Offering a design like no other, the Nothing Ear Stick stands out, though this bold choice of truly wireless earbuds won’t be for everyone.
One of the downsides of designing earphones and earbuds and truly wireless audio gadgets to throw in your ears is that they can all start to look largely the same. Small stemmed earpieces of white and black plastic, or short tear-drop spots that seal up the ear in silver and blue and black, if you’ve painted a picture of the earphone market simply from that description, you know all too well what we’re talking about.
But they don’t have to all look the same, and with Nothing’s latest pair, the idea is to stand out with something different. Does it work?
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Design and features
With a design like no other pair of earphones out there, Nothing definitely aims to grab you with its earphones. Just like its Ear(1) siblings, the Ear (Stick) offers a transparent look at the hardware underneath, with clear plastic letting you peek inside the humble earphone.
Granted, you’re not going to see a lot of complex circuitry like the silicon board designs you might imagine sit inside a computer. This is more blocks of chips connected to other pieces in a design that looks different.
But it does absolutely look different, and gone are the white and black and colourful plastics that would normally make up the design of every other pair of earphones and earbuds out there.
These are different from the pack, and unashamedly so. It’s a look that makes the Ear (Stick) earbuds stand out, and not just the buds themselves, but the case.
Somewhere between a tube of lipstick and a futuristic vending machine, the Ear (Stick) offers a rotational tube that looks nothing like any other pair out there, and arrives in a box unlike any other pair, either. It’s a preview for an earbud design that’s so unique, and makes you realise where the “nothing” in the company’s name comes from: there’s nothing else like them.
At least until you use them, because Nothing hasn’t reinvented the wheel for how you use this pair of earbuds, or not too much, anyway.
You’ll find a stem you can pinch and squeeze, with a single pinch not customisable, and only working for play, pause, and answering calls on either ear. The rest is totally up to your discretion. By default, a double pinch jumps forward or backward a track depending on the ear, while holding it down will send the volume up or down dependent on the ear. You can also map a function to a double pinch (squeezing twice) and holding it, handy if you want to trigger your phone’s virtual assistant.
All that’s left is to throw the Nothing Stick in your ears, which is fairly easy given they’re earbuds, but may not suit all ears. The shape is large enough to not nestle perfectly for every ear, but also well designed in a way that makes them firm.
Earbuds still aren’t our favourite fit, but the Nothing Stick aren’t bad, even if they’ll never reward you with a sense of isolation. Just don’t brush them out slightly or have someone nudge them, because they will fall out.
That’s part and parcel with the design, because earbuds aren’t made with the words “firm fit” or “isolation” in mind. But they can theoretically perform just as well as their in-ear siblings, provided they’re developed and tweaked well. You only need to look at the performance of devices like the Apple AirPods 3 and Bang & Olufsen Earset for that.
So how do the Nothing Ear Stick hold up performance-wise?
For that, we turned to the Pickr Sound Test, our method for testing every pair of earphones, headphones, and speakers, and yes, even earbuds. They’re like earphones, kinda sorta, though they lack the tip, so they’re also not.
But like all other reviews, this one starts with electronic, where we’re giving a taste of what to expect, with a decent sound delivering a punch of bass in Tycho and Daft Punk, though the sound is more open than you may expect.
Bright in the top-end but still boomy where it counts, the Nothing Ear Stick reads like a tuned earbud capable of delivering the right sounds, just not the warm ones. Near balance, but just too open to accept it, so to speak.
It’s a similar feeling in pop and R&B, because there’s a decent punch with plenty of sound, though it can also come off a little shallow, due to how open the design is. This is an open style of listening, so they’re not guaranteed to block the sound at all. Rather, it’s going to bleed out, so you might need to turn the volume up, or play with the settings inside the Nothing app.
Mostly, it’s a decent sound, though it lacks the personality of the Ear 1, which saw Nothing turn to the expertise of Teenage Engineering to give it some pop and pizazz. These sound fine, but they’re not quite the same experience as what you can find with Nothing’s other pair of earphones.
The battery performance isn’t bad, though, getting a total of 29 hours of your time, and Nothing somehow managing to pack in 7 hours per charge into that tiny transparent design. The case stores an extra 22 hours, but you might just want to round that down to three charges before needing to plug that uniquely designed case into Type C USB for a charge.
You will need to do that, though, because with no wireless charging, the Nothing Ear Stick case needs its charge using a cable.
The price of the Nothing Ear Stick is also interesting, partly because the $179 Australian price plays well against the $289 third-gen AirPods, essentially saving you a hundred in the process for something similar in style, though totally different in execution.
However, competing with Apple isn’t always what earphone makers do, and so Nothing is more competing in the hundred to two hundred dollar spot. In that area, there’s also Jabra’s Elite 3 without noise cancelling for much less, while the Elite 4 with ANC retails for the same price as the Nothing Ear Stick. You can also find the BlueAnt Pump Air X for the same $179 price tag.
There are other models, too, but few offer the earbud style, which allows an easy insert as opposed to needing the in-earphone style everyone else uses.
That gives Nothing a little something extra to work with in this space, and mean the value isn’t bad at all. Granted, you won’t get any noise cancellation, but you will find an earbud that looks great and offers decent sound for under where Apple pitches its model.
What needs work?
For some, though, these earbuds mightn’t suit, and it may come from a problem found on every other pair of earbuds you can find today: they’re shallow by design.
Earbuds rest in your ear and never really get a seal. They’re designed to rest in the tragus, the fleshy bit of your ear that covers your canal just above the lobe, and they’ll sit there sending sound into your ear canals, more or less bombarding it with audio while your brain hopefully sends you the message that you should probably turn the sound down just a bit.
This design means you’re never getting a perfect seal, and so earbuds don’t isolate. If you turn the volume up a lot, you might be hearing more sound, but you’re also sending a lot of possibly unnecessary volume to your ears, which understandably isn’t great for your hearing.
However, it also means they can also sound shallow, almost intentionally. You can get a thump of a bass and some good sound — and the Nothing Ear Stick match that — but like other earbuds, the sound will never feel meaty.
Rather, it’ll typically come across a touch shallow. You might be able to fix that by forcing them into your ears in a way that is a little less comfortable, but they’ll never achieve quite the depth of sound that either an in-earphone or pair of over-ear headphones can achieve.
Specifically, they’ll never quite get achieve the depth of sound Nothing offers in another of its earphone choices, the Ear (1).
They also lack noise cancellation, something that doesn’t come as much of a surprise given the open nature of earbuds, though they also lack wireless charging, an omission that does surprise us, especially given how normal it is to see it bandied about in devices both premium and below it.
Final thoughts (TLDR)
Even without noise cancellation or even a fuller sound, the reasons to consider Nothing’s earbuds may come from the form-factor and the look, both of which stand out.
Earbuds are a bit of a rarity these days with everyone turning to ear tip designs, and the unique look for the Ear Stick helps them stand out even more so. These sure stand out for very good reasons.
They’re also very friendly to whatever operating system you use, iOS or Android, and run for about a hundred less than what Apple offers.
For those reasons, we suspect many will turn to the Nothing Stick earbuds, but we still believe there may be better options for your dollar provided you don’t mind the earphone style.
However, if what you prefer is the simplicity behind the earbud style and a look that won’t make you look like you’re sporting the same old pair as everyone else, there’s something to like in the Nothing Ear Stick.