Ameya DalviApr 18, 2023 18:42:04 IST
– Punchy sound output
– 6-band equaliser to tweak the sound further
– Comfortable in-ear fit, good passive noise isolation
– IP55 dust and fluid resistance
– Impressive battery backup, fast charging
– Good call quality
– Average ANC
– No wear detection sensors or volume control on the earbuds
– Bulky charging case, though it looks better than before
Price: Rs 2,999
The first OnePlus Nord Buds was an interesting pair of TWS earbuds that introduced a few firsts from the brand despite being their most affordable then. It had a unique design and was the first time that OnePlus provisioned custom audio presets, a feature that was later added to their more expensive audio products. The sequel has arrived that looks a bit more polished and offers active noise cancellation (ANC) at a similar price point. Time to take a closer look.
OnePlus Nord Buds 2: Design and Comfort (7.5/10)
OnePlus took a different design approach with the first Nord Buds with the unique pill-shaped stems, and they have stuck to that design language here too. In fact, the Nord Buds 2 earbuds have the same shape, just with different colour options and finish. We got the Thunder Gray variant for review and it has a smooth matte finish on the buds and the case. It is a big improvement from the glossy finish of its predecessor that made it look too plasticky.
While the case is smooth to the touch, the finish looks a tad grainy due to the ‘tasteful speckled accents’ that OnePlus has added. Tasteful is a matter of individual taste; I mistook it for dust and tried to clean it in vain. The good part is the charging case is pretty much smudge-free and now has rounded edges all around making it look much better than that of the first Nord Buds. It is marginally smaller and lighter too but still far from pocketable (over an inch in thickness), unless you don’t mind a big bulge in your pocket.
Battery capacity is still the same at 480 mAh, but it promises better backup. A charge indicator LED is located at the front of the case, while a USB-C charging port along with a perfectly camouflaged Bluetooth pairing/reset button are present at the back. The buds are fairly light too at 4.7 grams each. The fit is snug and comfortable, and they don’t pop out of the ear during a workout or a jog. The right-sized silicon tips offer good passive noise isolation and eventually, help in improving ANC too.
The touch-enabled zones at the back aren’t marked with metallic paint and elevation like before but are more subtle with a bit of gloss. The touch sensitivity is good and the buds produce a small beep every time you tap in the zone. The Nord Buds 2 are IP55-rated dust and fluid resistant, which is good. But unlike more premium OnePlus TWS earbuds like the Buds Z2 or Buds Pro 2, the charging case does not have any ingress protection.
OnePlus Nord Buds 2: Features and Specifications (8/10)
Each earbud is fitted with a 12.4 mm dynamic driver with titanized diaphragm; same size as the original Nord Buds. They still have two microphones each despite the addition of active noise cancellation here. Yes, ANC is the biggest change in these new buds. OnePlus has kept things simple in this department by not bothering with varying degrees of noise cancellation like in the Buds Pro series. You get to choose between ANC On, ANC Off and Transparency mode that lets ambient noise through. More on this in a bit.
While the company has added ANC, wear detection sensors continue to be absent on the Nord Buds 2, something I would have preferred to see here. While codec support remains the same – SBC and AAC, the Bluetooth version has been upgraded from 5.2 to 5.3. There’s support for Dolby Atmos too when paired with compliant devices. You don’t need to install any app if you use these buds with a OnePlus 6 or a more recent OnePlus phone running OxygenOS 11 or later. You get access to various settings of the buds in the Bluetooth settings itself.
For other phones, you will need to install the HeyMelody app and sync the earphones to access the same features. The app is available for Android and iOS both. You get to alter the sound profile, configure the controls and update the firmware. You can assign play/pause, previous/next track, voice assistant or nothing to single tap, double tap and triple tap gestures. Touch-and-hold lets you switch between the ANC profiles. Just like all OnePlus buds, volume control cannot be assigned to any of the gestures on the Nord Buds 2 either.
OnePlus Nord Buds 2: Performance (7.5/10)
For starters, loudness won’t be an issue on these buds as they are perfectly audible close to 50% when indoors, and I don’t remember pushing the volume beyond 60% too often even in noisy areas outdoors. Similar to its predecessor, the default sound signature of the Nord Buds 2 on the ‘Balanced’ preset is clearly bass-heavy. If anything, the treble is a bit more distinct in this mode this time. However, the excess bass impacts the midrange frequencies and causes noticeable auditory masking.
And yes, we are still talking about the Balanced preset and not ‘Bass’, that’s also one of the four options available here; one that needs to be ignored. The ‘Bold’ preset actually offers better balance, and the ‘Serenade’ preset tends to lower the bass further and offers a brighter sound which isn’t very enjoyable in music but can be useful in voice heavy content like podcasts. As we learnt from the first Nord Buds, the sound presets are just a formality and the real deal is the Sound Master EQ (Equaliser) that lets you tweak the audio to your liking, which is available here too in the companion app.
You get a 6-band equaliser, two each for lows, mids and highs, that lets you readjust the sound profile and create your own audio presets. While it doesn’t turn things on its head, it does make a noticeable difference to the sound output. Pushing the 1KHz and 4KHz bars up by a few units improves the vocal clarity and certain midrange sounds. Similarly, you can reduce the bass EQ to your liking. Feel free to play with the equaliser till you get the best possible results. You also get a BassWave slider here that’s best left untouched.
After a few sound tweaks, the Nord Buds 2 produce a punchy sound output with a better balance and sharpness, and still with ample bass. The soundstage here is not too broad but fine for the segment. The latency is low enough as there was no noticeable lag between the video and audio when streaming videos from OTT platforms. The wireless range is as advertised with a strong connection up to 10 metres with a clear line of sight.
Coming to the final point about the new addition to the Nord Buds series – active noise cancellation. These buds can reduce ambient noise up to 25 dB, which used to be the mark for entry-level earphones with ANC over a year or two ago. Numbers aside, the ANC here is far from impressive and just about functional. It does reduce certain ambient sounds but doesn’t come close to cutting you off from your surroundings when ANC is turned on. Even indoors, it cannot eliminate the sound of the fan entirely.
Thankfully, the passive noise isolation is good here, and that plus the ANC helps you reduce some background chatter when in public transport once the audio starts playing. The Transparency mode is decent but could have done with a bit of boost to the vocal frequency range. Now, while the ANC here is not something I would recommend these earphones for, one must factor in its sub-3K selling price, which is close to that of its predecessor that did not offer ANC. So some degree of noise reduction is better than none at all when you aren’t paying a big premium for it.
OnePlus Nord Buds 2: Call quality (8/10)
The OnePlus Nord Buds 2’s call quality is quite good indoors as well as outdoors. People on the line were clearly audible to each other. When outdoors, the AI noise reduction does a more than decent job of isolating your voice from the ambient noise, and though it cannot eliminate the background noise entirely, it doesn’t impact the conversation much. Even in noisy areas your voice is transmitted with very good clarity. The Nord Buds 2 can be a good option for those looking for budget TWS earbuds primarily for calling.
OnePlus Nord Buds 2: Battery life (8.5/10)
Just like its predecessor, the battery backup remains impressive. The company claims 5 and 7 hours of audio playback for the buds with ANC on and off respectively, and 27 and 36 hours overall with the charging case in similar operating conditions. With the loudness mostly under 60% during the test process, the earbuds actually managed to match those figures with the buds going on for close to 5 hours with ANC on and a shade over 7 without ANC. The case could recharge them four more times.
That translates into an overall battery backup of about 30 hours for the buds and case combined with intermittent use of ANC, and close to 35 hours if you do not use ANC or Transparency at all, which is quite impressive and even better than the first Nord Buds. And they support fast charging too! A 10-minute charge promises close to 5 hours of playtime with the buds and case combined without ANC, which is not bad at all. The buds can be charged fully in less than an hour, while the case takes 30 more minutes for a full tank.
OnePlus Nord Buds 2: Price and verdict
The OnePlus Nord Buds 2 can be purchased for Rs 2,999 with a one year warranty. That makes it just Rs 200 more than the first Nord Buds, and you get some form of ANC, a better looking case, marginally improved sound quality, better battery backup and much better call quality for that tiny premium. Good elements like a custom equaliser, configurable controls, fast charging and that striking buds design have been carried forward here. All things considered, the Nord Buds 2 is a feature-rich pair of TWS earbuds that’s fairly easy to recommend under 3K.
As for competition, there isn’t much except for two of its ever-present not-so-distant cousins – the Realme Buds Q2 and the Realme Buds Air 2. They both offer slightly better ANC in this budget, comparable sound quality, customisable touch controls, three sound profiles but no custom EQ. Their battery life and call quality is pretty decent but not as good as the Nord Buds 2. The Buds Air 2 that sells for a similar price has wear detection sensors. The Buds Q2 is more affordable at Rs 2,499 and even cheaper during online sales. Choose one depending on the features that matter to you most.