Imagine: A quality pair of wireless earbuds that costs less than a nice dinner for two.
That’s what OnePlus is promising with the newest addition to its audio lineup, the $40 OnePlus Nord Buds. No, you don’t need to clean your glasses. They really cost just 40 bones. That’s absurdly cheap for wireless earbuds, but naturally, that means you’ll need to accept some compromises. You won’t find active noise cancellation or a huge suite of customization features here.
But what you will find is a pair of earbuds that doesn’t care what the price tag says. The OnePlus Nord Buds may not hit your bank account very hard, but they don’t pull punches anywhere else.
As basic as basic gets
Credit: Molly Flores / Mashable
Off the bat, one of the most impressive things about the OnePlus Nord Buds is how much nicer they look and feel than 2020’s OnePlus Buds. That previous effort came at double the cost ($80), but the buds themselves looked like cheap knockoff AirPods: You were jamming hard plastic into your ears with obnoxious white stems hanging out. Someone who didn’t know any better might’ve believed you had AirPods, but discerning passersby could tell the difference.
For its newer, cheaper model, OnePlus went with a much more distinct appearance that worked out for the best. Available in Black Slate and White Marble (I guess “black” and “white” weren’t fancy enough) colors, the Nord Buds are shaped like very standard earbuds with silicone ear tips for maximum comfort and a bit of a noise seal. Think AirPods Pro, minus the stem.
Attached to that central part is a long, oval-shaped stem with a small, circular touch panel that enables simplistic playback controls. If you’ve ever used wireless earbuds before, you’ll be right at home with this aspect of the Nord Buds. One tap pauses, two taps skip ahead, and three taps skip backwards. I wish it were a physical button instead of just a touch panel, but it’s small enough that you’re unlikely to accidentally skip ahead while adjusting or removing the earbuds.
Credit: Molly Flores / Mashable
The good news is you won’t need to adjust them that often. These earbuds are shockingly comfortable, holding up to listening sessions of four hours or more without becoming irritating. Even without a physical ear stabilizer, they hardly threaten to come out, either.
The charging case looks like a bigger version of the stem. It’s a long oval shape with a flat top and bottom, a USB-C port for charging, and a Bluetooth pairing button on the back. It’s small, light, and unobtrusive. Perfect.
Speaking of pairing, the initial setup phase for the Nord Buds is a little odd, depending on which Android device you use. Standard Android phones like the Pixel 6 need to go through the HeyMelody app on the Play Store. OnePlus 9 or older owners need to use the OnePlus Buds app for the same features, while OnePlus 9 Pro or 10 Pro users need to download a “Wireless Earphones” app from the Play Store, at which point you’ll be able to adjust Nord Buds settings in the phone’s Bluetooth menu.
Credit: Screenshot: OnePlus
It’s a deeply strange way to do things, but as long as you know which app you need, it’s something you’ll probably only have to worry about once. I was able to test the Nord Buds on a OnePlus 10 Pro, and the settings are fairly sparse. You can download firmware updates, remap the touch controls, and adjust some basic equalizer settings if you don’t like the default sound output. There’s also a “Find My Buds” button that will play a loud noise from a lost earbud, which is always nice to have.
I should also note that iOS users won’t get access to any of the above. You can pair the Nord Buds to an iPhone via Bluetooth, but you won’t be able to tinker with any settings or download updates. Overall, I can’t complain too much about a $40 pair of earbuds that offers any customization whatsoever. Most people will never need more than the ability to find lost earbuds or download updates.
That “you get what you pay for” mindset also applies to the Nord Buds’ performance profile.
As much as you can expect for $40
Credit: Molly Flores / Mashable
It should go without saying that you really shouldn’t expect fantastic audio quality or snazzy features like ANC from earbuds this cheap. If you want those things, go buy the Beats Fit Pro. However, for such a modest price, the OnePlus Nord Buds deliver as much as you could possibly expect.
The 12.4mm titanium drivers powering these things deliver audio that’s clear and loud. The seminal 2003 Fountains of Wayne album Welcome Interstate Managers was my go-to listening companion for this review and the OnePlus Nord Buds conveyed those catchy power-pop chords well enough that I never felt Adam Schlesinger’s (RIP) fantastic work was being disrespected.
Sure, the bass doesn’t hit very hard, and sure, at high volumes in loud outdoor environments, the audio can sound a little tinny. But if your life revolves around quiet offices and lonely walks like mine largely does, that’s not a dealbreaker. Obviously, you’ll need to pause your music on the subway platform because there’s no ANC, but it needs to be repeated: These cost $40.
While the audio quality sits well within the expectations for such cheap earbuds, the unambiguous winner of the whole package is the battery life. OnePlus rates the Nord Buds for seven hours of listening time on a full charge, with the charging case giving you up to 30 hours in total. I suppose this makes sense given the lack of battery-draining ANC, but that seven-hour rating is no joke. I’ve had continuous listening sessions of about that length in my testing.
This is the secret success of the Nord Buds. By eschewing high-dollar features, these earbuds are able to focus on what really matters to most non-audiophiles: The ability to listen to songs or podcasts without constant recharging. The somewhat compromised audio quality doesn’t even matter for podcasts, which makes this an even more enticing deal for the digital talk radio fans out there.
Perfect for the budget-conscious Android user
My personal recommendation will always be to get more expensive earbuds if your budget can handle it. The Beats Fit Pro are the gold standard for both iOS and Android users, but $200 is too much for a lot of folks. If you can swing $120 for the Amazon Echo Buds 2 or $150 for the OnePlus Buds Pro, both deliver equal-or-better sound quality with ANC so you can drown out the rest of the world while you jam.
But none of that matters because these things are 40 bleeping dollars. That’s a medium-fun night out in New York City, or a somewhat extravagant delivery order. The fact that OnePlus delivered acceptable audio quality, exceptional battery life, and all-day comfort for that little money is outstanding. It’s an even better value for Android users, who get a reasonable suite of features to play with for the price.
As for iPhone users, well…these are still pretty good, as long as you don’t mind being locked out of software updates. As with every other possible complaint I could level at the OnePlus Nord Buds, though, just slap me in the face with “THEY’RE $40!” and call it a day.