Just over a year ago, I began my OnePlus Buds review with a summary, which I'll reproduce here:
Given the ubiquity of true wireless earbuds, and the success of the Bullets Wireless series, you'd think the OnePlus Buds would be a home run. They're not.
Instead, they just make me look forward to the inevitable OnePlus Buds Pro.
Well, OnePlus did what I expected and released a more expensive, more full-featured version of its first true wireless earbuds, aptly named OnePlus Buds Pro. At $150, they're right in the middle of the pack in terms of pricing and features, and they will surely be the obvious choice for OnePlus phone users. But if you're a Samsung or Pixel user — or just someone who wants the best wireless earbuds — are the OnePlus Buds Pro worth your consideration?
After a week or so, I can resoundingly say that despite visually blending in with the millions of AirPods Pro owners out there, the OnePlus Buds Pro stand out in some unique ways that I really appreciate.
OnePlus Buds Pro
Bottom line: OnePlus makes up for its underwhelming first pair of true wireless earbuds with a set of comfortable AirPods Pro lookalikes with excellent sound, good microphones, and a comprehensive set of features.
- Solid sound quality
- Good microphones
- Some interesting features, like Zen Mode Air
- ANC is underwhelming
- EQ personalization is lackluster
- HeyMelody app experience is confusing for non-OnePlus phone owners
OnePlus Buds Pro: Price and availability
The OnePlus Buds Pro are available for $149.99 USD / $199.99 CAD / £139 on September 1. They come in two colors, Matte Black and Glossy White, which correspond to both the case color and the top portion of the buds themselves, with the stems being silver on both colors.
OnePlus Buds Pro: What sounds good
OnePlus "borrowed" the AirPods' stylings for the original OnePlus Buds, so it's no surprise it's doing the same with the Buds Pro, down to the shortened stem and squeeze gesture area. The good news is that if there's a design or user interaction paradigm to steal from in this industry, the AirPods Pro are a safe bet: their silicone tips and lightweight design make them exceptionally comfortable to wear for long periods, and it's easy to play, pause, skips tracks, and access voice assistants and other features by quickly squeezing or holding the bottom of the stems.
I got to review the matte black version of the OnePlus Buds Pro (or the OnePluds Pro as I keep inadvertently typing), and they're quite the lookers — I like the contrast of the dark black upper portion with the shiny bottom portion. There are three tip options in the box, and, like many other reviews, I found the largest size the most comfortable but still not quite big enough to create a proper passive seal in my ear, which is required not only to block out noise but to prevent accidental shifts while moving quickly.
The case is a low-profile jewel box-type that sits flat on a table, opening up to reveal the buds oriented horizontally, facing away from one another. Like with the original OnePlus Buds, the company got the magnet strength perfect here — just enough hold to keep the buds secure even when the lid is open and the case is flipped upside down, but easy enough to remove with one hand. I know that sounds like a small thing, but Samsung could learn a thing or two in this respect.
The earbuds charge quickly over USB-C, but the battery is good enough that you won't need to more than a couple times a week.
You can also set the case on a Qi charger and top it up, albeit slowly, over a couple of hours, but plugging it into a USB-C charger gets you phone charging speeds — 7.5 watts — for 10 hours of playback within 10 minutes. The earbuds' actual battery life is pretty middle-of-the-road, though: just over five hours per bud with ANC enabled, though you can push that to eight hours when ANC is off.
You'll probably want ANC enabled, though: the sound equalization was clearly optimized for it to stay on throughout. OnePlus offers three ANC modes, including a "smart" dynamic mode that reportedly uses the microphones to adjust the amount of attenuation according to ambient noise. However, I rarely noticed a difference between that and the most occluding option, which purports to offer 40dB of noise canceling.
In reality, the ANC is fine but nothing more than that. It doesn't come close to blocking the same amount of noise, at high or low frequencies, as something like the AirPods Pro or Sony WF-1000XM4, and the newer and equivalently-priced Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 beat it handily here, too. Still, you get some attenuation, especially in the mids and highs, so the rolling whoosh of a passing car or the shriek of a nearby baby should be quieted, if not diminished completely. (Now I'm sure that if I got a better seal with the included ear tips, ANC would likely perform much better, so I may have to dig into my collection of earbuds to find another option that fits on the OnePlus Buds tips and offers me better isolation.)
OnePlus also offers a transparency mode — that's when the microphones turn on to pick up and amplify outside noise, so you don't have to remove your earbuds to hear an announcement or have a conversation — and, again, it's fine. Again, not the worst I've heard, but it's still pretty digital and nowhere near as natural as the AirPods Pro or Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro, which perform the best at this, in my opinion.
As for sound quality, you'll probably like what you hear... here. OnePlus has tuned the equalization to be bass-pronounced without being being-overwhelming, and it's a signature that I prefer out of the box over the flat, more naturalistic sound of the Galaxy Buds Pro and AirPods Pro. (On the Galaxy Buds series, you can get the OnePlus Buds Pro sound by switching to EQ to "Dynamic.")
I had a really good experience making and receiving calls with the OnePlus Buds Pro. As with the original OnePlus Buds, the microphones are of very high quality, and the noise suppression algorithms do a decent job blocking background noise for the person on the other end. It's one area that OnePlus can claim victory over Samsung's similarly-priced Galaxy Buds 2.
Making phone calls on the OnePlus Buds Pro is an absolute pleasure.
On a OnePlus phone, the Buds Pro pair immediately using a system that resembles Google's Fast Pair — an icon just appears, you connect to it, and all oversight is done through the phone's Bluetooth settings. On any other Android phone, or soon on an iPhone, you're forced to use the awkwardly named HeyMelody app, which is Oppo's all-in-one tool for all of its headphones, OnePlus earbuds included. It's not a great app, but it gets the job done, and after a quick firmware update connected to my Pixel 5, I was off and running.
The earbuds' software has a couple of neat features worth pointing out. There's AudioID, which does a basic hearing test and adjusts the output to account for minor hearing loss, though once equalized, there's no tweaking the results to your liking. I found the adjustments very subtle but good enough that I kept them enabled, though I hope OnePlus adds more granular controls in the future.
The second feature is something called Zen Mode Air, which is weakly associated with the Zen Mode feature that debuted on OnePlus phones a couple of years ago. Several preset white or ambient noise loops are available to play with a press-and-hold of the gesture area and can be a good substitute for sitting in silence with ANC enabled or trying to fall asleep in a new environment. OnePlus confirmed to me that it doesn't plan to add any new tracks or allow owners to upload their own tracks — the included ones can be uploaded directly to the earbuds' storage and played when not connected to a phone — but the feature is wonderful on its own and I'll likely use it a lot.
One thing I appreciate is the fact that these earbuds are IP55 water and dust-resistant, making them appropriate for working out. I did several bike rides and outdoor runs with these. Beyond the occasional repositioning mid-stride, they stayed secure, comfortable, and, most notably, unaffected by sweat over the course of two weeks.
OnePlus Buds Pro: What falls flat
Nothing the OnePlus Buds do is particularly bad, but there are a few underwhelming aspects to the $150 product. The biggest issue is that the effectiveness of the active noise cancelation just isn't up to par with its competitors. I'm glad it's included here — it's a table-stakes feature for any earbuds over $100 these days — but they don't block out nearly enough noise to be effective in loud environments. With ANC turned on, it's the equivalent to a well-isolating pair of passive earbuds.
Part of the issue is what I mentioned above — the silicone tips are poorly sized and too shallow to fill the entire ear cavity and part of the canal necessary for a proper seal. Third-party ear tips can potentially fix this issue, but given that I'm by no means the only reviewer who expressed this concern, I hope OnePlus addresses the ear tip shape in a future Buds Pro interaction.
Having to use different apps depending on your phone maker is incredibly user-hostile.
I'm also not impressed by OnePlus's haphazard support for non-OnePlus phones through the use of this HeyMelody app. It already makes a dedicated OnePlus Buds app for its older products, but it's clear that resource constraints and the fact that Oppo already maintains this other app for its own headphones made the decision easy for OnePlus. While the app experience itself isn't bad, it adds an element of complexity for anyone outside OnePlus's ecosystem who chooses to buy the Buds Pro — perhaps a small number, but a much larger potential user base the company shouldn't want to alienate.
Finally, there are some lingering bugs I'd like to see addressed in future firmware updates. The most egregious is that, by default, wearing a single earbud enables transparency mode, which lets in outside noise by using the external microphones to pick up surrounding sounds. You can disable it, but it has to be done manually through the app, not by holding down on the stem — the same gesture that enables and disables ANC and transparency mode when wearing two earbuds. I reckon the decision was made for safety and convenience, but given the lackluster quality of OnePlus's transparency mode, I want to be able to leave it off entirely when wearing one earbud, especially since the other ear is free to focus on my surroundings.
I also ran into an issue where transparency mode would remain on in one earbud when attempting to disable it on both, forcing me to remove the affected one from my ear and go through the process again. Not a huge thing, but still annoying.
OnePlus also boasts the ability to support a high-quality Bluetooth codec called LHDC, or Low Harmony Dynamic Codec, but it's not available at launch, nor will it be compatible with many devices — just the latest OnePlus and Oppo phones — when it eventually launches through a firmware update. OnePlus is also gating its low-latency Gaming Mode to OnePlus devices, another example of flagrant and unnecessary ecosystem lock-in.
OnePlus Buds Pro: Competition
Hoo boy. The OnePlus Buds Pro are up against a wealth of competitors, each with their own stake in the ecosystem game. Obviously, from a design and feature influence perspective, it's the AirPods Pro these are competing against, and OnePlus challenges Apple in meaningful ways despite going after very different demographics. OnePlus is clearly building earbuds like the Buds Pro to build the same type of ecosystem lock-in as Apple does with the AirPods Pro. However, there are few, if any, advantages for OnePlus phone owners that will have them seeking these out beyond the name on the can.
The closest actual competitor to the Buds Pro is the Galaxy Buds 2, which Samsung just released alongside its Galaxy Z Fold and Flip 3. While one could argue the OnePlus Buds Pro look better than the egg-shaped Buds 2, they don't sound as good, nor do they offer nearly as effective noise cancelation. The Buds Pro do win in one key area: water resistance. They have an IP55 rating versus the Buds 2's IP52, making them much more effective at resisting damage from water ingress or long-term corrosion from sweat.
I'm also going to throw in another pair of AirPods-style stem earbuds that sound better than the OnePlus Buds Pro and are frequently about two-thirds the price: Soundcore's Liberty Air 2 Pro. Anker's headphone division has been producing exceptional products lately, and with excellent ANC, decent microphones, and a fantastic app experience, these should be on your list when looking at the OnePlus Buds Pro.
OnePlus Buds Pro: Should you buy it?
You should buy this if ...
- You own a OnePlus phone
- You wish AirPods Pro came in black
- You prefer comfort over clarity
You shouldn't buy this if...
- You need the best ANC out there
- You have really big ears
OnePlus nailed the essentials with the Buds Pro and added a few additional features like Zen Mode Air that help justify the $150 investment. Obviously built for OnePlue phone owners, these are an easy recommendation to anyone who covets the AirPods Pro look and gesture paradigm in the Android ecosystem. At the same time, OnePlus has a lot of work to do improving its noise-canceling algorithms; that, along with a few more bug-fix firmware updates, could make these a must-buy for any Android phone user.
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