(Pocket-lint) - OnePlus has been in the true wireless earbuds game for a few years now, and just recently launched a follow up to its budget OnePlus Buds Z called - unsurprisingly - Buds Z2.
With it, the company brought in a lot of the features you’d find in the more expensive OnePlus Buds Pro. So the question is, should you spend the extra on the Pro, or save some cash on the cheaper ones?
- Z2: 33 x 21.9 mm buds - 73.2 x 36.8 x 29 mm case
- Pro: 32 x 23.2 mm buds - 60.1 x 49 x 24.9 mm case
- Z2: 4.5/4.6g buds - 42g case
- Pro: 4.35g buds - 52g case
- Both: IP55 water/dust resistant buds - IPX4 case
Starting with the design, and part of the reason the Pro model has its Pro naming is that its design does have that more premium look and feel to it. Where the Z2 has quite a basic shaping and design - featuring all one rather plain finish in either black or white glossy plastic - the Pro model has a bit more of a flourish.
Both have the same basic look in that there’s a stem that sticks down from the ear buds themselves, but the Pro has a more rounded, sculpted look, and the bottom half of the stem has a polish metallic finish, giving it a bit more of a luxury splash.
Similarly, the charging case has a nicer matte finish to it which - along with its shape - means it feels nicer to hold and spin around in your palm, it’s also slimmer so doesn’t feel as bulky in the pocket.
Still, the Buds Z2 case is compact enough, and the lid opens and shuts easily enough, but not so easily that it just pops up of its own accord. The only thing that goes against it is the glossy finish, which makes it a lot more prone to collecting finger grease smudges over its surface.
One other minor thing is the way the earbuds are stored in their respective cases. It’s not a huge deal, but with the way the Pro model sits on top with its stems pointing downwards, we found it easier to grab the buds out and put them back in again. The Z2 felt a tad more fiddly in comparison.
As for fit and comfort, it may be surprising, but we found it was the Buds Z2 that fit easier. Of course, this is an incredibly personal element that depends on the shape and size of your own ears, but the Pro’s slightly rounder and more bulbous shaping meant we couldn’t get it to fit as as easily in our ear as the non-Pro model. To get a good fit, we had to wriggle and push a little more to make it fit securely, and get it to register that it was the ear.
The result: we were more confident in putting the cheaper Buds Z2 in, and knowing the seal wouldn’t come loose and affect the sound or noise cancelling, where the Pro would often wriggle loose and in so doing would negatively impact the passive noise isolation. To clarify, they never felt like they’d fall out, we just never felt like it had a particularly good seal, especially in the left ear.
Sound and noise cancelling
- Both: 11mm dynamic drivers
- Both: up to 45 decibel noise cancelling
- Pro: Bespoke sound profile and smart ANC mode
Now, on to sound and noise cancelling, and the two are similar here to, both featuring an 11mm dynamic driver and both featuring ANC that can cut up to 45 decibels of external noises out.
There is a difference in the sound capabilities, with the Pro model able to support LHDC codec lossless audio, where the Buds Z don’t. However, not many phones support that codec, even among OnePlus’ own device portfolio only the 9 and 9 Pro support it, and it’s not the codec used by Spotify, Apple Music or Tidal.
To listen to, there’s not a massive difference in real daily use. They don’t sound identical, but both deliver lots of bass and plenty of volume. If I had to describe the difference, I’d say the Pro model just sounds that bit more full, like the cheaper model misses a little of the warmth and flavour, sounding a tad emptier and harsher than the Pro. There’s not a lot in it.
Pro also has the advantage of a personalised sound profile you can load onto them by using a frequency hearing test, either using the Hey Melody app on a non-Oneplus phone or using the built in settings in the onePlus settings menu.
Noise cancelling seems better on the Pro as well, doing a better job of cutting out external noises during calls and music playback. It also features a smart noise cancelling mode that can constantly adapt to your surroundings, where the Z2 has two levels of noise cancelling to choose from.
Battery and performance
- Both: 40mAh buds and 520mAh case battery
- Both: 5 hours music playback (ANC) - 7 hours playback (ANC off)
- Z2: 27 hours total playback (ANC) - 38 hours total playback (ANC off)
- Pro: 28 hours total playback (ANC) - 38 hours total playback (ANC off)
- Z2 - 10 minute fast charge = 5 hours playback
- Pro: 10 minute fast charge = 10 hours playback - wireless charging compatible
One area the two pairs of buds are identical is the battery capacity on both the earbuds and in the case. Each earbud features a 40mAh battery, with a further 520mAh in the case to refil them when docked in their cradles.
That means that performance is pretty much identical too. OnePlus says you can get about 5 hours of music playback with ANC switched on, or 7 hours with it switched off on both pairs. With both the case and buds combined, you get around 27/28 hours of ANC playback, or 38 hours with it switched off.
In our experience, we didn’t quite get them to that sort of level, but it wasn’t too far off, and watching our percentage drop while we listened to music, it seemed to us that they both eat battery at about the same pace, so it’s no reason to choose one over the other.
As for charging, you get the versatility of both wireless charging and fast wired charging with the Pro. if you have a phone with reverse wireless charging like the OnePlus 9 Pro, you can charge the buds pro off the back of your phone. Or, if you use a cable, 10 minutes of charging can get you 10 hours of music playback. Whereas the Buds Z2 will give you only 5 hours with the same charging time.
- Both: Ear detection for auto pause/play
- Z2: Touch button for control
- Pro: Touch sensitive stem for control
So what about additional features. Both are similar in this regard. For instance, if you remove one from your ear, it’ll pause music and then resume it when you put it back in. The Pro - again - seemed to perform better here, more reliably resuming music when placed back in the ears. Most of the time with the Buds Z2 we had to physically tap the touch control to resume music.
For other controls, they both feature touch controls, but in different ways. The Buds Z has a single touch button on the outside for the single, double, triple and long tape controls, where the Pro requires you to squeeze on the stem.
As for latency, if you use them with a OnePlus flagship in Game Pro mode, you’ll get 94ms latency with Bluetooth 5.2.
- Z2: £99
- Pro: £140
At full retail price - in the UK at least - the Pro model of OnePlus' Buds is about £40 more than the more affordable Z2. However, with it being a slightly older model, you'll likely be able to find the Pro discounted from its original price, making the difference between them much smaller.
In the end, it’s clear which the best overall pair of buds is here, but then again, in order to get the Pro you do need to pay a bit more. But for that extra expense you get nicer buds with better sound, noise cancelling and faster charging, as well as the convenience of wireless charging.
If you’ve set yourself a strict budget though and don’t want to spend more than £100, then the Buds Z2 will get you most of the features of the Pro to a decent level, and you don’t have to pay all that much for them. But if you can, and it won’t cost you much more, the Pro is a better choice.