OnePlus isn’t new to making wireless earbuds now that several pairs have come to market over the last five years, all of which stuck to competing with more expensive alternatives. It’s the upstart positioning the company was initially founded on with its smartphones, which also extends to its audio products.
That’s why it’s not surprising the OnePlus Buds 3 take a similar approach. These earbuds are loaded with features and address shortcomings from previous models, all of which culminate in impressive performance for a pair at this price.
So, are these affordable earbuds worth the price, or should you look elsewhere?
OnePlus Buds 3: Price and availability
The OnePlus Buds 3 launched in China in January 2024, with a global launch following soon after. The earbuds are available in North America starting February 5 at various retail and online outlets along with the OnePlus website. They start out at $99, and it may be a while before they see any discount, but it’s always possible. They come in metallic black and splendid blue.
OnePlus Buds 3: What’s good
As you might expect, OnePlus chose to go with a stem design for the Buds 3, a pattern that’s held steady ever since the brand started making true wireless earbuds. The AirPods comparisons are obvious, and from a distance, they could pass off as different color AirPods if Apple actually made them in any other shade or color. There’s more styling here, though, via the chrome-like finish and oval-shaped drivers with different-sized ear tips.
They’re comfortable to wear, and OnePlus wisely chose to leave the chrome for the stems only and go for a matte finish for the rest of the buds. Granted, the stems are touch-sensitive for certain controls, both of which will be laden with fingerprints and smudges over time, but they do serve a functional purpose rather than just an aesthetic one.
It’s easy enough to set up the Buds 3 on any Android phone, with Fast Pair capability to boot, so you don’t necessarily need a OnePlus phone to get more out of these buds. The HeyMelody app is integral in seeing and hearing everything they have to offer, which will likely start with a firmware update right after the app recognizes them.
There is an interesting mix of features within the app that wouldn’t be an expectation for a pair of $100 earbuds, especially because they focus on personalization. Golden Sound is a non-invasive hearing test that helps you choose the right ear tip size while also running a short test of beeps that you respond to in developing a hearing profile that best suits your own ears. The customization doesn’t end there, but it’s a good start for making the Buds 3 more applicable to you, personally.
You can also take a granular approach to the amount of bass you want (BassWave) and how potent you want the active noise cancelation (ANC) to be. The EQ gives you only three presets, but you can always create your own and add them to the list. OnePlus 3D Audio is also included, adding spatial audio as well, though it’s limited in scope because it’s universal yet doesn’t always work with every app or function.
OnePlus says it equipped the Buds 3 with newly optimized dual drivers to produce a wider frequency range so that highs and lows are more distinguishable and less muddy all around. The mids are also supposed to benefit from the improved tuning. There’s no doubt these sound better than the Buds 2 Pro for precisely those reasons. Punchy sound and better clarity lead to surprisingly rich audio coming out of the Buds 3 right from the jump, only made better when you tinker with the EQ and BassWave settings to get the signature you’re looking for.
It’s the clarity that probably threw me off more than anything because cheaper earbuds usually trade depth and clarity in the mids and highs for a thicker boom that tends to please most ears for most genres. In this case, the default is more balanced in ways that liven up audio, regardless of where you’re playing it from. There’s even hi-res audio support through the LHDC Bluetooth codec, so you could play tracks from Tidal, Qobuz, or Amazon Music and feel like you get closer to what they should sound like.
ANC plays a role here, too. It’s fine for earbuds at this price and certainly improved from the OnePlus Buds Z2, though I chose to manually select the level of suppression myself. The HeyMelody app offers a noise control mode that includes OnePlus’ Smart Scene technology using the six onboard mics (three per side) to reduce noise based on how noisy your surroundings are.
It’s a decent attempt, except the adjustments aren’t always easy to discern — and I’m not sure they’re always necessary when they occur. It may be different for you, but I’m not sure why I’d want to reduce noise cancelation going from a subway train to the street, which is exactly what happens here. Leave it on Max or Moderate, and you’re good to go. If you need to talk to someone or hear something, make a quick change over to Transparency using the stem controls.
Phone calls are generally fine, with a fair amount of clarity on both ends. OnePlus claims built-in anti-wind mesh cavities in both buds help ward off the gusts or breezes that can seep into the midst of a conversation. I’m not entirely convinced about that, but at least it’s possible to talk to someone outside in quieter conditions.
The onboard controls are more responsive and accurate this time. By default, a single tap on the bud does nothing, but in the app, you can make it so that it plays/pauses. The others are standard fare: double-tap to skip a track, triple-tap to repeat, and slide up or down on the left or right buds to control volume. Hold on either stem to cycle between ANC and Transparency (the app also lets you add a third option, which is to turn both off).
The app also adds more in the form a dual connection — better known as multipoint in industry terms — which lets you pair and stay connected with two devices at the same time. It’s very convenient if you’re rocking two phones or switching between a phone and a tablet or laptop. Game mode is another that lowers the latency so that audio and video don’t feel out of sync at all. It’s not a bad idea to try the mode out if you feel streaming shows or movies are a little out of sync as well.
Battery life holds up fairly well, hitting about seven hours with ANC turned on (and no hi-res playback) at default volume levels. I find the Buds 3 louder than most wireless earbuds at default levels, so this is great news if you’re worried about extended listening periods. The case gives you an extra three charges and has a fast charge capability, whereas a quick 10-minute charge gives you seven hours of playback. No wireless charging, unfortunately.
OnePlus Buds 3: What’s not good
The lack of wireless charging smacks of cutting corners to reduce the overall cost. OnePlus’ pedigree in blazing fast wired charging speaks for itself, but when it comes at the expense of the convenience of charging wirelessly, it feels like an unnecessary omission. Much cheaper earbuds offer the feature, so it’s not entirely clear why it’s missing here.
Also, with IP55 protection, you can expect some measure of durability, except I wouldn’t recommend doing them for excessive workouts because the glossy finish on the outside makes them a little slippery when warmed up. Add sweat, and I’m not sure how well they’d stay in place, so my experience tells me these earbuds are definitely more for leisure and work situations. Lighter workouts should be fine though.
It’s easy to simply grab hold of either stem to switch between ANC and Transparency, only the actual switch doesn’t always feel seamless. It takes a delayed moment before hearing a ping that signals the change, though you have to go by ear test to know for sure because it’s not like there’s a voice telling you exactly which one. It becomes more confusing when you opt to have both turned off, meaning you must cycle multiple times to get the mode you want. It’s not an uncommon challenge for earbuds manufacturers, but the process here could use some refinement.
OnePlus Buds 3: Competition
OnePlus impresses with the Buds 3, but they’re also up against a tight set of competitors. The Jabra Elite 4 come to mind as earbuds that deliver plenty for what they cost, offering really good sound, noise cancelation, battery life, and app support. The Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 strike a similar balance, especially if you prefer the stem design and want a similar package of features and functions.
If your budget is even tighter, you won’t go wrong with the Earfun Air 2, which not only cut down on upfront costs, but also bring more to the table than you’d expect for budget earbuds.
OnePlus Buds 3: Should you buy them?
You should buy this if…
- You want real value for your money.
- You want very good sound and noise cancelation.
- You want extra customization and personalization.
- You want a comfortable fit.
You shouldn’t buy this if…
- You want something more rugged.
- You want wireless charging.
- You’re willing to spend more.
The Buds 3 aren’t flagship earbuds for OnePlus because the company’s Pro lineup represents the “best” of what they can do. But wearing these doesn’t necessarily feel like there’s a big gap because of the bevy of features and how effective they are when using them. That’s value by any measure, all the more appealing when it doesn’t really matter whose logo is on your Android phone, either.
No OnePlus phone is necessary here. The Buds 3 work the same regardless of the device you’re wielding, and that may be the icing on the cake for a pair of very effective earbuds.
OnePlus Buds 3
The OnePlus Buds 3 offer tremendous value for what they cost by delivering great sound and plenty of options to personalize the earbuds for your own ears.