The Buds Pro is OnePlus’ priciest offering in the premium true-wireless audio gear category. The Chinese smartphone maker offers the Buds Pro in black or white for a sticker price of Rs. 9,990 (around $133). We received the black variant of the OnePlus Buds Pro and used it regularly over the last seven months to determine if it lives up to its “audiophile-grade” marketing and if it justifies its price by offering a well-rounded, efficient package. You’ll be surprised by what we found out.
The OnePlus Buds Pro is a phenomenally feature-rich package, and we expect nothing less for the price. According to the company, the device is equipped with 11mm dynamic drivers “tuned for rich bass.” It connects to smartphones using Bluetooth v5.2, delivering a claimed latency of just 94 milliseconds. The Buds Pro default to using the LHDC codec on supported devices and support Dolby Atmos as well. The buds offer seven hours of playback on a single charge with their 40mAh batteries. The case’s 520mAh battery recharges the buds five more times, giving the unit a total life of 38 hours. OnePlus’ 65W Warp Charge and Qi-certified wireless charging are also available. Active noise cancelation (ANC) and IP55 water resistance are advertised as well, although the former is rebranded as Smart Adaptive Noise Cancelation.
Reading between the lines on the spec sheet revealed that the black variant comes in a matte-finished hard plastic, but the white variant is glossy hard plastic. For some reason, OnePlus chose to equip the Buds Pro with drivers that offer a sensitivity of 102dB at the 1kHz frequency for the product in India, as opposed to the less sensitive 98dB drivers seen on the product for international markets. The aforementioned IP55 rating is for the buds. The case is only rated IPX4 splash resistant, but it is a plus since ingress protection on the case is rare even among premium true-wireless earphones.
Sound Quality and Mic: Bassheads Rejoice
Starting with the most critical aspect of audio gear, the sound quality. The OnePlus Buds Pro is designed to appeal to a broader audience, not just audiophiles who chase the flat profile. The buds have a distinctive bass-heavy sound signature, and the highs are boosted a bit as well, giving it a typical V-shape frequency response. The LHDC codec was applied by default when we connected the Buds Pro to any device that supported it. The bass was a tad bit boomier than we would’ve liked, but it resembled what larger drivers would produce, and there was minimal distortion even higher up in the volume range. The overpowering bass steamrolls over the vocals at times, making the Buds Pro unsuitable for some genres of music.
There is ample stereo separation in the sound from both the buds, and we were able to tell the left and right channels independently, but the sound stage isn’t wide enough for the price point. This can be attributed to the company’s focus on developing a feature-rich product with mass-market appeal instead of the best-sounding product. OnePlus isn’t an exception here since its rivals such as the Razer Hammerhead True Wireless X and the Sony WF-XB700 appear to have gone this route as well.
As for call quality, there is no room for complaint if you’re taking a call indoors. The Buds Pro worked great within line of sight of the phone and managed to remain connected even when I moved to adjacent rooms. Thanks to the three mics dedicated to environmental noise cancellation, the person on the other end couldn’t hear background noises from my end. However, the call quality dropped significantly outdoors. People I spoke to over the phone while testing the OnePlus Buds Pro complained of loud wind noise on a light, breezy day when I was using just one bud. Pulling the second one out didn’t help matters either. Also, the connection began to get patchy intermittently at a distance of 8 meters within line of sight of the phone. If you’re taking calls outdoors, we suggest you place the phone in your pocket for the entirety of the conversation.
No-Nonsense Battery Life and Functional ANC
The Buds Pro offers phenomenal battery life, and I was able to get through around three workdays with ease without requiring to recharge the case. My usage entailed occasional use of ANC without any music playing, a little bit of music at 30 to 50 percent volume, and around an hour of phone calls each day.
As for the ANC, it works flawlessly to suppress background chatter, humming, buzzing, and other distracting background noises, but I could still hear my keyboard clacking away, although faintly. But the good stuff ends right there. If you put a hoodie on and go for a jog or sleep on your side with the buds on, you’ll hear the highly amplified sounds of fabric rubbing against the earbuds, irrespective of whether ANC is turned on or off. Additionally, if you’re seated in a quiet environment with no media playing, Transparency mode delivers a constant static hissing noise. Once outdoors, the hissing gets drowned by ambient noises.
While some of these minor annoyances would be excusable, the price you pay for the Buds Pro raises expectations, and the ANC implementation isn’t up there with the likes of Sony yet.
Robust Design, Build Quality, and Fit
The Buds Pro fits snugly in the ear and stays put even during bursts of intense activity and the resultant perspiration. I happened to use it on a rainy day outdoors, and the Buds Pro held up just fine. The medium-sized silicon ear tips that were pre-installed worked well for me, but you have four other pairs in the box to choose from. The passive noise isolation was adequate and didn’t create an uncomfortable vacuum in the ears.
The stems were convenient to reach and use for controlling playback without pressing into the ears, although it does take some getting used to. Disappointingly, an option to control the volume is sorely missed, and the user manual’s indication of how to use gestures is almost misleading. The region to press the stem is inaccurately defined in the user manual. I had to figure it out myself. If you’re confused, treat the stem like a vitamin capsule and give it a firm squish with your fingertips to elicit a response.
As for the case, the size is certainly more pocketable than pricier rival offerings from Jabra and Apple. The hinge is surprisingly robust and doesn’t wiggle at all when opened. It snaps shut gently but doesn’t bite your finger in the process, although with an audible snap. The case’s good design also deserves appreciation. The button for pairing and resetting the Buds Pro is concealed within the case and cannot be pressed accidentally when stored in your pocket with other items. The buds snapped in firmly, and I didn’t face any charging issues due to misalignment. The case’s outer rugged matte plastic build didn’t attract fingerprints or scratches, although I would advise against letting it share a pocket with your keys.
The hinge remained resistant to wiggle even after months of usage, and the matte finish on most of the surfaces ensures you won’t be wiping fingerprints off regularly. The buds themselves also survived a couple of accidental falls and stayed perfectly intact. They did not get scuffed either. OnePlus exceeded my build quality expectations.
The best part about the Buds Pro is that even if the case runs out of charge, putting the buds back in the case disconnects them from your phone. This is usually missing on cheaper offerings that annoyingly reconnect to your phone from within the case because the case ran out of juice while charging the buds.
Software Experience and Firmware Updates
The software experience is a bit of a mixed bag. The features worked as advertised, but in seven months of use, a few bugs reared their ugly heads, and a firmware update brought dual pairing support.
The pairing process was effortless on a OnePlus Nord 2, and native support was advertised. However, I couldn’t adjust the intensity of noise cancellation and choose the codec I preferred (available under Bluetooth > OnePlus Buds Pro > Earbud functions) until I downloaded the OnePlus Buds app. The woes worsened when I connected the Buds Pro to Xiaomi’s Mi 11X. Using the LHDC codec introduced latency to the point where audio and video were out of sync on Netflix. Poweramp music player showed that the OnePlus Buds Pro delivered a real-world latency of around 124 milliseconds. Surprisingly, the OnePlus Buds Pro misses out on support for Qualcomm’s AptX audio codecs, although the price suggests otherwise, and most high-end true-wireless earphones use Qualcomm chips, bringing codec support along.
Switching off LHDC in a bid to reduce the latency switches the OnePlus Buds Pro to using the AAC codec, which helps with the audio sync issue on Netflix. It is important to note that the AAC codec isn’t known for its low latency either, so we believe the niggles with the LHDC codec can be chalked up to poor implementation and optimization on the OnePlus Buds Pro. The LHDC codec does, however, deliver an uncompressed audio stream that can be a blessing when listening to hi-res audio where latency doesn’t affect the experience.
On anything other than OnePlus devices, you’ll need the HeyMelody App from the Google Play Store to get any amount of customizability for the pill squeeze gestures, ANC, and Transparency mode. Without the app, you would also miss out on an advertised feature called Zen Mode Air that plays soothing white noise and cranks the ANC so you can wind down after a hard day’s work. The mode has an assortment of sounds that play in a loop, and you can sync one of them with the buds to play by default. The Zen Mode Air also refuses to activate unless you use both earphones. We also found the HeyMelody app lacking nice-to-haves, such as a home screen widget for battery level indication.
The OnePlus Audio ID feature is another feature that sets the Buds Pro apart from its rivals. It is essentially a frequency-based hearing test that takes around 10 minutes to complete. The system (HeyMelody or your OnePlus phone) then tweaks the sound profile to boost specific frequencies, so you hear audio exactly as the creators intended. On its face, the feature seems to be a great idea, but despite a significant boost applied to some frequencies, the difference in sound was nearly imperceptible.
The update to firmware version 531.531.410 brought support for Dual connection. As the name suggests, it allows the Buds Pro to pair up with two devices simultaneously. The buds also seamlessly switch audio input streams without user input if you pause playback on one device and start it on the other one. Be wary, though, because when both paired devices start playing audio simultaneously, the OnePlus Buds Pro prefers the one that was last playing audio. The how-to-setup guide for the new feature wasn’t readily available with the update and we had to sift through the community forums to find it. The feature made my workflow seamless and turned mild disappointment into satisfaction. With this feature on board, the OnePlus Buds Pro makes a compelling case for itself, given the price.
Final Verdict: Should You Buy It?
The OnePlus Buds Pro is priced past the point where more money spent buys you a proportionally better product. It is at the cusp of being a better true-wireless product than its rivals but is likely to appeal as a lifestyle accessory instead of a necessary utility. Its appeal is further hamstrung by limited features and control on non-OnePlus devices until you install the HeyMelody app. That said, it checks all the right boxes. The build is sturdy, the buds don’t fall out of ears during intense physical activity, and the sound profile can be tweaked to a great extent, so it suits your taste. Unless you’re a discerning audiophile who is picky about the sound signature, you’ll find the OnePlus Buds Pro hard to fault on most fronts. If you’re eager to buy them, OnePlus recently launched a new Lord of the Rings-themed variant in select markets.
What do you think of the OnePlus Buds Pro? Do share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.