Personal Tech | February 16, 2023 10:43 am

Review: Nothing’s “Ear (Stick)” Earbuds Win on Looks

They’re certainly cool, but the design of these earbuds won’t be a fit for everyone

The Nothing Ear (stick) on a table with butterflies
Nothing's new Ear (stick) offers a great look but a loose fit
Nothing

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“Make tech fun again.” That’s the stated goal of Nothing, the London-based tech brand that’s garnered a lot of hype in its first few years of existence (thanks in part to its first backers, which include everyone from YouTuber Casey Neistat to “father of the iPod” Tony Fadell, plus some co-founders of Reddit and Twitch). 

And right now, that hype has centered on just three products: Earbuds called Ear (1), a smartphone called Phone (1), and recently, Ear (stick), a featherlight set of earbuds that arrive in an eye-catching cylinder that resembles futuristic lipstick.

Review: UE DROPS Are Customized Earbuds to the Extreme

These buds are molded and hand-shaped to each individual’s ears

What all of Nothing’s releases have in common is a design element that’s both minimalist and bold — witness the transparent veneers on the Ear (1). Meanwhile, Ear (stick) keeps a lot of the look but makes some modest changes; they cost a little less, weigh almost nothing and fit more gently (or loosely) into your ear space than Nothing’s previous buds. The newer earbuds also lose active noise cancellation and a few other perks, but it’s hard to argue against the reduced price tag ($99+).

We tried out the Ear (stick) for a week in various conditions: A long train commute, walking around and sitting at our home office desk. 

The specs:

  • Custom 12.6 mm dynamic driver
  • Clear Voice Technology
  • Press controls
  • Up to 29 hrs of listening time with case (7 hours per charge)
  • Only available in white
  • Nothing X app for customization and settings
  • Bluetooth 5.2
  • IP54 Waterproof

What works:

  • The Ear (stick) is a beauty. Nothing certainly wins in the design category — the case and buds are both semi-transparent and the colors (white, black, red) pop. 
  • Even though the buds seemed designed to work best with Nothing’s phone or Android, they paired quickly and easily with my iPhone.
  • The in-ear detection was flawless — I felt more comfortable just taking out a single bud to stop music than using the touch controls (we’ll get to those).

What kind of works:

  • The Nothing X app allows you to customize your touch controls (except for a single pinch, which is always play/pause and answer/hang up) and play with the equalizer. You can customize the mid, bass and treble or utilize one of four presets. Overall, I kept the settings almost entirely on “Balanced,” even with podcasts; it offered a bright and punchy sound without veering too far astray (if you like bass or treble, you have options).
  • Overall, the sound on any setting is good — even sitting a little outside the ear canal, it’s full, distortion-free and clear. But would I say it’s superior to, say, much higher-priced Master & Dynamic or Sony earbuds? Not necessarily.
  • Pinch controls are a love ‘em or hate ‘em proposition. It took a bit to get comfortable with where and how I was supposed to pinch and hold each handle to skip forward or futz with the volume. Once you get used to it, it’s better and more tactile than tap controls.

What needs work:

  • The half-in-ear design is supposed to make it feel like you almost have nothing (no pun intended) in your ears. While the buds are extremely lightweight (4.4g) they also lack ear tips, meaning that I almost lost one when I slightly jerked my head on a train ride and the right bud flew out and rolled under my seat. 
  • That cylindrical case? It’s a bit, ahem, noticeable in a tight pants pocket — you’ll want to keep this in a bag or a coat pocket.
  • It’s not wireless charging, which isn’t a deal-breaker but should be noted.
  • You’ll miss active noise cancellation — street noise and loud train conversations easily peeked through my earbuds.  

Final thoughts

Your love of the Ear (stick) will probably come down to how much you trust yourself with something so light and unsecured in your ears — I’ll personally stick to something more form-fitting. The price point, sound and design are certainly worthy of consideration; conversely, the lack of noise cancellation is a potential issue. If you want to be seen with these, walk carefully and avoid big, loud crowds.