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OnePlus Nord Buds review: $39 earbuds that under promise and over deliver

OnePlus' first Nord-branded earbuds are bass-heavy and feature-rich. But its $39 price tag may be all that's needed to convince buyers.
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Written by June Wan, Tech Editor on
Pros
  • $39
  • Excellent, bass-heavy sound
  • Ear cushions are great for passive noise cancelling
  • IP55 water and sweat resistance
Cons
  • Limited features for iOS users
  • No active noise-cancelling
  • Charging case is chunky
  • Mic quality is lackluster

When OnePlus first pitched me the idea of $39 wireless earbuds, my expectations could not have been lower. Don't get me wrong, the company's flagship earbuds are some of the best we've tested. It was more so the fact that the true wireless stereo (TWS) market has bloomed over the past years, yet the best-sounding sets cost around $170. Were these $39 pairs just extras in the OnePlus factory? How many features have been cut to get the price down that much? 

The truth is, OnePlus isn't fighting against AirPods or high-end offers from Samsung and Sony. Instead, the Nord Buds are just cheap, no-frills accessories that play great audio. 

Specifications

Dimensions

67.9mm x 35.5mm x 28.68mm (in charging case)

Weight

Charging case: 41.7g, earbuds: 4.8g

Driver size

12.4mm titanium

Frequency response range

20Hz - 20,000Hz

Battery

Charging case: 480mAh, per earbud: 41mAh

Durability

IP55 water and sweat resistance

Connection

Bluetooth 5.2

Support

Android and iOS via the HeyMelody app

Color

Black Slate and White Marble


Back in 2020, OnePlus debuted the first Nord smartphone. It was a device that represented the company's return to its roots, the days of churning out fundamentally great tech at lower prices. Those values hold true with OnePlus' latest Nord endeavor, the $39 Nord Buds.  

I'll try to refrain from mentioning the $39 price tag throughout this review, but going by the spec sheet alone, it's hard to tell where exactly OnePlus cut corners on these buds. The 12.4mm titanium driver, sweeping range of frequency response, battery size, and even IP55 rating is not settling by any means. There's also Bluetooth 5.2 for low-energy connection, a feature that OnePlus phone users can take advantage of when fast-pairing to the Nord Buds.

The unboxing experience of the Nord Buds doesn't skimp out on anything, either. The earbuds come charged in a cradle case, alongside a red USB-C cable, user guide, three pairs of ear tips (small, medium, and large), and a Nord sticker. There's really nothing more than you can ask for. 

Design

The design of the OnePlus Nord Buds reminds me a lot of the Nothing Ear 1, except for the fact that they're not transparent. Each earpiece is short-stemmed, with flat edges and silicone ear tips. The cushions are not as thick and stuffy as the OnePlus Buds Z2 or Buds Pro, but do a functional job at keeping the accessories tucked in your ears. Naturally, they also form a passive noise cancellation that's enough to lower (but not block) external sounds during use. 

Also: OnePlus Buds Z2 review: Here's what $79.99 gets you

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The OnePlus Nord Buds in Black Slate.

June Wan/ZDNet

There's a total of four microphones scattered across the two buds that OnePlus claims helps to filter out unwanted background noise during calls. I'll talk more about their effectiveness in the performance section. What I was more impressed to see was the metallic, circular touchpad that sits flush on the earbuds' outer parts. Believe it or not, there are many wireless earbuds on the market that don't offer touch gestures. (The worst ones cost upwards of $150.) That's why when I realized that the Nord Buds supported onboard tap controls, I naturally wowed. 

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Image: OnePlus

Housing the Nord Buds is a cylindrical charging case that supports USB-C. It's not the most compact case that I've seen and creates a noticeable bulge when tucked in jeans, dress pants, and khakis. It also doesn't support wireless charging or have the same IP55 water and sweat resistance as the actual earbuds, but those are features for another price point.

Lastly, North American folks like me will only have the Black Slate option available for purchase. But for the cleanliness and discrete look of the matte black, I'd take it over the White Marble version any day.

Performance

OnePlus smartphones naturally have it best when it comes to interacting with the Nord Buds. Not only do they support fast-pairing for a near-instant connection process when you pop the top of the case, but there's a slew of functions that can be modified within the Bluetooth settings app of the phone. On the OnePlus 10 Pro, I was able to change the earbud controls, check for firmware updates, and even tweak the Sound Master EQ (equalizer) settings. 

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June Wan/ZDNet

Other Android phones come in second, with access to similar features when you pair the Nord Buds via Oppo's HeyMelody app. If you're on an iPhone, though, you can still use the iOS version of the app, but there are significant limitations, such as the lack of an equalizer. Fortunately, there are plenty of other earbuds that are more optimized for iPhone users. 

Also: Best wireless earbuds for Android and iPhone users

The absence of active noise cancellation may be another dealbreaker for some, but I actually found the Nord Buds' sound quality to be decent. Out of the box, the earbuds emit a very bass-heavy sound stage, with the lows mostly drowning out any sharp-hitting percussion and vocals. Those who jam to electronics or dance genres will appreciate the added oomph. 

But if you're like me and prefer a more balanced playback, then the equalizer is your best friend. After toggling between OnePlus' pre-made EQ profiles, I found "Bold" to sound the best. Whether I was listening to pop, rock, hip hop, or ballads, vocals were dynamic and clear, and instrumentals continued to generate thumps that I couldn't avoid bobbing my head to. It also helps that the Nord Buds support Dolby Atmos, which simulates the sounds from movies and songs to create an immersive, 3D-like experience.

oneplus-nord-buds-2.jpg
June Wan/ZDNet

The main issue I have with the OnePlus Nord Buds is its microphone quality. The lack of clarity and noise isolation makes your voice sound muffled, similar to a car's radio when driving into a tunnel. As someone who uses wireless earbuds for video meetings and phone calls, it always left me with a feeling of guilt when the person on the other end would react to my first words with, "Are you using a new mic?" The difference compared to my phone's microphone is that noticeable. 

Battery and charging

OnePlus says that the Nord Buds should last seven hours per charge, with the 480mAh charging case providing another 30 hours. From testing, I averaged six hours of audio playback before needing to pop the buds back in the case. That number would trend higher if I'd listen to, say, lo-fi music at around 20% volume during the workday. 

I'm okay with those battery numbers because the Nord Buds support what OnePlus calls "Flash Charge". With a 10-minute top-up, the earbuds can get five hours of playback. It's an impressive feat for $39. 

Bottom line

The OnePlus Nord Buds is OnePlus at its finest. They offer great audio performance, intuitive controls, and small features that add up to a package that's well worth the $39 price tag. The most notable problems with the earbuds are the mediocre microphones, lack of functionality on iPhones, and absence of active noise cancellation. But for the price, the Nord Buds are almost too easy to recommend.

Alternatives to consider

Along with our running list of the best wireless earbuds, here are some worthy alternatives to the OnePlus Nord Buds:

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