OnePlus Buds 3 review: Two steps forward, one step back

For $139, you have a lot of earbud options, but few look as nice as this year’s OnePlus Buds 3. The refreshing blue color, aptly named, ‘Splendid Blue’, might even be my favorite-looking pair of earbuds since the Nothing about 2s. Combine that with excellent sound, practical features and solid noise cancellation, and you have a solid set of earbuds.

There are some drawbacks, but overall, I’m impressed.

In terms of sound quality, I was never disappointed by the OnePlus Buds 3. We’ve come a long way from the original OnePlus Buds in 2020, and these mid-range earphones pack a ton of sound for their mid-level price. Music is balanced and well reproduced, even if the soundstage is flatter than the expensive OnePlus Buds Pro 2. Regardless, I won’t complain about the no-nonsense sound delivered by the Buds 3.

Nice trade-offs

This is also one of the few times I noticed a difference before and after tuning the earbuds to my specific ears. After the tuning, I was more impressed, and I found podcasts in particular, sound cleaner.

“At $139, they’re not the cheapest buds around, but the no-nonsense design makes them easy to use and approachable.”

You can set up your own tail in the Hi Melody app (Android/iOS) with most devices, but on OnePlus phones, you need to dive into the Bluetooth settings. After using the default tuning for most of my testing to get a baseline, I eventually switched it to the ‘Serenade’ setting since I found it a bit softer and better for podcasts. There is also a game mode that lowers the latency for gaming.

On that note, I don’t do much mobile gaming, but I did a little video editing on my Mac with the earbuds and was surprised by how little latency there was between the timeline and what I heard. Years ago, I stopped editing with anything but AirPods since the latency made specific audio edits impossible. That seems to have changed, and the Bluetooth 5.3 spec has indeed reduced audio delay.

Another vital feature that these earbuds offer is Active Noise-Cancelling (ANC). Generally, I keep them on ‘Maximum’ to block out most sound, but during my testing, I also tried the ‘Smart’ noise-cancelling. It applies maximum ANC in loud environments and minimal in quiet places. I found this meant it kept ‘minimum’ enabled at home, meaning I could hear my fingers typing on the keyboard more than I’d prefer. That is, just being on maximum all the time solves the problem. Overall, the ANC is pretty great, but don’t expect any ultra-smart features.

When it comes to tweaking and controlling the OnePlus buds, the company is hit and miss. The Hi Melody app you get on iOS and most Android phones works great, and I have no complaints beyond its odd name, which doesn’t necessarily mean it works with OnePlus products. Anyway, with OnePlus phones, you access all the controls in the Settings app, but they’re buried weirdly deep. For example, to adjust the EQ on the OnePlus 12, you need to swipe down to open the quick toggles above your notifications. Then, touch and hold the Bluetooth option to open Bluetooth settings. From there, hit the little ‘I’ icon and choose the button called ‘Earbud Functions’, and you can finally control the earbuds. On all other phones, you simply open an app.

Killer looks

My favorite thing is the blue shade OnePlus chose for the buds. It’s refreshing and subtle while still featuring a beautiful flash in your ear with the glossy shell. That said, because they’re glossy, they attract a lot of fingerprints. The case is the same color but matte, which makes it look great if less flashy. I also found that my nails scratched the inside of the case a bit, which isn’t a huge deal, but it does illustrate that OnePlus may have cut corners on plastic quality.

The buds fall apart when you start to interact with the touch controls. They work well for touch controllers, but like similar earbuds, they don’t always work on the first try, and often I accidentally pause my audio when adjusting them. I assume OnePlus cut the squeeze stems to save money, but they are much better than touch controls.

OnePlus says the buds and the case will last 44 hours with ANC off. With it on, you get closer to six hours of listening time on the buds, and with the case, you’re looking at closer to 28 hours of playback, which is still pretty great. And in my tests, I never ran them dry since I always found several times to charge them before they died, and they last that long between charges.

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