Although Nord is OnePlus' designated ‘affordable' product line, its products aren't entry-level by any measure. The recently launched OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G (Review) is a good example of how even the company's starter products are still quite well-equipped and capable, an approach which applies to the product that I'm reviewing here too, the OnePlus Nord Buds 2. The successor to the original Nord Buds, this second-generation version has been launched at the same price, but with significant upgrades to the feature set and performance.
Priced at Rs. 2,999, the OnePlus Nord Buds 2 comes with the notable addition of active noise cancellation (ANC), as well as promises of improvements in sound quality, battery life, and connectivity. Is this currently the best pair of true wireless earphones you can buy for less than Rs. 3,000? Find out in this review.
The OnePlus Nord Buds 2 features a texture and pattern which initially looked like dust, but I eventually grew to like it
OnePlus Nord Buds 2 design and features
If you're familiar with OnePlus' product range, you'll know that the Nord smartphones are priced considerably lower than the flagship number series, with appropriately positioned hardware to go with it. The same philosophy applies to the Nord earphones, and the Nord Buds 2 aren't quite as well-equipped as the recently launched (and more expensive) OnePlus Buds Pro 2.
Apart from the addition of ANC in the Nord Buds 2, there are small changes in the design of the 4.7g earpieces, and more noticeable changes in the look and feel of the 37.5g charging case. It's still a rather unique and unconventional look for a pair of true wireless earphones, but the Nord Buds 2 remain light and comfortable, with a proper in-canal fit that ensures a proper noise isolating seal.
The outer surface of the earpieces is a bit more even, thus making it a bit easier to operate the tap controls which are customisable through the app, and the earpieces are IP55 rated for dust and water resistance. The charging case has nicer curved edges that make for a more pocketable shape and form. The USB Type-C port for charging is at the back alongside the easy-to-miss pairing button, while the indicator light is at the front.
The OnePlus Nord Buds 2 headset is available in two colours — white and grey — with both featuring an interesting spotted pattern on the earpieces and charging case. This initially looked like dust or splatters of paint to me, but I eventually grew to like this design element. The sales package includes a total of three pairs of silicone ear tips for the earphones, and a USB Type-A to Type-C charging cable.
OnePlus Nord Buds 2 app and specifications
Unlike on some other headsets from OnePlus and Oppo which have their detailed settings baked into the Bluetooth menu on select smartphones, the OnePlus Nord Buds 2 opts for the old-fashioned approach of using a separate app. As is usually the case, it's the HeyMelody app which lets you tweak the settings on the Nord Buds 2. It's worth noting that only the Android version of the app detects the Nord Buds 2; the iOS version (at the time of publishing this review) doesn't work with this headset.
The specific settings for the OnePlus Nord Buds 2 within the app are fairly simple, covering the handful of features that the headset offers. This includes switching between ANC and transparency modes, choosing from a handful of equaliser presets, activating the ‘BassWave' mode that boosts bass, a low-latency Game mode, and customising the tap controls. You can also view battery levels for both earpieces and the charging case separately, and update the firmware on the headset.
The touch controls are reasonably detailed, letting you set up each earpiece to control playback, invoke the default voice assistant on your smartphone, or toggle the Game mode. The touch-and-hold function can only be used to cycle between ANC and transparency modes (or turn both off), while the long touch-and-hold function can be set up to quickly switch between two paired devices. There's no multipoint connectivity, but quick switching makes it fairly easy to use the headset with two devices almost simultaneously.
The OnePlus Nord Buds 2 has an in-canal fit, which ensures proper noise isolation for the ANC functionality
In terms of specifications, the OnePlus Nord Buds 2 is fairly well set up for a headset priced at under Rs. 3,000. Powering the earphones are 12.4mm dynamic drivers, with a frequency response range of 20-20,000Hz, and a sensitivity rating of 111dB. Each earpiece has two microphones for voice and ANC functionality.
For connectivity, the headset uses Bluetooth 5.3, with support for the SBC and AAC codecs. OnePlus Fast Pair and Dolby Atmos audio are supported on select OnePlus smartphones.
OnePlus Nord Buds 2 performance and battery life
While OnePlus' Nord series of earphones has always been priced affordably, it's also typically been ordinary in terms of performance, lacking in any strong points that help set it apart from the competition. With the Nord Buds 2, OnePlus hopes to change things — not only thanks to the fact that there's active noise cancellation on offer at this price, but also because of a notable improvement in the sound quality — as compared to the original Nord Buds.
The general characteristics of the sound are similar to the previous-generation version; the OnePlus Nord Buds 2 have a punchy, aggressive, and bass-heavy sound. However, better tuning now ensures a decent level of detail as well, aided just about enough by active noise cancellation to offer a better overall sound.
Starting with Anpanman by BTS, the OnePlus Nord Buds 2 sounded aggressive from the get-go, with the bass striking hard and the reverberations extending impressively far. While this was largely the theme of the original Nord Buds as well, the difference here is in how the mid-range and highs managed to keep up equally well. The rhythm of this catchy K-pop track wasn't lost in all of that low-end drive, with the synth elements pushing through quite capably.
Switching to the faster and more rhythmic I Could Be The One by Avicii, the OnePlus Nord Buds 2 was able to keep up with the track and all of its nuances, frequently changing pace, The sound felt immersive and surprisingly cohesive even at high volume levels, something that isn't too common on affordable true wireless headsets. The bass is undeniably the most prominent part of the sound, but it won't distract you from the rest of the range on the Nord Buds 2.
Many true wireless earphones have a sensitivity rating of around 100dB, so the 111dB level on the OnePlus Nord Buds 2 definitely stands out. This is a loud pair of earphones, which will be particularly handy for those intending to use the headset when outdoors or while commuting. Sound quality was optimal at around the 60 percent volume level or higher, but I found the earphones fairly adept even at softer and more comfortable levels.
Active noise cancellation on the OnePlus Nord Buds 2 is fairly ordinary and limited in its capabilities, as is usually the case with budget audio products. It doesn't offer much noise reduction on its own, and the vacuum effect feels a bit misleading, but it does help in making it easier to listen to music or dialogue in videos, even at moderate volumes.
Apart from active noise cancellation, the OnePlus Nord Buds 2 also benefits from better sound quality
Expectedly, there is no customisability in the noise cancellation. There is a transparency mode, but it's not something I used too often because of the rather excessive amplification of sounds from outside as picked up by the microphone. This would get tiring within just a few seconds, and it was easier to just pause audio and take the earphones off if I needed to speak to someone or listen to something.
The OnePlus Nord Buds 2 has a battery capacity of 41mAh on the earpieces, and 480mAh on the charging case. With ANC on and the volume set to anywhere between the 50 and 60 percent volume levels, I was able to get a little under five hours of mixed use on the earpieces, with the charging case adding a bit over four full additional charges, for a total battery life of 25 hours per charge cycle.
Usefully, there is also fast charging, with a 10-minute charge claiming to offer around 5 hours of listening time on the earpieces (when the earpieces are in the case, and the case is being charged). Call quality on the OnePlus Nord Buds 2 is decent indoors, and passable outdoors for quick calls, while connectivity was stable at distances of up to 4m between the earphones and source device.
The idea of true wireless earphones with active noise cancellation for less than Rs. 3,000 isn't unheard of, but not too many brands have managed to get the concept right. With the Nord Buds 2, OnePlus has taken it a bit further than most, offering a pair of earphones that largely gets it right for the price. You may just find the bass a bit too much if popular and electronic genres aren't your preference, but otherwise, this is an impressive true wireless headset for the price.
Options from brands such as Oppo and Realme might be worth considering, but the OnePlus Nord Buds 2 comes across as a more complete and satisfying pair of earphones, at a price that is hard to beat. The lack of app support on iOS is the only notable drawback, but it isn't one that takes too much away from the overall attractiveness of these earphones.
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