Bottom line: OnePlus puts the Buds Z2 in budget territory as a much better alternative to the previous Buds Z, but in so doing, also keeps a couple of key features behind for its own phones. They sound good and are solid all-around performers, but you have to accept the trade-offs along the way.
- Good sound quality
- Comfortable fit
- Surprising durability
- Reliable ANC performance
- More for OnePlus users
- Fast charging
- No EQ
- No aptX codec
- So-so battery life
- Glossy finish fingerprint magnet
OnePlus made a name for itself by doing things its own way, first as a budget brand that punched above its weight, and more recently, as an established company that makes high-end products. That largely describes its history-making phones, whereas its audio products don't necessarily follow the same pattern.
The OnePlus Buds Z2 are not flagship wireless earbuds, but they do come with a value proposition. Pay less than you would for some comparable earbuds and get more out of them. It's just that the only way to really sweeten the deal is if you pair them with a OnePlus phone.
OnePlus Buds Z2: Price and availability
OnePlus launched the Buds Z2 in December 2021, making them available for $100. The brand isn't always consistent with third-party retail availability, though does also sell its products directly. Price drops usually happen when newer products come out, so the price tag should stay stable for most of 2022. They come in either obsidian black or pearl white variants.
OnePlus Buds Z2: What's good
The Buds Z2 look more like OnePlus' answer to the AirPods than anything else. It's not just the stem design, which others have cloned in one way or another, but also the simplicity and connectivity in mind here. Unlike the regular AirPods, the Buds Z2 use ear tips for a better seal, rather than a one-size-fits-all design. To keep things tight within the ecosystem, they also offer specific features exclusive to OnePlus devices.
But first, it's worth looking at these earbuds from a broader perspective. Most of what they can do applies to any phone without a OnePlus logo, including active noise cancelation (ANC) and Transparency ambient mode. Their IP55 rating makes them surprisingly durable for earbuds in both this type of design and price range.
Being a sequel, they follow the design philosophy of the OnePlus Buds Z, which were aimed at truly budget-conscious listeners who didn't want to crack a $50 limit. The Buds Z2 shed some weight and girth for a smaller footprint, though the fit isn't all that different. OnePlus uses slightly different ear tips, at least in the oval-shaped opening at the front, otherwise maintaining the same size and shape. Even the case is essentially a carbon copy of the previous Buds Z.
The circular pattern on the earbuds' outer edge makes it easier to manage the touch-sensitive controls. They mirror each other on either side, where a single tap plays/pauses, double-tap skips a track, and triple tap repeats one, along with touch-and-hold to cycle through ANC and Transparency modes. You can adjust them how you want through the HeyMelody app, which OnePlus uses for anyone using an Android (that's not OnePlus) or iOS device. You don't have a ton of other options, but one of the cool ones is a short and long touch and hold. By default, the longer hold switches between two devices the earbuds are paired to, whereas the shorter one cycles between the noise control modes. If you want to access a voice assistant, change one of the standard controls on either earbud to make that happen.
These are typical earbuds for their price as far as their audio features go. They support the AAC and SBC codecs, but not aptX. They also sport the same 11mm drivers as the OnePlus Buds Pro, giving them a noticeable sonic boost over the previous Buds Z. Since the fit isn't dramatically different from that pair, the Buds Z2 deliver much better sound when you get a good seal.
Just don't expect a surprise in how they sound. Like a lot of earbuds in this price range, the drivers push heavier bass and brighter highs, with more stunted mids. It's not fair to expect a perfect sound profile for more budget earbuds, but the good news is that they do sound good, and are an obvious sonic improvement over the regular AirPods. Not to mention being worth the money relative to the Buds Z.
Unfortunately, OnePlus didn't bother to include an equalizer in the HeyMelody app, an omission that just doesn't make sense for a brand wanting to compete with all comers. It's not a lot to ask, and no matter how much these are supposed to be crowd-pleasers in how they play, an EQ levels the audio playback field for everyone with different tastes or preferences.
On the bright side, ANC is pretty good, and actually better than I expected. It's not what I would consider "great" but it does a decent job masking some of those common low-frequency sounds. Getting a tighter seal is a big factor because of how much passive isolation blocks out to start with. Transparency mode is also decent, with the mics bringing in enough of the outside sound to converse or hear someone.
Call quality feels like the same level of performance, which is to say you will get decent results. What helped was how consistent the actual connection was from the phone to the Buds Z2, while the mics are effective enough to do the job. And since they support multipoint connections, you can be paired to two devices at once, except for having to manually switch between them using the long touch and hold.
I mentioned earlier there were specific OnePlus-only features. If you want Dolby Atmos, you will need to pair with a OnePlus 7, 8, or 9 (and eventually 10) device. The same goes for the low-latency gaming mode, also limited to those particular OnePlus handsets. I get the desire to offer something unique within the ecosystem, but it's a shame those features don't extend to other Android devices, too.
OnePlus Buds Z2: What's not good
I get that glossy finishes look nice in photos and in the package, but they are terrible fingerprint magnets. The Buds Z2 case is no exception. After two days, the sheen was gone, with smudges and streaky blemishes all over. It's naturally worse with the black variant, and while it is purely an aesthetic gripe, it just reminded me why manufacturers should move away from it for certain products. Granted, the earbuds themselves share the same glossy veneer, but they don't come into contact with foreign items as much as the case does. I just found the Buds Z2 really easy to scuff up.
Battery life isn't bad, but it's not great, either. I managed just north of four hours per charge with ANC on. The good thing is that the case comes with several extra charges. You can expect at least four extra charges, and the included cable in the box also gives you fast charging to the tune of five hours of playback (with ANC off) after only 10 minutes of charging. It's just a bummer the case doesn't do wireless charging.
I did go over the lack of an EQ and the limited codec support, but it's worth noting that OnePlus could remedy at least one of those things. A firmware and software update could bring an EQ to the Buds Z2 that could truly change how good they sound. With reliable ANC, yet no way to customize the sound, it feels like something's missing. I often felt that way when listening to different music and wished I had an easy way to adjust the sound without having to do it in a variety of apps instead.
OnePlus Buds Z2: Competition
The OnePlus Buds Z2 aren't going to overtake any pair on the best wireless earbuds list, but they are better than a popular pair like the AirPods (3rd Gen). That's not something to ignore, especially when the price is right by comparison. If you have one of the later OnePlus phones, the value add only increases further.
Even so, there are several competitors who make a strong case to look elsewhere, including among the best cheap wireless earbuds. The Anker Soundcore Life P3 are worth thinking about, considering they have an EQ and cost less than the Buds Z2. The Creative Outlier Air V3 also come in cheaper with great sound. You may even luck out and find the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 dropped in price to get close enough to what the Buds Z2 cost.
OnePlus Buds Z2: Should you buy it?
You should buy this if ...
- You have a OnePlus phone
- You care about cost
- You want some durability
- You want active noise cancelation
You shouldn't buy this if ...
- You want better battery life
- You want aptX support
- You want an equalizer
- You want earbuds without exclusive features
OnePlus did right by improving upon the Buds Z in making the Buds Z2 much better in important respects. They sound much better, are more durable, and have solid noise cancelation. It's well worth upgrading, especially if you liked the Buds Z. Otherwise, it really depends on what you're willing to accept, especially if you don't have a compatible OnePlus phone.
4 out of 5
These earbuds aren't supposed to be exclusive to OnePlus users, though it can feel that way when certain features are missing. Many Android users don't have OnePlus, and can always seek other pairs.
OnePlus Buds Z2
A decent sequel
OnePlus makes it easy to forget the previous Buds Z because the Buds Z2 are much better in ways that matter. That includes how they sound, their decent active noise cancelation, and surprising durability. You do get more bang for your buck if you have a compatible OnePlus device.
Ted Kritsonis loves taking photos when the opportunity arises, be it on a camera or smartphone. Beyond sports and world history, you can find him tinkering with gadgets or enjoying a cigar. Often times, that will be with a pair of headphones or earbuds playing tunes. When he's not testing something, he's working on the next episode of his podcast, Tednologic.
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