Nothing In-Ear (rod) review: A unique pair of headphones for $99

We’ve been testing the Nothing Ear (stick) wireless earbuds for over a week, and we’ve got some thoughts on these $99 futuristic earbuds.

If you’ve never heard of Nothing, you’re not alone. It’s a fairly new name for the tech world, but it’s led by one of the industry veterans: Carl Pei, co-founder of OnePlus. The primary goal of nothing lately is to make quality products with stylish designs at affordable prices, and Ear (stick) headphones are the latest example of this.

Nothing’s Ear (1), which costs $149, is a more affordable alternative to headphones. The ear (rod) is $50 cheaper and offers a good balance of features, but is it worth your money? Let’s find out.

A good, unique pair of $99 buds

If you’re looking for an affordable headset that will stand out from the crowd, the Nothing Ear (stick) is for you. Just keep in mind that it lacks the active noise canceling feature you’ll find in many similarly priced competitors.

Surprisingly good sound quality for music and podcasts

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Considering that Nothing is a relatively new company with little experience in the headphone market, my expectations were somewhat suppressed when entering this review. However, I was delighted to see that the In-Ear (stick) earbuds actually sound pretty good.

Nothing uses twin 12.6mm drivers for audio and Bluetooth 5.2 to connect to your devices. After putting them on my ear and pairing them with my phone, I immediately turned on some tunes like Florida Georgia Line’s “Life” and Brantley Gilbert’s “Little Piece of Heaven”. Since they’re both country songs, they share a similar acoustic-rock-star aesthetic, beautifully brought to life by The Ear (stick). I also listened to a lot of other songs—my two favorite tracks to test the headphones are “Shook Ones, Pt. II” and “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison—to get full coverage of how well these buds perform and experience consistently. It was well-balanced, wide and enjoyable to listen to.

I also enjoy listening to podcasts on these buds. They deliver vocal-heavy recordings with great clarity and detail, and you even get a good low end to complement the sound profile.

The slightly cheaper Ear (stick) earbuds from a less established company don’t sound as good as Apple’s AirPods or Samsung’s Galaxy Buds 2. as solid as these – especially for the price.

A stunning design and a unique charging case

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If you like to attract attention, Ear (stick) headphones are for you. The buds come in a box reminiscent of a case designed for lipstick. You open the box by twisting it until it is over the earphones, which triggers the earphones to connect to your phone. This is an extremely unique design and I am a fan of it.

The buds themselves are translucent, like the Ear (1) earbuds, with the insides covered in clear plastic and accent colors on the outside. They look super cool and futuristic, and the sound they make when you put them in your ears adds to the aesthetic.

Nothing Ear Bar-1

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I was pleased that the in-ear (stick) earbuds lasted this long on a full charge. Nothing can advertise seven hours of listening, and I’ve found that to be mostly true. There have been a few times when they died before the seventh hour, but they are still generally reliable. For context, that’s about an hour longer than most other earphones can last, like Apple’s AirPods and Samsung’s Galaxy Buds 2.

The transparent case charges a little more than three, so you get about 29 hours of listening time in total. They offer fast charging over USB-C – 10 minutes plugged in is enough for just under two hours – but you won’t find any wireless charging here. I think it’s okay because their unique design doesn’t give them a place to put their Qi charging coil anyway.

Easy-to-use companion app on Android and iOS

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The application that matches the ear (rod) is simple and easy to use. It’s available on both Android and iOS so you get the same experience on both platforms, and everything from setting the buds to adjusting the EQ is a breeze. You can also customize the touch controls if you use the earphones your way.

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I’ve tested a lot of in-ear headphones this year, and nearly every pair I’ve tried has some form of active noise canceling. So when I got the Ear (stick) earphones in my hand, I was very disappointed to see that they didn’t ship with it.

You might think it’s not a big deal to have ANC on your headphones, but as soon as you use a pair to do include it, you can never go back. I sat at a local cafe to write this review and it has been a particularly busy day. I opened the Ear (rod) buds to listen to a podcast and couldn’t hear anything I was playing thanks to the background noise. I immediately switched to my AirPods Pro with ANC and it was a huge improvement.

A few years ago it was easier to forgive a $99 pair of headphones for not including ANC, but that’s not the case these days. The budget headphone market has become very 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 ANC drop in the Ear (on the stick), especially on the Ear(1) buds that cost $99 before.

The design isn’t great for everyone and it kind of kills the bass

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There’s no denying that in-ear (stick) earbuds look great, but actually wearing them is another story. They feel loose and poorly optimized for many people’s ears, including mine. The most I can do while wearing these buds is to chew on my breakfast – anything more finicky causes them to slide off quickly. The buds try to get rid of the lack of silicone tips by slightly changing the angle of the driver, but fail to hold onto your ear canal in any meaningful way.

The looser fit also resulted in a drop in sound quality, especially on the low end. While sound quality is good overall, there’s a clear lack of bass that takes away some of the heaviness associated with music and movies. There’s nothing saying it uses a feature called “Bass Lock” that automatically adjusts bass levels as you sit in your ears for a long time, but I couldn’t tell if that actually helped.

Nothing Ear Bar-9

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Since ear (stick) earbuds tend to slip out of your ears, you need to adjust them quite often, which leads to a lot of unintentional shortcut triggers. You can squeeze the stems of the buds to do things like play music, adjust the volume, or activate the voice assistant. It’s incredibly useful in concept, but due to how sensitive the earphones are, I’ve found that I get a lot more false taps than any other earphone I’ve tried.

Nothing Ear Bar-11

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Nothing Ear (bar) offers nothing revolutionary in the headphone market. They sound good, offer ample battery life, and are priced at a reasonable $99. But with the lack of ANC, good bass and a reliable fit, they’re a little hard to sell, especially since the entry barrier for buds with ANC is about $30 more. The Galaxy Buds 2, Jabra Elite 4 Active and OnePlus Buds Z2 offer similar experiences for a little more money and all come with ANC.

Regardless, if you’re looking for a decent, affordable set of headphones that look a little different from the competition, I think you’ll like the In-Ear (stick) headphones. Just be aware of what you’re getting yourself into.

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