The wireless earphone market is pretty crowded and there are a lot of powerful competitors. One of the more exciting propositions recently landing in the market is the Nothing Ear (stick). Not because it’s exceptionally high spec but some of the design ideas are a bit novel and I’ve had them in my bag over the Christmas period for a bit of testing.
At AU$179.00 they’re far from the most expensive out there, but they’re also not cheap and cheerful. At that price I’d expect them to last, I’d expect them to perform and I’d expect them to be a decent investment for me.
Design and Fit
Let’s look at the design first and they’re — if you’ve followed the company since Carl Pei left OnePlus — really sticking with the already established pattern of Nothing to provide good value, great looking devices. The look of the Nothing Ear (stick) is really cool with transparent plastics giving you a look at the internals of them and clearly designed to catch people’s eye.
We’ve mentioned in reviews of other earbuds that fit can make or break earbuds because it has a direct bearing on the resulting sound. In this case, the fit seemed to either be slightly off for almost everyone who has tried my review unit out; but I think I know why.
We’ve been conditioned to expect earbuds to almost wedge into our ears, forming a seal allowing the simulated bass to actually pack some punch. These are designed to sit in your ears and, even if you want them to, they’re not for exercise use because they will fall out. Perhaps for anyone who’s thinking about trying a pair, the problem is they’re not a customisable fit. Other brands have changeable ear tips that suit different ear shapes and sizes, and these take a “one size fits most” approach.
I found they just sat reasonably comfortably in my ear, without needing to be jammed into my ear canal for a tight fit and to ensure bass can be delivered. They’re really lightweight and even for extended periods of listening/calls I was happy to have them in my ears but because of the loose fit, I wouldn’t want to be running for a bus, and definitely not doing a cardio workout at the gym with them in.
The carry case too isn’t adhering to the norm with the presentation being more akin to lipstick with a twist-action to access the earbuds. Personally, I didn’t feel this was comfortable carrying in my pocket, particularly in comparison to the Huawei Freebuds Pro 2 which fit in the coin pocket of my jeans. As you can, perhaps should expect in the current day and age, the charging for the case is via USB-C.
There are definitely some interesting design decisions that have been made here. I’m not averse to newcomers rocking the boat and, as a starting point, I believe Nothing is doing something worthwhile.
The app, controls and audio
Let’s start with the app because it’s where you’re guided as part of the initial setup. Like so many others on the market, the setup is really quick and simple by installing the app, turning on (twisting the case to an open position) the earbuds and following the on-screen instructions. The first impression of the app is that the software is, while minimalistic, pretty well polished and user friendly.
It’s a fairly common feature on earphones these days, but I really like the in-ear detection which pauses and starts playback when you remove or replace an earbud. I find this particularly useful when I’m working in the office and a colleague comes to me for a chat about something, I don’t have to miss out on my chosen music for the day.
Within the app, you can quickly and easily — among other functions — change the controls on the earbuds. I’ve found the defaults to be pretty easy to understand and get along with though, even with the left and right earbuds offering different functionality.
The default controls are:
- Right Ear: Double Pinch – Skip Forward/Decline Call
- Right Ear: Triple Pinch – Skip backwards
- Right Ear: Pinch and Hold – Volume Up
- Left Ear: Double Pinch – Skip Forward/Decline Call
- Left Ear: Triple Pinch – Skip Backward
- Left Ear: Pinch and Hold – Volume Down
By default, both ears play or pause playback or answer, and hang up calls with a single pinch.
Sound and Battery
I’ve not held back in the past when talking about in-ear versus on or over-ear audio. I’m not generally a big fan of in-ear for the comfort and reduced audio performance. There are plenty of users who are more than happy with their earbuds, the comfort, mobility and audio quality are more than enough for their needs.
Now I’ve told you all the reasons to expect a bad audio experience, I’m going to tell you I was actually impressed with them. Within the app, there are a few adjustment options that mean you can build a sound mix that suits your ears and your listening preferences.
For me, this means calls, podcasts and plenty of music from orchestral scores through to heavy metal, including some of my favourites like Lamb of God, Slipknot and Killswitch Engage. Right across that broad listening, the Nothing Ear (stick) are quite capable of delivering good audio.
What actually surprised and impressed me was the balance of the audio. From low volume through to high, there’s a really good balance across the audio frequencies. If you turn it up, you’ll be a bit of punch from the bass, while the vocals remain clear and highs don’t lose clarity; with clean audio reproduction. As earlier mentioned, you can balance this to your preference too through the app using either pre-set options or customising the EQ to your listening preference.
I’ve also been surprised by the battery life, which isn’t exactly class-leading, but the Ear (stick) also isn’t bank-breaking. The battery life you’ll get here is more than enough for a full day of listening — approximately 6 to 7 hours — and calls at work; then with a little top-up of power at some stage to get you home on your commute.
You’ll easily get a couple of days on a single charge because the case holds enough charge to refill the earbuds about two and a half times from very low battery levels. Or, if you’re choosing to top up while you’re at lunch and overnight, it got me through about four full days at work without needing to charge the case.
Should you buy them?
The biggest detractors for some potential buyers are the lack of ANC and the fit. For a lot of users, that won’t be an issue but particularly for commuters who want to disconnect during that time; it’s a deal breaker.
The fit isn’t going to be for everyone and if you’re really active, these are really not for you. They are comfortable but they’re not going to stay put on a 5km treadmill run.
Moving on slightly, the case isn’t as sleek as some others on the market. It does, however, stay true to the design aesthetic that Nothing has set up for. You can see through the case (and sections of the earbuds), like you can with the Nothing Phone (1) and, presumably, future products.
All of that said though; there are a number of good reasons to consider buying a pair. Let’s start with how lightweight the individual earbuds are, which contributed greatly to the comfort level over long periods of time.
The battery life will get you through a full day, and combined with the comfort and great sound; you’ve got a great reason for
For something as reasonably priced as these if you don’t need the ANC and are happy with the aesthetics and chunkier feel of the case, then they’re very much worth looking at. At AU$179.00 they’re reasonably priced for what you’re getting, but perhaps in an awkward space where for a bit more money you can get noticeably more from your purchase.
The look isn’t for everyone and some won’t appreciate the lack of ANC, but for daily use, they’re pretty comfortable and pack more than reasonable sound for the price you pay. If you’re in a spending mood, then you can pick up a pair of the Nothing Ear (stick) from the Nothing site for the aforementioned $179.00
Due to hygiene reasons in COVID times, the device has not been requested for return.