How much does appearance matter to consumer gadgets? The pretentious side of me would say “not much. I only care about performance.”
But we all know that’s not true. Humans are visual creatures and we can all be influenced by style to some extent. And that’s true for the Ear Stick.
Nothing, the UK-headquartered startup led by OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei, bets on aesthetics in many ways. The company has released three products so far, and to be honest, none of them work much differently than dozens of other similar products on the market. But all of Nothing’s products offer a visually striking design language wrapped in unique packaging and are quite competitively priced.
To be honest, sometimes that’s enough. Not every product needs to reinvent the wheel or revolutionize the industry. Sometimes a consumer product just needs to look good, work well enough and not cost too much. Nothing’s latest product, a set of wireless earbuds called the Ear Stick, does just that.
The Nothing Ear Stick is a great set of earplugs with a unique design that may be more comfortable for some. However, you lose a lot in terms of sound and other functions.
- Unique design with open ear
- Costs only $99
- Sounds good in quiet surroundings
- Brand: Nothing
- Noise Reduction: no
- Mono listening: Yes
- Blue tooth : 5.2
- Microphones: Three per bud
- IP rating: IP54
- Weight (earplugs): 4.4 per bud
- Charger: Wired only
- Driver size: 12.6 mm
- Price (MSRP): $99
- A comfortable open-ear design
- Good price
- Easy to connect devices
- Good battery life
- Lacks good bass
- No active noise reduction
Nothing Ear Stick Price and Availability
- You can get the Nothing Ear Sticks for $99 in the US and are available in other countries
- They will be available on Amazon starting November 4th.
The Nothing Ear Sticks are priced at $99 in the US and the same in other regions (in the UK and Hong Kong, for example, you can get them for £99 and HK$899, respectively). They are available for pre-order now on Nothing’s online store and will ship on November 4th. After that, it will also be available at large online stores such as Amazon.
Design and Hardware: Major Pros and Cons
- These use a half-in-the-ear design so that it does not sit inside the ear canal
- You can potentially get more comfort, but weaker noise insulation
- There is no wireless charging in the cover
In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Ear Stick is the company’s second set of wireless earbuds. Launched last year, the Ear 1 garnered praise for its semi-transparent design and sound performance, which beat its price range. The new earbuds bring back the same semi-transparent design, but in a tube case instead of the Ear 1’s more conventional jewel box-like case.
Apart from the new cover, the Ear Sticks differ decisively from the Ear 1 in one way: the Ear Sticks are “half-in-the-ear” style buds (another way of calling it “open ear”), meaning they sit on the edges of the ear like outside the ear canal. The original Ear 1 are earbuds with silicone tips that go into the canal, just like Apple’s AirPods Pro.
The half-in-the-ear design offers major advantages and disadvantages. They’re usually more comfortable to wear for longer periods of time because there’s nothing sticking into the ear, but they also don’t block out noise at all. With earbuds in the ear, even without active noise cancellation (ANC), the silicon tip provides enough of a seal to naturally block out ambient noise. With the Nothing Ear Stick, you still hear the outside world completely, at full volume.
But this is a feature, not a bug. These types of half-in-ear buds are not intended to eliminate external sound. Instead, this design appeals to two groups: those who can’t stand the feel of earbuds (I have a few colleagues who fall into this camp) or those who want to be aware of their surroundings when listening to audio.
Nothing representatives also make it clear: the Ear Stick are not successors to the Ear 1, but companions. Consumers choose for themselves whether they want to compromise on either ear comfort or sonic immersion.
Back to the cover. I’m a fan of Nothing going with a different shape simply because it stands out from the crowd. The cover is transparent, so that the buds are always visible. The cover opens via a twist of the knob on top, which slides the cover over like a revolving door, allowing you to pull the knobs out of their slots.
The twisting action to open the case is fun to fiddle with. There is enough resistance to require some force for the twist, and there is an audible click when the case is fully opened or closed.
The charging port is on the top of the tube, covered by a red plastic material that adds visual flair. Unlike the Nothing Ear 1 case, there is no wireless charging. The earbuds are slightly lighter than the Nothing Ear 1 earbuds, at 4.4g per bud, and as mentioned they fit comfortably without pressure from wearing the earbuds for too long.
The Ear Stick stems house the usual touch-sensitive panel that most readers should be familiar with. The panel can detect taps and only long taps, not swipes.
There are three microphones on each bud, and they are solely for capturing the user’s voice. As we previously mentioned, the Ear Sticks do not have any form of ANC. This was a wise decision, given that the fit would have rendered any software attempt to remove ambient noise somewhat pointless. The microphones do a good job of picking up my voice for phone calls or when I summon Google Assistant.
Inside each bud is a 12.6mm audio driver, which nothing says was purpose-built for the Ear Stick. Battery life is advertised at seven hours on a single charge, and the numbers seem accurate after a week of use. The case has three additional costs for a total of approx. 28 hours of play time. A USB-C charging cable is included in the package.
The Nothing Ear Stick offers multi-point connectivity, allowing it to connect to multiple devices at the same time, and connectivity has been excellent. I have used these indoors and outdoors and have never experienced a loss of connection. There’s also IPX5 water resistance for the earbuds, so you can use them in the rain or even briefly submerge them in water without any problems. But that’s just the earbuds; the case is not waterproof at all.
Software and Sound Quality: Where’s the Bass?
- The earbuds can be paired with just about any phone
- The open-ear design means that lower frequencies such as bass suffer
The Nothing Ear Stick will pair with any device with Bluetooth, and on many Android phones, you’ll simply open the lid of the Ear Stick case to trigger a pop-up menu asking if you want to pair. Once paired, the Ear Stick worked well, whether it was with the Google Pixel 7 Pro, iPhone 14 Pro Max, or MacBook Pro.
To fine-tune audio output or customize touch controls, you’ll need to install Nothing’s companion app. From here I could assign additional controls to niche actions like “double tap and hold” and play with the equalizer to emphasize vocals or bass if I so desired.
Since these are open earbuds, lower frequencies such as bass can be lost due to sound leakage and can be drowned out by outside noise in general. Nothing representatives say the company’s engineers built a software algorithm called “bass lock” that detects how much bass is lost due to the shape of the ear and adjusts the EQ accordingly. The feature sounds gimmicky and in real world use I didn’t hear much of a difference.
For guitar-driven music or podcasts, the Nothing Ear Stick performs as well as any big-name competition.
You just have to accept that you’re not going to get immersive sound in your face with these earbuds. However, Ear Sticks sound perfectly fine in quiet environments. The earbuds do a good job of separating mids and highs, so you can easily identify a guitar riff or backing vocals. The lack of bass kick makes the hip-hop songs sound a little flatter than I’m used to, but for guitar-driven music or podcasts, these work as well as any big-name competition.
Should You Buy Nothing Ear Stick?
You should buy the Nothing Ear Stick if:
- You want a set of high performance earbuds at an affordable price
- You find earplugs too uncomfortable to wear
- You like Nothing’s design language
You should not buy Nothing Ear Stick if:
- You use earplugs in noisy environments and prefer to have some form of blocking of ambient noise
- You already own a pair of good wireless earbuds
Aside from the distinctive look, the Nothing Ear Sticks are standard wireless earbuds. Whether it’s sound quality, battery life or features, the Ear Sticks perform well, but not amazingly. But at $99, the Nothing Ear Sticks are priced right and are therefore worth a look for those looking for new open-back earbuds.
When a product category becomes as inundated as space for wireless earbuds, and when wireless audio technology has been adapted to the point that they all sound pretty good, it can only come down to how the earbud looks and feels. I’m a big fan of the Ear Stick’s design language, and enjoy looking at and fiddling with the case. For others, it may be enough.
Nothing Ear Stick
The Nothing Ear Stick offers a unique and stylish look at a great price, but the sound leaves a lot to be desired.