OnePlus Buds Z full review
The OnePlus Buds Z are budget true wireless headphones from the cult smartphone brand, and yet another reminder that OnePlus is at its best when it’s finding ways to undercut competitors – and even itself – on price.
Sure, the sound quality is unlikely to absolutely wow anyone - but it’s fine. And once you factor in a decent battery life, fast charging, and IP55 water-resistance these begin to look like a very solid pair of headphones for £55/$50 – and a marked improvement on the disappointing original OnePlus Buds.
Design and build
Importantly, however, the Buds Z use silicone tips for your inner ear. This not only makes them substantially more comfortable than the first-gen Buds, but also helps them block out a lot more external noise, helping the Buds Z sound better than their budget specs would suggest.
I still found I couldn’t quite get a perfect fit, and the right bud has a curious habit of consistently trying to slowly work free of my ear that I can’t quite explain. Still, there are three sets of tips included, and you might have better luck than me.
The Buds Z also have an IP55 rating, which means they should be able to survive some rainfall or sweat, making these a solid budget exercise option.
The circular outside of each bud is a touch-sensitive panel, but controls are frustratingly limited. There’s no single-tap, triple-tap, or long-press – only a double-tap control, which by default is the same on each ear, and skips forward a track.
If you own a OnePlus 6 or later then you can customise the double-tap with a range of options, but use the Buds Z with any other phone and there’s no app to tweak the controls, leaving you stuck with the defaults.
You’ll note that said default doesn’t include a play/pause option. Instead this is handled through in-ear detection – take either bud out, and your music will pause, then resume when you put it back in. This at least works smoothly and reliably, though I still wish there was a button or touch control by default to pause a track without removing the headphones entirely.
There’s only one core colour – white – though if you don’t mind spending a little more there’s a colourful, cartoonish collaboration with artist Steven Harrington for £68.99/$59.99.
Either way the case will match. It’s a simple cylindrical design – a little like a pill box – with a single exterior LED to show battery level, a USB-C charging port on the rear, and a pairing button next to it.
The OnePlus Buds Z use 10mm dynamic drivers, a notable spec drop from the 13.mm drivers on the original Buds. That might seem like enough of a reason to spend a little extra for those headphones, but once you factor in the passive noise reduction from the silicone tips here the difference evens out a little.
Still, sound quality is merely average. OnePlus touts the Buds Z’s Bass Boost, but it’s not enough to make these a good fit for hip hop or dance. Sure, the snatches of guitar or vocals on Kid Cudi’s new album come through, but the beat is left languishing in the background.
Pop, classical, and rock fare better, with crisp treble and clear mids for the most part. The Buds Z mostly avoid the common cheap headphone problem of muddy sound that runs together in the mid-spectrum, though there’s no getting around the fact that they sound a little thin.
Battery and charging
Battery at least is a more confident triumph. OnePlus touts a 20-hour battery life for the Buds Z, though note that this is including the case – you should get around five hours between charges.
That matches up pretty nicely to my experience, with the buds happily carrying me through an afternoon of non-stop listening.
As for charging, ten minutes plugged into the USB-C cable should net three hours of playback time, making it easy enough to salvage the situation if you actually run the case down entirely.
Price and availability
They’re only a little cheaper than the £79/$79 OnePlus Buds, so you might be tempted to make the upgrade, but I’d caution against it. They may have bigger drivers and slightly better battery life, but the lack of silicone tips alone is enough to make them a worse choice for most than the cheaper Buds Z, which are far more comfortable and block out much more outside noise.
If you already use a OnePlus phone then the Buds Z are a solid choice for the price, but anyone on another phone – even another Android device – is better off looking elsewhere, as the limited and fixed controls scupper these somewhat.
The OnePlus Buds Z are a solid budget option that improve on the original OnePlus Buds despite the lower price.
Audio is average, but a comfortable fit and solid battery life mostly make up for it. Limited touch controls are a bigger problem though, especially since if you don’t own a OnePlus phone you can’t change them at all – so if you’re not already in the ecosystem these definitely aren’t the best budget buds for you.
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