OnePlus Nord Buds review: Basic TWS earbuds with customizable sound
When OnePlus launched the first Nord phone, it seemed like the company wanted to have a player in the more affordable segment of smartphones. In less than two years since, we have almost half a dozen Nord devices in India, and now the company is looking to include an audio device too under the Nord umbrella. When it was announced, we believed the company was looking to bring in a feature packed device at a more attractive price point. But that doesn't seem to be the case. Going by the spec-sheet, the OnePlus Nord Buds seem like a basic pair of TWS earbuds with features like touch controls and certain customizations through the companion app. But is there more to it than meets the eye at first glance? There better be as this product enters a crowded and highly competitive audio segment. Let's get to know it better.
Looks different from other OnePlus earbuds, but equally comfortable fit
For starters, the OnePlus Nord Buds do not look anything like the OnePlus Buds Z or Z2 - neither the case, nor the earbuds. The buds have a unique design that's a little hard to describe. The image would indeed be worth a thousand words in this case. The buds and the case have a distinctly glossy finish (especially the white variant that we got for review) that makes it look too plasticky for my taste. The smudge marks aren't too conspicuous but the case needs an occasional wipe. While I am fine with the design of the earbuds, the charging case I am not. It is one of the biggest I have come across and far from pocketable. Thankfully, it's not too heavy and weighs a shade under 42 grams. The buds are slightly on the heavier side (statistically) at close to 5 grams each, but that doesn't lead to any discomfort in the ear when you put them on. The silicon tips enter the ear canals and offer a snug fit and decent passive noise isolation with the right sized ear-tips. There are circular touch enabled zones at the back painted with a metallic shade and slightly elevated to give you a good idea where to tap. The touch sensitivity is just right and produces a small beep every time you tap the area. The charging case hosts a 480mAh battery and a charge indicator LED is located at the front side. A USB-C charging port is present at the back along with a Bluetooth pairing/reset button.
Basic TWS earphones with touch controls and sound tweaks
The OnePlus Nord Buds are IP55 dust and splash resistant, but the case is not, which is fine. Each earbud is fitted with a 12.4mm dynamic driver as well as two microphones for calling and AI noise reduction in calls. There is no active noise cancellation (ANC) here, which is fine for its asking price, despite Realme raising our expectations over the past year or so. OnePlus has also skipped the wear detection sensors, which I am not pleased with. It was a strange decision given that the similarly priced OnePlus Buds Z have them. The Nord Buds are compatible with the HeyMelody app that you need to install on non-OnePlus phones or if you are still holding on to an older phone from the company prior to the OnePlus 6. The HeyMelody app is available for iOS and Android both. The app lets you configure the controls and update the firmware. But that's not all, these Buds offer something called Sound Master Equalizer that is essentially a 6-band equalizer that lets you tweak the output and create your own sound presets. This feature is a life saver for this product. Through the companion app you configure single tap, double tap and triple tap gestures for the left and right earbuds, along with long touch. You can choose between play/pause, next/previous track, voice assistant or nothing to assign for the first three gestures. Long touch only lets you switch between the last two paired devices. You cannot assign volume control to any of them. That's the case with the majority of TWS buds, and I fail to understand why. These Bluetooth 5.2 compliant earphones support SBC and AAC audio codecs. They also support Dolby Atmos when paired with certain OnePlus phones, and the 94ms low latency feature is also restricted to select phones from the company - another strange call.
Energetic and loud output, but generally bass-heavy sound
The wireless range is perfectly fine with the connection staying strong at 10 meters with a clear line of sight. These buds are quite loud and rarely did I need to go beyond 50% volume even when outdoors. The default sound signature here that the company prefers to call 'Balanced' is predominantly bass heavy. There's just too much bass that leads to a weak mid-range response. The auditory masking is noticeable with the vocals losing their edge. There are three more sound presets, of which the first two - Bold and Serenade tend to address the extra bass issue, especially the former offering a more brighter sound. But the output doesn't feel balanced; in this case it errs on the treble side. And lastly, the final sound preset, can you guess what it is? Answer: Bass. No comments! Thankfully, the Nord Buds offer something that other OnePlus buds don't out of the box - Sound Master Equalizer. In simpler terms, the companion app offers a 6-band equalizer that lets you tweak the sound and create your own audio presets. While it doesn't magically turn the output into something you expect from products twice or thrice its cost, it does make a significant difference to the sound quality. By simply pushing the third (1KHz) and fourth (4KHz) equalizers up by a few units, you will start noticing distinct clarity in vocals and upper mid-range reproduction. Then play around with the other bars till you hear the sound that suits your taste. After a few tweaks, the Nord Buds produce an energetic sound, still favoring the lows but with much better mid-range reproduction and sharp highs. The soundstage is not very broad but acceptable for the segment. While the 94ms latency is reserved for select OnePlus phones, there was no noticeable lag between the video and audio when streaming videos on other phones too.
Very good battery backup, fast charging support, average call quality
The call quality on the OnePlus Nord Buds is pretty good indoors. Though it sounds a little soft, the person on the line was clearly audible and I was heard by the caller with reasonable clarity especially when indoors. When outdoors, the AI noise reduction cannot suppress the traffic noise and other background chatter all that well. It's not as if it is unusable for calling on the road but things could have been better. The battery backup of the Nord Buds is one of its strongest points. The company advertises 7 hours for the buds alone and 30 hours with the case, which is not unthinkable or unachievable given that there is no ANC here. While those figures are achieved under their 'test conditions,' during our testing it performed quite well too. With the volume mostly under 50%, the earbuds managed to last up to 6 hours and the case could recharge them at least thrice more. That gives you an overall battery backup upwards of 24 hours for the buds and case combined. Despite being budget earbuds, they support fast charging. A mere 10 minutes charge can give you close to 5 hours of playtime, which is quite impressive. The product can be fully charged in under an hour. The battery level of each earbud as well as the charging case is visible on OnePlus phones or in the HeyMelody app.
A decent option but competition has better alternatives
The OnePlus Nord Buds is priced at Rs. 2,999 but can be purchased for Rs. 2,799 with a one year warranty. For that price, you get a decent sounding pair of TWS earphones (after a few EQ tweaks) with a different design, app support and very good battery backup with fast charging. While it sounds like a good buy for what it offers, the competition is quite stiff around the Rs. 3,000 mark. Realme has spoiled us by offering ANC at ridiculous price points. The Realme Buds Q2 sells for just Rs. 2,499, and even lower in online sales. Those buds sound better out of the box, have customizable touch controls and multiple sound profiles through the companion app just like the Nord Buds, and also offer ANC. The battery life is comparable too (without the use of ANC). If you want more detailed sound, then the Realme Buds Air 2 are also available around Rs. 3,000 and you also get wear detection sensors in addition to the above. And lastly, there's some in-house competition too in the form of the OnePlus Buds Z, again with wear detection, good sound but limited customization and lower battery backup. So while the OnePlus Nord Buds do have a few things going for it, and there's nothing glaringly bad about it (other than the charging case), it may not be a walk in the park given the stiff competition in the segment.