OnePlus is no longer a fresh brand in the audio world, having released its third set of earbuds. The genuine wireless OnePlus Buds Z are $10 less than the OnePlus Buds, and the primary changes are design and battery life—the Buds Z employ replaceable eartips instead of buds, and have a five-hour battery life instead of ten. They have a bass-forward sound quality that will please anybody wanting for a bit more low-frequency punch, but they don't stand out as much as the conventional OnePlus Buds or other wire-free versions in this price range.

OnePlus Buds Z

They Have the Appearance of AirPods

The Buds Z earpieces feature stems identical to the Apple AirPods Pro and are available in white or a Steve Harrington-designed version featuring artwork on the earpieces and case. The earphones have 10mm dynamic drivers within. They come with three sets of transparent eartips in sizes small, medium, and large, as well as a USB-C to USB-A charging cord.

The Buds feature an IP55 rating, which means the earpieces are dust-resistant and resistant to mild splashes from all directions. We wouldn't recommend cleaning them under a faucet because they can't be immersed or subjected to high water pressure, but a moist towel should suffice. Remember that this grade does not apply to the charging case, so don't put wet earbuds in there.

The controls on the earpieces are touch sensitive and programmable to some extent, but only on OnePlus phones—there is no universal software to alter the controls elsewhere. A double tap controls playback as well as answering and terminating calls, but a tap-and-hold rejects an incoming call. By pressing and holding the earphones for three seconds, you may instantly switch to the last connected device, which might be handy or frustrating depending on whether you want to reject an incoming call or not. It's a shame there are no volume controls, but which controls you have and how well they function will ultimately depend on which phone you have—we tried with both an Android and an iPhone. For the most simplified, customisable experience, you'll want to utilise a OnePlus phone.

With a shiny shell and a flip-top cover, the charging case is designed like a pill. The front panel contains a battery status LED, while the back panel holds the charging cable's USB-C connection. OnePlus claims a five-hour battery life per charge, with around 15 hours of power saved in the case, however your mileage may vary depending on your noise settings. The OnePlus Buds Z are Bluetooth 5.0 compliant, and they support the AAC and SBC Bluetooth codecs, but not AptX. The lack of an app, as well as the lack of further functions or accessories, is completely understandable at this price.

Mic and Audio Performance

The Buds Z give tremendous low-frequency response and don't distort at high, irresponsible listening settings on tunes with intense sub-bass content, such as The Knife's "Silent Shout." At higher settings, the DSP (digital signal processing) appears to kick in, significantly flattening down the lows, but there's still plenty of bottom kick here. The lows remain full and rich even at lower volumes.

The OnePlus Buds Z's main sound characteristic is best captured in Bill Callahan's "Drover," a tune with significantly less deep bass in the mix. The drums on this tune are thundering, yet they don't go overboard or unnaturally so. There's also a lot of boosting in the lows and highs, thanks to an additional serving of tape hiss that's typically consigned to the background. The low-mid richness of Callahan's baritone voice is great, but the high-mid presence might be a little stronger. The balance is fine in general, although things tilt toward the bass end of the frequency spectrum at times, and the sound signature feels like it could need a bit more high-mid sharpness. This isn't to suggest that things sound muddy; rather, there's enough bass increase that a little more high-mid presence would be beneficial.

The kick drum loop on Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild" gets enough high-mid presence to keep its power, but we're accustomed to hearing a little more out of the attack here. The vinyl crackle and hiss that is typically present in the background of this track has moved forward slightly (showing some higher-frequency boosting), and the sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat have substantial, subwoofer-like depth. The vocals are clear, but we'd like to hear a little more high-mid presence to give the voice and the percussion loop more distinction.

Orchestral recordings, such as the opening scene of John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary, get a lot of low-end boost, pushing the lower-register instrumentation to the front of the mix. The higher-register brass, strings, and vocals are still bright, crisp, and clear—they suffer less from the slightly lowered high-mids than the prior tunes. Those searching for a precise listening experience, on the other hand, may be frustrated by the thunderous bass and lukewarm high-mids. Again, things are never murky, but the balance is a touch too heavy on the lows.

The mic has a fair amount of intelligibility. We could comprehend every phrase we recorded using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 8, and the mic's signal was loud enough, although there was some standard Bluetooth distortion that made the words seem a little less clear. Callers should be able to understand you on a good cellular connection.

Fans of OnePlus will like these earbuds

The OnePlus Buds Z offer a robust listening experience for $50 that will appeal to bass fans more than those looking for a precise, balanced hearing experience. The lows and highs are both rich and numerous, but the high-mids could use a bit more presence. Remember that the normal OnePlus Buds have double the battery life for $10 extra, making them a better bargain in our opinion. 

Keep in mind that both sets of Buds are recommended for OnePlus phone users, since you'll have limited on-ear controls otherwise. We suggest the $30 JLab Go Air, the $35 Tribit FlyBuds 3, the $50 EarFun Free, and the $80 Anker Soundcore Liberty Air to users of various Android phones and iPhones in this price range.