AirPod alternatives for nearly half the price
- Good sound quality
- Long battery life
- Limited on-device controls
- No EQ
OnePlus is really getting back to its roots this year. The company’s long-awaited true wireless earphones, the OnePlus Buds, live up to the phone maker’s legacy of offering high-quality products for less money than its competitors. At only £64.85, the Buds look and function a lot like Apple’s £154.00 AirPods, while delivering better audio quality and battery life. They’re only held back by a lack of physical controls that will keep sending you back to your phone to change the track or volume. Still, they deliver enough value for the price to earn our Editors’ Choice award for affordable wire-free earphones.
Design and Features
The OnePlus Buds come in an oval charging case with a USB-C port at the bottom. They include a USB cable, but no AC adapter. The charging case has a single LED to show battery status or pairing mode; there are no lights or buttons on the earpieces themselves. The Buds are safe against splashes, with an IPX4 rating, although they shouldn’t be dunked.
The earpiece design looks a lot like the AirPods Pro, with a dangling boom rather than the earplug style most other true wireless models offer. The earpieces themselves are also shaped much like the AirPods, and they’re one-size-fits-all. I find the smooth plastic earbuds comfortable and secure, but if you have oddly shaped ears, you might want something more customizable.
They come in three colors. White and gray are available worldwide, with Europe and India getting a striking pale blue option in a blue-and-green case that’s made to match the blue OnePlus Nord phone. Given how common and boring white earbuds are, I think the blue ones are worth searching out.The charging case has a USB-C port at the bottom
The Buds offer fast pairing with OnePlus phones. When I opened the case, my OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro phones automatically detected the earphones and paired with a single tap. Other Android phones (and iPhones) will use the usual Bluetooth pairing process.
I got much greater wireless range than OnePlus promises. Because of the Bluetooth spec, OnePlus can only quote 30 feet of range. That’s about what I got for a phone call (farther out, the two earbuds lost sync, and it was like I was getting an echo). But music playback was solid out to about 60 feet, which is very good range for a pair of Bluetooth earbuds.The blue model really stands out
OnePlus claims 10 hours of battery life on a charge with the Buds, with two more charges in the case. I got 7 hours, 52 minutes in testing, which is still excellent for this category. A 10-minute charge in the case adds 100 minutes of playback, while a full charge takes a bit more than an hour.
You have to lose something at this price, of course, and that’s controls. The Buds have no physical volume control, and the primary on-device control you get is a double-tap, which is track forward for most users. Take an earbud out, and your music stops; put it back in, and your music restarts. That at least somewhat makes up for a lack of a play/pause button.
OnePlus phone owners can customize the left or right earbuds to each become fast forward, play/pause, or to launch Google Assistant. With one earbud set to play/pause, and one to Google Assistant, you’re doing pretty well. But if you don’t have a OnePlus phone, you can’t set those functions.You get a total of three charges with a fully charged case
There’s also a long-press option, but it isn’t customizable. A long press switches between two devices attached to the Buds (such as a phone and a laptop), while a longer press rejects a call. I would love to be able to customize one of those functions to access Google Assistant or to pause music.
The earbuds each have 13.4mm drivers with the usual 20Hz-20Khz frequency response. Audio performance is excellent. One of our test tracks, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” combines intense sub-bass with distorted high-frequency vocals. The Buds balance the highs and lows nicely, delivering throbbing bass and getting very loud without distorting.The Buds also look like AirPods in the hand, honestly
Another one of our test tracks, Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” reveals a bit more about the sound signature. Callahan’s baritone and the acoustic guitar are the stars here, with plenty of emotion and shape to his voice. The mid-bass drum sound steps back a bit, although there’s plenty of low end. You better like that sound signature, though, with boosted low bass and enhanced highs, as there’s no EQ to tune things to your preferences.
The mic is sensitive, picking up quiet voices well, at the cost of also getting surrounding background noise. That said, it put my voice far enough in front of the background noise that I was always intelligible. There isn’t much noise cancellation, either in the earbuds or the mic. I made some voice recordings with cars going by, as well as with music playing on a nearby phone. That was all clearly audible in my recordings. This is par for the course with most true wireless earbuds.Long booms offer good mic quality, but there’s no noise cancellation.
Good Sound, Less Money
A pair of true wireless earbuds with good sound quality and long battery life for £64.85 is an excellent deal. OnePlus went back to its roots of focusing on core capabilities and cutting corners on what it sees as luxuries, in this case on-device controls. They’re a good alternative to the standard AirPods, offering many similar features for nearly half the price.
Of course, you can get better performance for more money. For example, the Jaybird Vista earphones (£139.99) have a fully waterproof design and tunable EQ. The AirPods Pro add active noise cancellation to the mix, but they also cost £200, or about the same as three pairs of OnePlus Buds. That makes it easy to recommend the OnePlus Buds as a lower-cost option, and to name their our Editors’ Choice for affordable true wireless earphones.