OnePlus Nord Buds review
The OnePlus Nord Buds is the company’s first audio product in the Nord series and also its cheapest truly wireless earbuds to date. Starting at just $39, the Nord Buds are meant to be a no-frills set of earbuds for those on a tight budget.
With the Nord Buds, OnePlus has stripped things down to the basics, with no active noise-cancellation, wireless charging, fancy codecs, or even in-ear detection. You do, however, get some things like an IP55 rating, fast charging, and four microphones with AI noise reduction for calls. All of this, in a unique and interesting design.
Let’s see how well it performs.
Design and Comfort
The OnePlus Nord Buds have a contemporary design with simple geometric shapes and clean, flat sides. The charging case has the usual pill shape but with flat sides and sharp edges that look distinctive.
The case surface has a matte finish with minimal panel gaps and tight tolerances for the lid. Even the pairing button on the back is flush with the surface and barely visible at first glance.
The earbuds continue the design trend with a flat, pill-shaped stem. On the outer side is a concave, mirror-like area, which is a capacitive touch surface for the playback gestures. The stems are short and only about an inch in length.
The inner ear portion of the earbuds moves away from the sharp geometric edges to a more organic design. The ear tips are the new oval-shaped ones that OnePlus has been using on all of its recent products since the OnePlus Buds Pro.
The small size and lightweight of the Nord Buds make them comfortable to wear for extended periods without putting undue pressure on any part of your ear. You do have to be careful while handling them, though, as the small size makes them a bit fiddly, especially with large fingers.
The finish and build quality of the earbuds and the case are surprisingly good for the price. The earbuds are also IP55 rated for dust and water resistance and feature an additional nano-coating to prevent corrosion.
The Nord Buds are natively supported on OnePlus phones. The phones will automatically pop up a pairing dialog when you open the case near them, similar to the AirPods. The Bluetooth settings house additional customization options for the earbuds, although this menu is buried far too deep and not intuitive to locate, again, just like the AirPods.
On non-OnePlus Android phones and iOS, users have to download the Oppo HeyMelody app, which will then present the same options as the ones built-in on OnePlus phones. However, at the time of publishing, the iOS app was not updated to support the Nord Buds.
Nord Buds software on OnePlus phones
The options you get with the Nord Buds are limited. You can change the single/double/triple tap behavior of the touch sensors on the earbuds to play/pause, previous or next track, and voice assistant. You can also disable the gesture if you don’t want accidental touches. You can also enable a long touch and hold gesture to switch between the current and previously paired device. Unfortunately, there’s no way to assign volume control to any of the gestures and you are forced to adjust it from the phone every time.
There is also a find my earbuds feature and an option to update the firmware. My review unit was on 107.107.100 at the time of publishing.
A new option with the Nord Buds is Sound Master EQ. This includes four presets — Balanced (Default), Bold, Serenade, and Bass — along with an option to create additional custom presets using a 6-band EQ. Any changes you make here, including creating and naming new custom presets, are saved on the earbuds and get transferred to any new device that you pair to.
The Nord Buds only include SBC and AAC codecs. They support Bluetooth 5.2 but there’s no multi-device pairing. Instead, you can pair two devices separately and use the aforementioned option to quickly switch back and forth.
One significant omission from the Nord Buds is the lack of in-ear detection. This means there is no automatic play/pause for when you insert or remove the earbuds from your ears.
The OnePlus Nord Buds have an aggressively bass-boosted sound with muted upper mid-range and treble response.
The bass is dominated by an over-emphasized mid-bass and upper-bass region, which tends to cloud over the entire sound spectrum. The quality of bass here is unremarkable; you just get a lot of it and it’s mostly sloppy and muddy.
The lower mid-range has a mellow and pleasant tonality but is often overwhelmed by the bass response. The upper mids are also truncated by the dull high-end response of the earbuds. The treble performance is dialed back and mushy, which creates a cloudy presentation for vocals and instruments alike.
The overall tonality is very bass-forward, resulting in a dark and one-dimensional sound. We have seen this overblown bass response on other recent OnePlus audio products but the Nord Buds are hit with the double-whammy of an underemphasized treble as well.
Fortunately, the Sound Master EQ presets do help. The featured ‘Bold’ preset fixes the tuning to a massive extent. It has a slightly spicy top-end and a slightly recessed mid-range but overall sounds significantly better because it does the all-important job of dropping the bass down to nominal levels. For most users, picking this preset is an easy way to fix the overall tonality of these earbuds.
The Serenade preset brings down the treble a bit from the Bold preset and boosts upper mids instead, which makes the sound a bit nasal and honky. The drivers on the Nord Buds tend to sound a bit nasally and metallic in the upper mids, which is more noticeable on this preset. The Bass preset increases the bass even further and brings down the mids back slightly, making it even less pleasant to listen to than the default Balanced preset.
The good thing is that you don’t have to use either of these and can create your own. With a bit of tuning, I was able to get a preset I was mostly happy with. You can only do so much with a six-band EQ and there’s nothing you can do about the timbre or resolution of the drivers, which remain subpar. But I was able to get a tuning I could listen to for longer than five minutes, which isn’t something I can say about the default profile.
The OnePlus Nord Buds have surprisingly good microphone performance. When recording in a quiet environment, voices sound full-bodied and natural. There is some garbling from the ambient noise reduction algorithm but it’s not too distracting.
In noisier environments, the voice quality is fine to an extent. In extremely noisy environments, the earbuds struggle to keep the voice intelligible. The background noise itself is kept low at all times.
The Nord Buds have good latency performance for watching video. There is an initial bit of delay when the video is first started but it quickly syncs and stays that way. The latency is fine for casual gaming but you should still get wired earbuds for competitive multiplayer gaming.
The Nord Buds had reliable connectivity performance. At no point were there unexpected disconnections or interruptions in the sound.
The Nord Buds have no active noise cancellation. However, the ear tips block a fair bit of ambient noise passively, which makes it easy to focus on the audio being played except in very loud environments.
The OnePlus Nord Buds have a claimed battery life of 7 hours for the earbuds on a full charge. In my testing, I was able to get 6 hours, 52 minutes, which is very close to the claimed figure.
OnePlus also claims 5 hours of playtime after 10 minutes of charging from 0%. In my testing, I was only able to get 2 hours, 57 minutes, which is a reasonable amount of time but nowhere close to the claimed figure.
The OnePlus Nord Buds are an above-average pair of earbuds for those on a budget. They have a fairly unique design that is comfortable along with good microphone performance and decent battery life. The default audio tuning is tragic but fortunately easy to fix with the provided presets. The sound quality then is quite acceptable for a product in this price range.
Overall, there’s not much to complain about other than the lack of in-ear detection so if you’re on the lookout for a pair of affordable earbuds, the Nord Buds are a valid option.