OnePlus is no stranger to the budget smartphone game. Now, it’s hoping to push even further into the budget audio market, too. Of course, this isn’t the first pair of OnePlus true wireless earbuds we’ve seen — far from it, in fact. The OnePlus Buds Z2 succeed the original Buds Z, and there are quite a few fundamental changes. Will active noise-cancelling (ANC), Dolby Atmos, and an IP rating be enough for these $99 earbuds? Find out in our OnePlus Buds Z2 review.
Unfortunately, like Apple and Samsung, OnePlus has locked many of the best features to its own devices. We’ll touch on how that impacts the long-term value in a few minutes, so let’s get into it.
Who should buy the OnePlus Buds Z2?
- OnePlus owners will get the most out of their OnePlus Buds Z2 thanks to fast pairing, Dolby Atmos, and low-latency playback.
- Students can appreciate the price of the OnePlus Buds Z2 and their stylish design.
- Commuters will get plenty of usage from the noise-cancelling and durable IP55 rating.
What’s it like to use the OnePlus Buds Z2?
Chase Bernath / Android Authority
It’s surprisingly easy to think of the OnePlus Buds Z2 as a far more affordable version of the Apple AirPods Pro. The earbud stems are 15% shorter than those on the original OnePlus Buds Z, much like Apple’s own design change. You’ll also find three ear tip sizes in the box, and you can take a fit test to ensure you choose the right set. We’ve seen fit tests from Amazon, Beats, and Sony already, and we’re all for them.
OnePlus added an IP55 rating to its earbuds, making them a great choice for travel or your next workout. The charging case is in on the fun, too, with an IPX4 rating that’s more for light splashes than anything else. OnePlus goes as far as to recommend that you can give your earbuds a quick rinse, though we’d advise extreme caution — water damage isn’t covered under the standard warranty.
Related: The best AirPods alternatives
The onboard touch controls are significantly better than on the original OnePlus Buds Z. You can choose what each number of taps does, including voice assistant controls. If you press and hold either earbud for one second, it will swap between noise-cancelling and transparency modes, while a three-second press will swap your connected device.
OnePlus added automatic ear detection, too, so you won’t have to miss any music when you remove the Buds Z2 from your ears. You can still tap into mono listening if you only remove one earbud.
Do you need the HeyMelody app to use the OnePlus Buds Z2?
The HeyMelody app is your customization headquarters for the OnePlus Buds Z2, though it’s limited compared to the competition. You can only swap between two ANC levels and the transparency mode. It’s mainly there to help you manage the touch controls and general settings, though.
We performed our tests on version 10.3 with firmware version 500, and there is no custom EQ option yet. This is a pretty glaring omission, as well as one of our biggest complaints about the OnePlus Buds Pro, so you’ll need a third-party EQ app instead.
Do you need a OnePlus phone to use the Buds Z2?
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority
The short answer is no, you don’t need a OnePlus phone to use these earbuds. However, it will make life a lot easier. Many of the key features are restricted to OnePlus devices, including Dolby Atmos. In fact, you’ll need a OnePlus 7, 8, or 9 for Dolby support. Low-latency gaming playback is also limited to select devices.
OnePlus users get instant pairing, while Android users get Google’s Fast Pair, and iPhone users have to pair manually.
What Bluetooth codecs do the OnePlus Buds Z2 support?
The OnePlus Buds Z2 feature Bluetooth 5.2, which is great to see as it’s keeping up with modern standards for future-proofing. You’ll also find SBC and AAC support, and Bluetooth 5.2 is more efficient than the 5.0 standard. This means you should see longer battery life and slightly faster pairing.
Learn more: Bluetooth codecs 101
Apple users should get great connection quality from AAC, while Android users may not have the same luck. That’s where SBC comes in, even if it has a lower transfer rate than aptX, which is not supported.
How is the battery life?
Chase Bernath / Android Authority
Our team over at SoundGuys puts every pair of earbuds through a sustained 75dB(SPL) test with ANC cranked as high as it will go. As a result, we saw four hours and 22 minutes of playback on a single charge with the Buds Z2. It’s not a game-changing length, though it’s in line with what we see from most competitors. The charging case adds up to 38 total hours of playback with ANC turned off.
If you’re in a hurry, you can get an impressive five hours of playback off of just 10 minutes in the charging case. When you eventually wear the case down, you’ll need to recharge with USB-C as there’s no wireless support. This high-speed recharge means that the battery is unlikely to last beyond a few years due to degradation.
Is the noise-cancelling any good?
Considering the price, the OnePlus Buds Z2 deliver impressive noise reduction. If you can achieve a good fit with the ear tips, you’ll see about 30dB of passive reduction. Cranking ANC adds another 20dB of low-frequency reduction. That should handle sounds like an airplane engine, reducing them to around one-quarter of the loudness.
Overall, the combined passive and ANC combination should cut environmental sounds by one half or more. The noise reduction is objectively superior to that of the OnePlus Buds Pro and AirPods Pro.
See also: The best noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds
How do the OnePlus Buds Z2 sound?
The OnePlus Buds Z2 punch above their price tag for the most part, but the overall sound quality falls into a classic budget-friendly trap. OnePlus leaned into the frequency response that we’ve come to expect on affordable options — plenty of bass and treble with not enough in the midrange. The cyan line represents the OnePlus Buds Z2, while the pink line represents SoundGuys‘ Consumer Curve V2.0.
Learn more: What is frequency response?
Our biggest complaint may be the lack of a custom EQ option, which means you’re effectively stuck with the bass-boosted profile. You can always tweak the EQ in your favorite streaming apps, but you’ll have to adjust it for every single app as the settings don’t carry over.
Lows, mids, and highs
Our house frequency response includes a slight boost to low and high frequencies, but the OnePlus Buds Z2 take things a step further. Bass notes are often up to twice as loud as midrange guitars and pianos. If you prefer EDM, you might be much happier with the overall sound profile.
As you can see in the curve, there’s a pretty considerable drop from the 500-1,000Hz range, which means that acoustic fans may have issues with bass notes masking their midrange partners. The boost in the high frequencies may also cause problems with certain singing voices becoming too loud to listen to.
How does the microphone perform?
Chase Bernath / Android Authority
The OnePlus Buds Z2 feature not one but three microphones on either earbud. We found that the setup delivers decent call quality thanks to a microphone placed at the base of each stem. The configuration attenuates background noise pretty well, and we were able to continue phone calls even in loud situations such as the gym. Give both samples a listen below, and let us know what you think.
OnePlus Buds Z2 microphone demo (ideal):
OnePlus Buds Z2 microphone demo (office):
How does the microphone sound to you?
OnePlus Buds Z2 vs OnePlus Buds Pro: How do they compare?
Chase Bernath / Android Authority
For an extra $50, the OnePlus Buds Pro pack a heap of additional features. OnePlus Audio ID tailors the playback to your ears using a hearing test, while Zen Mode Air adds white noise sound files to the mix. You get extra noise-cancelling options, and the stem squeeze controls are more reliable than the tap options on the Buds Z2.
Of course, there’s still no custom EQ option, but the sound signature is closer to our preferred neutral with far less bass. Finally, the matte black and silver finish looks and feels far more premium than the gloss of the Buds Z2.
OnePlus Buds Z2 review: The verdict
Lily Katz / Android Authority
OnePlus is nothing if not aggressive with pricing. The Buds Z2 offer excellent value with decent noise-cancelling, good durability, and a worthy set of microphones.
However, there’s also a lot of flash without much substance at times. The listening experience isn’t up to par compared to some competitors, and the advanced features like Dolby Atmos are locked to OnePlus devices. We’ll also complain about the lack of a custom EQ until OnePlus adds the feature.
See also: The best AirPods alternatives for under $100
Overall, if you like bass and have a OnePlus phone, the Buds Z2 are worth your money. Everyone else may want to steer in another direction.
OnePlus Buds Z2
OnePlus packed a lot of value into its latest $99 earbuds with an IP55 rating, solid noise-cancelling, and impressive fast charging in the battery case.
Are there any good alternatives to the OnePlus Buds Z2?
Rita El Khoury / Android Authority
The Galaxy Buds Plus ($99) are a great alternative if you don’t care about true ANC. These may be a few years old, but the Buds Plus sound great, and the battery life is tough to beat. You’ll get plenty more features with a Samsung phone, including Wireless PowerShare to recharge quickly. You can look at the Galaxy Buds 2 ($149) as well, which add ANC and a more customizable sound.
The Nothing Ear 1 ($99) might be the most natural alternative at $99, though these have even more tradeoffs. You’ll have to settle for worse noise-cancelling, but you get better sound quality in a light and comfortable package.
The Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro ($89) might be the best choice if customization is king. Soundcore offers complete EQ control, custom noise-cancelling options, and nine different ear tips with a test to find the right fit.