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The new earbuds are more expensive at $59, but they now support active noise cancellation (ANC) -- and, naturally, transparency mode. Plus, they have an improved audio output thanks to the new 12.4mm drivers. All that is to say the Nord Buds remain an easy-to-recommend pair of headphones, especially if budget is at the top of your mind.
And these $59 earbuds are making me wonder if I've been overspending for "premium" features all this time.
For starters, the Nord Buds 2 are packed in a smaller charging case this year, though OnePlus still promises a decent 37-hour battery life at maximum capacity. I'll admit: When it comes to pocketability, the cylindrical design of the charging case is not my ideal choice. It's much taller than the typical AirPods or Galaxy Buds case and therefore causes a notable bulge when slipped into most pants and jeans.
However, for at-home listening, which I've found to be the most practical use case with cheaper earbuds, the case is something I set on a table and forget as soon as the audio kicks in.
The fit and finish of the Nord Buds 2 are, dare I say, superior to some of the more expensive earbuds I've tested. For example, while the earbuds are made of plastic, the material makes them feel lighter when worn. That makes them ideal for video conferences, working out, and casual listening. There's also a flat stem on both buds that serve as a counterweight to the speakers, keeping the headphones flush against your ears.
As for the sound quality, the Nord Buds 2 won't beat a pair of AirPods Pro or Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II -- there's a $200 price gap between those models for a reason. But, the Nord Buds 2 produce an audio output that well exceeds what you'd expect from $59 earbuds.
As is often the case with lower-end headphones, the Nord Buds prioritize bass, reproducing low to mid-range frequencies much better than the semblance and consonance that make up the higher audio spectrum. Basically, you'll be able to hear the vocals and underlying instruments of your favorite songs, but don't expect it to sound like you're sitting in on a live recording.
That leaves me to the last point, which is what constitutes "premium" when it comes to audio features. If you visit any product page from a high-end headphone manufacturer, you'll likely find specifications like ANC front and center. While the Nord Buds 2's ANC performance won't block out car honks, it's been reliable enough to keep me focused all the other times. Something about $200 ANC earbuds just aren't adding up.