The OnePlus Buds Z2 was the winner of the best value earbuds award in our tested best wireless earbuds roundup. Here you can learn more about this excellent set of earbuds and why we recommend it so strongly.
From among the dozens of popular wireless earbuds I rigorously evaluated for our tested best wireless earbuds roundup, I found that the OnePlus Buds Z2 earbuds offered the best overall value. They performed as well or better than the competition in almost every test and when comparing features. Priced at a scant $80, these earbuds cost less than half of most of the competition. Yet, there are few compromises when it comes to sound quality.
Beyond offering really good audio quality, the OnePlus Buds Z2 earbuds offer spatial audio with Dolby Atmos, impressive battery life, a comfortable and snug fit as well as a well-designed charging case and mobile app. The buds also provide built-in touch-sensitive controls that give you easy access to a variety of key features. Based on my experience, the OnePlus Buds Z2 is an excellent, versatile and lower cost alternative to mid-priced options like the Apple AirPods Pro and the Google Pixel Buds Pro.
Price: $80 | Battery life: Up to 5 hours (38 hours with case charging) | Weight: 0.16 ounces | Driver size: 11mm | Wireless charging: No | Active noise cancellation: Yes | Spatial audio: Dolby Atmos | Waterproof rating: IP55 | Quick charge: Yes (10 minutes for two hours) | Colors: Black or white
A Super Comfortable Design
The OnePlus Buds Z2 offer everything you’d expect from Bluetooth earbuds, but with a few extra features that help them to stand out. They offer active noise cancellation with a so-called “transparency mode” (which lets you easily hear outside sounds without removing the buds) and automatic wind reduction. This makes them particularly useful when used outdoors or in loud environments.
Based on the level of ambient noise and how much of it you want to cancel out while wearing the earbuds, you can switch between two noise cancellation modes that range between 25db and 40db.
What sets these earbuds apart, though, is that their 11mm drivers are bass-tuned dynamic drivers that provide Dolby Atmos and spatial audio support to create immersive and crystal clear sound quality. In fact, these earbuds offer three user-selectable sound modes—cinematic movie, immersive music and mobile gaming—which tweak the audio in an attempt to provide a more authentic and true-to-life listening experience that’s based on the content you’re listening to.
The trick with these earbuds is finding the right fit initially. Choose between the three sets of silicone ear tips that come in the box and then run the Earbud Fit Test that’s built into the smartphone app. It’s designed specifically to work with these earbuds.
After just a few minutes, I could no longer even feel the earbuds in my ears. When there was no audio playing, I almost forgot I was wearing them, but the noise cancellation continued to block ambient noise to give me a true sense of quiet and calm in an otherwise busy and noisy environment. Thus, if you just want to experience peace and quiet, pop the earbuds into your ears and turn on the Max Noise Cancellation feature. It works extremely well to drown out the noise of dogs barking or the sound of an airplane engine, for example.
The OnePlus Buds Z2 are available in black or white (with a matching case) and have a classic stem design (like their Z1 predecessor). They’re lighter (just 0.16 ounces) than the Apple AirPods Pro (0.19 ounces), though.
Surprisingly Good Sound—Plus Spatial Audio
When it comes to actually listening to audio, the bass enhancing dynamic drivers make a difference, especially if you’re listening to audio that supports Dolby Atmos. Developed by Dolby Laboratories, Dolby Atmos is a spatial audio technology (a form of surround sound) that allows sounds to appear to be three-dimensional, coming from every direction including above.
To experience Dolby Atmos, the audio must be recorded using Dolby Atmos technology and then the headphones or speakers—in this case the OnePlus Buds Z2 earbuds—must also support the technology (which they do). Many record labels and recording artists are now releasing music that supports Dolby Atmos, so when you listen to this audio with the earbuds, it fills your head and feels like it surrounds you (especially when the Max Noise Cancellation is turned on to drown out everything else).
Using the earbuds with an iPhone and Apple Music, the bass and Dolby Atmos came to life when Katy Perry’s Roar song was played. Hearing the different vocal and instrumental layers made it sound and feel like a live concert experience, as opposed to music being streamed via the Internet to a smartphone and then heard using a pair of inexpensive earbuds.
The same all encompassing and immersive listening experience was evident when listening to the Apple Music Acoustic channel (specifically on the Gold track by Kina Grannis and Jome). In addition to the rich vocals, the sound of the individual guitar strings truly resonated, which also made the listening experience feel more intimate and authentic. The earbuds picked up nuances in the music that most other earbuds (especially other low cost ones) could not.
In fact, when I closed my eyes and listened to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, which was recorded live by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, my mind was transported to that concert hall and I felt the power of each instrument filling my mind and ears with the clarity of each note.
Even when listening to a podcast featuring just people speaking (that was not recorded using Dolby Atmos), the sound was also really rich and clear. The same was true when I participated in both voice or video calls while inside and outside.
During phone calls, I discovered the noise cancellation drowns out ambient noise, while the built in ENC-3 microphones focused in on my voice to ensure whom I was speaking with could hear me clearly (even when I was outside and it was windy).
Smart And Easy Gesture Controls
While the OnePlus Buds Z2 work flawlessly with the Apple iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Macs and other compatible Apple devices, they don’t offer the ability to switch between devices instantly (like you can do with the AirPods Pro). With Apple devices, the pairing process works just like any other Bluetooth device. They do, however, work with Google Fast Pair—that’s a technology that’s exclusive to Android devices.
Each time you place the earbuds into your ears, you’ll hear a tone indicating they’re ready to use. Then, if you’re listening to audio and remove one or both earbuds, what you’re listening to will automatically pause and then resume where you left off when the earbuds are reinserted. Just as easily, however, you can tap on the touch-sensitive area built into each earbud to pause the audio that’s playing.
You’ll a flat touch area on each earbud. Tap one, two or three times to trigger the play controls, or hold a finger on this area for about a second to adjust the noise cancellation. You can also use gestures to answer incoming calls.
When listening to music, I could definitely hear the emphasis placed on bass by the 11 millimeter dynamic drivers. If you don’t appreciate the added enhanced bass, or the genre of music you enjoy doesn’t utilize it, these earbuds might not be ideal for you. However, music that supports Dolby Atmos sounds truly amazing and immersive, particularly when the noise cancellation is turned on. I heard nuances and depth to music that I’d never heard before while listening with other, more expensive earbuds.
How The OnePlus Buds Z2 Compare To Other Wireless Earbuds
The Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds list for $280, while the Master & Dynamic MW08 sell for $349 and the Jabra Elite 7 Active are priced at $180. Yet, with their mere $80 price tag, the OnePlus Buds Z2s provide many comparable features and similar audio quality, plus spatial audio. That’s an amazing deal.
You get impressive battery life, active noise cancellation (with transparency), touch-sensitive controls and durability that’s in line with the more expensive earbud options. The stem-centric design resembles AirPods Pro–but the Z2s are slightly lighter.
If you’re extremely active, the Jabra Elite 7 Active earbuds, with their SnakeGrip coating, will stay put better and be more comfortable in harsh environments, so they’re better for hard core fitness fanatics. When it comes to aesthetics, the Sony WF-1000XM4 and Master & Dynamic MW08 earbuds look more sophisticated. They’re not just more expensive—they’re more expensive looking.
That said, the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds use some of Sony’s best proprietary noise cancelling tech, but lack spatial audio (unless you pay for a subscription to a compatible music streaming service, like Tidal), while the OnePlus Buds Z2 offer spatial audio when you listen to any compatible audio–including music or sound from TV shows or movies.
Earlier this summer, I rigorously tested more than 20 pairs of popular and best selling wireless earbuds, from a variety of manufacturers and in a wide range of settings and situations. I have been covering consumer technology for 25 years for numerous publications and I have seen firsthand how quickly and dramatically the technology built into wireless earbuds has evolved.
A lot of testing and evaluation went into selecting the OnePlus Buds Z2 as the Forbes Vetted pick for Best Value Earbuds. After pinpointing the most popular and best selling earbuds, I got each product to test firsthand to see how they stood up to the hype.
I ran each of the earbuds through a series of real-world listening tests. For example, to test noise cancellation, I stood in the heart of bustling Times Square in New York City. I listened to the same pop music (Katy Perry’s Roar and other tracks from her albums), as I was surrounded with loud noise from traffic, sirens, crowds, a portable generator from a vendor and street performers.
With the volume set at more than 50 percent, a significant amount of the ambient noise from car horns, a nearby generator, tourists yelling and sirens were drowned out almost entirely–allowing for the intended audio to be heard clearly and distortion-free. Even more of the ambient audio was removed when the earbuds were used within my home and in an office setting, as well as on an airplane and on an Amtrak train.
I chose Katy Perry’s music because it’s highly produced and filled with hype tracks, ad libs, rich harmonies and vocals panning between the left and right audio channels. It’s also produced using Dolby Atmos. (I’ll admit, I’m also a fan of her music and didn’t mind listening to the same tracks over and over using different earbuds in various settings.)
To see how the earbuds performed when playing audio from TV shows and movies, I used them while watching an episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and determined how they sounded with a combination of dialogue, sound effects and music. I expected the best earbuds to make me feel like I was sitting in a movie theater equipped with a cutting-edge surround sound speaker system.
To experience how well the various earbuds performed during phone calls and around ambient and wind noise, I took them outside. I observed whether I could have clear conversations and hear whomever I was speaking with–without the earbuds picking up unwanted background noise. Of course, I also tested earbuds for comfort and fit while sitting at my desk and while going for a jog.
Are The OnePlus Buds Z2 Worth The Money?
The short answer: Definitely. From a price standpoint, the Buds Z2 retail for $80, which is less than half what you’d pay for the second-generation Apple AirPods Pro, even when they’re on sale. Overall, the OnePlus Buds Z2 are comfortable and sound incredible (especially when you listen to music that supports Dolby Atmos). When not in use, the oval-shaped charging case fits comfortably in a pocket. As good as these earbuds are for audio, they’re great for calls, too. The earbuds’ noise cancellation provides a distraction-free experience, and they also do an impressive job at wind noise removal.
How Is The OnePlus Buds Z2s Battery Life?
Depending on how you use the OnePlus Buds Z2, the earbuds should last between four and seven hours on a single charge. With a 10-minute “flash charge” in the supplied charging case, you can experience up to an additional two hours of listening. The charging case uses a wired USB Type-C connection to recharge. It unfortunately lacks Qi wireless charging.
What You Should Know About The OnePlus Buds Z2’s Charging Case
The charging case that comes with the OnePlus Buds Z2 does not support wireless charging. It comes with a 10-inch USB Type-C to USB Type-A charging cable. An AC power adapter is sold separately. The oval-shaped case fits comfortably in a pocket without creating an unsightly bulge. The case’s color matches that of the earbuds–black or white. The tiny LED light on the outside of the case turns green when the battery is fully charged.
Do The OnePlus Buds Z2s Perform Well During Phone Calls?
Each earbud uses three microphones to pick up your voice and analyze the ambient noise (and wind noise) in your surroundings, which allows the ANC to work exceptionally well when it comes to participating in hands-free phone calls or video calls. The touch-sensitive controls let you answer a call, end a call or reject a call with a single or double tap on the appropriate earbud.
What Is Spatial Audio And Dolby Atmos?
Spatial audio, which is sometimes referred to as 360-degree audio, makes it sound as if the audio surrounds you. This creates a much more immersive soundstage, especially when used with audio produced using spatial techniques.
Dolby Atmos is a version of spatial audio used in the production of music and movie soundtracks. When paired with compatible earbuds like the OnePlus Buds Z2, Dolby Atmos audio sounds as if it is coming from all around you—above, below and all sides.
How Important Is Active Noise Cancellation In Wireless Earbuds?
Active noise cancellation is extremely important. Active noise cancellation is now found in most earbuds. It uses algorithms and built-in microphones to measure and invert soundwaves emanating from the world around you to block that noise. When enabled, you can expect the noise cancellation to drain the earbuds’ batteries faster. Some earbuds have only one level of active noise cancellation, while others let you choose among up to three pre-defined noise cancellation levels. Some have a transparency mode as well, so you can hear what’s happening around you or talk with someone without removing your earbuds.
The OnePlus Buds Z2 have two levels of noise cancellation, plus a transparency mode. You can activate these features via the mobile app or touch-sensitive controls.
Who Should Get The OnePlus Buds Z2?
The OnePlus Buds Z2 work well with any device, including Apple devices (albeit without the same level of integration as Apple’s own earbuds). On an Android device using Google Fast Pair, you can pair them with a single tap.
These earbuds look great at the office or at the gym, and they have a strong feature set that includes effective noise cancellation, Dolby Atmos support and sweat and water resistance. All of these factors contribute to the OnePlus Buds Z2’s broad appeal. Priced at just $80 (and less when on sale), you won’t find a better pair of wireless earbuds for the money, which is why they’ve been chosen as our pick for Best Value Earbuds out of the dozens of wireless earbuds we tested.
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