It’s Time for Nothing to Do Something

Mike Powers

From having no products, the Cayman-Islands registered company was able to assemble a device with off-the-shelf components (the first generation Ear 1 didn’t even have custom drivers) quickly and sell it, drawing on connections the co-founders had made while at OnePlus, another brand with similar strategy.

Nothing’s initial product had a good marriage of hardware and software, and the headphones sounded pretty solid compared to others. We liked them on review, though not enough that they’re a top pick for us.

The second generation of earbuds, the Ear (Stick) (7/10, WIRED Review) and Ear (2) (8/10, WIRED Review) brought custom drivers and a better case, although they still look, feel, and sound very similar to the vast majority of earbuds that I call “AirPods but”. You probably get the idea: Airpods but with color. AirPods but with better eartips. AirPods but with LDAC lossless audio or noise canceling. Nearly every brand has them, nearly all of them are pretty decent. LG doesn’t even make cell phones anymore and yet it has a pair of AirPod clones. The fruit hangs to the ground.

The new Nothing Ear and Nothing Ear (a) appear to once again offer incremental performance increases. I say appear to because though the company asked WIRED to announce these new products to the world, it has yet to provide us with usable images, battery life, a release date, or pricing, despite repeated inquiries. All the brand would supply was the picture you see at the top of this article.

Nothing did provide us with a bit of info about the inside of the headphones, which we have to assume will resemble the older models until proven otherwise. The brand claims a new ceramic driver will make crisper, clearer sound up high, and a new internal architecture will offer deeper bass. It also touts new adaptive noise canceling tech in the Nothing Ear (a) as being now 5db quieter overall (from 40db to 45db of reduction between generations). That’s fine, but it’s not staggering.

I’m not sure whether these incremental innovations are enough to put the brand on the top tier of consumer audio, but at least they keep it from falling behind. Apple itself has incrementally updated the AirPods and AirPods Pro for generations—but it also has the world’s best-selling product.

No Solid State for Nothing

It’s not like Nothing doesn’t have the capacity to develop new things. When it released its first headphones, it had a combined staff of 30 on audio. That staff is now up to 300, according to Evangelidis, including five dedicated acoustic engineers, and a team of 30 folks alone to debug the new active noise canceling. That’s significantly more brainpower, which is exactly the kind of stuff that might lead to noticable innovation either in these new models or down the line.

Once again: I haven’t yet heard or seen a pair, and I have no idea what they’ll cost. They are set to release later this year, with samples coming to reviewers in short order. On paper, and without the vital information of pricing (but knowing that historically Nothing’s buds have cost $100-150), they seem like they’ll be competitive buds that will likely offer many of the same features as options from JLab, Jabra, Oneplus, Samsung, and countless others.

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