OnePlus Nord Buds CE review

The Nord Buds CE are the latest TWS earbuds from OnePlus. Not only are they part of the budget Nord series, they are also part of the even more budget CE or Core Edition lineup, meaning these are essentially the cheapest earbuds the company currently offers.



OnePlus Nord Buds CE review

Sold only in India at the moment, the Nord Buds CE are meant to offer the truly wireless earbuds experience for those on a shoestring. Admittedly, we didn’t have high hopes going in; after all, how good can a $29 pair of earbuds really be? Turns out, the Nord Buds CE have an ace up their sleeve.


Design


The OnePlus Nord Buds CE have a classic one-size-fits-all earbud design similar to the AirPods. OnePlus had previously used this design on the original OnePlus Buds but since moved on to the in-ear design.



OnePlus Nord Buds CE review

The Nord Buds CE earbuds look very similar to the AirPods, with the same hairdryer style shape and nearly identical size for the part that sits inside your ear. This is where they differ from the original OnePlus Buds, which had much more bulbous proportions designed for larger ears.


The stalks on the Nord Buds CE are shorter than the AirPods and feature capacitive touch surface for gesture control. Unfortunately, the Nord Buds CE do not support in-ear detection so there is no automatic play or pause when you insert or remove the earbuds from your ears.



Apple AirPods Apple AirPods • OnePlus Nord Buds CE • OnePlus Buds

Fortunately, the earbuds are still IPX4 rated, which means they can survive the rain and splashes of water.


The charging case has a relatively small and curvy design. It has the same glossy finish as the earbuds, which tends to get scratched quite easily. The lid is spring-loaded and opens readily. There is no pairing button on the case; instead the earbuds automatically enter pairing mode when the case lid is opened and no paired device is available. Only thing else on the case is the USB-C charging port on the bottom.



OnePlus Nord Buds CE review

The Nord Buds CE come in two colors, Moonlight White, and the Misty Gray featured here.


Comfort


Comfort is a tricky subject when it comes to this style of earbuds. The one-size-fits-all design can be temperamental and rarely ever works for everyone.


Depending on your ear shape, you may find the Nord Buds CE either too small or too large, which not only affects their comfort but also the sound quality. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to change it, which is why this style of earbuds has mostly gone out of fashion.



OnePlus Nord Buds CE review

For me, the original AirPods always fit well, and being roughly the same size and shape as them, the Nord Buds CE do as well. Even when your ears are the correct size, they can still move about a bit from their optimal position. Fortunately, at least for me, there didn’t seem to be any real danger of them falling out.


But even when they do fit well, this style of earbuds is still not as comfortable as in-ear models. While the in-ear models use soft silicone tips to secure themselves in your ear canal, these earbuds sit in your concha and put pressure around it to stay in place. This pressure tends to mount when you press them in a bit to create a better seal. This does mean that over time your ears will start to hurt a little bit, which for me was after about a couple of hours.


Still, if you find the original AirPods comfortable, then you should have no trouble with these. They are especially better than the original OnePlus Buds, which were far too big and had a hard time staying in my ears.


Software


The Nord Buds CE features can be controlled natively on OnePlus phones and through the HeyMelody app on other devices.



OnePlus Nord Buds CE review

The functionality on OnePlus phones is handled by a system-level application that integrates the features within the Bluetooth settings menu, similar to the way AirPods operate on iOS. Admittedly, neither is a good system, as the options are buried far too deep within the Bluetooth settings for most regular people to find.


Once you do manage to get there, there’s not much to adjust with the Nord Buds CE as they have a fairly basic feature set. The two most important options you can change here are the EQ presets and the tap gestures. You can also enable an option to take pictures by simply double-tapping the earbuds in the camera app.





OnePlus built-in UI
OnePlus built-in UI
OnePlus built-in UI
OnePlus built-in UI
OnePlus built-in UI
OnePlus built-in UI
OnePlus built-in UI
OnePlus built-in UI


OnePlus built-in UI




If you install the HeyMelody app on other Android phones then you get mostly the same options, except for the option to take photos. You can also update the firmware here. There is a manual Game mode option here to lower latency, which is enabled automatically on OnePlus phones when the phone is in game mode.


The HeyMelody app is admittedly easier to use because it’s right there in your app drawer and you don’t have to go digging for it in the Bluetooth settings. It was also the only way I could access these options on a OnePlus 9 Pro.


You see, previously the built-in audio options on OnePlus phones was handled by the OnePlus Buds app, which could be updated from the Play Store. OnePlus later moved this functionality to a system-level app, which only updates with OS updates.


This means older phones like the OnePlus 9 Pro and others don’t immediately get support for new audio products. The only OnePlus phone that provided audio options for the Nord Buds CE at the time of testing was the OnePlus 10T, which launched alongside the earbuds. For all other OnePlus phones you would need for the update to arrive where the settings become available in the OS. Otherwise, you would have to do what I did and just install the HeyMelody app.





HeyMelody app for Android
HeyMelody app for Android
HeyMelody app for Android
HeyMelody app for Android


HeyMelody app for Android




The HeyMelody app is also available on iOS but OnePlus, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to not enable support for the Nord Buds CE in the iOS app. Of course, the earbuds still work on iOS but without the app you can’t change things like the EQ, touch gestures, or update the firmware. The Nord Buds CE could have been a great low-cost AirPods alternative to iOS users but it seems OnePlus does not like money.


Speaking of EQ, the four EQ presets available in the app are applied on the earbuds themselves, which means they get saved in memory and are enforced regardless of what device you pair the earbuds with, even if that device does not have the HeyMelody app. This also applies to the earbud controls. This means you can configure them through an Android phone and then use them with other devices while having your settings carry over.


Performance


Audio quality


The Nord Buds CE feature a single 13.4mm titanium dynamic driver. The driver is on the larger side compared to what you normally find on earbuds but that is necessary to overcome the lack of a proper seal and larger volume of air between the driver and the ear drum. The earbuds also support Bluetooth 5.2 and SBC/AAC codecs.


There are two things to note before getting into the audio quality. The way these earbuds sound will differ based on the shape of your ears and how well they fit. Moreover, the sound tends to change as the earbuds move around in your ears and it’s not easy to get the exact same sound consistently every time you wear them. This is typical of this design of earbuds and why most people prefer in-ear these days.


Second, the Nord Buds CE can be set to one of four EQ presets including Bass, Balanced, Serenade, and Gentle. While Bass is the default, most of the testing was done using the Balanced preset.



OnePlus Nord Buds CE review

The reason for that is simple; the Nord Buds CE are shockingly well-tuned on the Balanced preset. One of my major complaints with most of OnePlus’ audio products is the overwhelming emphasis on bass. But whether it’s through my incessant complaining, a change of heart at the company, or sheer dumb luck, the Nord Buds CE show careful restraint and consideration in their audio tuning.


Starting with the bass performance, the Nord Buds CE have pleasing warmth and presence in the mid-bass and upper-bass regions. There is a slight emphasis in both areas but it’s more nuanced than overbearing and does not overwhelm the rest of the frequency spectrum.


Low-bass was never going to be a strong point of this design of earbuds but the Nord Buds CE still do reasonably well. Playing 20Hz test tones revealed a surprising amount of rumble thanks to the larger than average drivers. This does come through in actual music as well and the low-end never feels lacking or hollow. It’s certainly weaker than what you’d get with in-ear models but those tend to also have a bass emphasis added in to further amplify the inherent advantages of the design.


The mid-range is where the Nord Buds CE really shine. The Balanced preset is not afraid to let the mids shine through, with strong, full-bodied vocals and instrument presence in the mix. The mid and upper-mids have superb tonality and definition, the kind you simply do not see in budget earbuds.


Treble performance is a bit on the weaker side. While the sound is by no means dark, it does hold back a bit on the treble extension, which results in a slightly veiled presentation. Some may appreciate this as there’s no hiss or sibilance but it also lacks the brilliance and air of the more accomplished (and more expensive) products on the market.



OnePlus Nord Buds CE review

Getting back to the EQ presets, the default Bass preset drops the ball a bit. While there’s certainly more mid-bass output, it also drops the mid-range substantially to emphasize the bass. The Serenade preset goes too far in the other direction, with an over emphasis on the mids, which gets a bit shouty. The Gentle preset sounds similar to Balanced but with reduced treble for a softer presentation.


Neither of the other presets sounds particularly good, which is why I chose to mostly stick with the Balanced preset. There is no option to set a custom EQ like on the Nord Buds, which would have been handy to get the most out of the drivers.


Moving on to the technical performance, the level of detail is lacking a bit, particularly in the treble range. This may be down to the choice of codecs, the audio processing, the drivers or a combination of all three. A slightly brighter treble response would have mimicked a more resolving sound but that’s not the case, either.


The imaging and soundstage were mediocre. This style of earbuds have a slight advantage in this department as they sit a bit further away from your ears and the outside sound piping in creates the illusion of a wider soundstage that’s around you rather than inside your head. While the Nord Buds CE sound a bit better than most in-ear models in this price range with a less boxed-in sound, they are still handily outperformed by more expensive in-ear models.


But while the technical performance was nothing to write home about, the overall tonality makes up for it. These are some of the most well-tuned earbuds in their price range and easily the best OnePlus has put out in several years.


Microphone


The Nord Buds CE have mediocre microphone performance. Voices sound a bit garbled and robotic even when recording in a quiet environment. In noisier areas, the AI noise reduction does a decent job of keeping the ambient noise down but your voice takes a further hit. These are still fine for the occasional voice call and your callers should have no complaints as long as you speak up. But if the microphone quality is important to you then you should consider wired options.


Noise cancellation


The Nord Buds CE feature no active or passive noise cancellation. You hear almost everything happening around you, which may or may not be important to you.


When the music is playing, some of the quieter sounds are masked, which does sort of make the louder sounds more jarring and abrupt as there is no context from the initial quieter sounds leading up to the louder sounds.


For example, you won’t hear someone coming up to you until they are right next to you and start speaking, which makes it somewhat startling. Similarly, cars passing by won’t be audible until they are right next to you, which is its own special jump scare.


So while they do let outside sound in, it’s simultaneously a lot and not enough. But again, this is not unique to the Nord Buds CE and an issue with all earbuds with this design.


Latency


The Nord Buds CE have okay latency performance. While watching videos, there is an initial delay, which eventually gets fixed as you keep watching. Afterwards, the delay is not as noticeable and eventually you stop noticing it altogether.


Gaming situation is not ideal as the delay is definitely more noticeable. For best results, I still recommend using wired earbuds for the fast-paced, multiplayer games where latency is important. As a bonus, you also get high quality microphone performance for voice chat.


Connectivity


The Nord Buds CE had perfectly reliable connectivity performance during testing. There were no audio drops or pairing issues and everything worked as intended.


Battery Life


The Nord Buds CE have a claimed battery life of 4.5 hours of continuous playback for the buds, with the case providing a total of 20 hours (so approximately four additional charges).


In my testing, the Nord Buds CE played for 4 hours 45 minutes, which is just over the official figure.


OnePlus also claims 81 minute of usage after ten minutes of charging the buds inside the case. In my testing I got 90 minutes, which is again just over the official figure.


The overall battery life isn’t outstanding considering there are no special features like active noise cancellation but still adequate for most use cases.


Conclusion


The OnePlus Nord Buds CE are priced at INR 2299, which is about $29. While that’s not a lot of money, there are many other options available in this price range, several of which are cheaper.


But while it’s certainly not the cheapest, it is definitely one of the best sounding pair of wireless earbuds in its segment today. In fact, it sounds better than some that cost twice as much, including OnePlus’ own models.



OnePlus Nord Buds CE review

Unfortunately, the classic earbud-style design isn’t for everyone and there are certainly many downsides to this design, which form the bulk of the issues with this product.


Aside from that, however, there really isn’t much else to complain about. If you are someone who doesn’t mind this design or actually prefers it to in-ear models, then this is easily one of the best pair of earbuds you can buy today. Hopefully, OnePlus makes them available in more regions.


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