Since their arrival in 2016, Apple's AirPods have comfortably become the 'buds to beat. While some competitors skew more premium, and others more affordable, no other buds have managed to become even half as ubiquitous or iconic.
The Ear (1) are one of the most hyped tech products in recent memory. The first product by Nothing, a startup company spearheaded by one of the co-founders of OnePlus, these wireless earbuds support premium features like wireless charging and active noise-cancellation and cost just $99. Oh also they look incredible.
After months of leaks and cryptic marketing, the Ear (1) have broken cover and are finally available for purchase. Sort of. They went on sale in early August, but only in limited supply from niche stores like Kith, HBX and Mr. Porter (which only further their hypebeast appeal); they'll officially go on sale for everybody on August 17 when you can buy direct from Nothing's website.
In one sense, these buds have steep hill to climb. The Ear (1) are very late to the game and entering a very crowded market. Apple's first AirPods were released almost five years ago and there are a ton of wireless earbud options to choose from — pretty much every tech and audio company has at least their one pair. According to a recent Statista report, the number of wireless earbuds is expected to triple from 2019 to 2022), and the Ear (1)'s sub-$100 price point takes them into impulse buy territory. But the market is only going to get more crowded from here.
Fortunately, they've got a killer feature virtually none of their competitors can match: pure style. Nothing collaborated on the Earbuds (1) with the wizards at Teenage Engineering, known for its evocative and hip synthesizers. Everything in each earbud is designed not only to work well, but also to look incredible, with a transparent vibe that feels both nostalgic and fresh.
"With Ear (1) we wanted to craft an iconic design, using transparency, that would stand out and celebrate the engineering underneath," said Evangelidis. "Every design choice, from polishing the magnets to finding the right invisible adhesive, was carefully considered. We were even turned down by some suppliers who thought it wouldn’t be possible!"
One of the ways that Nothing was able to keep the price of the Ear (1) at $99 is their business model: they are primarily an online company that ship directly to consumers. There's no big middle-man like Amazon or Best Buy. "Where we do have retail channels, including HBX and Kith," explained Evangelidis. "We’re still able to keep prices competitive because we’re only working with strategic partners who believe in what we are building with Nothing, versus simply wanting to transact."
The $99 price point, while on the more affordable end, isn't exactly as uncommon as it used to be. What was once the realm of sketchy knock-offs now includes a lot more options from reputable brands, as Google, Sony, Anker and Samsung all make solid wireless earbuds that come in at under $100. However, very few of those wireless earbuds support noise-cancellation. None support wireless charging. And none of them look this strike
The final product of the Ear (1) is something that looks completely unique, but it also doesn't feel entirely unfamiliar. This is because the Ear (1) have the same general shape as Apple's own noise-canceling wireless earbuds, the AirPods Pro. The Ear (1) have stems that are obviously transparent and the charging case is totally different, but the shape of the stem and silicone eartips are very similar.
Evangelidis claims the stem-shaped design is more about function than anything else. "You can easily grasp the earbuds because of the stem’s distinct edges, and the flat surface is more intuitive for gesture controls, like swiping up and down for volume," he said. "And the third microphone is placed at the bottom of the stem to make it that much closer to your mouth for better call clarity."
While AirPods themselves increasingly creep down towards the $99 price range (they're on sale at Amazon for $119 right now) and competitors like Wyze are managing ANC buds as low as $60, the Ear (1)'s look is the ace in the hole, according to Evangelidis.
"There is a sea of sameness with products blurring together," he said. "The market is overdue for a new player that brings back some sort of excitement to the field of consumer tech, and one that celebrates design and artistry."