OnePlus Buds review – the isolation dilemma

Rating: 7.2/10

Pros:

  • Gorgeous design
  • Excellent mic for calls
  • Low latency mode in Fnatic mode on OnePlus phones
  • Good battery life and charging speeds

Cons:

  • Passive noise isolation is bad
  • Bass overpowers other frequencies

OnePlus Buds – Introduction

The OnePlus Nord has overshadowed every other phone launch out there. Heck, if you ask me, the launch managed to overshadow even the announcement of OnePlus’ very own Buds – the company’s very first pair of truly wireless earbuds. I believe OnePlus should’ve launched it separately to gain more traction. 

Anyway, I’ve been using the OnePlus Buds for a week now and I have thoughts. 

OnePlus Buds – Design & controls

The OnePlus Buds is a stunner when it comes to looks. While it is made of plastic, it feels premium the moment you take it out of the packaging. The soft touch matte finish reminds me of the Pixel 3 XL and it is quite possibly my most favourite TWS box under Rs 5,000. I’m truly besotted by this oval-shaped pill-box. There’s a metal hinge on the rear, which could help with the longevity of the lid. And, opening and closing the lid is so damn satisfying. I like it more than Apple’s Airpods, there I said it. To find such finesse in design and construction in this price range is what shocks me even more.  

Once, you open the lid, you can find the buds comfortable nested in the grooves. The buds are made of glossy plastic and removing them out is easy actually. Also, they are held inside by very strong magnets and don’t fall even when you vigorously shake the case upside down. 

Now, let’s talk about this colour. The Nord Blue paint-job with a Neon Yellow accent looks absolutely whimsical but it is such a stark departure from the regular colours that I find it very appealing. Regardless, if you don’t fancy such funky colours, OnePlus has you covered with the more conventional White and Black variants as well. 

The box also has a single LED light on the front, a Type-C port at the bottom for charging, and a single button for pairing with other devices. Yup, you have to hold this button for 2 secs and the LED will start flashing in white indicating that it is in pairing mode now. Are you disappointed that there is no automatic pairing? Well, you do get the option with a OnePlus phone.

There are a few additional perks of using these Buds with a OnePlus phone as well. You can receive over-the-air updates for software improvements. For example, I received an update that let me customise the double tap controls on the touch panel. You can assign the Double tap on either earbud to the Play/Pause function, pull up the Voice Assistant, go to the previous track or next track. Finally, you can use the touch control to switch between connected devices by long pressing the touch panel. And, it works seamlessly. But more importantly, I am more glad that the automatic Play/Pause feature with Wear Detection has excellent feedback. For example, Realme Buds Air had a bit of a delay. In comparison,  the OnePlus Buds has been calibrated beautifully and it works flawlessly. Love it. 

By the way, the buds themselves follow the Apple AirPods’ design language with a stem and semi-open build. Some people find this convenient whereas I find the in-ear nozzle design better for comfort and for the best sound output as well. Coming back to the OnePlus Buds’ design, there’s a circular CD-designed plate on the rear, which incorporates the aforementioned touch panel. 

The overall design is, how you cool kids say it – lit AF!

OnePlus Buds – Sound & fit

The OnePlus Buds uses BT 5.0 to connect to smart devices and has a connectivity range of 10m, which is standard for most BT products. But, I did notice the Buds had a more stable connection with my OnePlus 8 Pro compared to my Galaxy S20+. As for the Codec support, you get support for AAC. I’d have ideally liked aptX support but then again, I’ve heard BT audio products with exceptional sound quality only on SBC codec. So, this becomes a moot point. 

Now, if I have to define the sound signature of the OnePlus Buds, I need to talk about the fit most importantly. Because the Buds have a semi open design, I just couldn’t get a tight isolation. And, this caused a fair bit of auditory masking. In simpler words, the passive isolation was so bad that external noise overshadowed the quieter sound of the earbuds. Even at 100% volume, the sound of the fan in my room overshadows the sound of the Rahman crooning Dil Bechara. And, if you don’t get a tight seal, the bass response will be compromised. But, here’s the funny thing, the bass is not actually compromised. Essentially, OnePlus has packed the 13.2mm drivers with so much low end thump that when you push it into your ears you will only hear the “whoop whoops” and the “thub thubs.” This is done purposely to cut off the quantity of bass when the seal is not tight. 

In any case, the low end has been boosted to such an extent that in a song such as Sail by AWOLNation, you will only hear the thumping beats and nothing else. The mids are clearly compromised and there is no dynamic range whatsoever. The penultimate portion of Do I Wanna Know by The Arctic Monkeys where multiple instruments crowd the background, I couldn’t tell them apart. The treble is not very refined either. But yes, there is no denying that the OnePlus Buds offers a very foot-tapping sound signature that makes you want to dance to songs. So, if you like listening to songs such as Kahaani by Sez on the Beat or some Badshaah track, you are bound to enjoy the SQ provided you can get past the bad passive noise isolation.

As for the soundstaging, there’s not much to speak of. The sound is mostly in your head. The stereo separation is alright and so is the tonality. I can easily tell you that I am not a fan of such a sound signature by any stretch. 

Now, if you are a gamer and use a OnePlus phone, then the low latency of 103ms in Fnatic mode should get you excited. It works very well and for the most part I couldn’t notice any discernible lag between audio and video. But let it be known that vivo’s TWS Neo can go as low as 88ms when you pair it with a vivo phone. 

OnePlus Buds – Call quality & battery life

The major reason why I’d recommend a pair of OnePlus Buds is for its excellent triple mic setup on each earbud. You get environmental noise cancellation for calls and the call quality is excellent. It is definitely the best under Rs 5000. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to the quality for yourself. 

As for the battery, OnePlus once again goes for the kill with charging tech. The Buds charge extremely fast inside the case – precisely 10 mins of charge for 100 mins of music. The case can also charge the buds at least 3 times over. While OnePlus promises 7 hours of battery life on a single charge, I got around 6hrs and 2mins of listening at 100% volume before the charge died. Which is still pretty good if you ask me. 

Should you buy the OnePlus Buds?

So, does OnePlus get it right with its very first Truly Wireless earbuds? To a certain extent, a lot of different features such as – the gaming latency, mic quality, and the exquisite design – make it a very desirable product. However, one part of the equation — the below average passive noise isolation — is a major letdown. In fact, it ends up with some unwanted repercussions on the overall sound quality as well. 

Anyway, at Rs 4,990, the OnePlus Buds is pricier than the Realme Buds Air and Mi TWS 2 but offers the best call quality, low audio latency in Fnatic mode, and the design is more premium compared to the other two. However, between these three I’d go for Mi TWS 2 for a more detailed and dynamic sound signature especially with the LHDC codec on supported devices. 

Evidently, the OnePlus Buds’ more popular sound tuning with dollops of bass overpowering the other frequencies is not my cup of tea. Especially when, around this price bracket, there are many earphones offering a far better sound quality. Go for the 1More Stylish TWS if you want a refined bass response. The JVC HA-A10T also packs a punch with its energetic SQ. Then, there’s also the Shanling MTW100’s Balanced Armature variant which audiophiles, including me, absolutely love. 

But recently, I received a review unit of the Lypertek Tevi and that my friends is the endgame TWS for me. It sounds like an absolute dream so much so that it is almost as good, if not better sounding, than the Sennheiser Momentum TWS 2, which is almost four times more expensive. Additionally, the microphone quality and it offers 10 hours of battery life on the buds and a mind-boggling 70 hours on the case!  That’s way better than many earbuds out there. And, the best part is it costs only Rs 7,000! Granted it is 2k more than the OnePlus Buds but when you look at all the positives, every other option in the market feels pointless. My only concern is the in-ear fit might not be for everyone. I know I am yet to share my full review of the Tevi. I’ll do that soon. 

So yeah, that’s my full review of the OnePlus Buds. What did you guys think of the Buds? Do let me know in the comments below.

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Ershad Kaleebullah
ershad.kaleebullah@u2opiamobile.com

When Ershad isn't writing, he spends time killing virtual zombies on his PS4. Having worked with a slew of renowned publications like PCWorld, Channelworld, CIO, NDTV Gadgets (now Gadgets360), MySmartPrice, The Inquistr, and 91Mobiles, Ershad brings a whole world of experience to Mr. Phone. He is trying hard to convert all the team members into Apple fans but is facing a lot of resistance. Is anyone willing to help?