Nothing Ear test (a): the best headphones for less than 100 euros on the market?

Nothing Ear test a the best headphones for less than

The famous London company Nothing has just revealed the third generation of its wireless headphones, the Ear (a). We were able to try them out in preview at Linternaute. These have some surprises in store for us.

More than a year after the release of the second generation of its headphones, the Ear (2), Nothing unveils a new generation ofwireless earphones, called Ear (a). By focusing on a transparent design, which has been its benchmark since its beginnings, and small new features, this new generation intends to relaunch the British firm.

The company had to face inflation during the April 2023 launch of their previous headphones. An impact on the sale prices of the Nothing Ear (2), which had earned them an increase of 50 euros and a selling price displayed at 149 euros. Today, the Ear (a) are offered for sale at a price of 99 euros, which is reminiscent of that of their first product, the Nothing Ear (1). A choice made by the brand, wishing to reach a younger audience. Are these new, more affordable products just as interesting as their predecessors? The answer can be found in this test.

The recap of our Nothing Ear test (a)

  • Excellent audio quality from the first use
  • An original and distinctive design
  • Intuitive app interface
  • Good autonomy providing a full day of listening at work
  • Too much bass without even activating the option from the application
  • No manual volume controls
  • A transparency mode that is not very useful
  • Microphones that do not mask ambient noise

A design that plays on a daring bet

The brand’s line has not changed since its beginnings. In this year 2024, Nothing is once again banking on a transparent case for its new Nothing Ear (a). This isn’t really a surprise when you know that all the wireless headphones launched so far have adopted this same design. There are still slight modifications made to the Nothing Ear (a), particularly in terms of the appearance of the case. We find the earphone pairing button at the bottom right of the earphones, the synchronization button on the left side, as well as the USB port on the back of the case for recharging the earphones. As on the old second generation headphones, the Nothing Ear (2), we find the black colored dots for the left earphone, and red for the right one.

However, a change should be noted in the appearance of the case. The slimmer, compact rectangular design and soft edges fit better in the hand and fit more efficiently in a bag or pocket. The entire case space is used, giving a new silhouette that differentiates the Ear(a) from its predecessors.

By unveiling this new range, Nothing intends to play its new card: that of a new artistic proposition. The Nothing Ear (a) are the first to adopt a new color. This is the yellow color “Yellow” in addition to white and black, well known to the brand. An original choice which fits into the transparency values ​​and which plays on primary colors.

Nothing plays on a flashier color © Nothing

Controls that don’t change

The controls of the Ear (a) are the same as the previous product in Nothing’s audio range, the Ear (2). There are pinch buttons on each lower end of the headphones. No tactile buttons, unlike their competitors from Apple and their famous Airpods. Nothing’s headphones have several types of possible controls. The user can, by pressing once, start or stop music and answer a call. By pinching twice, the headphones switch to the next music. Finally, a triple tap allows you to go back. If these controls make it easier, the headphones nevertheless lose a major option: the volume control. However, it is possible to find it within the application dedicated to it.

© Nathan Gofron

The application called “Nothing X” allows users to access multiple controls and customizations. Very intuitive and easy to use, it guarantees a good number of configurations for users’ Ear (a). Among the many options offered, you can easily modify the controls, active noise reduction and equalizer and personalize your listening experience.

A dynamic sound, reinforced by its bass

The Nothing Ear (a) are Hi-Res Audio certified, which means they can stream very good quality audio over a Bluetooth connection. But what provides better hearing quality to users is its 11mm driver with more compact airflow. According to Nothing, it delivers 2.5 times more transient power than its predecessor on the Ear (2). The diaphragm, combined with the new, more powerful driver, has more spaces and sends a richer sound.

Most of the sounds listened to during this test bring out deep and powerful bass. This is particularly the case for pieces of “Seven Nation Army” of White Spiers but also “Bad Guy” by Bilie Eillish. However, the reinforcement of the bass tends to mask the artists’ words and the ear is taken by this power. Thus, it is often necessary to make use of the equalizer which is found on the Nothing Application to alleviate them.

© Nathan Gofron

Conversely, the high frequencies and mids of the Ear (a) seem better managed by the brand. On electro, rap, pop and many other sounds, the artists’ voices are more marked and distinguishable to the ear. Additionally, the sounds of instruments such as guitar and drums stand out more. This is the case for music like “One More Time” by Daft Punk but also “Memories” by David Guetta. However, it is possible to use the equalizer to enhance the audio experience of different songs.

But Where the new Nothing headphones impress so much is in the audio quality which meets expectations without even the need for setup. As soon as they come out of the box, the Ear (a) are there without even going through the Nothing X application. A very good point for the devices.

Effective noise reduction

The Ear (a) features active noise reduction technology that can be adjusted on four different axes: low, medium, high and adaptive. The latter will, however, ask you to carry out a hearing test which can be quite long to configure. Once activated, noise reduction effectively masks surrounding sounds that could interfere with your listening. With noise cancellation of up to 45 dB, the Nothing Ear (a) has the most powerful of the entire Nothing range to date. An active noise reduction representing no less than 13% increase, for comparison with the Nothing Ear range (2), and which thus amounts to 1.8 stronger elimination depending on the brand. Its frequency range of 5000 Hz detects and suppresses the most difficult noises, i.e. 50% more frequency than Ear (2).

However, certain everyday sounds such as car horns or metro alerts are still audible. You therefore do not risk being completely cut off from the world, even by activating the noise reduction to its maximum. If the latter is not as good as on high-end headphones (like the AirPods Pro 2), it is still very convincing for headphones sold at €99. The transparency mode of the Ear (a) allows you, conversely, to perceive ambient noise more. This is very useful when you want to listen to music without cutting yourself off from those around you. It is then possible to clearly hear the discussions addressed to you while continuing to enjoy your music. The Ear (a) transparency mode, however, tends to exaggerate ambient sounds, making them quite unnatural.

© Nathan Gofron

Microphones that leave something to be desired

The Ear (a) headphones have a new feature for their integrated microphones, namely “Clear Voice Technology” developed by Nothing. The latter guarantees the three microphones of each earphone better performance, in particular to capture and reduce ambient noise when you make a call. During our tests, all of our conversations by phone with the Ear (a) were audible to the user. On the other hand, the people on the other end of the line talk about a sound that is very often cut off. The words coming from the microphone are difficult to distinguish. During phone calls in all circumstances, active noise reduction struggles to drown out noise coming from outside.

Convincing battery life and charging

With a 500mAh battery, larger than that of the Ear (2), the headphones offer greater autonomy in everyday life. So, you can benefit from 8 hours of playback with noise cancellation activated, and the case will give you up to 38 hours of playback in total. Its predecessor, the Nothing Ear (2), was capable of lasting between 5 and 6 hours depending on the use of noise reduction or not. Note that the new headphones are equipped with fast charging which allows you to listen for up to 1 hour by turning on the device for just 10 minutes. The headphones were used for a full work day. After consuming music, playing videos and making phone calls, no battery-related constraints or need for recharging had to be specified. A big strong point and notable improvements for an affordable price of 99 euros.

The Nothing Ear case (a) © Nathan Gofron

Our conclusion to the Nothing Ear test (a)

The Ear (a) are a surprising evolution compared to their predecessors. The latest headphones from Nothing are an excellent choice for their price range. Capable of delivering good quality sound with effective active noise reduction, the Ear (a) also comes with an easy-to-use application that contains a multitude of customization options.