In the last few months, we have seen a bunch of truly good TWS earbuds within a budget of Rs 5,000. Oppo’s Enco W31 and W51 have impressed us highly with their overall sound signature. The OnePlus Buds also put on a good show while Xiaomi’s Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 doesn’t fall back either. However, if you fall below Rs 3,000, the options are mostly disappointing.
At Rs 2,999, you get the rather sub-par Realme Buds Air Neo, the Buds Air Q, Redmi EarBuds S, a few from Noise, and a few others from dozen local brands. The audio quality is far from ideal and half of them are difficult to live with on a daily basis. That’s not the case with the OnePlus Buds Z. It is built unlike anything in its price range and, after using it for a while, it sounds unlike anything in its category.
But what are the compromises? What do you miss out over the OnePlus Buds? Is it worth saving a grand over the Oppo Enco W twins?
The OnePlus Buds Z is essentially a derivative of the OnePlus Buds and to make it clear, OnePlus has retained the design of the earbuds from its expensive sibling. Yeah, that means you get the same long stick with the classic OnePlus Bullets concentric circles on the touch control patch. This design works without any irritable issues, especially for a user like me who seeks easy on-board touch controls. In fact, compared to any other TWS earbuds, the touch controls on the OnePlus Buds Z are far superior – they work as intended.
The shape of the in-ear element is cleverly done to lock the earbuds into the ear canal. The silicone ear tips add an extra layer of sealing, all of which makes for one of the most comfortable TWS earbuds in this category. The build quality of the buds is top-notch for its price but the inconsistent panel gaps accumulate debris easily. That said, the Buds Z is rated IP55, which makes it more durable in nature than the pricier OnePlus Buds.
Since this is a cheaper option, OnePlus has changed the design of the case. The case itself looks like a big pill and opening the lid is a hassle, given the shallow recess for sticking your nail. The good build quality extends to the case too. You have got an LED light for battery status while at the rear, there’s a USB-C port alongside a pairing key. The sleek shape of the case helps to carry it in pockets without creating an awkward pocket bulge.
As I stated earlier, budget TWS earphones usually sound “decent enough” and most of them are tuned for higher bass output to appeal to the masses. The OnePlus Buds Z goes for a similar approach but does not lose sight of its elder sibling’s properties. For Rs 3,000, there’s nothing else in the market that sounds like the OnePlus Buds Z.
Similar to the OnePlus Buds and Bullets Wireless 2, the Buds Z goes for a fairly neutral audio tuning, but with a considerable emphasis on bass. In fact, I can say I felt the Buds Z amplify the bass tastefully. Hence, you get some of that “thumping” without losing out on the low-end details. There’s plenty of details in the tiny details instruments make, for example, at the beginning of “Masakali” by AR Rahman. The mids are decent while the highs are great as long as you are keeping the volume under 70 percent. Yeah, there’s some distortion if you listening too loudly.
The vocals are where I felt the Buds Z slightly lacking. The emphasis on the bass masks the vocal clarity, which is evident given the 10.3mm drivers. However, as soon as you consider what it costs, all of these are merely nitpicks. The OnePlus Buds Z only supports the AAC codec and that means it sounds nice on the iPhones. On Android phones, it lacks the higher-res AptX codec, which could be a bummer for the audiophiles. I tried it with both a OnePlus 8T and a Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro, and both of them held the performance levels on par with what you get from iPhones.
Noise isolation is decent with the silicon eartips. I was able to hear some of the ambient sounds as well as conversations nearby while listening at 40 percent volume. Of course, you can push the volume up to dial down the distractions.
The AirPods-esque design with the long stem meant that I was able to talk naturally with my callers. The voice reception is good and my callers had no trouble is listening to me in crowded market areas. There’s Bluetooth 5.0 onboard for connectivity and I had no troubles wearing it around my house while the phone was kept in my bedroom.
OnePlus promises up to 20 hours of battery life on a single charge (including the case). In my usage, I used it for calls and my music sessions, all of which last an average of 1.5 hours to 2 hours at max. It has been over 12 days and the battery indicator still shows green every time I take out the Buds. I guess it will take one more week for the LED lights to blink red before I put it on charge.
Charging itself isn’t an issue. Once I got it out of the box, I left it on the charge with my OnePlus 65W charger and after 1.5 hours, it showed the battery was full. OnePlus says you can charge it for 10 minutes to get 3 hours of playback. Sadly, I haven’t had the chance to test this as my Buds Z hasn’t run out of charge still. I guess this isn’t bad – as long as you can stay away from charging the better it is in my opinion.
OnePlus Buds Z issues
The OnePlus Buds Z impress in the crucial areas but there are certainly a bunch of issues plaguing it. OnePlus smartphone users can directly customize the controls on the Buds Z from the Bluetooth settings while other Android users need to get the HeyMelody app from Google Play. For iPhone users, there’s no app and that means they will be left devoid of any firmware updates or customization options.
The controls themselves are limited on the earbuds and I would have liked to see volume controls onboard instead of the rather useless voice assistant shortcut.
After spending just under a fortnight with the OnePlus Buds Z, I am highly impressed with what OnePlus has offered. I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that the Buds Z costs only Rs 2,999, which is a bargain considering how good the product is. The audio profile is tuned for mass-market friendly bass-oriented output. However, the bass does not drown out the other frequencies to an extent when your ears do not get tired after minutes. I was comfortable wearing it for an hour at a stretch, something that I rarely do with a sub-Rs 2,999 earbud.
For those jumping into the TWS bandwagon for the first time, the OnePlus Buds Z will impress you with its ease-of-use and a long-lasting battery life. The long stem ensures you won’t have issues in taking calls on it, even in the typically loud Indian ambiance . The touch controls are great while the IP55 rating should keep the buds safe in the terribly sweaty Indian summer months.
At Rs 2,999, the OnePlus Buds Z single-handedly makes the Realme Buds Air Neo, Buds Q, and all the others in this segment look bad. Our new recommendation for the best true wireless (TWS) earbuds under Rs 3,000 is now the OnePlus Buds Z.