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Nothing Ear 1 vs AirPods Pro: The Ultimate Comparison for 2023

If you‘re in the market for a pair of premium wireless earbuds with active noise cancellation (ANC), the Apple AirPods Pro have likely been at the top of your list. With excellent sound quality, highly effective ANC, a compact wireless charging case, and seamless integration with iPhones and other Apple devices, the AirPods Pro have been the gold standard since their release in 2019. However, they also come with a hefty $249 price tag.

Enter the Nothing Ear 1 earbuds. Launched in 2021 by OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei‘s new UK-based company Nothing, the Ear 1 burst onto the scene with a surprisingly low $99 price point while promising premium features comparable to the AirPods Pro. With a unique transparent design, hi-res audio support, customizable controls and sound profiles, wireless charging, and ANC, the Ear 1 poses an intriguing alternative at less than half the price of Apple‘s Pro buds.

So how do these two heavyweights really stack up? Is the Ear 1 too good to be true or has Nothing managed to replicate a premium AirPods Pro-like experience at an unbeatable price? In this ultimate comparison, we‘ll pit the Nothing Ear 1 against the AirPods Pro in a head-to-head battle to crown the best wireless ANC earbuds on the market. As a digital technology expert, I‘ll go beyond the basic specs and provide in-depth analysis, industry research, and my own hands-on experience to help you decide which is the right choice for your needs and budget. Let‘s dive in!

Spec Comparison

Spec/Feature Nothing Ear 1 AirPods Pro
Price $99 $249
Chip Nothing ear (1) chip Apple H1
Drivers 11.6mm graphene Custom high-excursion
Frequency range 20 Hz – 20 kHz 20 Hz – 20 kHz
ANC Yes (-25db to -40db) Yes (-20db to -30db est.)
Transparency Mode Yes Yes
Bluetooth 5.2 5.0
Controls Touch, customizable Force sensor
Mics 3 per earbud Dual beamforming
Battery Life (ANC on) 4 hrs (buds), 24 hrs (case) 4.5 hrs (buds), 24 hrs (case)
Water Resistance IPX4 IPX4
Wireless Charging Yes Yes
Weight 4.7g per bud, 57.4g case 5.4g per bud, 45.6g case


Design and Comfort

The AirPods Pro and Ear 1 share a similar in-ear design with silicone tips for a secure, noise-isolating fit. Both include small, medium, and large tip sizes to accommodate different ear shapes.

However, the Ear 1 differentiates itself with its eye-catching transparent casing that lets you see the inner circuitry and components. The AirPods Pro has an iconic, all-white minimalist aesthetic with slightly slimmer stems.

Materials-wise, the AirPods Pro feels more substantial and durable with denser plastic compared to the Ear 1‘s light, hollow-feeling stalks. But both are comfortable for multi-hour listening sessions without fatigue and their cases are compact enough for pockets.

Overall, design preference is subjective but the Ear 1 wins points for uniqueness while the AirPods Pro feels more premium.

Sound Quality

Both the Ear 1 and AirPods Pro punch well above their weight in the audio department.

The Ear 1‘s 11.6mm graphene drivers deliver excellent dynamic range and clarity across the frequency spectrum (20 Hz – 20 kHz). Bass is punchy and well-defined, mids are detailed, and highs have good sparkle without sibilance. The companion app also lets you customize the EQ.

The AirPods Pro opt for a more balanced, neutral sound signature that some may find less exciting than the Ear 1‘s slightly bass and treble-forward tuning. However, they have an adaptive EQ that analyzes your ear shape and fit to optimize the sound in real-time.

Apple‘s ace is Spatial Audio, its immersive surround sound tech that tracks your head position and places audio elements in 3D space around you. It‘s especially impressive for movies and TV shows. The Ear 1 can‘t quite match this.

However, Spatial Audio doesn‘t kick in for standard stereo audio, and this is where the Ear 1 and AirPods Pro are more evenly matched. In back-to-back testing, I found it difficult to declare a clear winner. The Ear 1 sounds fantastic for the price while the AirPods Pro delivers awesome detail and imaging.

From a pure sound quality perspective, it‘s nearly a wash, with the Ear 1 taking a slight edge. But movie fans will want to consider the AirPods Pro for Spatial Audio.

Active Noise Cancellation

The Ear 1‘s ANC performance is shockingly good for the price, using three mics on each bud to counter a wide range of frequencies.

In ideal conditions, the Ear 1 can reduce ambient noise by up to 40db (1000 Hz), putting it in similar territory as the AirPods Pro‘s estimated 30db reduction (1000 Hz). The Ear 1 is especially good at neutralizing low-end rumble.

That said, the AirPods Pro is slightly better overall, with more consistent results across the frequency range and superior wind noise reduction. It also has a leg up in call quality and isolating your voice from background disruptions.

The AirPods Pro‘s transparency mode beats the Ear 1‘s as well, piping in sounds from your environment in a more natural, true-to-life way when you want to hear your surroundings.

Still, considering the AirPods Pro costs 2.5x more, the Nothing Ear 1‘s ANC is a revelation at this price.

Battery Life

There‘s not much separating these two in the battery department:

Battery Metric Nothing Ear 1 AirPods Pro
Music playback (ANC on) 4 hours 4.5 hours
Music playback (ANC off) 5.7 hours 5 hours
Talk time (ANC on) 3.5 hours 3.5 hours
Talk time (ANC off) 4 hours 3.5 hours
Case capacity (ANC on) 24 hours 24 hours
Case capacity (ANC off) 34 hours 24 hours
Fast charging 10 min = 1.2 hrs 5 min = 1 hr


The AirPods Pro ekes out a bit more stamina for ANC music playback (4.5 vs 4 hours) but the Ear 1 lasts longer with ANC disabled (5.7 vs 5 hours). The Ear 1 case also delivers substantially more backup juice when ANC is off (34 vs 24 hours).

Fast charging is comparable, with the Ear 1 netting you 1.2 hours of playback from 10 minutes in the case compared to the AirPods Pro‘s 1 hour from 5 minutes.

Both are more than sufficient for all-day use and then some, so battery life is not a big differentiator.

Controls and Customization

The Ear 1 uses touch controls while the AirPods Pro has force sensors:

  • Ear 1 touch controls: Single, double, triple tap and slide gestures control audio, calls, and switching between ANC and transparency modes.
  • AirPods Pro force sensors: Single, double, long squeezes control audio, calls, and toggling ANC/transparency. No volume control.

The Ear 1 has the edge in customization. Within the Ear 1 Android/iOS app, you can personalize the double tap, triple tap, and slide gestures to your liking. You can also choose between balanced, more bass, and more treble EQ presets or manually adjust the sliders.

In contrast, the AirPods Pro doesn‘t allow remapping any of the controls or tweaking EQ (aside from Accessibility settings). You‘ll need to ask Siri to adjust volume.

Android users in particular will appreciate the Ear 1‘s greater customization. But if you‘re used to using Siri voice commands to control your buds, the AirPods Pro‘s limitations are less of an issue.

Bluetooth and Connectivity

The Ear 1 uses Bluetooth 5.2 compared to the AirPods Pro‘s older Bluetooth 5.0 protocol. In theory, this means the Ear 1 supports newer Bluetooth features like LE Audio and has a stronger, more stable wireless connection.

In practice though, I found the connection strength and range to be a toss up. The AirPods Pro holds a more consistent connection with fewer dropouts, likely thanks to Apple‘s H1 chip and tight software integration with iOS.

However, Android users may have a better experience with the Ear 1, as some report choppy AirPods performance on non-Apple devices.

Both the Ear 1 and AirPods Pro only support SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs. While serviceable, it would‘ve been nice to see higher-quality options like aptX Adaptive or LDAC.

Still, codec support is less crucial for earbuds compared to over-ear headphones. The stability of the wireless connection is paramount, and the AirPods Pro is a bit more reliable across the board.


The Ear 1 and AirPods Pro share an IPX4 rating for sweat and water splash resistance. While suitable for workouts, this means they aren‘t fully waterproof or sweatproof, so you shouldn‘t submerge them or expose them to heavy perspiration.

The AirPods Pro‘s glossy case is a bit more susceptible to scratches than the Ear 1‘s matte case. But the Ear 1‘s case collects more fingerprints.

In terms of build quality, the AirPods Pro gets the nod for its denser, higher-grade plastic. The Ear 1 feels a little toy-like and delicate in comparison.

There haven‘t been widespread reports of Ear 1 durability issues yet, but it‘s likely the AirPods Pro will hold up better in the long run.

Extra Features

A few other notable differences:

  • Qi wireless charging: Both cases are wireless charging compatible.
  • In-ear detection: Both buds automatically pause when removed from your ear.
  • Find My support: While not heavily promoted, the Ear 1 is compatible with Apple‘s Find My network so you can locate a misplaced bud.
  • Ear tip fit test: The AirPods Pro has a test to check your ear tip fit and suggest adjustments, the Ear 1 doesn‘t.
  • Accessibility: The AirPods Pro has a "Headphone Accommodations" mode to amplify soft sounds and adjust audio for hearing differences.

Pricing and Value

This is where the Ear 1 really sets itself apart. At just $99, it‘s a steal compared to the AirPods Pro‘s premium $249 price tag.

Historically, wireless ANC earbuds from major brands like Sony, Bose, Jabra, and others cost $200+. For Nothing to come out of the gate with a pair that rivals or exceeds those buds in many respects for under $100 is remarkable.

The Ear 1 is unquestionably the best value in the premium wireless earbud market right now. And it‘s pushing the industry forward by proving high-end features can be accessible at mass market prices.

The AirPods Pro certainly has its merits for its higher price though, especially for iPhone and Mac users. The H1 chip enables seamless pairing and device switching within the Apple ecosystem that the Ear 1 can‘t yet match.

Combined with other iOS 14+ perks like Spatial Audio, dynamic head tracking, Audio Sharing, and hands-free Siri, you‘re getting some worthwhile Apple-only benefits for that $249.

Android users not tied to Apple‘s walled garden will find better bang for buck with the Ear 1 though. Nothing matches all the AirPods Pro‘s core features at an unbeatable price while offering useful extras like an equalizer, control customization, and a see-through design no other major earbud has tried.

The Verdict

As a wireless earbud geek and professional tech reviewer, I‘m thoroughly impressed with both the Nothing Ear 1 and AirPods Pro.

The AirPods Pro remain the king of overall polish and iOS integration. The premium build, Spatial Audio tricks, reliable connectivity, best-in-class ANC/transparency, and frictionless usability for Apple device owners help justify the higher MSRP. They have a certain X factor that‘s hard to quantify.

But the Nothing Ear 1 objectively offers 90% of the AirPods Pro experience at 40% of the cost. The design is unique without being gimmicky, sound quality goes toe-to-toe with buds twice the price, the ANC is shockingly effective, and the companion app adds useful customization options missing from the AirPods Pro. You won‘t feel like you‘re settling.

As a reviewer, I have the luxury of testing all the latest and greatest headphones. But if I had to choose a desert island pair of wireless earbuds based on price to performance ratio alone, it would be the Nothing Ear 1. It‘s simply the best value in the category.

So what‘s the right choice for you? If you‘re deeply entrenched in the Apple ecosystem and can comfortably spend $249, the AirPods Pro is still the way to go for its magic combo of simplicity, performance, and features. It remains the benchmark for a reason.

But for everyone else, the Ear 1 is a no-brainer. Android users in particular will love the fantastic sound, highly effective ANC, and personalization the Ear 1 allows for well under $100. Nothing has permanently rewritten the rulebook for what affordable wireless earbuds can and should be. Personally, I can‘t wait to see what they do next.