OnePlus made its much-anticipated entry into the true wireless audio segment earlier this year with the OnePlus Buds. Although affordably priced and very good-looking, I didn't find the company's first true wireless earphones compelling enough to recommend over some of the excellent competing options that are also available, in my review. Interestingly enough, the company's second true wireless headset is already here, and it looks to address many of the concerns that affect its more expensive counterpart.
Priced at Rs. 2,999, the OnePlus Buds Z offers a new design and fit, while retaining some of the features and specifications that the more expensive Buds come with, including AAC Bluetooth codec support, USB Type-C fast charging, and more. Is this the best pair of true wireless earphones for less than Rs. 3,000? Find out in our review.
While the OnePlus Buds has a more contemporary, stylish design and an outer-ear fit, the OnePlus Buds Z is a bit more traditional-looking. The design is quite familiar, with the earpieces looking a lot like those of the OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2 and Bullets Wireless Z. This includes the bulge in the casings, in-canal fit, and glossy texture on the outer side.
The OnePlus Buds Z is available in two colours, white and grey, giving the rather interesting Nord Blue option (seen on the OnePlus Buds) a miss. Although there's nothing wrong with the colours that OnePlus has chosen, I thought they were a bit plain and boring. The company has chosen to go with safer and more muted colour options for its affordable true wireless headset.
The charging case is pill-shaped, with the earpieces slotting in horizontally, similar to the Huawei FreeBuds 3i. Like on the Huawei headset, I found this arrangement a bit confusing, and although the earphones latch in place magnetically, it's a bit more difficult and less intuitive to use than vertically-oriented charging cases. There is an indicator light at the front, and a USB Type-C charging port and pairing button at the back.
The outer sides of the OnePlus Buds Z earpieces are touch-sensitive for controls, which can be customised directly through the OxygenOS Bluetooth settings if you have a OnePlus smartphone. Only the double-tap function on each earpiece is usable, and can be set to play/ pause music, skip tracks, or invoke the default voice assistant on your smartphone, which really doesn't give you too much control from the earpieces. No other combinations of taps or gestures are used on the OnePlus Buds Z.
There is also wear detection, so music will automatically play or pause when the earphones are put on or taken off respectively. Like on the OnePlus Buds, this can't be switched off.
You can check the battery status of the earpieces and charging case, as well as make them ring loudly if you can't find them, through the Bluetooth settings on your OnePlus smartphone or even if you use Google's Fast Pair protocol on a non-OnePlus Android phone.
Interestingly, there is now an app for Android called HeyMelody that lets you see battery levels, customise controls, and update the firmware of the OnePlus Buds Z. Although it is a bit basic, its core functions worked fine for me on a Google Pixel 3a XL (Review).
The OnePlus Buds Z earphones use Bluetooth 5 for connectivity, with support for the SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs. The earpieces have 10mm dynamic drivers, and are IP55 rated for dust and water resistance. The sales package includes three pairs of silicone ear tips in different sizes and a USB Type-C charging cable. Dolby Atmos is supported on some compatible OnePlus smartphones, but there's no multi-point connectivity or quick switch function, as you'd get with some of OnePlus' other wireless headsets.
Battery life on the OnePlus Buds Z isn't quite as good as on the more expensive Buds, but it's decent enough given the price of the headset. I was able to get over four hours of mixed use on the earpieces, plus another three full charges from the case, for a total battery life of around 17 hours per charge cycle. Fast charging is supported, with a claim of 3 hours of listening time from 10 minutes of charging.
OnePlus' first attempt at true wireless earphones was less than perfect, thanks to bass-heavy tuning that often fell short. With the OnePlus Buds Z, there's a significant improvement in sound quality. This is partly because of the in-canal fit, which ensures proper noise isolation and well-directed sound, but credit also goes to the fact that the AAC Bluetooth codec is supported on this Rs. 3,000 pair of true wireless earphones.
Although the sonic signature can be described as ‘safe', the OnePlus Buds Z does a commendable job of reproducing enough detail and precision in the sound. As a result, even this U-shaped sonic signature comes across as enjoyable and entertaining. While I had the Buds Z connected to my OnePlus smartphone for much of the review, I did also try it with other devices, including an iPad mini (2019), MacBook Air, and Google Pixel 3a XL.
Starting with The Whistle Song by Netsky on Tidal, I was impressed with how engaging the sound from the OnePlus Buds Z was. The strong rumble of the low end in this drum-n-bass track sounded clean and refined, while the few words and faint details of the instruments felt present and clean. The precision offered by the in-canal fit, combined with the strong low end, made for a wholesome and immersive listening experience that I haven't found on any other true wireless earphones at this price.
Listeners of popular genres will particularly like the bass, which is strong and punchy, but not quite as overbearing as on the OnePlus Buds. I quite liked this more refined approach to the bass, since it allowed the mid-range and highs to push through even in tracks with a forceful bass attack, such as Du What U Du by Yoshimoto on Tidal Masters. Despite being an affordable headset, the OnePlus Buds Z is able to bring out nuances in high-resolution audio, giving this beat-driven track a noticeable edge in the lows without too much evident bias.
Interestingly, there's also support for Dolby Atmos when used with a OnePlus smartphone, and I was able to try this out using Dolby Atmos Music on Tidal. Listening to a live version of Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd, the soundstage was considerably wider and more detailed, with the cheers from the crowd sounding particularly distinct. The soundstage wasn't quite as luxurious with regular music streams, but was still impressive nonetheless.
Switching to compressed streams with Spotify, I played My Mind's Made Up by Kraak and Smaak. The sound was immediately louder, but there was a definite drop in definition and detail, with the bass seeming a bit more imposing and rumbly. That said, the sound was still impressive, with a fair amount of detail to be heard. While definitely not as detailed as the slightly more expensive JVC HA-A10T, the OnePlus Buds Z did succeed in making for an entirely enjoyable sound that was easy to listen to for hours on end.
Where the OnePlus Buds Z is particularly impressive is in its ability to keep pace even with fast tracks, and to sound good with all genres. Listening to Brasstracks' modern jazz cover of All Of The Lights and Misread by Kings of Convenience, the earphones managed to capture the mood of both tracks, with the ‘safe' sonic signature holding both up capably. There was plenty of detail to be heard, while the right elements – Brasstracks' saxophone riffs in the former track, and Erlend Oye's vocals in the latter – were allowed to shine through.
There's no active noise cancellation with the OnePlus Buds Z, but there is environmental noise cancellation, which improves the quality of your voice for those on the other side of calls. This seemed to work well in my testing, and I didn't face any trouble with call quality in general. Bluetooth connectivity was also quite stable for me, with the earphones working well at distances up to 3m from the paired device, with direct line-of-sight.
When it comes to gadgets and tech, the second time is often the charm, especially when brands try to enter new product segments. The OnePlus Buds Z is a great example of exactly that; it costs Rs. 2,000 less than the OnePlus Buds, but is objectively better in almost every way. From the fit and comfort to the sound, this is an excellent pair of true wireless earphones for the price.
Like the OnePlus Buds, its full feature set is only unlocked if you use a OnePlus smartphone, and unfortunately that limits the benefits of the excellent Dolby Atmos capabilities and resulting soundstage improvement. However, the experience on non-OnePlus smartphones is better now thanks to the HeyMelody app. Even without these OnePlus-exclusive features, this is still a very good pair of earphones for the price, in my opinion, and the one you should consider most if you're shopping for a new pair of true wireless earphones on a tight budget.
Which are the best truly wireless earphones under Rs. 10,000? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.