Tech, India, policy, AI, security, platforms, and apps for TNW. That's one heck of a mixed bag. He likes to say "Bleh." Ivan covers Big Tech, India, policy, AI, security, platforms, and apps for TNW. That's one heck of a mixed bag. He likes to say "Bleh."

OnePlus released its first set of wireless earbuds in 2020. They were cute, pocket-friendly, and sounded good for its price. But they weren’t exactly a home run.

In 2021, it released the $50 budget OnePlus Buds Z and $150 OnePlus Buds Pro with ANC (Active Noise Canceling). This year, the company has cracked a reasonable compromise between those two, with the $99 OnePlus Buds Z2.

I’ve been using these wireless buds for the last few weeks, and I can safely say that it’s the best ANC you can get at this price point.

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Before we talk more about how it compares to other truly wireless earphones in the same class, let’s take a look at its specifications.

OnePlus Buds Z2 Specifications
Sound drivers11mm dynamic drivers
Earbuds weight4.6grams
Charging case weight42grams
Noise cancelation40db
Earbuds playback with ANC ON/OFF Up to 5 hours/7 hours
Total playback with with ANC ON/OFF Up to 27 hours/38 hours
Bluetooth version5.2
Codec supportAAC, SBC
Weather resistanceIP55 (water and dust resistance)

How does the Buds Z2 compare with its siblings?

If you just look at the specifications of the Buds Z2 and the Buds Pro, you’ll find a few similarities: 11mm drivers, 40dB noise cancelation, and IP55 rating. However, the new Buds Z2’s drivers feel cheaper and are tuned for more emphasis on bass.

OnePlus Buds Pro
The OnePlus Buds Pro offered great sound and fantastic ANC at $150.

The support for higher-end wireless codecs, like AptX, is missing in the Z2. And on the hardware front, the Buds Pro have a unique control mechanism on the stems for media control, while the Z2 rely on good old touch/tap-based controls.

When you compare them with the older Buds Z, there’s a lot of improvement in the drivers, Bluetooth connectivity, and the charging case’s battery life. And of course, there’s ANC. All that adds up to a meaningful update.

How does it compare with the competition?

OnePlus launched this product with a clear objective of giving the Nothing Ear 1 (and maybe the Google Pixel Buds A) a run for its money. The ex-OnePlus CEO’s design-focused buds offered ANC at an intriguing $99 price point.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: Yes, the OnePlus Buds Z2 are better at noise cancelation than the Nothing Ear 1 buds. It has just two ANC modes, but you’ll be able to block out noise such as fans and traffic outside your home.

However, the Nothing Ear 1 takes the design crown with its transparent buds. They also are a better fit for my ear. I found it strange, given the Buds Z2’s design is identical to the buds of the OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2 — a neckband I love a lot.

The Nothing Ear 1’s charging case is not pocket friendly, it’s gathered a lot of scratches over time, and its transparent design accentuates them. On the other hand, the OnePlus Z2’s pill-shaped case is unremarkable, but functional and fuss-free.

Scratches on the Nothing Ear 1's case after a few months of usage are visible.
Scratches on the Nothing Ear 1’s case after a few months of usage are visible.

When it comes to sound, the Nothing Ear 1 buds are tuned for a flatter, more balanced sound, as compared to the OnePlus Buds Z2’s bass-heavy output. For example, when listening to ‘I wanna get lost with you’ by Stererophonics, the drums are more prominent with Buds Z2, and the vocals sound better with the Ear 1.

The Buds Z2 makes listening to treble unbearable sometimes; I wouldn’t dream of listening to hard rock or metal records with these buds.

Personally, I like the Ear 1’s sound better when it comes to handling slightly more complex songs with several instruments. But if you’re into pop and electronic music, you’ll probably like the Z2 more.

The OnePlus Buds Z2’s design is unremarkable, but functional.

OnePlus claims that the Z2 buds have Dolby Atmos support. But that relies entirely on the phone rather than the buds. You can enable Atmos for a better surround-sound experience regardless of what wireless earphones you’re using. Enabling this setting makes a slight difference in making the sound better in compatible apps like Apple Music.

I didn’t face any connectivity issues while using the OnePlus Buds Z2, but the Nothing Ear 1 is a different story. Those earbuds were quite buggy at launch, and a few software updates have made the wireless connection a bit more reliable. However, it’s still not a seamless experience like you’d want from wireless buds.

When it comes to media controls, I’m not a big fan of touch-based gestures, as my success rate tends to fluctuate from one model to another. For instance, the Z2 are much more reliable than the Ear 1. But there are other buds like the Pixel Buds A, that you’ll be more accurate with, simply because there’s a larger surface area for your fingers to tap.

The Pixel Buds A offer more tappable area with its circular design
The Pixel Buds A offer a larger tappable area with its circular design.

And that’s the segue I was looking for to talk about Google’s $99 offering. I didn’t address it as much because it doesn’t offer any noise cancelation. But they’re compact, and offer great sound. So don’t count them out if you can get your hands on them.

Who’s it for?

The OnePlus Buds Z2 lies at the sweet spot of $99, where you don’t have to think too much about overspending on earbuds. It brings strong ANC, improves vastly from its predecessor, and gives its main competitor a run for its money.

What’s more, in India, the Z2 are priced at ₹4,999 — ₹2,000 cheaper than the Nothing Ear 1, and that may sway the decision in its favor in this price-sensitive market.

If you own a OnePlus phone — or plan to buy one — the Buds Z2 could a good choice because it offers low-latency gaming mode and no-app management with the company’s own devices.

These new buds make for a  smart, inexpensive audio purchase you could use to take calls, drown out the noise around you, and listen to podcasts and music for the odd commute. What more could you ask for at this price?

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