Although OnePlus’ first product in the true wireless segment, the OnePlus Buds, wasn’t particularly good, the company has gotten its act together with subsequent launches. OnePlus now one of the most important brands in the TWS space in India, thanks to well-designed and sensibly priced products that cover a wide range of prices. The product range includes the recently launched OnePlus Buds Pro, which will compete with flagship products at a firmly mid-range price of Rs. 9,999 in India, and this was our top pick among headphones and earphones in 2021.
Putting more expensive options aside, the product I’m reviewing here is OnePlus’ latest attempt at cementing its place in the sub-Rs. 5,000 price range. The OnePlus Buds Z2 is priced at Rs. 4,999, and is the successor to the excellent OnePlus Buds Z which was launched in late 2020. This new pair of true wireless earphones looks very similar to the Buds Z, but has a major feature addition: active noise cancellation. Is this the best pair of true wireless earphones under Rs. 5,000 right now? Find out in this review.
The OnePlus Buds Z2 looks almost exactly like the Buds Z
The OnePlus Buds may have kicked things off for the company with an outer-ear fit, as made popular by the original Apple AirPods, but OnePlus has stuck to an in-ear fit with proper noise isolation ever since. The OnePlus Buds Z2 has this design as well, primarily to ensure the effectiveness of its active noise cancellation. Three pairs of silicone ear tips are included in the box for a customisable and comfortable fit, along with a short USB Type-C charging cable.
There are no significant design changes with the OnePlus Buds Z2 as compared to the OnePlus Buds Z; the earpieces and charging cases of the two headsets look practically identical. One key difference is that there are grilles covering the inner microphones for ANC on the new model. Another big giveaway is colour – the OnePlus Buds Z2 headset comes in black and white, the former of which wasn’t an option for the OnePlus Buds Z.
I quite liked the all-black look of my review unit, although the glossy and reflective finish easily revealed fingerprints and grime, and the earpieces as well as the case needed to be cleaned very often. The charging port and pairing button are at the back of the case, with a OnePlus logo on the top of the lid and an indicator light facing forward.
The case isn’t very large, and is easy to carry in your pocket. It’s also IPX4 rated for water resistance, while the earpieces are IP55 rated for dust and water resistance. The earpieces weigh 4.5g each, and have three microphones each for ANC and voice pickup.
The outer sides of the earpieces are touch-sensitive for playback controls, and can be customised using the HeyMelody app or through the native Bluetooth settings on OnePlus smartphones. You can control music playback, switch between ANC and transparency modes, invoke the default voice assistant on your smartphone, and quickly switch between the last two paired devices through various gestures.
If you’re using the OnePlus Buds Z2 with a OnePlus smartphone, you’ll be able to access these settings and customisation options directly through the Bluetooth settings menu. You can use this to check the current battery level of the earpieces and charging case, customise the controls, switch between the two active noise cancellation modes (Normal and Max) and transparency mode, choose the active Bluetooth codec, toggle in-ear detection to play and pause music automatically, conduct a earpiece fit test, and update the firmware of the earphones.
This customisation menu is particularly easy to use and looks slick on a OnePlus smartphone, but even if you don’t have one, you can still access all of these functions through the HeyMelody app (available for iOS and Android). Although the app looks a bit unpolished, it works well enough with the Buds Z2 on both operating systems. Sadly though, there’s no scope for equaliser customisation via the app or through native settings on OnePlus smartphones.
There is support for Google Fast Pair on Android smartphones. Dolby Atmos and Gaming Mode (94ms latency) only work with select OnePlus smartphones (OnePlus 7 and newer). The earphones have 11mm dynamic drivers, a frequency response range of 20-20,000Hz, and Bluetooth 5.2 for connectivity with support for the SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs.
Battery life on the OnePlus Buds Z2 is decent enough for a headset in this price range, with the earpieces running for around 4 hours, 30 minutes with ANC on and the volume at around the 60 percent level. The charging case added four additional charges, for a total battery life of around 23 hours per charge cycle. There is also fast charging, with a 10-minute charge claiming to offer 5 hours of listening time, or around one full charge for the earpieces.
Punchy sound, good active noise cancellation on the OnePlus Buds Z2
OnePlus has been slow and calculated with its true wireless launches in India, and the Rs. 9,990 OnePlus Buds Pro is a winner in its category. The OnePlus Buds Z2 retails for half the price, but has a key feature in common with the more expensive headset: active noise cancellation. The Buds Z2 performed as I expected for its price.
Although the performance of the OnePlus Buds Z2 is largely device agnostic thanks to support for the SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs, pairing the earphones with a OnePlus 9 (Review) did allow me to use Dolby Atmos and the low-latency mode. I used the earphones with an Apple iPhone 13 for much of this review though, and was able to adjust preferences through the HeyMelody app quite easily.
The sonic signature is something you would expect from an affordable true wireless headset, showcasing significant bumps in the lows and highs, and a tendency to drown out the mid-range just a bit. Of course, this is the kind of sound that most listeners look for when buying affordable earphones, and it should suit many people’s listening preferences. For me, this was just fine, and the punchy sound was quite enjoyable with some tracks.
Listening to Glitter by Keys N Krates, the lows in the beat sounded aggressive and powerful, while the ‘70s inspired melody was clean and distinct. However, the mid-range felt soft and a bit dull in comparison to the rest of the track. Given that the vocals in most electronic music tracks are meant to support the melody, this didn’t matter as much, but anyone who likes to pay attention to the lyrics in music should know that the OnePlus Buds Z2 do very clearly tend to favour bass and treble ahead of anything else.
With the faster and more aggressive Dirty Sexy Money (Mesto Remix) by David Guetta, this bass-driven sound was quite enjoyable. The OnePlus Buds Z2 is a loud, driven pair of true wireless earphones that punches hard and manages to keep pace with fast tracks without much effort. The bass had a feeling of reverb and attack that is better than what I’ve heard on most headsets in this price range. It was clearly more refined than the rough, unfinished sound of the original OnePlus Buds.
Dolby Atmos and low-latency mode worked well when using a OnePlus 9. Atmos made for sound that was a little more open and airy as compared to high-resolution music from Apple Music. The low-latency mode is activated by turning on the Pro Gaming mode on a OnePlus smartphone with the Buds Z2 connected. This offered slightly better latency than normal with mobile games, making the Buds Z2 somewhat usable.
Active noise cancellation on true wireless earphones priced below Rs. 5,000 tends to be basic, but OnePlus has done a decent job with this feature on the Buds Z2. Although there is a considerable difference between ANC performance on these earphones and more expensive options such as the OnePlus Buds Pro or even the Nothing Ear 1, the OnePlus Buds Z2 does offer better ANC than anything else under Rs. 5,000, that I’ve heard.
There are two levels of active noise cancellation – Normal and Max – but I couldn’t really discern any difference between them. However, ANC does offer a decent amount of noise reduction both indoors and outdoors, making for better experiences to music, audiobooks, and calls.
The transparency mode did allow for easier listening to my surroundings, but my own voice sounded unpleasantly amplified and strange, and I found it better to take the earphones off when talking to someone. Call quality and connection stability were decent on the OnePlus Buds Z2 as well, and the earphones worked without any stability issues at distances of up to 4m from the source device.
Although late to the true wireless segment, OnePlus has made a big impact with its most recent products. The OnePlus Buds Z2 continues that trend, offering punchy and fun sound, decent active noise cancellation, and useful features such as fast charging and Dolby Atmos. Although you’ll need a fairly recent OnePlus phone to use the entire feature set of these earphones, it’s a pretty good option to consider for less than Rs. 5,000 even if you have an iPhone or non-OnePlus Android smartphone.
Realme has competing offerings with similar features and specifications that are also considerably more affordable, but OnePlus offers a certain level of competence and quality that you’re unlikely to find on anything else in this price segment. The Buds Z2 has no significant downsides. It’s definitely worth considering if you have a strict budget of Rs. 5,000, but I also think it’s worth spending a bit more and picking up the Nothing Ear 1 or the heavily discounted Jabra Elite 75t, which are both superior.