OnePlus Buds Z2 full review
The OnePlus Buds Z2 are here, and they fix practically every issue that we had with the original budget-focused OnePlus wireless earbuds. The Buds Z2 not only look better with a more compact design, but they’re much smarter with better controls, they offer stellar audio performance via 11mm drivers and there’s decent active noise cancellation on offer too.
The catch? You’ll need a recent OnePlus smartphone to access some of the coolest features and functionality – and it's a little more expensive this time around too at £99/US$99.
Design & Build
- Same overall look, but with 25% smaller stems
- Comfortable, snug fit
- IP55 water resistance (buds)
Though it’s hard to make true wireless earbuds stand out, the OnePlus Buds Z2 do a decent job, thanks mainly to the touch-sensitive CD-esque refractive surface on the outer edge of the buds that catches the light in an interesting way.
That’s admittedly not that dissimilar to the original Buds Z, but the shortened stems – 25% smaller, according to OnePlus – are welcome, making the buds seem more compact and less noticeable when worn while still being long enough for easy in-ear adjustment.
The latest OnePlus buds are available in both Obsidian Black and Pearl White, though inexplicably, the white variant weighs slightly more at 4.6g per bud and a 42g case, compared to 4.5g and 40.5g of the black variant.
It’s not noticeable in use, however, with even the ‘heavier’ white buds (used for review) sitting comfortably in the ear over long periods without any kind of discomfort.
In fact, considering the OnePlus Buds Z2 use ear tips to help aid passive sound reduction, you don’t get the more intrusive feeling that you get from some alternatives. It’s not quite as comfortable as the open design of the AirPods 3, but there’s a nice middle ground that allows you to put the buds in and almost forget they’re there.
The selection of ear tips provided is fairly standard, with small, medium and large silicone ear tips in the box to help find the right fit for your ears. The standard shape means it shouldn’t be too hard to use third-party tips if you prefer, but you may struggle to put the buds back into the charging case.
The Buds Z2 are handy for runners too, thanks to the IP55 water and dust resistance on offer. That means the likes of sweat and rain won’t damage the buds when being used – perfect for outdoor running in typical British weather – and while the case isn’t quite as weather-resistant, it boasts IPX4 splash resistance for some peace of mind.
The charging case is where the Buds Z2 live when they’re not in use. The white pill-shaped case itself is fairly wide compared to the likes of the AirPods 3 and Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro, measuring in at 73 x 37 x 92mm. That’s not necessarily a dealbreaker as it’s still lightweight, but it’s more noticeable in smaller pockets than more compact cases.
Smart Features & Connectivity
- Google Fast Pair
- Multi-device connectivity with easy switching
- Low-latency & Dolby Atmos are exclusive to OnePlus users
Despite the entry-level price of the OnePlus Buds Z2, there’s a high-end experience on offer – although you’ll need a OnePlus smartphone to take full advantage of the experience on offer.
Smart features begin as soon as you open the case, with Google Fast Pair connecting the buds to any Android smartphone via Bluetooth 5.2 in just a few seconds. The Buds Z2 are one of few TWS buds to support multi-device connectivity, needing only to tap and hold either earbud for five seconds to hop to a previously connected device.
It’s not quite as seamless as Apple’s AirPod multi-device connectivity, but the benefit is that it’ll work with products from any manufacturer, not just OnePlus, making it relatively easy (for TWS buds) to quickly switch from a smartphone to a tablet or laptop.
You’ve got other standard wireless earbuds smarts on offer too, including wear detection that’ll automatically pause when the earbuds are removed, and automatically resume playback when re-inserted.
You’ve also got single-, double-, triple-tap and tap-and-hold controls available on the Buds Z2, a marked improvement on the double-only control of the original. The updated tap controls allow you to control music playback, summon your virtual assistant and switch between noise cancellation modes via the CD-esque touch panels on each bud. These are customisable this time around too, a first for non-OnePlus users.
There’s also a low-latency gaming mode on offer that delivers latency as low as 94ms for less delay when playing mobile titles, but the downside is that it’s only available on specific models of OnePlus smartphone – and it’s not the only OnePlus-exclusive feature either.
In fact, Dolby Atmos – one of the headline features of the buds – is exclusive to the OnePlus 7 or later. If you don’t have a OnePlus smartphone, you simply won’t get as much from the buds as you could.
Arguably, Dolby Atmos and low-latency connectivity aren’t the be-all and end-all for the vast majority of users, but if they are the features you care most about, you’ll have to look elsewhere - although unlikely in the budget market.
While the buds are designed to work best with OnePlus devices, there is a companion app available for iOS and Android that allows you to tweak shortcuts, check current battery life and adjust noise cancellation, but it’s surprisingly limited, lacking any kind of EQ for non-OnePlus users.
Considering you can get custom EQs on entry-level wireless earbuds like Anker’s Soundcore Life A2 NC, it’s a little disappointing to see here.
- Powerful 11mm drivers
- Two ANC modes
- Transparency mode
- Hit-and-miss connectivity
When it comes to audio performance, the OnePlus Buds Z2 are a stellar option for the price – and that’s mainly down to the fact that they sport the same large 11mm dynamic drivers as the company’s flagship £139/$149 OnePlus Buds Pro. It’s certainly noticeable in use, especially for a pair of wireless earbuds that cost just £99.
The bass is the real star of the show. Those 11mm drivers deliver a powerful, prominent bassline that makes bass-heavy songs like Billie Eilish’s I Didn’t Change My Number pop in an extremely satisfying way.
They lend themselves more to Dubstep, Hip-Hop and other bass-heavy genres then, but crucially, those heavy bass tones don’t overpower the mids or highs, with vocals and instruments sounding sharp and crisp. That means it’s just as pleasant an experience listening to acoustic songs like Hey There Delilah as it is listening to Skrillex, making for a versatile pair of buds that’ll likely do your music library justice.
They, of course, can’t compete with over-ear headphones like the Sony WH-1000XM4 but they perform admirably for a pair of compact sub-£100 true wireless earbuds.
There’s decent sound separation on offer, with an immersive soundscape that you can lose yourself in – and that’s further improved with Dolby Atmos content on a OnePlus 7 or later. The Buds Z2 handle Dolby Atmos content very well, offering a larger, more natural soundscape that makes it sound like music is being performed live in front of you, with sound seemingly coming from all directions.
Dolby Atmos, whether it’s music or movies, is a transformative experience – and a key selling point of the combination of AirPods 3 and Apple Music – which is why it’s disappointing that it’s only compatible with select OnePlus smartphones and not any smartphone with Dolby Atmos support.
Atmos aside, you’ll find active noise cancelling (ANC on offer – but with a OnePlus spin. Unlike some ANC-enabled wireless earbuds, the Buds Z2 offer two levels of ANC: Faint and Extreme. The former cancels sound up to 25dB, while the latter goes up to 40dB.
With the active noise cancelling tech cranked up to Extreme, it’s more than adequate for low-pitched hums like those generated by fans and aircon units, and it can hold its own on the notoriously loud London Underground. You can still hear the rattles and squeaks as the tube train hurtles through the tunnel, but it doesn’t totally drown the music out like with lesser options.
The Faint mode is exactly that – a quietening of the environment, rather than trying to completely shut it out. It has advantages, like being able to stay aware of your surroundings when on the daily commute, but there’s a better mode for that.
The OnePlus Buds Z2 can use the array of microphones built into each bud to filter in environmental sound to make you aware of your environment when listening to music. It’s called Transparency Mode, and while it’s not a new concept, the Buds Z2’s transparency mode excels where others have fallen flat.
In fact, I’ve found it’s good enough to have full conversations with those nearby without having to remove the buds – something I’ve only previously said about AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. It doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights of Apple’s transparency tech, but it’s closer than most have got so far.
The only real disappointment with sound quality is the reliability of the Bluetooth connection on offer.
Though it doesn’t happen when in quiet areas like the home or office, the Buds Z2 seem to particularly suffer when in areas with lots of electrical signals – like busy train stations – with desynchronisation of playback between the buds and even complete cut-outs from time to time.
It’s a characteristic of true wireless earbuds in general, especially in busy signal areas, but the Buds Z2 seem more prone to disconnection than most buds I’ve tested, and it can put a dampener on an otherwise stellar listening experience.
- 38 hours with ANC off, 27 with ANC on
- Flash Charge provides 5 hours of use in 10 mins
- Full charge in 90 mins
Battery life is another area where the OnePlus Buds Z2 perform well – but it’ll depend on your use of Active Noise Cancelling.
Without the noise reduction tech disabled, you can get up to 7 hours of playtime from the Buds Z2 with an additional 31 hours in the case for a total of 38 hours - a decent figure, especially for budget buds.
With ANC enabled, however, that drops down to 5 hours of playtime and 22 hours in the case, totalling 27 hours. For context, that beats the 4.5 hours/20 hours of the high-end AirPods Pro, but it might not be enough for true audio fans.
Current battery life is indicated by a single LED on the front of the case, which shines green when fully charged, yellow when battery is running low and red when you’re about to run out of juice, and it’ll also be displayed on compatible iOS and Android devices too.
To speed things up, OnePlus has made its Flash Charge tech available on the buds. With just 10 minutes of charging the case, you can gain up to 5 hours of use with ANC enabled, and if the buds are completely drained, you can get 2 hours of use in 10 minutes from the case.
Combined with a 90-minute full charge via the USB-C port on the rear, that should be more than enough to negate regular battery life issues.
While the OnePlus Buds Z2 are an all-round improvement compared to the original Buds Z, the catch is that they cost almost double, coming in at £99/US$99 compared to the £55/US$50 RRP of the Buds Z.
That doesn't make them quite as budget-friendly then, but with the raft of upgrades - including ANC and Dolby Atmos support - it's a price that some will be able to justify. It's still much cheaper than popular buds like the AirPods 3 while offering more advanced functionality.
Members of OnePlus's Red Cable Club can pick the buds up right now, and with a 10% discount, but only when purchased via OnePlus.com.
The OnePlus Buds Z2 are a stellar pair of true wireless earbuds with ANC that don’t cost the Earth, not to mention a huge improvement on the original Buds Z. The design is premium, with high-end features like IP55 water resistance and customisable touch controls.
They’re far more than good-looking buds though, with impressive smarts on offer, although it is a shame that some of the key features, like Dolby Atmos support and a Low Latency gaming mode, are exclusive to recent OnePlus devices.
Crucially, though, the Buds Z2 sport the same 11mm dynamic drivers as the company’s flagship OnePlus Buds Pro, meaning you get the same top-notch audio performance without the associated cost. That translates to a bass-tastic experience that doesn’t completely overpower the mids or highs, and Dolby Atmos support is a massive win – as long as you can access it.
They also offer one of the best noise cancelling experiences for under £100 with two levels of ANC as well as an excellent transparency mode
The OnePlus Buds Z2 really are hard to fault, even if they are more expensive this time around. They’re best suited for OnePlus users, but the standard experience is more than enough for Android and even iPhone owners too.
OnePlus Buds Z2: Specs
- Earbuds: 33mm x 22.4mm x 21.8mm
- Charging case: 73.15mm x 36.8mm x 29.1mm
- 11mm dynamic drivers
- Frequency response: 20-20,000Hz
- Bluetooth 5.2
- Multi-device connectivity
- Up to 40db ANC, two modes
- Transparency mode
- 38-hour battery life (ANC off)
- 27-hour battery life (ANC on)
- 3 MEMS microphones on each bud
- Customisable tap controls
- IP55 water resistance (buds)
- Low latency 94ms connectivity (OnePlus exclusive)
- Dolby Atmos (OnePlus exclusive)
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