April 09, 2023
The Nord Buds 2 are the latest entry-level successor to last year’s Nord Buds. These are still some of the cheapest earbuds OnePlus sells, but at $59, the Nord Buds 2 are $20 more expensive than their predecessor.
For this price, the Nord Buds 2 add active noise cancellation, making them the cheapest OnePlus earbuds with this feature and also one of the cheapest pair of earbuds from a reputable brand with this feature on the market. Is that enough to justify the price hike? let’s find out
The Nord Buds 2 have a slightly modified design compared to the previous model. The case has the same basic shape, but the edges have been curved, resulting in a more rounded shape. The new case is also slightly smaller than the previous one. Like the previous one, the new case has a good fit and finish for the price but no IP rating.
The new case also has a lighter gray color with a metallic sheen. The body is finished in a lighter shade of gray than the lid and has an interesting speckled pattern that looks like dust at first glance. The back of the case features a USB-C port for charging and a pairing button that’s so flush with the surface it’s barely visible.
The earbuds follow the theme of having a slightly tweaked version of the older design. They share the same flat, pill-shaped stems, but the raised circular touch area is now embedded in the body with a shiny, clear plastic instead of the chrome finish. The stems have the same speckled appearance, which in this case almost looks like the earbuds are covered in scales. Maybe someone should have thought of that before pulling the color trigger.
Regardless of the changes and finish, the Nord Buds 2 are still very distinctive and cool looking earbuds. They are also fairly small and light and have been comfortable during long sessions. The earbuds have an IP55 rating, making them dust and water resistant.
software and features
The Nord Buds 2 can be controlled via Bluetooth settings on OnePlus phones or via the HeyMelody app on other Android and iOS phones. The earbuds have the same basic features as the original Nord Buds, but with a few additions.
The main innovation here is active noise cancellation. You can either turn it on or off or switch to transparency mode. There’s no automatic or manual level adjustment here, nor is there custom tuning for your ears.
ANC and audio settings
The tone can be tuned via the Sound Master EQ menu. Four presets are available to you here, along with the option to create custom profiles with a 6-band EQ. A new feature here is BassWave, introduced with the OnePlus Buds Pro 2. It’s supposed to be an algorithm that dynamically adjusts your sound, but in reality it’s just another bass control. You can both increase and decrease the bass level with a positive or negative offset.
The Nord Buds 2 also offer good touch gesture control. You can single, double and triple tap, and each of these can be adjusted or disabled for each ear. You can assign play/pause, track previous/next, voice assistant, or game mode, but unfortunately there’s no volume control option. You can press and hold to switch between ANC modes and long touch and hold to switch to your previously paired device.
Both EQ and earbud control function changes are stored on the earbuds themselves, meaning they carry over to the device you pair them with, even if that device doesn’t support the app.
Unfortunately, a big omission from the original Nord Buds carries over to this model, which is the lack of in-ear detection. The earbuds have no idea when they’re being worn or removed, meaning they can’t play or pause accordingly. Similarly, even if you remove both earbuds, the ANC remains active, and removing just one earbud won’t switch the other earbud to transparency mode.
This would have been a great feature to include over the original model. I’d go as far as to say I’d rather have in-ear detection than ANC, at least the kind of ANC that the Nord Buds 2 come with, but more on that later.
The Nord Buds 2 feature the same 12.4mm dynamic drivers as the previous model. They still support the same SBC and AAC codecs, although the Bluetooth version has been upgraded from 5.2 to 5.3, which means nothing for audio quality.
In terms of audio quality, the Nord Buds 2 are very similar to the original with slight differences in tuning. The default EQ profile is called Balanced, which is ironic considering it’s extremely bass-heavy. Bass is quite thick and lumpy with excessive mid-bass energy. It works with some genres and tracks, but also feels overbearing and unnecessary on others.
The vocals have a soft and pleasant tonality with this preset. Voices have good timbre and content like podcasts sound pleasant with the added warmth. The midrange may not stand out in the mix, especially next to the bass, but it’s also not cut or pushed back like most other mainstream tunings.
The highs have a similar smooth energy with no abrupt spikes or hiss. The Nord Buds 2 adds a bit more shine on top compared to the otherwise similar sounding Nord Buds tuning, making it a bit more balanced than its predecessor, which was all about that bass.
Luckily, like the Nord Buds, the mood of the Nord Buds 2 can be drastically changed using the presets. The featured Bold preset lowers the bass to more manageable levels while adding more energy to the highs. Due to the excessive treble boost, it tends to be a bit too bright and the vocals fade into the background and sound rather mediocre even compared to the balanced preset.
The Serenade preset is all about the midrange and is probably the most balanced preset here overall. The midrange sounds a bit more forward and nasal than it should be, but otherwise it has the most reasonable bass and treble balance.
The Bass preset is basically the Balanced preset with even more bass and a touch of extra treble. The BassWave setting can be used to add even more bass if you prefer not to hear anything else, but a better use for it is to set it to -5 in the Balanced preset so you can adjust the bass to a more reasonable level Turning the level down I still enjoy the smooth midrange and treble tuning.
The custom EQ is useful but limited by the 6-band EQ. Also, the bass can still be on the higher side, even on the lowest setting. Still, using the curve above, I was able to get the earbuds to sound pretty good, at least as far as frequency response is concerned.
Apart from that, the sound is quite mediocre and there isn’t much that can be done about it. Detail and resolution aren’t bad, but they’re not impressive either. The sound is also fairly wrapped up, largely ringing in your head with very little sense of space, even on expansive tracks.
Aside from minor tuning differences in the preset and BassWave setting, the Nord Buds 2 sound very similar to the Nord Buds. It’s not that there isn’t room for improvement, but OnePlus has decided to turn its attention to other aspects for the sequel.
Like its predecessor, the Nord Buds 2 have surprisingly good microphone quality. Voices have a slight metallic tone but otherwise sound very natural with good background noise suppression. If you only need something for voice calls these would work very well.
The Nord Buds 2 have active noise cancellation, a feature not found on their predecessor. As already mentioned, it is a simple on/off function with an additional transparency mode.
The ANC level is mediocre at best. As usual, there is some damping in the lower frequencies and a bit in the mids, but not much in the highs. The earbuds themselves have decent passive isolation though, so overall impact is still decent. The transparency mode isn’t great either, but it’s better than taking out the earbuds.
On my contrived 5-point scale, with 4 being the current best ANC implementation and 0 no ANC, the Nord Buds 2 would be a 1 at best. It’s still better than no ANC, but I’m not sure I do want to pay extra for it.
The Nord Buds 2 have very good latency performance. On OnePlus phones, games automatically trigger the low-latency game mode, while you have to activate it manually when using the HeyMelody app. Once enabled, latency is surprisingly low and perfectly usable for most games. Video playback is also not a problem on smartphones as the video player automatically syncs to compensate for the lag.
Computers are different as there is no automatic syncing and this is where most Bluetooth products fall apart. Luckily, because the Nord Buds 2 have relatively low latency by default, even without the game mode and auto-sync the earbuds work quite well. The latency is somewhat noticeable with high frame rate videos, but not so much with 24 fps content and even less when it’s animated. However, gaming is not recommended.
The Nord Buds 2 had no connection issues and the earbuds worked reliably every time.
The Nord Buds 2 have a claimed battery life of 5 hours of continuous playback with ANC on and 7 hours with ANC off. During my testing, I got 6 hours 13 minutes with ANC on and 8 hours 34 minutes with ANC off. These are a fair bit higher than the numbers quoted, besides being great numbers on their own so you won’t see me complaining.
After a 10-minute charge from the apartment, the earbuds played for 2 hours 25 minutes with ANC on and 3 hours 16 minutes with ANC off.
The OnePlus Nord Buds 2 are a modest upgrade over their predecessor. They look similar, they sound similar, and they have a similarly good microphone, similarly good latency, and similarly good battery life.
Depending on the region, the addition of ANC might not be worth the extra cost; I certainly wouldn’t recommend paying the extra $20 in the US, and you’re better off getting the still-decent first-gen model for a now-discounted $29. In India, the price difference is only INR 300, in which case the new model is the one to go for.
Overall, however, the Nord Buds 2 are a good pair of entry-level earbuds. I would have really liked to see in-ear detection as that is my main issue with the earbuds. The sound quality isn’t fantastic either, but if that’s your priority then go wired and get a pair of 7Hz Zero or Moondrop SSR. But if you want to stay wireless, the Nord Buds 2 are a solid choice in this price range.