The Ear Stick is yet more evidence (if any were needed) that Nothing knows how to make good-looking gadgets. The fledgling firm’s second set of earphones are somehow even more distinctive than last year’s Ear 1, with a cosmetics-inspired design that’s equal parts charging case and fidget spinner.
Comfort has been the focus this time around. Instead of wedging inside your ear canal, these buds simply rest on your ears, just like Apple’s AirPods. Those that find silicone tips too fiddly, or the fit they create too tight will be pleased as punch at the change – but everyone else might bemoan the removal of active noise cancellation.
The Ear Stick’s arrival coincides with a price hike for the Ear 1, making them Nothing’s de facto entry-level offering. At £99 they undercut even the previous gen Apple AirPods – but with a more limited feature set, is this a case of style over substance?
Design & build: totally tubular
On first glance the Nothing Ear Stick’s buds aren’t all that different from the Ear 1’s: same black and white colour scheme, same transparent stems that show off the internal circuitry. For the part that actually goes in your ear, though, it’s all change. The speaker housing is now just a single bulbous unit, with no silicone tip to keep it locked in your ear canal.
Nothing reckons it went through 200 iterations to find a shape that stayed in place while you’re walking around, and sits close enough to your ear that sound quality wouldn’t nose dive compared to a pair of in-ears, yet be comfortable enough to wear 24/7. A tall order, but one we think it got pretty close to.
No earbuds will be as secure as proper in-ears, and there’s certainly still a bit of movement, but not so much we had to constantly adjust them. A walk to the shops? They’ll stay put, no problem. Finishing a 5K without one popping loose, though, will be a taller order. The IP54 water resistance means they’ll shrug off sweat, but the relaxed fit is more suited to gym-goers than distance runners.
At just 4.4g they’re lighter than the Ear 1, and because they don’t place any pressure on your ear canal, we could wear them until the batteries ran dry with no discomfort. Everyone’s ears are unique, of course, so YMMV – if you struggle to keep a pair of AirPods in place, these are only going to fare a little bit better.
The tubular charging case, meanwhile, is a big departure from Nothing’s previous effort. It’s like an oversized lipstick, with a see-through outer shell showing off the earbuds lurking inside. Tall and skinny, rather than flat and rectangular like the Ear 1, it slips more easily into a pocket and takes up less room overall while it’s in there.
Twisting the cover open and closed is wonderfully satisfying – think flipping a Zippo lighter open and closed, or clicking a ballpoint pen, only slightly less irritating for everyone around you. Internal magnets snap it fully open or closed as you rotate, ensuring the buds won’t go flying if you drop the case.
A USB-C charging port sits up top, along with a silver button that’ll start the Bluetooth pairing process for any gadgets that don’t play nicely with Google Fast Pair or Microsoft Swift Pair. Naturally the Nothing Phone 1 detects it automatically.
Features & battery life: Stick it to me
The buds start searching for a previously-paired device as soon as the case is spun open, and are usually connected by the time you’ve got them in your ears. Once there, they play a short electronic chirp to measure bass response, and adjust the EQ accordingly. Put the buds in one at a time, though, and the chirp only plays through the first one – not the second.
Three microphones also use updated voice algorithms to trim out louder background noises than the Ear 1 while making calls. We had no complaints from anyone we spoke to over the phone, even while walking outdoors.
Nothing’s Ear 1 companion app has been replaced with the Nothing X app, which handles more fine-grain EQ tuning, as well as customising the touch controls. You now squeeze the stems to trigger playback, skip tracks, adjust volume or activate your phone’s voice assistant, instead of tapping. We’d regularly activate the Ear 1 accidentally when repositioning the buds, but that isn’t a problem here. In-ear detection seems more consistent, too.
Connectivity is improved, too. The wireless antennas have been moved from the middle of the stems to nearer the top, so they’re further from your face (which is surprisingly good at blocking wireless signals). We didn’t have any dropouts during testing, even when walking through a busy railway station terminal, and stayed connected to our phone across two floors and several walls at home.
Battery life isn’t to be sniffed at, with around seven hours of listening from the buds before they’ll need a trip to the charging case. The case is good for three full top-ups, plus a teensy bit more, for a combined 29 hours. We came pretty close to that in testing, with high volume playback draining slightly faster.
Fast charging gets the buds back up and running in double-time, with ten minutes being enough for around two hours of listening. The case relies purely on USB-C for power, with wireless charging reserved for the pricier Ear 1s.
Sound quality: mild compromise
The 12.6mm dynamic drivers Nothing has squeezed into each earbud are larger and more sensitive than the ones found in the Ear 1s – but then they needed to be, as they sit further from your ear canal and don’t create a seal to block off the outside world. They’re driven harder as a result, and you need to listen at slightly louder volumes to get the best clarity.
Earbuds usually give bass a back seat compared to true in-ears, and we thought that might be the case here, but sound quality depends heavily on finding the right angle: with the stems pointed directly downward we lost all low-end, yet a 45-degree angle gave a far better performance. The EQ trickery is able to claw back an impressive amount of bass presence, but it isn’t especially delicate, so certain tracks sound boomier than they should.
There’s less definition in general at both ends of the frequency range than the Ear 1, with cymbal crashes and hi-hats lacking crispness. Passive isolation is basically non-existent, which can help songs feel airier and less enclosed, but also means you’ll need to crank the volume to block out background distractions.
These are still warm and energetic earbuds that’ll entertain casual listeners, but you don’t have to be an audiophile to appreciate what’s missing from the mix.
Nothing Ear Stick verdict
We get it, not everyone likes in-ear headphones. By ditching silicone tips, the Ear Stick is sure to find its fans, and Nothing’s design is as slick as ever here. Some slick integration with the firm’s phone isn’t to be sniffed at either.
Nothing’s EQ settings can’t reproduce the sound quality of in-ears, though, and at £100 there are plenty of alternatives that offer more features. Active noise cancelling and wireless charging are both within budget if you don’t mind a snug fit.
We shouldn’t ignore the fact Nothing is a small brand, one that can’t swallow fluctuating currencies like giant multinationals can, so its prices have to reflect that. But slick styling aside, we’re not convinced there’s enough here to justify the cash.
If you hate earphones that sit inside your ear canals, the Ear Stick is a comfy alternative that looks the part. It doesn’t give up too much on the sound quality front, but rivals offer more features – and often for less cash.
Comfy enough for all-day wear
Buds won’t sit firmly in all ears
Bass and sound isolation a step behind in-ear rivals
Nothing Ear Stick technical specifications
|Bluetooth version||Bluetooth 5.2|
|Codec support||AAC, SBC|
|Battery||7 hours (buds), 29 hours (buds+case)|
|Dimensions||30x19x18mm, 4.4g (buds) 87x30x30mm, 46.3g (case)|