Something slightly different in a crowded segment- Technology News, Firstpost

Ameya DalviMay 31, 2022 15:03:23 ISTPros:- Lively sound output after a few tweaks- 6-band equaliser for custom presets- Unique design, comfortable fit- Good battery life, fast charging- IP55 dust and fluid resistance- Programmable controls
Cons:- Default sound output is bass-heavy- No wear detection sensors or volume control on the earbuds- Bulky charging case, plasticky build- Some features work only with select OnePlus phones
Price: Rs 2,799
Rating: 3.5/5
At first, we thought the OnePlus Nord was a phone, then a phone series, and now it seems to be headed in the direction of being a sub-brand with the addition of a new product category under the Nord umbrella. While the Nord series phones haven’t exactly cannibalised into the business of their more premium cousins, the OnePlus Nord Buds seem to have stepped on the toes of OnePlus Buds Z right from day 1. What does this new pair of TWS earphones offer and where does it fit it? Let’s find out.
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OnePlus Nord Buds: Design and Comfort (7/10)
The Nord Buds take a completely different design approach and do not look like any of OnePlus’ previous offerings. The pill-shaped stems look quite unique, and though they may not appeal to everyone, it is something new. We got the white variant for review and it has a distinctly glossy finish on the buds and the case, both. While the build feels sturdy, they are too plasticky to touch. 
They are not overly conspicuous, but the case does attract smudge marks. The charging case is quite bulky and far from pocketable, unless you don’t mind a big bulge in your pocket.  Yes, it does host a sizable 480 mAh battery, but I have seen cases half its size do that. At 41.7 grams, its weight is not an issue though. A charge indicator LED is located at the front of the case, while a USB-C charging port along with a Bluetooth pairing/reset button are present at the back.
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The buds are fairly light too at a shade under 5 grams each. The fit is snug enough and they don’t pop out of the ear during a workout or a jog. The right sized silicon tips offer decent passive noise isolation. The touch enabled zones at the back are clearly marked with a metallic paint and slight elevation. The touch sensitivity is good and the buds produce a small beep every time you tap in the zone. It’s best to go at a more relaxed pace as tapping too fast tends to miss the odd tap, especially for triple tap gestures.
OnePlus Nord Buds: Features and Specifications (7/10)
The OnePlus Nord Buds are IP55 rated dust and fluid resistant. But unlike the Buds Z2, the charging case does not have any ingress protection, which is fine given its price tag. Each earbud is fitted with a 12.4 mm Titanium dynamic driver; largest among all OnePlus TWS buds till date. They also have two microphones each for calling and AI noise reduction in calls. There is no active noise cancellation (ANC) here, which is just about acceptable in this budget. Look what you have done Realme! 
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Inexplicably, OnePlus has excluded the wear detection sensors on the Nord Buds. Those sensors were present on the similarly priced and over a year old OnePlus Buds Z. These earbuds are Bluetooth 5.2 compliant and support SBC and AAC codecs. There’s support for Dolby Atmos too when paired with compliant OnePlus phones. Similarly, the latency can go as low as 94 ms only on select OnePlus phones with Pro Gamer mode turned on. Mobile gamers without a newer OnePlus handset aren’t going to be too pleased with that.
You don’t need to install any app if you use these buds with a OnePlus 6 or a more recent OnePlus phone. You get access to various settings of the buds in the Bluetooth settings itself. For all other phones, you will need to install the HeyMelody app and sync the earphones with it to tweak certain features of this product. The app is available for Android and iOS both. The app lets you alter the sound profile, configure the controls and update the firmware. 
Using the companion app you allocate functions to single tap, double tap, triple tap and long touch gestures for the left and right earbuds. You can assign play/pause, previous/next track, voice assistant or nothing to the first three gestures. Long touch only lets you switch between the last two paired devices; wasted potential, that. I generally like to assign previous/next track functions to the long touch gesture as I am not a fan of triple tap. Volume control cannot be assigned to any of the gestures on the Nord Buds. 
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OnePlus Nord Buds: Performance (7/10)
These buds are some of the loudest around and the volume level mostly stayed between 40 to 50% during the course of my testing, indoors as well as outdoors. The default sound signature on the ‘Balanced’ preset is totally bass dominated. The excess bass majorly impacts the midrange frequencies with a noticeable auditory masking. Even vocals sound muddy in bass-heavy tracks. And believe it or not, there is a separate ‘Bass’ preset for even more bass!
The ‘Bold’ and ‘Serenade’ presets tend to lower the bass and offer a more brighter sound which can be fatiguing. Had OnePlus not offered a custom equaliser here to tweak the sound manually, the ratings for this product would have plummeted like the stock market does every third day. The Sound Master EQ (Equaliser) turns things around in a big way. 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 make the Nord Buds sound like OnePlus Buds Pro or even Buds Z2, it does make a noticeable difference to the output. Pushing the 1KHz and 4KHz bars up by a few units adds a noticeable clarity in vocals and upper midrange sounds. Feel free to experiment with the other bars too till you get the best possible results. After those tweaks, the Nord Buds produce a lively output with a better balance, despite a bias towards the low end frequencies. 
The soundstage here is not too broad but fine for the segment. While the 94 ms latency is available only on select OnePlus phones, there was no perceptible lag between the video and audio when streaming videos on other phones either. I didn’t try gaming wearing these earbuds. The wireless range is as advertised with a strong connection up to 10 metres with a clear line of sight. 
OnePlus Nord Buds: Call quality (6.5/10)
The OnePlus Nord Buds’ call quality is a mixed bag. It is pretty good indoors. Though vocals aren’t the sharpest, the people on the line were clearly audible to each other. When outdoors, the AI noise reduction does a reasonable job of isolating the voice from the ambient noise, but it cannot reduce the background noise as much as I would have liked it to. I have had better experience with similarly priced OnePlus products. 
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OnePlus Nord Buds: Battery life (8/10)
The battery backup of the Nord Buds is quite impressive. The company claims 7 hours for the buds and 30 hours overall with the charging case. These numbers aren’t unheard of, and given that there is no ANC here, getting in that ballpark should not be too tough for these buds. With the loudness mostly under 50% during the test run, the earbuds managed to go on for close to 6 hours and the case could recharge them at least thrice more. 
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That translates into an overall battery backup of close to 25 hours for the buds and case combined, which is quite impressive. Even better, they support fast charging too. A 10-minute charge promises close to 5 hours of playtime, which is not bad at all. The product can be fully charged in less than an hour. The battery level of each earbud and the charging case is visible on newer OnePlus phones and in the HeyMelody app. 
OnePlus Nord Buds: Price and verdict
The OnePlus Nord Buds can be purchased for Rs 2,799 with a one year warranty. For that price, you get a pair of TWS earphones with a unique design, more than decent sound quality thanks to the custom equaliser, configurable controls and impressive battery backup with fast charging. Despite that, it may not be a straightforward choice under Rs 3,000. The competition is quite stiff in this segment.
Before we move out, let’s look at the in-house competition first. The OnePlus Buds Z has always been a solid option under 3K. Other than good sound quality, it also has wear detection sensors but offers limited customisation options and lower battery backup. While the default tuning of the Buds Z is better, the Nord Buds can catch up and go a little beyond if you use the equaliser smartly.
Next up is the Realme duo which might be a little hard to beat. The Realme Buds Q2 and the Realme Buds Air 2 flaunt ANC in this budget in addition to better audio output, customizable touch controls, multiple sound profiles and comparable battery backup. The Buds Air 2 that sells for close to 3K has wear detection sensors too. The Buds Q2 is even more affordable at Rs 2,499. Though not bad, amidst such competition, the Nord Buds may struggle to carve a niche for themselves, unless OnePlus opts for a price drop.