Laptop Mag Verdict
The OnePlus Buds Z2 is an entry-level noise-canceller with satisfying performance for the price.
Powerful quick charging
Some features remain exclusive to OnePlus users
Weak call quality
No wireless charging
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OnePlus has been on a tear over the past year. The well-received OnePlus 9 series remains one of the best mobile deals around and the flagship OnePlus Buds Pro has earned critical acclaim for its stellar all-around performance. Building on the momentum, OnePlus decided to launch their newest entry-level model, which comes in the form of the Buds Z2.
- Our expert picks for the best wireless earbuds, per budget and style
- Check out our Apple AirPods Pro review
- …and our Sony WF-1000XM4 review
These inexpensive wireless earbuds are a shocker. Not because the original Buds Z left much to be desired, but because of OnePlus’ generosity with the spec sheet. Almost everything found on the Buds Pro is present on the Buds Z2, including the same active noise cancellation, dynamic drivers, microphones, and playtimes.
The Buds Z2 won’t win any Editor’s Choice awards for call quality. In addition, the limited number of features, two of which remain exclusive to OnePlus users, may be dissuading for those who desire lots of functionality. That doesn’t stop the Buds Z2 from making a strong case for best wireless earbuds under $100.
OnePlus Buds Z2 review: Availability and price
The OnePlus Buds Z2 originally launched at $99. Amazon and OnePlus currently have it on sale for $89. It comes in two colors: Black or White. Bundled with the purchase are a charging case, USB-C charging cable, three sets of different sized tips, and user guide.
Other noteworthy competitors in the same price range include the popular $99 Nothing Ear (1) and Razer Hammerhead True Wireless (2nd Gen), which Amazon is selling for $99. You can get better sound and ANC on the OnePlus Buds Pro ($129) for just a bit more or go bigger by splurging on category leaders like the AirPods Pro ($249) and Sony WF-1000XM4 ($278).
Be sure to bookmark our headphone deals page for the latest sales.
OnePlus Buds Z2 review: Design and comfort
OnePlus made very few changes to the design. The winged head, circular touch panels, and glossy exterior remain intact. Fans of the series may notice the stems are slightly shorter. Granted the buds are slightly heavier (4.6 grams) this time around to accommodate the extra hardware. The inclusion of IP55 water and sweat resistance is also appreciated. These buds are much sleeker and sturdier than any AirPods model.
The charging case is basically the same pill-shaped piece of plastic as the original. Construction isn’t anything to brag about, but at least it’s super compact and the magnets are stronger to keep the lid shut tightly when juicing up the buds.
Comfort is fine. I wore the buds for 2 to 3 hours straight before fatigue set in. The sound port rests pleasantly on the concha and doesn’t apply unwanted pressure like most cheap wireless earbuds.
The ear tips create a decent seal to keep the Buds Z2 in place when moving around. You can use the Earbud Fit Test to see if the tips provide a proper fit, but the results are questionable. Whether it was swapping out the tips or making simple adjustments, my results never changed: the left bud was always “Good” and the right bud was always “Average.”
OnePlus Buds Z2 review: Controls and digital assistant
It would have been cool if OnePlus added force sensors like they did on the Buds Pro. Despite this omission, the Buds Z2 is still a user-friendly model with highly responsive touch panels that accept multiple input methods.
You get an extensive control scheme, which includes playback, call management, digital assistance, listening mode activation, and the ability to switch between two devices (long touch and hold). All other commands can be assigned to single/double/triple taps and the touch-and-hold gesture. Rarely did I employ an input method that didn’t register accurately. On-ear detection was also spot-on, auto-pausing content whenever removing the buds and resuming playback when placing them back on my ears.
Google Assistant, Siri, and even Bixby all work with the Buds Z2. Each AI bot performs their voice command duties incredibly well and the mics demonstrate excellent speech recognition. One minor issue I noticed with Android devices is that enabling the digital assistant when your smartphone screen is sleeping won’t execute any commands.
OnePlus Buds Z2 review: Audio quality
The Buds Z2 produces punchy, well-rounded sound. Additions like Pro Gaming mode for improved audio synchronization and Dolby Atmos support also create a more immersive listening experience. If only those two features weren’t restrictive to OnePlus smartphones. Since the company didn’t provide one with my review unit, all testing was done with my Samsung Galaxy Note S20 Ultra and MacBook Pro.
Having the same 11mm dynamic drivers as the Buds Pro gives these buds a livelier sonic presence. On Jay-Z’s “99 Problems,” the two-chord guitar riff sounds as monstrous as it does on some high-end models (Marshall Motif A.N.C.), while the infectious drum sample pummels your eardrums. Even S. Carter’s braggadocious rhymes are crisp over the bottom-heavy production. Rock classics like Spinal Tap’s “Big Bottom” offered similar results. The dual-lead basslines were balanced well, and the buds delivered great instrument separation, letting you appreciate the drums and keyboard individually.
Highs are present, though you won’t get the same feel for certain instruments as you would on audio beasts like the WF-1000XM4. I enjoyed the double bass action and horns on Jazz classics like Art Farmer’s “Goodbye, Old Girl,” but the cymbals were dull. I felt the same way about the flute play on Yusef Lateef's “Yesterday.”
OnePlus Buds Z2 review: Active noise cancellation
Based on performance, it seems like the Buds Z2 shares the same ANC technology as the Buds Pro. Each bud carries three mics that filter noise levels almost up to 40dB. On top of that, the Buds Z2 comes with both Max and Normal ANC modes, which were also carried over from the Buds Pro.
Most of my time was spent testing Max ANC. Low frequencies like washing machine rumble and the humming noises from our central AC unit went unheard. Common household distractions like loud TVs and sibling chatter were silent as well. Listening in Normal mode made these sounds more audible.
To not hear my infant crying loudly from the nursery during naptime was a blessing, which is something that other entry-level noise-cancellers (1More ComfoBuds Pro) and some mid-range models (Jabra Elite 7 Active) failed to do. That’s not to say that these buds completely block out high frequencies. I could still hear my baby boy whining from across the living room, along with the juice blender and smoke detector. Wind resistance isn’t strong either. Switching modes didn’t change anything. The Buds Pro handles these disruptions slightly better.
Transparency mode is reliable for when you want to increase environmental awareness or communicate with people without removing the buds. I was grateful to hear oncoming traffic and speedy bicyclists from several yards away when strolling my baby around the neighborhood. Communicating clearly with the missus in the same room was even more rewarding.
OnePlus Buds Z2 review: App and special features
OnePlus owners might gain more perks, but those with an Android device or iPhone can still personalize the Buds Z2 via the HeyMelody app. Presentation and visuals are very vanilla, and features are scarce, but the software serves its purpose of extending functionality.
The homescreen greets you with an image of the product, battery level indicators for each bud, toggles for each noise-cancelling mode, an Earbud Fit Test, and firmware updates. At the bottom is an Earbud Controls section to customize the input on each bud. That’s about it.
As previously mentioned, Dolby Atmos and Pro Gaming Mode are only accessible on the OnePlus 7 series or newer OnePlus smartphones. Something else that remains exclusive is OnePlus Fast Pair for one-touch pairing with OnePlus phones. However, the Buds Z2 also supports Google Fast Pair to offer the same instantaneous connectivity with Android devices. Even better is that no matter what smartphone you own, these buds maintain a strong connection within range (35 feet) when streaming music or taking calls.
Google’s Find My Buds feature works with the Buds Z2 as well. You can use the web browser to identify the last known location of your misplaced buds.
OnePlus Buds Z2 review: Battery life and charging case
OnePlus continues to develop some of the most fast-powered wireless earbuds on the market. The Buds Z2 may not come with Warp Charge technology like the Buds Pro, but it has Flash Charge to generate up to 2 hours of playtime in 10 minutes.
Charging the case with the buds inside nets you up to 5 hours. This is crucial since the buds only last 5 hours with ANC on. Sure, It’s more than the Nothing Ear (1) (4 hours) and AirPods Pro (4.5 hours), but pales in comparison to other ANC giants like the Sony WF-1000XM4 (8 to 12 hours) and Master & Dynamic MW08 Sport (10 to 12 hours). Disabling the feature extends listening time to 7 hours, plus the charging case can hold between 27 to 38 hours, depending how you use the buds. Overall, battery life is sufficient for about a week’s worth of moderate use (2-3 hours daily).
Wireless charging is not available on this unit.
OnePlus Buds Z2 review: Call quality and connectivity
Call quality is a step down from the Buds Pro. According to the missus, I sounded muffled in loud backgrounds. Wind only made things worse. I sounded clearer in quiet settings, but voices on the opposite end were too low for my liking, even after raising phone volume to the max.
I preferred using the Buds Z2 for Zoom calls since voices were louder and more transparent. One person did complain about background noise (my baby is quite the screamer).
OnePlus Buds Z2 review: Verdict
The OnePlus Buds Z2 is a nice upgrade that borrows many of the Buds Pro’s best qualities and packages them in a familiar design for a low price. It’s an ideal purchase for bargain hunters who own one of the newer OnePlus smartphones, as well as Android or iPhone users that want dependable wireless earbuds on a budget.
Sound is clean and impactful, while noise cancellation outperforms most sub-$100 competitors. The controls are both intelligible and responsive. Pairing to devices is also a breeze, no matter the platform. Battery life is OK, but Flash Charge can be considered its saving grace.
On the opposite end, the underwhelming call quality and lack of extra features for non-OnePlus users might sway you to look elsewhere. If neither does, then it’s worth giving the Buds Z2 a shot as your next pair of affordable wireless earbuds.