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Monday, March 20, 2023

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Nothing ear test (1): much ado about nothing?

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The Nothing ear (1) in brief:

  • Nothing promises to revolutionize consumer audio
  • The ear (1) cost 99 €
  • Its design is transparent
  • Autonomy is too tight

Nothing is therefore the first brand of the post-OnePlus era for Carl Pei, co-founder of the smartphone troublemaker. Joined by a good part of his followers, the young CEO has therefore turned to another equally competitive industry: audio.

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As usual, Carl Pei promises not to do anything like the others. Nothing is therefore not yet another player in the sound market but a brand determined to revolutionize the sector.

To bring down Apple, Sony, Sennheiser and others, Nothing launched this summer the ear (1), wireless headphones whose intensity of teasing is matched only by the originality of their design. All transparent ear (1) promise a unique sound experience on the market. All for 99 €, which is half the price of Apple’s AirPods Pro.

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To say that the bet is bold would be an understatement. But let’s admit. So we took Nothing’s promises to the letter and tested the ear (1) for several weeks (even months). And we didn’t make the trip for nothing.

Price and availability of Nothing ear (1)

Nothing ear (1) are already available at a price of 99 euros. They are positioned as an affordable alternative to AirPods Pro, Sony WF-1000XM4 or the latest Sennheiser CX Plus.

In this price range, they will have to rub shoulders with Huawei’s Freebuds 4i or OPPO’s Enco Free 2, two pairs of very convincing headphones at a reduced price. The match of good techno-price ratio looks promising.

A unique design, all in transparency

Difficult to miss the ear (1). In a market where all wireless headphones are alike, Nothing is doing well with a design that is both retro and futuristic.

This strong personality, the headphones derive from their transparent appearance, from the case to the stem. The designers add a few touches of color: white for the end caps and the inside of the case, black at the level of the stem and red in small touches. We love it or we hate it. Either way, this look will not leave anyone indifferent.

Beyond aesthetics, this transparency brings a definite advantage: you can see the headphones through their box. What reassure at a glance the little heads who tend to lose them. The format of the case is also interesting. No more compact than the others, it takes a square shape (with rounded corners) and flat. Arranged flat, the headphones are more easily grasped which again avoids improper handling and falls into sewer openings.

Nothing can do miracles when it comes to selling its headphones at rock bottom prices. This daring design makes it possible to camouflage the absence of noble materials. Like all their competitors, the ear (1) are therefore dressed in plastic.

This material has the advantage of being light, which will delight sports fans. Because yes, the tips provided ensure a good fit to the ear even for the practice of dynamic sports such as running or basketball. Their IPX4 certification As a bonus, they are resistant to water, splashes or sweat.

For the rest, Nothing recites its classics. The earphone rods allow you to control music, volume or even noise reduction. The set is also customizable in the companion application.

In summary, if Nothing ear (1) has a major point of differentiation on the market, it is their design. Because for the rest, the expected revolution is not there (we will come back to this).

L’application ear(1)

Every good pair of wireless headphones today comes with its application. Simply called “ear (1)”, Nothing’s is part of what we already know.

If its interface incorporates the aesthetic codes of the headphones, the ear (1) app does not stand out from the competition. On the contrary, it is even a bit less rich in functionality.

Among the customization options, we find the management of noise reduction with, for each of the two modes (noise cancellation, transparency), a setting on two levels (light or maximum) to adjust the intensity of the effect.

The app also gives access to four listening modes (Balanced, More treble, More bass, Vocals) gathered in the “Equalizer” section. Alas, it lacks a completely customizable equalizer to really satisfy lovers of good sound.

At last, the ear (1) application allows you to adjust some parameters of use. For example, you can deactivate the automatic detection of headphones or access the “locate my headphones” function in the event of loss.

It is also possible to customize the touch functions by changing the action corresponding to each gesture (for example double tap to go to the next song).

Flat foot, safety

Revolutionizing consumer audio involves taking risks. Big risks even. This is exactly what Nothing did not do with these ear (1). Behind a well-honed marketing discourse ultimately hides a fairly ordinary pair of headphones for this price.

If Nothing’s teams were playing football, they would have adopted the “flat-foot, safety” strategy. In other words, the brand has opted for a sound signature that could not be wiser.

Thereby, the ear (1) are neither extraordinary nor bad. The level of detail is even quite good, the dynamics quite broad and the general balance very correct. The ear (1) even diffuse slightly more pronounced bass to give a little more punch to the whole.

The mediums turn out to be very decent, enough to satisfy podcast fans. The highs remain well controlled even at high volume. We just detected a very slight distortion with some titles.

Most nothing really allows ear (1) to stand out. The sound delivered even lacks a little roundness and warmth to bring a little extra soul to the whole.

We would have liked Nothing’s promises to be felt more in the sound quality. The brand will perhaps be more daring with the next version.

Noise reduction: silence, we talk

Despite their engineering prowess, manufacturers have not yet managed to offer wireless headphones for less than 100 euros with impeccable noise reduction. And Nothing will change anything.

Despite great promises, the brand fails to triumph where its competitors have failed. The ear (1) will therefore not be headphones less than 100 euros as effective as AirPods Pro.

Nevertheless, they surprise in many ways. Once the right tips have been chosen (an essential condition) and the reduction has been activated, the bass and midrange cancellation is excellent. Concretely, this is felt a lot in transport, especially the train or the metro.

On the other hand, the ear (1) have trouble detecting the upper mids. This results in difficulty canceling the sound of voices. Thus, in transport, we can hear the voice of a passenger a few meters away while the noise of the rails is well attenuated.

Note also that in crowded places, ear (1) have difficulty processing all the information. Thus, in a station, a park or a bar, noise reduction does not reach the level of references in this area, including in this price range. So there is still some work for engineers to improve this point.

Nothing is more convincing in the management of the mode Transparent. If they do not reach the level of AirPods Pro, the ear (1) do not have to be ashamed and even come up against some competitors whose models are marketed between 150 and 200 euros. Not bad.

It blows!

Among Nothing’s many promises, that of clear and distinct conversations was among the most interesting. Once again, perhaps the builder should have twirled his tongue in his mouth several times.

On paper, the surrounding noise reduction technology sounded exciting. In theory, the ear (1) are able to analyze ambient noises and “erase” them to give the first to your voice to the delight of your interlocutors.

In practice, the technology works mainly in closed and low-noise environments. Basically, at home. And for everything to work well, the ambient sounds must emit different frequencies than your voice. For example, if a background of music is playing in your house, your voice will also be subdued.

On the other hand, surrounding noise reduction works well with noise that is shorter and emits higher or lower pitch than your voice: running water, a slamming door, a notification from the phone, etc.

In any case, do not hope to beat the blast of the wind, even light, as the brand promises. You will systematically take the smartphone out of your pocket to stick it to your ear.

A little too tight autonomy

If there is one criterion on which Nothing has sold a dream, it is that of autonomy. And he did well, because its earphones (1), equipped with 31 mAh batteries, are positioned in the low average of the market. Allow a little more than 4 hours of listening with active noise reduction and an hour more without the ANC. Not crazy.

We will therefore console ourselves with the case (570 mAh battery) capable of recharging the headphones up to five times, thus bringing the autonomy to about twenty hours.

We will also console ourselves with the recharging system, rather fast since the ear (1) recover nearly 80% of the battery in 30 minutes. It will take almost 1h30 for a full charge against the 1h10 announced by the manufacturer.

On the other hand, the ear (1) are compatible with Qi wireless charging, a little extra for a pair of headphones at this price

Our opinion on Nothing ear (1)

We know the know-how of the faithful of Carl Pei to create the hype. After OnePlus, the arrival of Nothing’s first product was therefore eagerly awaited by fans of this tech troublemaker. Unfortunately, the ear (1) have the effect of a wet firecracker.

Apart from their definitely attractive and daring design, the ear (1) do not really stand out from the competition. Far from being bad, they are good (audio quality, noise reduction, recharging) or even average (autonomy, microphone, companion application) in most of the selection criteria. But never extraordinary.

We can therefore recommend them without batting an eyelid, especially for those looking for good headphones with an original design. But the revolution promised by Nothing is clearly not here. Much ado about nothing after all.

Nothing ear(1)

Design and finishes


Noise reduction


Autonomy and recharging


Techno-price ratio


WE love

  • Very original transparent design
  • Good overall sound quality
  • Good bass reduction
  • Fast and wireless charging
  • Affordable price

We like less

  • Perfectible sound quality (more daring!)
  • Noise reduction to be reworked (midrange and treble)
  • Autonomy too tight
  • Lack of functions in the companion app
  • Not live up to the promises

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