Monday, June 24, 2024
Smart Phones

OnePlus Buds 3 review: light, comfortable, bland

The OnePlus Buds product line is quite confusing, so when you are looking at the brand-new OnePlus Buds 3, you may be wondering “Are these better than the OnePlus Buds Pro 2?”. The answer is no, they are positioned as a midrange solution, between the OnePlus Buds Pro 2, and the much more affordable OnePlus Nord Buds 2.
OK, so the OnePlus Buds 3 launch at $99. They promise up to -49 dB active noise cancelation, high quality audio with dual dynamic drivers, 44 hours of total battery life. How good are they and do they deserve your buck?

OnePlus Buds 3 in a nutshell:

  • Dual driver – 10.4 mm woofer, 6 mm tweeter
  • Active noise cancelation
  • LHDC 5.0 Hi-Res audio
  • Low latency
  • Audio ID for personalized listening experience
  • 3D Audio
  • IP55 resistance

OnePlus Buds 3 specs

Pretty good specs on paper, and we’re going to say it right now — battery life on these is quite dependable. But let’s dive in!

OnePlus Buds 3 design and comfort

The OnePlus Buds 3 look very much like the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 before them, but there are very subtle differences in the shape. OnePlus promises extreme comfort, and we’d say that’s correct. The OnePlus Buds 3 fit effortlessly into the ear, add no pressure, and can be worn for hours without discomfort in our experience. Compared to the OnePlus Buds Pro 2, they are slightly more comfortable, as the Pros do add a bit of pressure.

The case is slightly on the bigger side of things — its tapered design does make for a sleek look, and it’s easy to slide in and out of pockets, but compared to an AirPods Pro or Galaxy Buds Pro case, it is a little chunky.

You control them via tiny touchpads on each earbud. And yes, we hate touchpads, because every time you go to adjust an earbud, you will pause or play your music. OnePlus knows this, so the single tap input is disabled by default. If you go into the HeyMelody app, you can choose what happens with a single tap, dual tap, triple tap, as well as a swipe up and down on the earbuds’ stems.

So, with the default settings where a single tap is off, it was all fine and dandy from the get go, provided that hitting the touchpads accurately will take a bit of learning. The swipe gesture for volume adjustment does work quite well, though!

The OnePlus Buds 3 come with three standard size tips in the box, and you will very probably find your fit among them. The HeyMelody app has a fit test, which will check if you are getting a proper seal with the tips you choose.

We have IP55 rating, which means limited dust protection and resistance against jets of water. So, you can jog with them and sweat all over them, but don’t throw them in the pond.

OnePlus Buds 3 sound quality

A dual driver and Basswave enhancement. That sounds promising, no? Well…

We can say that the OnePlus Buds 3 sound… fine. The following paragraphs will be nitpicky, but we do wish to start with — we understand that these are $99 earbuds with ANC, and we think that they sound fine.

They are not crisp, detailed, wide, or breathtaking. OK so, the bass does sound very nice. It’s soft, it can get thumpy, but not crushing or headache-inducing. We kind of feel like a lot of care went into tuning the bass here, and not to amp it to unreasonable levels, but to make it actually pleasant to listen to. Tip o’ the hat to that.

But when we go to the midrange and top end, the OnePlus Buds 3 left us wanting. There’s a dip in the midrange, which leaves details of guitar riffs somewhat in the background. Even vocals can feel buried in the mix in certain moments. And accompanying strings and synths lack a good definition to let you enjoy their chord structures. And the highs will roll off early — it almost sounds like they are being compressed by something. We wouldn’t say the OnePlus Buds 3 sound muffled, but they don’t pop or chime, they definitely sound very “safe”. There’s a lack of air and nice crispness to the sound.

We did try the Audio ID (Golden Sound in the HeyMelody app) to see if we can get the sound to pop for our personal preference. It added some highs, but didn’t wow us. There’s also an EQ inside the app, which we appreciate very much, but it’s a quite basic 6-band EQ, which doesn’t give us a good control over the finer details.
The OnePlus Buds 3 come with a 3D Audio feature, which is enabled by default. We can’t say it sounds “better” when it’s on… a bit different, definitely more low mids and a slightly wider soundstage. We found that disabling it actually lets vocals shine through a bit better and gets rid of some of the slightly grating mid peaks.

OnePlus Buds 3 noise cancelation and transparency

The active noise cancelation here is not going to amaze you. In fact, you may not even think that it’s on. OnePlus promises -49 dB of reduction, with a range up to 4 kHz. What we can report — it does filter out low-level hums but a lot of noises still come through.

Common sounds like people talking in the office, the rustling of clothes and paper, the clicks and clacks of pens and office supplies being slapped against desks — these you will still hear, with a slightly reduced bass.

The ANC does have 3 steps of intensity — from Low to High — and there’s an Adaptive mode, which picks the right one. At the highest level, it kind of, sort of filtered out the low-level hum of my space heater (but I could still hear the higher frequencies of the fan).

If you play music through them — then the outside world will get drowned out, definitely. But in case you are one of the people that picks these buds to be specifically noise blockers, these ain’t the type.

The transparency mode is pretty OK. There’s a rolloff in the highs, but otherwise, they do sound transparent. Representation of directional sound is mostly accurate — some sound sources from your right will feed into the left earbud (and vice versa), but at a low enough volume that you’d understand “Yes, this is on my right”.

OnePlus Buds 3 battery life

OnePlus’ specs on the Buds 3 state — at 50% volume and with ANC off, you get up to 10 hours from the buds and an extra 34 hours from the case. With ANC on and 50% volume, it’s 6.5 hours from the buds, plus 21.5 hours from the case. Then, you have fast charging — you should get up to 7 hours of listening from just 10 minutes on the wire.

The specs page doesn’t say what kind of charger you’d need for that. But the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 needed a minimum of 5V 2A. We assume it’s the same deal here — any modern smartphone charger will do. Don’t worry if it has a rating well above 10 W, USB C will regulate power as per the needs of the Buds’ case.

So, while we don’t have an elaborate battery benchmark test of earbuds, we did try them out for prolonged stretches of time. After a couple of days of using them for 6 hours straight, we now have them charged at 100% in the case, and the case is still at 30%. That’s with ANC on, and with pairing and swapping between different devices while testing. We are pretty sure they can hit the promised 28 hour mark (ANC on), or very close to it.

OnePlus Buds 3 summary

OK, so bottom line — these earbuds don’t have a stellar ANC, and they won’t let you indulge in your music on a deep level. However… they sound OK, and they are $99. Their true winning feature is the fit and comfort — take it from someone who has a very hard time of using in-ear headphones for prolonged periods — these are nice.

However, if ANC or sound quality are the bigger priority — at the time of writing this, the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 are discounted to $130, and they are better in both of these fields. The Samsung Galaxy Buds FE at $100 (commonly discounted to $80), which we haven’t reviewed yet, are also supposedly stellar in those two fields.

If bang for your buck is what you are looking for, the OnePlus Nord Buds 2 are down to $40, and I distinctly remember that these sounded very good for their asking price.

While we feel like the OnePlus Buds 3 are being cannibalized by OnePlus’ own portfolio, and that the Galaxy Buds FE may be the better choice for some people out there, our final word is this — they are certainly among the better $99 earphones we’ve tested.


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