The British tech firm Nothing is back with some novel rivals to the AirPods: a set of fashion-forward Bluetooth earbuds with an open fit and see-through design. However, those hoping to be cut off from the world may be disappointed.
They aren’t Nothing’s first earbuds. The £149 Ear 1 from last year landed with a buzz, introducing the firm’s semi-transparent styling and good sound with traditional silicone tips. Now the £99 Ear Stick offer a similarly interesting look in an open-fit design without silicone tips, which lets outside sound in for those who don’t want to be isolated.
Like the traditional AirPods, the lozenge-shaped buds simply rest in the concha of your ears with a little grille at one end projecting the sound down your ear hole without blocking it.
They certainly look cool, and are fairly comfortable and secure as open-fit earbuds go, staying in place when I shake my head about. However, the bud is large and, as with the AirPods, if they do not fit or stay put in your particular ear shape, there’s little you can do.
The stalks have pressure-sensitive controls similar to newer AirPods, which work well. Squeeze once for pause/play, twice and thrice for track skip and squeeze and hold to adjust volume. Take out an earbud and music pauses. You can change the controls and other settings in the Nothing X app on an Android or iPhone.
The earbuds clip into a cylindrical case for charging. It rotates to open and switch them on with an extremely satisfying action. The tube is a bit bulky compared with the best on the market, though, and certainly won’t fit in small pockets.
The Ear Sticks last a good seven hours of music playback. The case’s battery has enough juice to fully recharge the earbuds just over three times, totalling about 29 hours, which compares well with rivals.
Nothing estimates that the batteries in the earbuds and case last for at least 500 cycles while maintaining at least 80% of their original capacity. However, they are not replaceable, ultimately making the earbuds disposable.
Nothing does not offer trade-in or recycling schemes in the UK, nor does it use recycled material in the product or publish environmental impact assessments.
Open sound good for everyday listening
The Ear Stick have an open design that purposefully doesn’t block your ear canal and therefore lets all the noise of the outside world through – excellent for situational awareness but useless for blocking out distractions.
Out of the box they accentuate the mid-tones too much for my liking, particularly at the higher volumes that are needed to drown out unwanted noise. Turning down the mids and turning up the bass a little in the equaliser in the Nothing app makes them sound much better.
They sound good for everyday listening but won’t win any audio quality awards and do not sound as good as the Nothing’s Ear 1 with their traditional silicone tips. Still, they do a good job of producing rounded audio without a proper seal, which few but the AirPods 3 manage. They sound particularly good with rock and Britpop but struggle a little with bass-heavy tracks or classical music, coming across a bit flat.
Like all open-ear buds, they leak sound at higher volumes. Call quality in noisy environments was excellent but my voice sounded a little processed in quieter settings.
The Nothing Ear Stick cost £99 ($99/A$179).
For comparison, the Ear 1 cost £149, Apple’s AirPods 3 cost £179 and Google’s Pixel Buds Series-A cost £100.
The Ear Stick are a great-looking set of open-fit earbuds that stand out from the crowd.
They last a long time, have a great set of controls, a decent app on Android and iOS and sound pretty good for their form, once you’ve tweaked their equaliser. They don’t block out any noise, so aren’t great for public transport or trying to concentrate in an office. The case is cool but harder to pocket than the best.
There are few good open-fit earbuds available, putting the Ear Stick up there with Apple’s AirPods while costing about half as much. But the battery in the earbuds or case cannot be replaced, ultimately making them disposable and losing a star.