OnePlus Buds Z2 review: A strong contender under Rs. 5,000
The OnePlus Buds Z has been an easy recommendation under Rs. 3,000 since its launch purely on the basis of sound quality. But the competition, especially from brands like Realme, has looked to pack their offering with features like active noise cancellation (ANC) at a similar price point. OnePlus did launch its flagship product, the Buds Pro, with a lot of modern features not too long ago but it operates in a very different price bracket. However, with the launch of its latest TWS earbuds, OnePlus is not just looking to improve the sound quality further but also make some of the features of the Buds Pro available at a price closer to that of the Buds Z. Time to meet the OnePlus Buds Z2 that may have inherited its looks from its predecessor, but there is a lot more substance under the hood.
OnePlus has not bothered changing the product design here. The Buds Z2 looks pretty much like the Buds Z, and that applies to both the case and earbuds. However, I don't think there was a black variant of the Buds Z. Our Buds Z2 review unit had a glossy black finish on the buds as well as on its capsule-shaped charging case. Be prepared to wipe the case from time to time as smudge marks are easily visible on it. Despite the buds weighing just a shade over 4.5gm each, the build quality is quite solid. The case isn't heavy either and yet hosts a 520mAh battery. A charge indicator LED is located at the front, while a USB-C port for charging is present at the back. Just like the Buds Z, these new OnePlus earbuds are IP55-rated dust and splash resistant. But the company has gone a step further by making the charging case IPX4 moisture resistant too: one of the few features borrowed from the OnePlus Buds Pro. The circular zones at the back of the buds are touch-enabled, and the touch sensitivity is just right. The earbuds feel quite comfortable in the ear courtesy of the silicone tips and provide decent passive noise isolation with the right-sized ear-tips. Two more pairs of ear-tips are bundled for you to choose from and it is always advisable to spend some time choosing the right one for best results in passive as well as active noise cancellation. The fit is snug enough and they don't pop out of the ear during a workout or a jog.
Each earbud is fitted with an 11mm dynamic driver as well as three microphones each for calling and noise cancellation. They also have wear detection sensors to pause the audio when you remove a bud from the ear and resume when you put it back in. You hear a soft beep when you tap the touch-sensitive zones. That also gives you an idea about how many taps got registered (single, double, or triple) for the touch gestures. One major improvement in the Buds Z2 over the Buds Z as well as the Buds Pro is the flexibility to configure the controls. Unlike the other two where you could only configure one or two gestures and with limited functionality, the Buds Z2 lets you configure single tap, double tap, and triple tap gestures for the left and right earbuds. You can choose from play/pause, next/previous track, voice assistant, or nothing to assign for each of those gestures. However, you still cannot assign volume control to any of them. Touch and hold for a second on the left bud lets you cycle through ANC modes: Noise cancellation, Max noise cancellation, ANC off, and Transparency. You can choose two or more modes from those to toggle between. Though it doesn't spell out which mode it switches to, if you are attentive enough, there is a slightly different tone to denote each of them. OnePlus phones (OnePlus 6 or newer) do not need a separate app to configure the buds. The rest need to install the HeyMelody app; it is available for iOS and Android. However, you do not get multiple sound profiles or options to tweak the audio for these buds. The OnePlus Buds Z2 is Bluetooth 5.2 compliant and supports SBC and AAC audio codecs; no aptX support here. Also, certain features like Dolby Atmos compliance and low latency modes work only with a bunch of OnePlus phones.
No complaints about the wireless range with the connection staying strong for over 10 meters with a clear line of sight. The same goes for loudness with the OnePlus Buds Z2 being perfectly audible at around 50% volume and I rarely had to go beyond 60% loudness. The sound signature here is V-shaped with boosted lows and highs. While it won't please the purists, it is bound to strike a chord with the masses. The extra bass, though reasonably tight, does hamper the mids. The auditory masking is clearly noticeable in bass-heavy tracks with the lower midrange sounds getting suppressed and even vocals losing a bit of edge. In other tracks, the vocal clarity is pretty good. The highs on the Buds Z2 are quite sharp with ample sparkle, but they could have been tempered better. They are generally fine and balance the bass well, but at times the S-sounds are a little more pronounced than ideal. The soundstage is reasonably broad and the overall detail in audio is perfectly acceptable for the segment. There were no latency issues (the lag between the video and audio) when streaming videos. Long story short, though not perfect, these buds produce an enjoyable sound output in popular genres of music like Pop, Hip-hop, EDM, or Bollywood. And, you get ANC, too, to partially disconnect from your surroundings. The ANC does a good job of cutting down on several low-frequency ambient sounds like the hum of an AC or a fan or car engines when outdoors, though not entirely. It is par for the course for the sub-5K segment of earphones but nothing special. Probably, the Max noise cancellation mode was supposed to take it a notch higher, but as of now, there is no noticeable difference whatsoever between Max and Normal ANC modes. A future firmware update might fix that. The Transparency mode here is pretty good and sounds natural.
The OnePlus Buds Z2 is quite good at handling calls. The person on the line was perfectly audible and I was heard by the caller with ample clarity, too, irrespective of whether I was indoors or outdoors. The wind noise suppression works well, and in fact does a better job than its more premium sibling, the OnePlus Buds Pro. Traffic noises and other background chatter were kept to a minimum, which is good. The battery backup of the Buds Z2 is another impressive aspect of the device. With ANC turned on at all times, the buds lasted close to four and a half hours at 50% to 60% loudness. And, with ANC on half the time, they went on for close to six hours. The case can recharge the buds at least four more times, thus taking the overall battery backup in the range of 23 to 30 hours depending on your use of ANC. That's a commendable battery backup. The goodness doesn't end there as the Buds Z2 supports quick charging, too. A mere 10 minutes of charging gives you close to two hours of playtime for the buds alone with ANC and about five hours for the buds and case combined. The product can be fully charged in under an hour. The battery level of each earbud as well as that of the charging case is visible on OnePlus phones and also in the HeyMelody app.
The OnePlus Buds Z2 can be purchased for Rs. 4,999 with a one-year warranty. Yes, it is more expensive than its predecessor but it does offer a lot more. For starters, the sound quality has improved. Add to that a comfortable fit, functional ANC, and much better battery backup, making it one of the best options under Rs. 5,000 in India currently. What will also work in favor of the Buds Z2 is that the competition isn't too stiff around the Rs. 5K mark. My top two picks in that budget in terms of pure sound quality would be the Soundcore Liberty 2 and Lypertek Levi. They also have a comparable battery backup but they both lack features like ANC and touch controls. The third option is the OPPO Enco W51, which does flaunt ANC and offers a completely different sound profile that is more detailed but a tad low on bass. But the battery numbers are much lower and the limited controls on the buds can feel like a handicap. The OnePlus Buds Z2 is arguably the best all-round option in this budget currently.