Nothing, a company founded in 2009 by Carl Pei (co-founder of OnePlus), has created the Ear 1 wireless earbuds. Tony Fadell has invested in Nothing, as well as GV. They have also the support of influential creators like Casey Neistat. Transparency is the key to this. The Ear 1s have a transparent stem that allows you to see all of their internal components. The unusual charging case has a transparent lid which keeps your buds visible at all times.
Pei said that his motivation for starting Nothing was to create an innovative industry in consumer tech. Pei also felt the market was saturated by similar gadgets. This is something I disagree with. Although AirPods clones are available everywhere, the best earbuds from Samsung, Sony, and Google stand out visually. Pei states that nothing considers itself an audio company. However, the growing market for wireless earbuds seems like a good place where to start. Pei hopes to achieve the same price-to-performance magic as OnePlus in its early days.
The Ear 1s are $99 and offer wireless charging, IPX4 waterproof resist, active noise cancelling, and in-ear detection. These features are half the price of similar products from Nothing. Teenage Engineering, a respected company in audio electronics, has tuned the sound. They will be available worldwide for purchase starting August 17th. You can still order a pair of the devices from Nothing’s website on or before August 17th.
Like all transparent tech, the Ear 1s are beautiful to view up close. You can see the touch sensors, voice and ANC mics on the stem’s outer-facing section. To indicate which ear it is, a dot (right), or a white dot (red) is used. On the side facing your ear, you will find the circuitry and magnets. The pins that connect the earbuds and the charging case are also located on this side.
It’s hard to believe that the startup was so focused on small details (such as polishing magnets), that several manufacturing facilities rejected it. It was also hard to find the glue that would hold the transparent sides of the casing together without leaving behind ugly residues.
The Ear 1s are great looking, but do they look radically different? It’s not something that I can see. If the stem were made from clear glass, these earbuds would look identical to Apple’s AirPods Pro. Although the concept images of the final product were more unusual than those shown in the initial concept, they look almost like normal products with a unique style. This might be enough for some people to purchase them. It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel in order to find comfort. There are three sizes of silicone tips in the box. The Ear 1s had an identical in-ear experience as the AirPods Pro. They are comfortable, fit well and feel light. Sometimes, true wireless buds can become loose in these situations.
The best example of how design can make a difference is the charging case. Listening to John Mayer’s 1980s-inspired Sob Rock, it was clear that Nothing’s earbuds cost a little more than I had expected. The charging case has a square shape with rounded corners. The charging case opens and closes smoothly with satisfying spring tension. It comes with Qi wireless charging as well as a USB-C port for charging wired devices. Although it isn’t as simple as other earbuds this one looks stunning. Magnetic hold is weak and you need to be more careful when laying the earbuds flat than in deep charging cradles. The big dimple at its top keeps the earbuds in place. The case is also fun to hold and turn around. But, I think Nothing could have created something more compact and better. It is clear that the case’s form is far more important than its function and reflects Nothing’s transparent aesthetic. It is not perfect. My review unit already has scratches and it will soon pick up more.
The Ear 1s aren’t as loud as premium models due to their 11.6-millimeter drivers. They don’t sound bad or cheap. Earbud enthusiasts will be aware of some flaws. Sometimes, the high end or treble can seem too bright, especially when listening to acoustic tracks. Listening to John Mayer’s 1980s-inspired Sob Rock, it was clear that Nothing’s earbuds cost a little more than I had expected. They were clear and had a great bass ride underneath all the noise. They lack warmth and detail that earbuds priced between $200-300. In many cases, they’re still pleasant to listen to. This was evident when my iPod switched to Bleachers “Stop Making This Hurt”. Stereo separation was excellent with the Ear 1s. They also sound clear and not muddled.
The companion app for iOS or Android is called Nothing. You can adjust the EQ settings for “more treble”, more bass, and “voice” but cannot control all of them. You might turn on the bass boost occasionally. Teenage Engineering did not say it and wanted a natural sound signature. But don’t confuse that with indifferent or flat. These earbuds can be used with AAC or SBC Bluetooth codescs.
Noise cancellation is… acceptable. It could cancel out the low-frequency hums coming from my local coffee shop when I set it to “max”. However, I did not forget about my surroundings. These ear tips were great for noise isolation. These are the ones I would choose if I could afford the $99 Pixel Buds A-Series. To drown out all the noise around me, I need to crank up the volume. The Amazon Echo Buds 2 is the best in noise cancellation. It’s not surprising, considering this is the first time that the company has attempted to do so. While transparency mode is great, it does not feel the same as the Echo Buds or AirPods Pro. While there are many neat tricks, nothing beats good tricks. You can take one earbud from your ears and the other will switch into transparency mode until you put them back in your ears. When an earbud is removed, they have an auto-pause/resume feature.
Despite having three microphones and algorithms to isolate your voice from background noise, the Ear 1s didn’t work well for voice calling. My voice was muffled in quiet rooms and warbled when I recorded voice memos. My voice was also muffled and warbled when I recorded voice memos.
With ANC on, the Ear 1s can record for up to four hours. The case can hold enough for 24 hours. If you turn off ANC, these numbers increase to 5.7 hours and 34 hours respectively. My testing has shown that the battery estimates for listening time were accurate. Most functions can be controlled by tapping the tap controls. To play/pause or skip ahead, tap twice. If you want to go back to the song, tap three times. Hold to toggle NC modes. Tap again to play/pause. You can adjust the earbuds by moving the stem up and down with a swipe gesture. This method has been proven to be intuitive and reliable.
Nothing is working as the Ear 1s near release. They have occasionally had issues and bugs that I encountered while testing them. My voice was muffled in quiet rooms and warbled when I recorded voice memos. My voice was also muffled and warbled when I recorded voice memos.
I noticed that my earbuds switched between NC and NC mode by themselves.
Android Fast Pair is not yet functional. It doesn’t necessarily mean it will be functional by the time Ear1s ships in mid-August. This review will be updated once that happens.
The LED did not show any charging activity. A recent firmware update seems to have fixed this issue.
My review period was not interrupted by firmware updates. I expect more from Ear 1 buyers when they are made available. These are my impressions, based on the company’s July review embargo. This post will be updated to reflect any changes or improvements made by the Ear 1s when they ship in August.