OnePlus increase the expectations of low-cost wireless earbuds with the OnePlus Buds Z2

These wireless earbuds are the best product from OnePlus in a while

OnePlus has outdone itself with the new OnePlus Buds Z2, a $159 set of earbuds that sound great, pack top-of-class battery life and offer compelling noise-cancelling — all while costing less than many competitors.

OnePlus has impressed me with its low-cost earbuds since the release of the original OnePlus Buds a few years ago. I’ve found the company’s wireless buds are great at offering an expansive soundscape with detailed music. The OnePlus Buds Z2s carry those positives forward while also offering higher-end features like active noise-cancelling.

However, a few minor OnePlus Buds Pro features are missing from the Z2s. That said, with their price in mind, these shortcomings are easy to forgive.

Surround sound on a budget

The number one reason to buy the OnePlus Buds Z2 are their sound quality. I love the richness that OnePlus packed into these tiny buds. Compared to the similarly priced Galaxy Buds 2, I find the 11-inch drivers in the OnePlus Buds Z2 pack a stronger bass punch, sharper vocals and offer a more immersive listening experience.

Like Apple’s 3rd-gen AirPods and several other earbuds, the OnePlus Buds Z support Dolby Atmos surround sound. However, you need to subscribe to Apple or Amazon Music to get this effect during music playback. In practice, it can help make music sound more enveloping by artificially widening the soundstage.

A close up of the OnePlus Buds Z2 touch pad.

That said, while surround sound music is a nice add-on, until OnePlus figures out how to mimic Apple’s head-tracking tech, these buds lag sorely behind the AirPods’ immersion. While a minor grip given not many songs support Dolby Atmos, Apple’s AirPods do it better.

The OnePlus Buds Z2 next to comparable options, including the OnePlus Buds Pro, Samsung’s Galaxy Buds 2, Apple’s 3rd-gen AirPods and Beats’ Studio Buds. 

OnePlus also leverages active noise cancellation to help isolate the music you’re listening to by blocking out background sounds. As with most earbuds, the feature isn’t as strong as it is with over-ear headphones, but it does help make the music feel more present by pushing outside sound to the background. OnePlus offers two levels of noise-cancelling and a transparency mode. I used the full mode the most, but having a slightly less aggressive version to ratchet down to is a welcome addition.

Microphone gauntlet

After editing my mic test (seen above), I don’t think the OnePlus Buds Z2 were the worst or the best. However, they were above average and should work well as a microphone for calls.

App-based add-ons

OnePlus Buds Z2 next to the earbud’s settings on a OnePlus 9 Pro.

As with most wireless earbuds in 2022, you can enable features and control the OnePlus Buds Z2′ noise-cancelling modes through a dedicated app

On a OnePlus phone, this functionality is built into the device, but everyone else will need to get an app called HeyMelody (iOS/Android). You can also use this app to change how the touch controls work. Beyond basic play/pause, you can set up a feature that allows you to hold down on the buds for three seconds to switch to another nearby device that you’ve previously connected with.

While this isn’t as seamless an experience as what Apple’s AirPods offer, or even the new update to the OnePlus Buds Pro, it’s nice to see this feature built-in. And when it works, it makes jumping from a device like a phone to a computer and back again a little easier.

OnePlus’ website says there’s a feature designed to help locate the buds when they’re lost, but I couldn’t find it in the iOS or OnePlus versions of the earbuds companion app. The earbuds also don’t appear in the Google Find My Devices app like the original OnePlus Buds Z did.

Comfortable and long-lasting buds

One of the things I’m glad OnePlus didn’t change about the new OnePlus Buds Z2 compared to the originals is the ultra-comfortable design.

The new earbuds are light and they sit in my ears comfortably and securely with the medium ear tips (small and large also included). Since they’re so light, they don’t wobble much in your ears, and wearing them for hours on end isn’t a chore. Even the ear tips are made from pleasant-feeling silicon, so they don’t feel slimy in my ears after a few hours like other earbuds I’ve tried.

OnePlus Buds Z2 plus in-box accessories and cable. Not pictured. right earbud and charging case.

If you’re wearing them for a long time, you also don’t have to worry about battery life either. On their own, the buds last for five hours with noise cancellation enabled and up to seven with the feature turned off. Once you add the case into the mix, they last for between 27-38 hours, depending on the number of calls you make and the noise-cancellation you use.

The snug fit also makes them great for being active since both the case and buds feature water resistance. The buds are IP55 rated, so they should be ok to use in the rain. However, their case is only IPx4 rated, so while I may be able to take some small splashes, I’d do my best to tuck it away if it’s getting wet outside.

It all comes down to this

While I was disappointed at first that OnePlus Buds Z2s cost almost twice as much as the original OnePlus Buds Z, I’m walking away from this review pretty impressed.

Compared to the competitors, the long-lasting battery, clean sound and comfortable weight make them some of my favourite buds leading into 2022. However, if you want something ultra-tiny, the Galaxy Buds 2 are still decent buds and cost similarly. Between the two, though, I’d choose the OnePlus Buds.

At this price, I would have loved to see OnePlus bring Zen Mode, the stem controls and new seamless switching from the Buds Pro to the Buds Z2, but if you’re only after good sound quality for a decent value, the OnePlus Buds Z2 are the better option.

Overall, for $150 — and even cheaper right now with a $20 off sale — I don’t think there are many better wireless earbud options. The OnePlus Buds Z2 are available in ‘Pearl White’ and ‘Obsidian Black.’

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