The OnePlus Buds Pro is the company’s latest pair of wireless earbuds. It’s the first model in their range to feature active noise cancellation and is a take on the Apple AirPods Pro, albeit at a much lower price. $149, in fact, which puts them on par with the likes of the newly launched Samsung Galaxy Buds 2.
But while Apple and Samsung are no strangers to this game, this is OnePlus’ first foray into the somewhat premium portion of the wireless audio market, having made only entry-level models up to this point.
To their credit, the OnePlus Buds Pro come with a lot of features, including adaptive noise cancellation, transparency mode, a sound ID feature that customizes the sound to your hearing, water-resistance for the buds and the case, wireless charging, and even a white noise mode for relaxation.
Having features is one thing but executing them effectively is another matter altogether. So today we’ll be taking a look at how well the OnePlus Buds Pro perform in real-life conditions, including testing all of their features and audio quality.
The OnePlus Buds Pro packaging is unremarkable. Apart from the earbuds, you get three sets of silicone ear tips in three sizes and a short USB-C charging cable.
The OnePlus Buds Pro have a really attractive design for the earbuds and the case. The case is compact and roughly the size and shape of a box of mints. It features a smooth matte texture with the OnePlus logo embossed on the top.
There are no other markings or text on the exterior. The only thing else you’ll find on the outside is a small LED on the front and a USB-C port on the back for charging.
Opening the lid feels much like opening a jewelry case. Swing the lid open and the earbuds sit more or less right on top rather than deep within the case.
The interior of the case continues the matte finish with only the depression for the earbuds having a glossy finish. If you look underneath the lid, then you’ll find all the unsightly regulatory markings hidden within the depression for the earbuds.
Inside the case, you’ll also find the button for pairing placed between the two earbuds.
Interestingly, while the matte finish on the exterior of the case is surprisingly smudge-resistant, the matte plastic on the inside gets stained quite easily.
The earbuds themselves are also quite stylish. They feature a two-tone design that includes matte plastic on top and glossy plastic below. It’s quite a striking design and even though the general shape is similar to the AirPods Pro, the overall appearance is quite distinctive and attractive. More so than the AirPods Pro, I’d say.
Apart from the Matte Black variant pictured here, the OnePlus Buds Pro also come in Glossy White.
The OnePlus Buds Pro have ingress protection for both the earbuds as well as the case. The earbuds have an IP55 rating, meaning they are protected against dust and water. The case, meanwhile, has an IPX4 rating, which should protect it against splashes of water.
For the most part, the build quality, fit, and finish of the earbuds and the case are quite good. However, the lid of the case was a bit loose on our review unit and rocked side to side when closed.
During my testing, I found the OnePlus Buds Pro to be comfortable to use for extended periods. The size and shape of the earbuds made them sit for hours without poking or putting undue stress on any part of the ear. I would have no issue wearing these over long flights or while binge-watching content.
The OnePlus Buds Pro are pretty small at 3.2cm x 2.32cm and weigh just 4.35g, which contributes a lot to their comfort. Inside is a single 11mm dynamic driver with a 20-20,000Hz frequency range.
Interestingly, the earbuds can reach 102dB of SPL in India whereas they are limited to 98dB in other markets. This is apparently due to restrictions in several other countries regarding how loud headphones can be. Our review unit here is the Indian model, which means I have access to the full volume range, and no one can stop me from destroying my ears.
The OnePlus Buds Pro support active noise cancelation, which is achieved using three microphones placed around each earbud. More on this later.
The earbuds also have pressure-sensitive stalks that can be squeezed to trigger various functions. You can squeeze once to play/pause, twice to go to the next track, and thrice by default to the previous track. The triple squeeze gesture can be customized to also launch the voice assistant instead.
You can also squeeze and hold to cycle between the three noise-canceling modes. Like the AirPods Pro, you can choose to have all three (on, off, transparency) or any two. By default, on and transparency are selected.
The control mechanism for the earbud works really well and is one of the most pleasant methods I’ve seen employed on wireless earbuds. The stalks are very responsive and every squeeze is responded with a ticking sound in the earbuds. While there is a small concern of upsetting the seal and placement of the earbuds every time you touch the stalks, it beats having to tap and press the earbuds into your ears as seen on almost all other models.
The OnePlus Buds Pro support up to Bluetooth 5.2 but can only connect to one device at a time with no way to quickly switch between devices other than manually unpairing and pairing.
The codec support includes SBC, AAC, and LHDC v3. There’s no support for LDAC or any of the aptX variants.
The LHDC support is interesting. It is currently the least supported codec on the market. Within OnePlus’ product portfolio, only the latest Nord 2 supports it. OnePlus says that the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro will be getting LHDC support in a future software update, but it won’t be coming to older devices. The company also made the rather odd claim that none of the Nord phones will be getting LHDC support. But as I just mentioned, the latest Nord 2 does support this codec.
For those unaware, LHDC stands for Low latency HD audio codec and is created by Taiwanese audio company Savitech. Like LDAC, it is also certified for high-resolution audio as it supports up to 24-bit, 96kHz audio at up to 900kbps. Like LDAC, it also supports other bitrates, namely, 560kbps, 400kbps, and 256kbps. By default, the device will switch automatically based on connection strength. There’s no way to tell what bitrate is being used unless the user locks it manually through Android’s developer settings.
The LHDC implementation on the OnePlus Buds Pro has one limitation, wherein it is limited to 24-bit, 48kHz. This means it’s not quite high-resolution audio, although, to be fair, OnePlus doesn’t claim it to be, either. Still, for most content, a sampling rate of 48kHz will be adequate.
All the customization happens within the software, which on OnePlus phones is done through the integrated OnePlus Buds app. This app presents itself as additional options within the Bluetooth settings when a compatible pair of earbuds are connected but is otherwise inaccessible directly. The experience is similar to using the settings within the Bluetooth menu for Apple AirPods models.
For non OnePlus phones, you can use the Oppo HeyMelody app, which is available for Android and iOS. This app supports a variety of OnePlus and Oppo Bluetooth audio products and you get the same set of features and customization options from within that app as within the OnePlus Buds UI.
In some ways, the app is better because it’s easier to access, whereas the OnePlus Buds UI is buried deep within the Bluetooth settings.
The software has two interesting features. The first is the OnePlus Audio ID, which runs a test that includes playing back a series of beeps at different frequencies and amplitude and checking if you can hear them. At the end of the test, the software produces a profile based on your results, and that is then applied to all audio played through the earbuds.
The other feature is Zen Mode Air. Zen Mode on OnePlus phones is a feature that makes the phone unusable for a while so you don’t get distracted or tempted into using it. Zen Mode Air isn’t the same; what it does is play a soothing sound over the earbuds to help you relax.
The app includes five white noise samples – Warm sunrise (nature sounds including birds), Meditation (a calming tune), Summer seashore (sound of waves crashing on the beach), Nighttime camping (sound of campfire and cicadas), and Iceland (calming tune but Icelandish???). Whenever you pick one, it is then transferred over to the earbuds. This way it can be played any time, regardless of which device the earbuds are paired with.
Some of these are decent (Summer seashore and Nighttime camping are my favorites), but I didn’t care much for the others. Also, I noticed they sounded a bit too compressed, likely due to having to be small to fit on the onboard memory of the earbuds. It’s especially noticeable on Warm sunrise. The compression artifacts ruined any chances of me relaxing to these sounds, although your mileage may vary.
Lastly, you can also run a fit test to check if the ear tips you have chosen are the right size for you. Regardless of what tips I used, the app always said I had a good fit.
The OnePlus Buds Pro support quick pairing with OnePlus devices. Open the case next to a OnePlus phone and an AirPod-style prompt appears on the screen and with one press, the earbuds get paired with the device. For non OnePlus phones, you can just press and hold the button within the case to enter pairing mode.
The app and the firmware on the earbuds (v467) were mostly stable, although I did come across an issue where, on a couple of occasions, the earbuds just powered down on their own for no reason. They had to be placed back into the case for a second to turn back on again. For what it’s worth, both times this happened was when using the earbuds with a non-OnePlus phone.
Aside from that, the OnePlus Buds Pro worked quite well.
In terms of tonality, the OnePlus Buds Pro have a fairly typical v-shaped sound signature. There is a significant emphasis on the bass and treble regions of the sound with a laidback mid-range presentation.
The OnePlus Buds Pro have a pretty substantial bass response. There is a wideband boost applied across the first few hundred hertz of the frequency range, which results in a very bass-forward sound.
The bass on the OnePlus Buds Pro lacks articulation and detail and just comes across as overpowering. There’s often a distinct rumble present in the sound, which can be desirable in video content but tends to be overwhelming and distracting in music. Depending upon your choice of music, it can also be fatiguing after some time.
The mid-range is more laidback and dialed down in comparison. The lower mid-range has a decent body, but it loses steam as it moves up the frequency ladder. Upper mids are much more suppressed in comparison, which causes the vocals to be pushed back a bit in the overall mix.
The treble response starts with this downward trajectory, as the lower treble also has some of the laid-back characteristics of the mid-range, which results in a more relaxed and less shouty vocal presentation.
However, as we go further up the frequency range, the treble tends to spike up aggressively, resulting in a sharp rise in sibilance. Audio content with heavy use of ‘s’ and ‘t’ sounds can get quite overbearing, and the hiss of the treble can also be distracting.
The overall tonality of the OnePlus Buds Pro is rather brash and garish. The bass and treble dominate the sound so much, the mid-range gets drowned out a bit. It also makes the sound quite fatiguing to listen to over extended periods.
In terms of technicalities, the detail retrieval was pretty average, despite the wide bandwidth of LHDC. Imaging performance was admittedly quite good, but the soundstage was narrow and unremarkable.
The OnePlus Buds Pro have mediocre microphone quality. Voices sound robotic and somewhat unnatural, and there are a lot of compression artifacts present in the audio. It does, however, do an okay job of tuning out background noise for your callers.
The OnePlus Buds Pro feature two levels of active noise cancellation. There is a standard noise-canceling mode and higher max noise-canceling mode. The default, however, is a mode called smart, which adjusts the level of noise cancellation automatically based on ambient noise levels.
The noise-canceling performance on the OnePlus Buds Pro is impressive for the most part. The earbuds do a great job of tuning out low and low-mid frequencies. The sound of vehicles passing by, air conditioners, and the general chattering in public places is muted effectively. And while I haven’t tested this personally, I feel that the earbuds should also do a pretty good job on flights.
The issue with the tuning out of the higher frequencies. The active noise canceling doesn’t deal effectively with higher frequencies, so they tend to seep in and stay audible. This is somewhat of an issue with in-ear headphones more than full-size headphones, as the latter tend to physically cover your entire ear in a way that makes higher frequencies difficult to pass through.
The other issue with the OnePlus Buds Pro is that the ANC itself adds a high-frequency hiss to the sound. Testing the earbuds in a quiet place with the ANC off and then on, it’s easy to detect the presence of the high-frequency hiss, which is otherwise absent in the ambient noise and even when the earbuds are worn with ANC disabled.
I hope OnePlus addresses this with an update as the hiss just adds to the noise floor of the earbuds and somewhat defeats the purpose of wearing noise-canceling earbuds if it’s just going to replace the ambient noise with its own.
Regarding the two ANC modes, I couldn’t quite figure out the difference in the noise attenuation levels between the two. Perhaps it is only noticeable in very noisy environments, but in your usual home or office environment, you’d be hard-pressed to notice any change at all in the noise levels when switching over to the max setting.
The OnePlus Buds Pro also feature a transparency mode that also works reasonably well. The sound is still a bit artificial sounding, but after a while, you get used to it and don’t even notice that you are listening through the speakers as the localization of the sound is quite good.
The OnePlus Buds Pro have good latency performance while watching videos. Regardless of which codec was used, the earbuds were able to sync with the video content effortlessly with minimal delay.
Gaming latency was acceptable. OnePlus claims reduced latency with certain OnePlus smartphone models but even when used with an iPhone, the latency wasn’t particularly distracting for casual gaming. I’d still stick to wired earbuds for more serious gaming and voice chat use.
The connection quality on the OnePlus Buds Pro was perfectly stable throughout my testing. Even when set to the maximum 900kbps mode with LHDC, the earbuds were working perfectly fine at over 30 feet of distance with no obstructions in between. There was no issue with the other codecs, either.
The OnePlus Buds Pro has a rated battery life of 5 hours with ANC enabled and 7 hours with ANC disabled. In both cases, the codec used is AAC.
For my battery life testing, I kept the ANC enabled and set to Max mode for consistency. Then I ran the test twice, once with AAC and another with LHDC.
In the AAC mode, the OnePlus Buds Pro played for about 4 hours and 15 minutes. That’s off by some margin from OnePlus’s claim, although it’s likely OnePlus didn’t use the Max setting for ANC for their testing.
In the LHDC mode, the OnePlus Buds Pro played for about 3 hours 45 minutes. Since we don’t have any number to compare this against, we’ll just have to take it for what it is.
OnePlus also didn’t make any claims about how long the earbuds would last if you were to charge them for 10 minutes from flat. In my testing, I got 2 hours and 10 minutes of playback with a 10-minute charge in AAC mode and 1 hour 50 minutes of playback in LHDC mode.
The battery life on the OnePlus Buds Pro is average. For continuous use, even the roughly four-hour figure with max ANC and LHDC should be sufficient for most listening sessions. However, if you want to eke out more hours, you may want to consider disabling the ANC.
The OnePlus Buds Pro are a decent attempt at a semi-premium pair of wireless earbuds. Several things stand out about them, including the design, comfort, user-friendly controls, and noise cancellation. They are not perfect at those things, but they do a good enough job.
Less impressive things include the sound quality, which is just way too overtuned and aggressive. While most other aspects of the earbuds feel suitably premium, the audio tuning feels like something you’d find on cheap, entry-level earbuds. It’s a shame that OnePlus’ audio tuning has devolved into having as much bass and treble as possible, as the company’s earlier models showed a much more refined and mature presentation. Also not particularly impressive is the microphone quality.
Depending upon your taste in music and how important microphone quality is to you, the OnePlus Buds Pro may still be a worthwhile option for you at the $149 price. There are plenty of good things about them that still makes the overall package appealing.
- Attractive design
- Water-resistance for earbuds and case
- Good noise cancellation and transparency mode
- Intuitive and user-friendly controls
- Wireless charging
- Aggressive audio tuning is fatiguing
- Mediocre microphone quality
- Noise cancellation adds a bit of high-frequency noise