OnePlus makes A-grade audio products. I remember reviewing the original OnePlus Bullets wired earphones and being blown away by the sound quality. The subsequent Bullets Wireless, Bullets Wireless 2, and Bullets Wireless Z neckband-style earphones have all been excellent too. However, I wasn’t particularly impressed by the sound quality of OnePlus’ maiden attempt at a pair of truly wireless earphones with the OnePlus Buds earlier this year. Can the OnePlus Buds Z change things around? Let’s find out.
OnePlus Buds Z – Design and Fit
The one thing that the OnePlus Buds had going for itself was the design. The soft matte plastic case feels super premium. Plus, you could flip open the lid in one smooth motion. Unfortunately, you get none of that here. The Buds Z’s pill-shaped case is made entirely of glossy plastic and the White colour gets dirty really quickly. Also, flipping open the lid with one hand is not easy. So, that docks points for ease of access. But, for the asking price, I shouldn’t be complaining so much. As for the rest of the design, you get the OnePlus logo plastered in Grey on the top. There’s a Type C port on the rear and a Pairing/Reset button. On the front you get an LED indicator.
Now, once you open the lid, you’ll notice the earbuds are placed inside specially carved grooves in a fashion that is very similar to the Mobvoi Ticpods. As for the Buds, except for the in-ear tips, they look very identical to the OnePlus Buds, with the CD plate and stem design.
Anyway, the in-ear tips ensure you get a tight seal and it is pretty comfortable for long listening sessions as well. Plus, they won’t fall out of your ears at all. Also, you get an IP55 rating, which makes it ideal for workouts. My only gripe is that it protrudes a fair bit out of your ears. So, if you plan on – using it with a helmet or sleeping on one side with the earbuds in your ears – trust me, it is going to be super uncomfortable.
OnePlus Buds Z – Controls and Battery Life
The OnePlus Buds Z, in typical OnePlus fashion, can be easily paired to an Android phone with Google Fast Pair on a BT 5.0 network. A card pops up on your Android phone the moment you open the lid. If you want to manually connect it to, say an iPhone, you need to long press the Pairing button on the rear. Regardless it is super easy.
As for the controls, there is Wear Detection but with the Note 20 Ultra on Apple Music, which means it can Play and Pause music when you take the buds out of your ears and place it back again. Anyway, I am glad that OnePlus is not limiting the option to change the Double Tap remapping to OnePlus phones only. With the new HeyMelody app, you can remap the taps on any Android phone. You can also upgrade the firmware with this app. Honestly, the app looks super threadbare. Maybe the app devs could’ve added an equaliser and a music player integration or something. By the way, the taps work well, no problem. And, I really like the fact that you can quickly switch between two paired devices by just long pressing the touch layer on any one of the earbuds.
As for the battery life, OnePlus promises five hours on the buds. In my testing, at 80% volume I got around 4hrs and 13mins before both the buds died on me. But, the buds aren’t calibrated properly because the left one died 20 mins earlier. The case itself gives you about three extra charge cycles, taking the battery life to about 20 hours, which is not too bad. You also get fast charging and with 10 minutes of charge you can get up to 2-3 hours of listening time.
OnePlus Bud Z – Sound Quality
The OnePlus Buds Z’s sound signature is clearly U-Shaped with an added emphasis on the low end and the treble. This is a more consumer-friendly sound signature that aims to please you and get your foot tapping. Audiophiles can safely quit this review right now.
Anyway, while you do get a fairly good chunk of low end volume, the quality of the bass is not very good. In Mirza by Nucleya, the bass was boomy and lacked the punch. The bass decay was fairly evident and it causes it to overpower the other frequencies, especially the mids. The mids are not unrefined, but as a result of the auditory masking, it tends to get lost in songs that are tuned to play up the bass. So, if you do listen to a lot of EDM with vocals, this will be irritating. But, if you listen to songs that are dominated by the singer’s voice, then it shouldn’t be a problem. I had a lot of fun listening to Kamakshi Khanna’s raspy vocals in her new single Qareeb.
The other good aspect of the Buds Z is the soundstaging and instrumentation are fairly good for a pair of TWS buds that cost under Rs 3,000. In a well-mastered song like Michael Fitzhenry’s Andwella, the Buds Z manages to create a space for all the instruments to breathe and co-exist peacefully.
I think most users who are not finicky about sound, will actually appreciate the Buds Z’s signature. As for me, I’d still hunt for a unit of the JVC HA-A10T, which is my go-to recommendation in this price range.
OnePlus Buds Z – Latency and Mic Quality
The OnePlus Buds Z does offer low latency of 103ms for gaming but only in the Fnatic mode on compatible OnePlus devices. I tried gaming with the Buds Z on the Note 20 Ultra and the latency was super annoying. This sort of limited compatibility option is something I am not a fan of.
As for the mic quality, the Buds Z is fine. Not too great, not too bad. It does a whole lot of processing to make my voice sound coloured.
Should you buy the OnePlus Buds Z?
If anyone ever asks me for a pair of truly wireless earbuds with a good, fun sound and packed with features under Rs 3,000, I’d easily recommend the Buds Z, In fact, I like it more than the OnePlus Buds. Way more.
If you are looking at alternatives there’s the OPPO W31 that I can recommend wholeheartedly as well. While it sounds as good, if not better, it is definitely not as feature rich as the OnePlus Buds Z. Then, there is the JVC HA-A10T that I’d mentioned earlier. Those buds offer the best signature, no questions asked. But, they are always out of stock, which is a pity.
To sum it up, I strongly feel that OnePlus should’ve launched the Buds Z first, before the OnePlus Buds. If you have a OnePlus phone, I’d urge you to pick up the more affordable Buds Z. And, that’s not something you’d hear from a tech reviewer often.