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Priced at a budget-friendly $49.99, the OnePlus Buds Z offered a handful of impressive features for the price, including Dolby Atmos support, Bluetooth 5.0, quick charging and IP55-rated liquid resistance. And now, the new OnePlus Buds Z2 look to add even more bang for your buck at a higher entry price of $99. This includes active noise cancellation, Bluetooth 5.2 support, three microphones per earbud and improved battery life.

Here are our thoughts on the Buds Z2 after spending several days listening to music and taking calls in various environments.

Great bang-for-your-buck earbuds
Though the Buds Z2 work best for OnePlus phone users, those using an iPhone or Android phone should get plenty of mileage out of them. They're perfect for those seeking a middle ground between affordability and functionality.

The who, what and how

Who these are for: Those who own a OnePlus 7, 8 or 9 are going to get the absolute most out of the Buds Z2. You’ll need one of those phones to utilize Dolby Atmos and reduce audio latency with OnePlus devices with Pro Gaming mode turned on. Those outside of OnePlus’s ecosystem will still have much to appreciate thanks to exceptional audio, great call quality, serious battery life and serviceable water resistance.

What you need to know: The OnePlus Buds Z2’s active noise cancellation can deliver two separate modes, including a lighter “Faint” for outside noise and “Extreme” for when things get extremely noisy. There are also other customization opportunities through the HeyMelody app for active noise cancellation, media controls, ear tip fit test and more. Battery life is around 38 hours and Flash Charge can provide five hours of listening time by charging for only ten minutes. Buyers have two colorway choices in Pearl White and Obsidian Black.

How they compare: 
The Buds Z2 are comparable to some of our favorite earbuds including the Google Pixel Buds A-Series  and TCL MoveAudio S600. Neither of those rivals offer IPX4 waterproof capabilities on their cases, which is a huge plus for the Buds Z2. The Google Pixel Buds A-Series doesn’t offer active noise cancellation or transparency mode. On the other hand, the TCL MoveAudio S600 doesn’t offer the general audio quality provided by the Buds Z2. Google’s and OnePlus’s buds work best with their respective mobile phones, but those who value active noise cancellation should look at the Buds Z2.

Sleek design and comfort matched with useful features

After pulling the Buds Z2’s box apart, the first thing you’ll see is the glossy earbuds case with the OnePlus logo. Behind the pill-shaped case are the ear tips, instructional guide and USB-C cable. Again, the Buds Z2 package is fairly no-frills. From a quick glance, the earbuds case has a premium look with a sync button and USB-C port in the rear. A small LED light on the front gives an indication of charge status.

Holding the case does remove some of the luxury feel due to the case’s plastic nature — especially the hinge that opens up. Be mindful that the Buds Z2 case doesn’t have wireless charging, which means you’ll have to depend on the USB-C port. To be fair, earbuds within the sub-$100 range normally don’t offer cases that are IPX4-rated like the Buds Z2’s is.

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Once the Buds Z2 earbuds are removed from the case, connecting them is fairly easy if your Android device has Google Fast Pair. For iOS devices, just open the case and hold the sync button for a couple of seconds to start pairing mode. If they’ve already been paired with another device like a tablet, users can do a quick switch by holding down the earbuds’ touch controls for several seconds.

The Buds Z2 are pretty light and fit comfortably. According to OnePlus, the Buds Z2’s earbud stem is 15% shorter than its predecessor. For those who sweat profusely, the IPX4 grade protection can handle vigorous workouts or even a trip to the shower.

The MyMelody app for iOS and Android provides access to some respectable customization options. First-time users can do an earbud fit test to ensure one of the three included sets of ear tips makes a good seal with the ear canals for better noise cancellation. Outside of that, the MyMelody app allows three different active noise control modes, including two levels of ANC as well as a transparency mode.

Another tab on the app allows users to customize the touch sensors on the earbuds. Though there are various commands for single, double and triple taps as well as short and long holds, the controls can only control music playback, hang up calls and activate your voice assistant. Unfortunately, there aren’t any volume controls. As a nice touch, removing the earbuds auto-pauses music to resume when placed back in.

Adequate audio quality

The music listening experience on the Buds Z2 is more than serviceable considering the price. One thing is for sure, the bass on these earbuds is out of this world. Those 11mm drivers get put to maximum use here, and those whose music taste rests within the modern Top 10 pop charts will be more than satisfied. From Latin Pop tracks like Becky G’s “Mala Santa” to Southern Rap standards like Lil Baby’s “Commercial” featuring Lil Uzi Vert, the bass on the Buds Z2 is more than commendable. Even more electronic-focused sounds from groups like Wajatta or Daft Punk sound pretty good on the earbuds.

Unfortunately, that audio richness doesn’t extend as nicely to other genres. There’s a bit of flatness when listening to classic jazz like Thelonious Monk’s “’Round Midnight.” It’s definitely more noticeable when listening to “Where Is the Line” from Bjӧrk’s classic “Medúlla” album that’s made up primarily of various vocal samples. Mid-tones are sufficient enough when listening to Afro-Brazilian stylings of Àbáse on tracks like “Oya,” as distinct layers of vocals, guitar, cuíca and percussion didn’t necessarily sound as distinct as they should.

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All of these slight issues could be fixed with some EQ setting tweaks, but unfortunately, there aren’t any on the Buds Z2. For those with OnePlus phones, there are three audio modes available including Cinematic Movie, Immersive Music and Mobile Gaming for Dolby Atmos users. We weren’t able to test these features ourselves, but note that you’ll get some extra functionality if you’re on a OnePlus device.

Users looking to watch film and television or game on the Buds Z2 may find an uneven experience outside of the OnePlus phone family. There was a slight lag between watching various videos and the audio. When watching Amazon’s “A Man Named Scott” documentary, there seemed to be a slight disconnect with the lip-syncing.

Faster-moving action fare like “The Matrix” sounded good but again, felt a bit off. Meanwhile, we noticed a bit of audio lag when playing games like SkateBird on Xbox Game Pass. Of course, those who have compatible OnePlus phones can use Pro Gaming Mode to help with latency. The average consumer probably won’t have an overall issue with this, but cinephiles and game enthusiasts without OnePlus phones will undoubtedly notice.

Average battery life with active noise cancellation

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The Buds Z2 promise 38 hours of battery life with up to 7 hours of earbud usage. This is the estimated time without using active noise cancellation. Using max ANC, those times get reduced to around 5 hours. During our test, we were able to get about 4.5 to 5 hours with max ANC at the highest volume before having to place the earbuds in the charging case.

These are definitely good enough for those who use their earbuds during commutes on public transportation or walks. Those who like to keep their buds in during office hours may find themselves unimpressed with the battery life. Then again, if the office is relatively quiet volume-wise, turning the ANC off should give the battery life a boost. Without ANC, the earbuds lasted roughly within the six- to seven-hour range.

Be mindful that a quick 10-minute charge can add 5 hours of playback time to the Buds Z2. During tests, it took about an hour and a half to charge the case from empty and around 30 to 45 minutes to charge the earbuds to the max.

Good call and microphone quality — and impressive ANC

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The ANC on the Buds Z2 feels slightly premium. Both lower and max ANC settings do a great job of blocking out the outside world during phone calls.

When inside a quiet room or office, audio is great and audible during conversations. Transparency mode also sounds great when taking a call while needing to pay attention to things like children or co-workers. Just remember that utilizing ANC will tax the battery life.

Since the Buds Z2 earbuds are serviced with three microphones per earbud, mic audio is great as well. When using them at a busy park or intersection, conversations over the phone were still clear enough to understand what was being heard by the person on the other end.

Bottom line

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OnePlus phone owners looking for earbuds that won’t break the bank have an easy decision to make here. Between the ability to use Dolby Atmos and audio latency modes alongside other features, there’s a lot to appreciate about the Buds Z2 at their relatively low $100 price.

Those with other Android phones or Apple users priced out of buying AirPods should still consider the Buds Z2. The general listening experience is great despite a few caveats, and call quality is generally good thanks to amazing ANC for the money.

Though simple, the MyMelody app does add an honest touch of customization. Add some decent battery life (with ANC enabled) and a semi-waterproof case into the mix, and you’re getting some serious quality for $100.