The Nothing Ear (a) are perhaps the best earbuds under £100

Nothing for (a) reviewSimon Cocks

Since the launch of Nothing’s Ear (1), the brand has been competing within the crowded budget segment of the true wireless earbuds market, where hundreds of rivals are vying for second place behind Apple’s ubiquitous AirPods. But before the Ear (2) came out, the London-based startup had already had to ditch the £99 price tag on its flagship, with the Ear (2) launching at £129.

With the brand’s Community Update and the recently announced refinement of its Nothing earphone range, it now finally has a true successor to the original Ear (1) in a pair of cute earbuds under £100. Nothing ear (a) are small and compact with a stylish transparent design and great sound. Read on for more of my initial thoughts after a week of using it in combination with the minimal Nothing Phone (2).

nothing for a reviewnothing for a review

Simon Cocks

Nothing ear (a): First impressions

In many ways, this is the big overhaul of the Nothing earbud range in 2024, replacing the Ear (Stick) as the “fun and affordable” model in the range. The Nothing Ear(a) has a new charging case for a super compact design, high-resolution audio support and adaptive noise cancellation – all for a great £99 price tag.

As anyone would, I wondered if there was a catch, but after a week of testing I don’t feel like there’s much missing – while I miss wireless charging and some of the clever app-based extras you can to get. get with the new flagship Nothing Ear, these are excellent performers for the price, delivering sound quality, noise cancellation and comfort that rivals the top brands.

Nothing Ear (a): Design and comfort

The Nothing Ear (a) comes in white, black and a new yellow shade that reminds us of Thunderbird 4. Unsurprisingly, they are as big on transparency as any other product from the brand, with a clear lid on the pocket size and clear plastic on the stems to show the inner workings.

It may feel like a significant distinction that this is the brand’s first product to come in a color that isn’t a variation on black or white, but we don’t think this is a big deal, especially considering that many was of red in the Nothing Ear (Stick) design. I tested the new yellow color as you can see, but if you choose the white or the black it’s unlikely you’ll be able to tell the difference between this and other Nothing buds just looking at the earphone unit itself .

The case has a different form factor, but still a robust metal hinge and a satisfying click to close – it lacks wireless charging, as mentioned, but is easy to refuel via the USB-C port on the back. There are a few areas of the case that feel a bit ‘first generation product’ and lack Nothing’s characteristic attention to detail – for example the magnetic closure on the front is off-centre (shown in the image below) , and this plastic feels more sensitive to fingerprints. Not deal breakers, but worth mentioning.

When it comes to the earbuds themselves and comfort, it’s safe to say that these follow the existing Nothing playbook of design which looks and feels a lot like the flagship AirPods Pro in terms of size and weight, just with that added industrial flair. They are super comfortable to wear for hours and have a small design that you won’t notice in your ears. You also get the typical three sizes of eartips. It’s enough for most people, but rivals are now offering a fourth extra-small size, which both this and the Nothing Ear don’t include. Almost full marks for comfort – they are great for me but may not be for everyone.

nothing for a reviewnothing for a review

Simon Cocks

Nothing ear (a): Noise and noise cancellation

I have to say that the audio quality these deliver is impressive. They don’t sound like most £99 in-ear headphones, and offer a balanced, engaging signature that will appeal to most listeners. As with the Ear from Nothing, I find them most convincing once I’ve turned off the “bass enhancement” feature that’s enabled on this one by default – it’s too much bass boost for my taste, and there’s plenty of fullness in the low end without that you need it. Everyone is different, though, and if you appreciate the ability to add a whole lot of thump to your playlists, go for it.

The dynamic driver material on the ear (a) is made of PMI and TPU (so… plastic?) and is not as premium as the ceramic material in the updated ear, but I find it more than good enough to reproduce music without distortion , and these support the LDAC codec if you’re concerned about whether your high-resolution music from Tidal or Qobuz will technically sound the best.

However, the codecs don’t matter as much as the marketing would have you believe: whether you listen to the highest bitrate LDAC supported on Android phones or AAC on iPhones, you probably won’t hear the difference. But these heads are well built and well tuned, and that makes them sound a lot better than most budget-friendly competitors in this category. To our ears they sound a lot like last year’s Nothing Ear (2), which we still rate as top performers in terms of dynamic sound, detail and clarity.

What about active noise cancellation (ANC) and transparency? These have the same ANC strength as the Ear model, and I can’t hear any difference between the two when using them on the busy London Underground and to silence office noise. They’re great performers, but if you want seriously groundbreaking noise cancellation, you’ll have to consider options from Apple, Bose, or Sony instead. The transparency is more of the same, it’s a solid situational awareness mode, but I wouldn’t use it during a call, something you can do with AirPods Pro.

nothing for a reviewnothing for a review

Simon Cocks

Nothing ear (a): Controls and app functions

When it comes to earbud control, there’s nothing stuck on the ear (2) and ear (stick) pinch system. This simple and intuitive approach isn’t too far off from the way the AirPods Pro work, allowing you to squeeze the buttons on the buttons to control playback and switch between ANC and transparency modes. Within the app you can also enable an additional gesture for a “double squeeze and hold”, which we set up to control volume (to decrease volume on the left and increase on the right) – while this works, find I it requires faster squeezing than I’m used to on the AirPods, Nothing Ear (2) and Ear. It’s a little trickier than I’d like, but could possibly be fixed with a firmware update.

Nowadays, app control is essential for earbuds. Even if you just load it up to adjust the sound and make the controls work the way you want, it’s a big help. All of the squeeze controls mentioned above can be adjusted in the Nothing X app, which has a clean and logical interface for personalizing your earbuds.

You can change or set the noise cancellation level to adapt to your environment, and you also get access to low-lag mode (great for gamers), the high-resolution LDAC switch, an earbud fit test and multi-point controls for double connections. It’s shocking how many expensive earbuds still don’t have Bluetooth multipoint, which is a brilliant cross-platform feature for maintaining simultaneous connections and automatically switching to the device playing audio. Maddeningly, leading noise cancelers like the Bose QuietComfort Ultra don’t have this feature.

There are a few notable missing features if you compare this side by side with the Nothing Ear, as I have been. You don’t get a personal sound profile or hearing test and there is only the simple equalizer and no advanced equalizer. But, and be honest with yourself: would you ever use that at all? I found that I didn’t miss the features too much. The sound capabilities of the Ear (a) are similar to those of the Ear, meaning both are competitive with the kind of earbuds aimed at serious audio enthusiasts. They sound fantastic even without any fiddling and adjustments. Believe me, you will be satisfied with this.

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Simon Cocks

Nothing ear (a): Battery life

These are small earbuds compared to a lot of the competition, so I don’t think anyone should be shocked that they aren’t able to squeeze out much extra battery life. They claim they will last only a little bit longer than the Nothing Ear, delivering a battery life of five and a half hours with the ANC turned on. Add the extra battery from the charging case and you have just over 24 hours of playtime. Since most of us don’t leave the earbuds in for a full day, this is enough battery to keep going. It’s also worth knowing that it gets even better with the ANC turned off, up to nine and a half hours with just the earbuds, and 42.5 hours when the case is involved.

I think it’s enough, and it’s competitive with the AirPods Pro, which have a similarly compact form factor. Will it beat other rivals at this price point? No, probably not. If you’re willing to trade the compact design for more battery, you can get a lot more life out of opponents like the Soundcore Liberty 4 NC or JBL Live Pro 2, but we like the combination of the sound, ANC and app features. the small size and cute bubble casing that are so attractive we’d choose it over most of its closest competitors.

nothing for a reviewnothing for a review

Simon Cocks

No judgment whatsoever

If it wasn’t already clear, I think these are fantastic little buds, and I’m amazed they’re going for £99 at launch. The features here put them on par with the Nothing Ear and we don’t think most users will miss the app-based features for audiophiles or wireless charging. Aside from these feature omissions, the Ear (a) looks super similar to the new Ear model and offers the same level of improved noise cancellation, comfort, and much better battery life than the Ear or Ear (2).

Overall, the sound quality these pumps out is much better than what you’d expect from most models going for this price from other brands, and the reliable app delivers connectivity and features that in some cases we’re still waiting for from certain flagships earbuds that cost over £200. The Nothing Ear (a) is fun, compact and affordable, at a reasonable price that makes you feel like everyone else is being overcharged by the big brands.

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