The OnePlus Buds Z2 are the Chinese manufacturer’s first noise-cancelling earbuds since the OnePlus Buds Pro, which my colleague Geir was so excited about that they won the autumn group test of completely wireless earbuds.
According to OnePlus, lots of the technology that gave the Buds Pro its neutral and lifelike sound has found its way into the OnePlus Buds Z2, which is also somewhat cheaper than the Pro model.
That includes 11mm dynamic drivers and Dolby Atmos support (if the earbuds are used with a OnePlus phone, that is), as well as IP55 certification, so the Buds Z2 can handle a downpour or a sweaty run without breaking a sweat.
The OnePlus Buds Z2, on the other hand, doesn’t support high-resolution audio in the form of the LHDC codec, but has to make do with AAC as well as SBC. And the case can only be charged using USB-C, while the Pro model’s case supported wireless Qi charging.
It’s not the fact that functionality has been cut here and there, however, that’s the reason I’m not as kindly disposed towards the Buds Z2 as Geir was towards the Buds Pro.
No, it’s the teething problems that annoy me. The OnePlus Buds Z2 has primarily been made to work quite painlessly with phones from the same manufacturer, so I primarily tested the hearing plugs with the latest top model, the OnePlus 9 Pro.
Here, the Buds Z2 is supposed to automatically connect with the phone as soon as you open the case for the first time, but it never got to work. On the contrary, it required resetting the plugs and a manual search in the mobile’s Bluetooth menu before contact was established between the two products.
For the record, I should mention that the problem recurred when I wanted to connect the plugs to my iPhone 13 Pro Max via the HeyMelody app, which you need if you’re using a smartphone from any company other than OnePlus.
The OnePlus plugs also caused other mysterious things to happen. While using them, for example, I got two ghost calls on my phone from Google’s ‘Find My Device’, which has never happened before or since, and while I can’t guarantee with 100 percent certainty that there’s a connection, it is a bit suspicious that my trusty OnePlus 9 Pro, which has never behaved strangely before, starts freaking out the second it connects to the Buds Z2.
Silicone tips in four different sizes come with the hearing plugs, but none of them fit properly in my ears! And that’s not just something I’m imagining. In the settings (in a sub-menu of the Bluetooth settings on OnePlus phones, in the HeyMelody app on all other smartphones) you can test the fit of the plugs, and no matter which plugs I tried, the fit was never better than ‘Medium’, which means the noise cancellation doesn’t work as well as you’d like. And at the same time, sound quality suffers when the earplugs don’t fit quite right.
And that’s a shame, because as a starting point, the OnePlus Buds Z2 sounds excellent. Their sound image is both neutral and lifelike, which makes them very similar to the aforementioned OnePlus Buds Pro. But you spend a lot of time getting the plugs right in your ears, because otherwise the sound gets thinner and the clean and clear sound experience goes out the window.
This is also noticeable when using the earplugs for mobile conversations. The three microphones in the stems of the plugs are good at capturing sound so the receiver hears you clearly. But you hear the other person as if he or she is a little too far away and talking to you through a coffee filter.
Poor noise reduction
The aforementioned noise reduction also comes at a difficult task when the plugs won’t stay in place, but it should be mentioned that the function isn’t entirely convincing either, even when you make sure that the two hearing plugs are in place as tightly as possible.
The plugs have two noise reduction settings, 25 dB or 40 dB attenuation, but even with maximum noise reduction, even ordinary traffic noise gets through as easily as nothing. And frankly, I had a very hard time distinguishing between the two settings. With a little good will, the cheesy feeling you often get with ANC was probably a bit less at 25 dB, but that hairline difference is drowned out by the noise if you’re not already in a place of peace and quiet.
I never got around to making friends with the OnePlus Buds Z2. For that, OnePlus’ new and cheaper earbuds simply have too many flaws. The initial teething problems may be ironed out later, but the poor fit and ineffective noise cancellation are both problems that may be hard to fix.
So far, the earplugs offer solid and good sound quality, which will especially delight those who like a neutral and lifelike sound, but the overall user experience is frustrating and simply not satisfying.
Considering that the OnePlus Buds Pro, which is far better on almost all counts, costs only a few hundred crowns more than the Buds Z2, there’s really no reason to opt for the cheaper model.