Nord Buds 2 are the latest successor to last year’s Nord Buds. They’re still some of the cheapest earbuds OnePlus sells, but at $59, the Nord Buds 2 are $20 more than their predecessors.
At this price, the Nord Buds 2 add active noise cancellation, making them the cheapest OnePlus earphones with this feature, as well as one of the cheapest pairs of headphones you’ll find on the market from a reputable brand with this feature. Is that enough to justify the price increase? Let’s find out.
Nord Buds 2 have a slightly improved design from the previous model. The case has the same basic shape, but the edges are curved, resulting in a more rounded shape. The new case is also slightly smaller than the previous one. Like the previous one, the new case fits well and has a finish for the price, but doesn’t have an IP rating.
The new case also has a lighter gray color with a metallic sheen. The body is a lighter shade of gray than the cap and has an interesting mottled pattern that looks like dust at first glance. On the back of the case is a USB-C port for charging and a pairing button that’s so flush with the surface that it’s barely visible.
The headphones follow the theme of a slightly improved version of the older design. They have the same flat pill-shaped stems, but the raised circular touch pad is now set into a shiny clear plastic body instead of the chrome finish. The stems have the same mottled appearance, which in this case almost looks like the earlobes are covered in dandruff. Maybe someone should have thought of that before pulling the paint trigger.
Regardless of the changes and paint job, the Nord Buds 2 are still very distinctive and great looking headphones. They are also quite small and light and were comfortable during long sessions. The headphones have IP55 protection, which makes them resistant to dust and water.
Software and Features
The Nord Buds 2 can be controlled via the Bluetooth settings on OnePlus phones or via the HeyMelody app on other Android and iOS phones. The headphones have the same basic feature set as the original Nord Buds, but with a few extras.
The main innovation here is active noise cancellation. You can turn it on or off or switch to transparency mode. There is no automatic or manual level adjustment and no custom tuning for your ears.
The sound can be fine-tuned via the Sound Master EQ menu. Here you have four presets, along with the ability to create your own profiles using the 6-band EQ. What’s new here is BassWave, which was introduced with the OnePlus Buds Pro 2. It’s supposed to be an algorithm that dynamically adjusts your sound, but it’s actually just another bass knob. You can increase or decrease the bass level with a positive or negative offset.
The Nord Buds 2 also offer good control over touch gestures. You can single, double and triple tap and each can be adjusted or turned off for each ear. You can assign play/pause, previous/next track, voice assistant or game mode, but unfortunately there’s no volume control option. Press and hold to switch between ANC modes and long touch and hold to switch to a previously paired device.
Equalizer changes and headphone control functions are saved to the headphones themselves, meaning they’ll carry over to any device you pair them with, even if that device doesn’t support the app.
Unfortunately, a major omission from the original Nord Buds, which is the absence of in-ear detection, is carried over to this model. The headphones have no idea when they’re on or off, meaning they can’t play or pause. Similarly, ANC remains active even if you remove both earphones, and removing only one earphone does not switch to transparent mode on the other earphone.
This would be great to include in the original model. I’d go so far as to prefer in-ear detection via ANC, at least the kind of ANC that the Nord Buds 2 come with, but more on that later.
The Nord Buds 2 have the same 12.4mm dynamic drivers as the previous model. They still support the same SBC and AAC codecs, although the Bluetooth version has been updated from 5.2 to 5.3, which means nothing for the sound quality.
In terms of sound quality, the Nord Buds 2 are very similar to the original with minor differences in tuning. The default EQ profile is called Balanced, which is ironic considering it’s extremely bassy. Bass is quite thick and lumpy with excessive mid-bass energy. It works with some genres and songs, but with others it feels overbearing and unnecessary.
Vocals have a smooth and pleasant tonality on this preset. Voices have good timbre and content such as podcasts sound nice with added warmth. The midrange may not stand out in the mix, especially next to the bass, but it’s not sunken or pushed back like most other mainstream tunings.
The highs have a similarly smooth energy to them without sudden spikes or sibilance. The Nord Buds 2 add a bit of extra sparkle on the top end compared to the otherwise similar sounding Nord Buds tuning, making it a bit more balanced than its predecessor which was all about the bass.
Fortunately, as with the Nord Buds, the tuning of the Nord Buds 2 can be drastically changed using presets. The Bold preset reduces the bass to a more manageable level while adding more energy to the highs. It tends to sound a touch too bright due to over-boosting the treble and the vocals take a back seat, sounding rather average, even compared to the Balanced preset.
The Serenade preset is mid-range and is probably the most balanced preset overall. The midrange is a touch too forward and sounds more nasal than it should be, but otherwise it has the most reasonable bass and treble tuning.
The Bass preset is essentially a Balanced preset with even more bass and a touch of extra treble. The BassWave setting can be used to add even more bass if you don’t want to hear anything else, but a better use is to set it to -5 on the Balanced preset to reduce the bass to a more reasonable level. you still enjoy the fine tuning of the mids and treble.
The custom EQ is useful but limited by the 6-band EQ. Also, the bass, even at the lowest settings, can still be on the higher side. Still, using the above curve, I managed to get the headphones to sound pretty good, at least in terms of frequency response.
Other than that, the sound is pretty average and there’s not much you can improve. Detail and resolution are not bad, but also unimpressive. The sound is also quite boxy, sounding largely stuck in your head with very little sense of space even on spacious tracks.
Aside from minor tuning differences on the preset and BassWave settings, the Nord Buds 2 sound very similar to the Nord Buds. It’s not that there isn’t room for improvement, but OnePlus has decided to focus its attention on other aspects for the sequel.
Like their predecessors, the Nord Buds 2 have surprisingly good microphone quality. Voices have a slight metallic tone, but other than that they sound very natural with good ambient noise cancellation. If you need something for voice calls, this will work very well.
The Nord Buds 2 have active noise cancellation, a feature not found on their predecessor. As mentioned, it’s a simple on/off feature with an added transparency mode.
ANC level is average at best. As usual, there is some attenuation in the lower frequencies and a bit in the mids, but not much in the highs. However, the headphones themselves have decent passive isolation, so overall the effect is still decent. The transparency mode isn’t great either, but you have to take the headphones out.
On my constructed 5-point scale, where 4 is the best current ANC implementation and 0 is no ANC, the Nord Buds 2 would be a 1 at best. It’s still better than no ANC, but I’m not sure I’d want to pay extra for it.
Nord Buds 2 have very good latency. On OnePlus phones, games will automatically launch low-latency gaming mode, while you have to enable it manually when using the HeyMelody app. Once activated, latency is surprisingly low and perfectly usable for most games. Video playback is not a problem on smartphones either, as the video player automatically syncs to compensate for lag.
Things are different with computers as there is no automatic syncing and this is where most Bluetooth products fall apart. Fortunately, since the Nord Buds 2 have relatively low latency by default, even without Game Mode and the headphones auto-syncing, they work quite well. Latency is somewhat noticeable with high frame rate video, but not so much with 24fps content and even less if it’s animated. However, gaming is not recommended.
The Nord Buds 2 had no connection issues and the earbuds worked reliably every time.
The Nord Buds 2 have a claimed battery life of 5 hours of continuous playback with ANC enabled and 7 hours with ANC disabled. During my testing, I got 6 hours 13 minutes with ANC enabled and 8 hours 34 minutes with ANC off. These numbers are quite a bit higher than the listed numbers, although they are great numbers in their own right, so you won’t see me complaining.