OnePlus Buds Z2 Hands-on Review

OnePlus LogoOnePlus are best known for their smartphones, from top-end flagship killers to value-for-money mid-rangers. In addition to the handsets, OnePlus have had solid range of in-ear headsets, from the original wired Bullets to the noise-cancelling wireless Buds Pro. Today, OnePlus has launched the OnePlus Buds Z2 earphones, which brings noise-cancellation to the Z line for the first time. OnePlus kindly provided a set of Z2s for review in advance of the launch so let’s take a look and, of course, a listen.

The OnePlus Buds Z2 earphones come in a neat OnePlus red and white box. Opening up, inside are the Z2s in their pill-shaped charging case, small & large ear tips, a short USB C charging cable and some blurb. Available in pearl white and obsidian black, the Z2s themselves are earbuds with a short vertical stem outside the ear.

The Z2 earbud fits snugly in my ear with the middle sized ear tip and it’s worth noting the that the bud part is angled forwards more than in some. I found that for best comfort the Z2 kind of rested in the ear rather than needing to be pushed in. When paired with a OnePlus phone, there are tools under the Bluetooth settings for the Z2s where you can check the fitting for optimum isolation.

The flat surface on the outside of the earbuds is a touch-sensitive button that can be configured for different actions depending on how many taps: single, double and triple. For example, one tap plays/pauses, two taps is next track and three taps is your digital assistant from Google or Amazon. Both ears can be configure independently so two taps on the right ear could be next track and two taps on the left ear, previous track. Touching the button for 3 secs switches between inputs, so if the Z2s are paired with both your phone and your laptop, you can switch between them.

Of course, the Buds Z2 earphones are Bluetooth and it’s straightforward to pair the earphones with any device. For pairing mode, open the lid of the case, press the button on the back of the case for a couple of seconds and the front LED will pulse white while you attempt to connect from the other device. I connected successfully from an ancient HP laptop and used the Z2s for a day’s worth of online meetings. Yawn.

Let’s talk about the active noise cancellation features aka ANC. The Z2s have three small mics on the exterior of the earbuds that monitor external noise and respond with out-of-phase sound to reduce the noise perceived in the ear. It works across the audio spectrum but best works with constant noise. For example, in my kitchen the headphones were superb at eliminating the hum from my refrigerator.

There are four settings available for noise control; Max noise cancellation, Noise cancellation, Off, Transparency. Most of the time, I used the “Noise cancellation” setting as it still allowed some of the normal world through. I found “Max noise cancellation” (40 dB) a little unsettling as it was too good at keeping the noises out. That’s not a criticism of the Z2s, just a personal preference. Transparency is handy if you need to talk to someone without taking the earphones out and you can activate it by pressing the outer button for 1s.

If you have a half-decent ear, you can tell when the ANC is engaged – music is just ever so slightly less bright when it’s turned on. On the whole, the ANC was faultless but I did encounter a one oddity. I was walking alongside stop-start traffic and would occasionally get a sort of gentle thrumming. I think the ANC was having difficulty coping with vehicle engine noise and the change of tone as vehicles moved. It happened twice in about 15 minutes and it never happened any other time. I’m just guessing as to the cause but that’s my guess.

When it comes to audio quality, the Buds Z2 are good. Sound is clear, bass is effective without being overwhelming and treble is well defined. Vocals come across nicely and there’s decent stereo separation. I feel there’s a little richness missing when listening to something like Adele’s Skyfall, but don’t get me wrong, these are definitely some of the better wireless headphones I’ve heard and unless they’re a total hifi nerd, no-one’s going to be disappointed shelling out for these at GB£99.

The charging case has a 520 mAh battery which OnePlus claims to give a potential total listening time of 38 hours. That’s with ANC off and each full charge of the earbuds lasts up to 7 hours. With ANC on, the total time falls to 27 hours and 5 hours listening per charge. My experience is inline with the these expectations – I managed a long morning of online meetings without recharging – and several extended listening sessions. The recharge time for the earphones is only 10 mins.

The Buds are also sweat and splash proof with an IP55 rating meaning you can get sweaty at the gym and then give them a quick rinse under the tap. I didn’t try this but I really should work out more often…
There’s also a “find my earbuds” facility which will make the Z2s beep loudly if they’re nearby and you can’t find them.

Drawing this review to a close, the OnePlus Buds Z2 earphones sound good with effective noise-cancellation and a decent listening time further massively extended by the charging case. At GB£99 these are great value for money and I don’t think anyone would be disappointed to find these in their Christmas stocking. Available now.

Thanks to OnePlus for providing the Buds Z2 for review.