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Frankenstein's earbuds would sound monstrously good
Despite frequently hopping between some of the best wireless earbuds, I still don’t feel like I’ve found my perfect pair. It’s not that any models I’ve used are bad in their own right. It’s more that I like each of them for different and specific reasons. Between the Samsung, Sony, and other buds at my disposal, I have an orchestra full of features that I enjoy. But it’s a pain having to switch between buds when I want to experience the best of a particular functionality.
But what if I could somehow take them apart and put all of their best qualities together? With their high-end features combined, they’d make for an impressive set of earbuds indeed. Maybe then I could have all of the features I’m looking for all in one place. Strange though it is, Frankenstein’s earbuds would sound monstrously good. Here’s what they should look like.
Squeeze controls just make sense
The Oneplus Buds Pro aren’t the best all-around headphones on the market. They’re comfortable but don’t form a particularly strong seal in my ears. They don’t boast the most impressive sound quality, either. Nor do they benefit from superior ANC or transparency capabilities. Their single high-quality Bluetooth codec, LHDC, also leaves audiophiles wanting. It’s not hosted by most phones, so its usefulness is limited from the get-go. At first glance, there’s nothing particularly special to brag about.
And yet, there is a secret hidden gem to be found here: squeeze controls. Honestly, I can’t help but love them. The definitive action of squeezing the earbud stem leaves little room for confusion. You can also find this brilliant idea on the Apple AirPods Pro, Nothing Ear Stick, and the new OnePlus Buds Pro 2.
The definitive action of squeeze controls leaves little room for confusion.
It’s an especially welcome feature, given that I have long hair. Usually, when I wear the Nothing Ear 1 or Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro earbuds, my hair gets in the way of the touch controls. This leads to accidental song skipping and unwittingly turning off ANC mode. Aside from being pretty frustrating, it’s impossible to know if you’re pressing the controls correctly. Pretty embarrassing when a cashier is trying to talk to you and you’re stood fumbling around with your earbuds trying to turn ANC off.
But this is all null and void with squeeze controls. There’s something much more deliberate about squeezing controls than there is about lightly touching them. The OnePlus Buds Pro also play a really satisfying “click” sound when you squeeze them. Most headphones boast characteristic sound prompts when you activate a control. But I find that the “click” sound of the OnePlus Buds Pro gives me more confidence. The squeeze-and-hold white noise feature is also a nice touch. If you want a rest from your music, you can squeeze the controls for three seconds and hear natural soundscapes. This has proved very useful for me when out on tour and seeking some alone time, for example.
Simply put, there’s no going back to traditional touch controls once you’ve squeezed the alternative.
Samsung’s ANC keeps my head voice singing
Let’s face it; the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro and Buds 2 Pro are champions when it comes to noise cancelation, and I’d pinch it for my ultimate pair of earbuds any day of the week. They easily outmatch the capabilities of the OnePlus Buds Pro, Nothing Ear 1, and Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 I’ve been using. Not only is the ANC excellent, but the earbuds are large enough to form a good seal. That means my music is isolated from external environmental sounds. I’ve worn these buds on the London Underground and barely noticed when a train pulls into the station. You could argue they’re almost too good.
I've worn Samsung's buds on the London Underground and barely noticed when a train is pulling into the station.
But it’s not just solid cancellation that I want to see in every future pair of earbuds. Samsung also offers two levels of ANC in the Wearables app, allowing users to decide which frequencies to tune out. The higher ANC option is particularly good at quieting bass and low-midrange sounds. The low ANC mode is better at dampening general midrange frequencies. These two settings stop you having to boost the headphone volume in order to hear your music, protecting your hearing in the process. By suppressing bass frequencies around the 100Hz range by nearly 20dB, low drones from engines are rendered almost entirely inaudible. Frequencies between 4-20kHz are also roughly 25dB quieter than with ANC turned off. While that’s welcome, nearby voices might manage to slip through the wall.
Transparency mode is equally good, too. While other earbuds retain an element of muffled audio, I don’t notice that with the Samsung Buds Pro. Nearby speech sounds amplified, while voices further away feel dampened. The contrast between ANC turned on and off is noticeable, to say the least. Noise cancelation is so good that it’s a little disorientating when you take an ANC-activated earbud out. I’ve now grown accustomed to putting these buds in transparency mode first, before taking them out.
Nothing fits better than Nothing Ear 1
I’ll admit, I suffer from oddly-shaped left and right ear canals. This became apparent to me while wearing the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro earbuds. Far too often, the left earbud kept falling out of my ear. At first, I thought I hadn’t secured it in the right place. But then I noticed discomfort with other earbuds. It didn’t matter whether I was wearing the OnePlus Buds Pro or the LinkBuds WF-L900 earbuds. The left earbud always felt like it was seconds away from falling out. Thankfully, changing ear tips helps. But there’s one earbud I’ve never had to consider changing ear tips for: Nothing Ear 1. My colleagues agree too; the Nothing Ear 1 offer a level of comfort that others should strive to emulate.
The only earbud I can swear by in terms of comfort and long-term use is Nothing Ear 1.
Most earbud manufacturers claim an ergonomic shape. It’s a fancy word, but from my experience is often meaningless. As much as I love the isolation provided by the shape of Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro earbuds, they’re not very comfortable to wear. Ear fatigue is a real thing, and the size and shape of earbuds are the most common cause. The only earbud I can swear by in terms of comfort and long-term use is Nothing Ear 1. I’ve worn these for three hours straight and forgotten I’m even wearing them. They don’t feel bulky, and their shape genuinely sits nicely between the concha, tragus, antitragus, and antihelix (essentially, the middle-outer ear).
They also only weigh 4.7g, compared to 6.3g for the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro. As small as 1.6g sounds, it makes a big difference when it’s sat in your ear. The Nothing Ear 1 stems rest comfortably between the fold of the tragus and antitragus, for an added sense of security. That also means it’s easier than most buds to access the touch controls.
Sony’s Headphones app reigns supreme
If you’ve ever worn Sony LinkBuds WF-L900, it probably wouldn’t shock you that I’m not their biggest cheerleader. The sound quality lacks bass, they aren’t very comfortable, and the absence of ANC is a huge oversight. Listening to music outside is a pain, as unwanted sound pours through the doughnut-shaped hole in their design. Unless you’re sat alone at home or out running on busy streets, there isn’t a particularly good environment for these buds. It may sound harsh, but there’s a reason ANC technology is so sought after. Thankfully, the Sony WF-1000XM4 are much better.
Still, my experience with these earbuds revealed that Sony absolutely nails the accessibility and customization options that are so often overlooked by others. We should absolutely absorb these into our Frankenstein’s earbuds too.
The Sony Headphones app is by far the best headphone app that I've used to date.
The Sony Headphones app is by far the best headphone app that I’ve used to date. With a built-in 400Hz-16kHz 5-band equalizer, the app allows users to truly customize the sound of their music. It also comes packed with 11 presets, all of which are listed as relevant adjectives, as opposed to genres. That’s helpful, as we often listen to music that reflects our current mood. Sony’s Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) also aims to upscale compressed low-quality audio files. While this drains more battery life, it’s a welcome addition for those listening with a typically lossy setup.
It’s also much easier to access spatial audio features. Recommendations on streaming platforms that support 360 Reality Audio pop up in the app. Plus, Bluetooth codec prioritization is presented at surface level, allowing users to easily select their preferred connectivity option. This makes a big difference if you want to take advantage of high-quality listening features. The app also shows what you’re listening to in real-time, which is a nice touch.
The help and support are thorough and easily accessible. Finding solutions for common problems, like pairing issues, is straightforward. Its user-focused approach, in addition to more detailed functionalities, makes this a genuinely worthwhile headphone app indeed.
Sometimes you have to judge a book by its cover
I can’t help thinking there’s an incredible set of earbuds waiting to be made here. One that hosts squeeze controls, superior ANC, long-lasting comfort, and a solid companion app. Each of them alone are great features to have, so why not put them all together? Combined, they’d make for the ultimate set of earbuds. If a headphone manufacturer ever makes them, I’ll be first in the queue.
But as much as I would love Frankenstein to stitch all of these features together, one, in particular, takes precedence for me. Above all else, I can’t ignore the importance of a comfortable fit. It’s impossible to truly enjoy superior ANC, squeeze controls, and impressive phone applications when your earbuds give you grief.
Listening to music is a joy, and one that should be enhanced by all of these amazing features.
With that in mind, the Nothing Ear 1 stand proud. The NothingX app may be basic, the ANC not as solid, and the touch controls sporadic. But the comfort is inarguable. The fact that I can wear these earbuds for hours at a time is a testament to just how comfortable they are. I’m yet to experience ear fatigue with these buds, which happens all too often with other headphones. The feature that keeps me coming back for more isn’t anything high-tech. It’s simply a feeling.
What about you? Is there a specific earbud feature you can’t live without?