OnePlus Buds Z Steven Harrington Edition Review: An extremely original device

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The OnePlus Buds Z headset is a fairly typical device for its segment, with a minimum of necessary functions without “frills” in the form of active noise cancellation, wireless charging or ultra-high level of autonomy. Of the “advanced” options, it has, perhaps, only IP55 dust and moisture protection and support for Google Fast Pair. Well, and the Bass Boost technology, which makes the sound of headphones interesting, but far from the most universal – we will talk about this in more detail. Among the pluses is also a well-established manufacturer and far from the highest cost. Therefore, almost immediately after the release, the Buds Z headset began to actively gain popularity.

However, there are a lot of offers on the TWS headset market, to put it mildly – it is very difficult to stand out somehow, especially when it comes to the budget segment. And here OnePlus made a wonderful “knight’s move”, inviting artist and designer from Los Angeles Stephen Harrington to collaborate. This character is very well-known in his midst, he is called “the leader of the modern California psychedelic-pop aesthetics”, whatever that means. We would call Stephen’s style of illustrations simply “cartoonish.” He also has multimedia projects, installations from plaster and stone, but this is not about that now.

The design of OnePlus Buds Z Steven Harrington Edition turned out to be so unusual and interesting that it became one of the main features of the device, which is almost more important than many technical characteristics. Surely there will be users who will purchase headphones solely for their appearance, and all their other advantages will be perceived as a pleasant addition. And, frankly, such buyers are quite understandable: there are a lot of monochromatic headphones on the market, but there are very few with really interesting prints.

OnePlus Buds Z comes in a white box with a picture of the device printed on it. The packaging is designed in a combination of turquoise and cornflower blue – like all other parts of the headset, including the ear pads.

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The color scheme inside the box is also observed, the case is held by a cradle made of dense foam material, on the top of which a black and white print is applied. Everything looks very peculiar, but at the same time stylish.

The kit includes a headset in a case for charging and carrying, replaceable silicone tips, documentation and a USB – USB Type C cable 25 cm long. Nothing super scary, of course, but against the background of the manufacturer’s very reverent attitude to the design of other parts, such inconsistencies are especially striking.

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Silicone nozzles are made of quite high quality and have a standard shape – it will not be difficult to find a replacement for them. Another question is that you hardly want to do this because of the appearance: the cores of the ear cushions are painted in the same two colors that are used in the design of all parts of the headset. In this case, each in his own.

Optional accessories

Along with the headset, OnePlus released a series of accessories, a couple of which fell into our hands: a protective case with a carabiner for attaching to clothes or a backpack, and a silicone “lanyard” for headphones.

The case is made of soft silicone with a soft touch coating and is very pleasant to the touch. A small piece of double-sided tape is provided for attaching to the lid of the case.

Using a case with a Steven Harrington Edition is not an idea, because the design for which everything was started is hidden. But together with monochromatic models, it will look great. On the back there is a cutout for the USB-C port and a tab for pressing a single button. The carabiner will allow you to hook the case to a loop on a backpack or a belt loop of jeans, for example.

The cover does not interfere with the opening of the case, everything works as it should. Dimensions, of course, increase slightly, but not so much that it becomes a problem.

The silicone strap allows you to additionally secure the headphones around the neck if the user is afraid of losing them. It looks, of course, strange … But in training or jogging, for example, it comes in handy. The fit on the headphones is secure, we’ll talk about that later, but additional insurance allows you to think less about the headphones and more about the exercise you are doing.

Putting on the lace is simple and easy – just insert the “legs” of the headphones into the special holes, where they are held by friction. The covering of the lace itself, by the way, provides excellent grip on the skin of the neck and clothes – it stays in place even during active movement.

Design and construction

As mentioned above, the design of the device is almost its main feature. The background is made in two colors: turquoise and cornflower blue, black and white drawings are applied on top.

Due to its rounded shapes and small size, the case fits in a pocket, but how comfortable it will be to carry it there already depends on the size of this very pocket.

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On top of the cover, in addition to the drawings, the name of the manufacturer is applied. The surface of the case is matte and very pleasant to the touch; it is not at all inclined to the appearance of fingerprints.

Brief information about the device, serial number, as well as logos of certification systems are placed on the bottom of the case.

The side surfaces would hardly have been a reason to be closely examined if it were not for the drawings. But with them it is quite interesting, the author’s style is still very original.

There is a recess on the front panel for easy opening of the lid, under it there is an LED indicator of the charging level and activation of pairing mode.

On the back panel we see a USB Type C port for charging and a button, a short press of which turns on the charge indicator, and a long press activates the pairing mode.

In the closed position, the lid is securely held by a magnetic fastener. There is no closer, but there is an open fixation, which is convenient.

The headphones are securely fixed in their places with magnets, but removing them is as easy as shelling pears – the easiest way to do this is by pulling the rounded part of the case towards you. Just not up, but on yourself – then everything will work out for sure.

The slots for the left and right headphones are signed, inside them you can see the contacts for charging. The location makes them easy to reach if cleaning becomes necessary.

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The headphones are painted in different colors, while some of the elements of one are painted in the main color of the other.

It looks, of course, very unusual – it can hardly be worn with a business suit. But lovers of a bright appearance will clearly be delighted.

The colors are different, and the black-and-white drawings are completely the same. On the inside of the “legs” are marked the designations of the right and left headphones.

On the ends of the “sticks” you can see the holes of the microphones intended for voice communication. The sound guide exits the case at an angle – like most modern fully wireless headphones.

When viewed from above, it is clearly noticeable that the shape of the inner part of the case is tear-shaped and is designed to provide good support on the auricle bowl.

At the top, on the rounded ledge, holes are visible, behind which the wearing sensors are located. The place and method of placement are not the most common, everything works correctly.

The “sticks” of the headphones are not very long – about 23 mm; they will not cling to loose hair and high collars.

On the inside of the rounded part of the case, you can see the charging contacts. It would be great if the designer made them part of the composition, but it never came to that – maybe next time.

The round pads on the outside of the case are not only highlighted in a different color, but are also touch-sensitive – we’ll talk about that later.

Holes are visible under the panels. If the headphones had an active noise canceling system, we would assume that behind them are the microphones responsible for its operation. In this case, it is not very clear – perhaps, voice communication is provided by more than one pair of microphones, although the manufacturer does not announce this in any way.

The silicone tips are securely held by a relatively large projection on the sound guide spout. At the same time, it is not difficult to remove them and install them in place.

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There is another hole on the inside of the case – here it is clearly compensatory and serves to relieve excess pressure during the speaker’s operation. The hole of the sound guide is covered with a mesh, which is slightly recessed inside – it will be difficult to clean it, but it is quite possible.

Connection

The headset supports Google Fast Pair technology, so as soon as you open the lid of the case, a pop-up window appears on the screen of Android devices with a proposal to establish a connection. All that remains is to accept it – and you’re done, the headset is plugged in. In iOS, all this magic, of course, does not work – you have to use the “classic” methods.

When using OnePlus smartphones, a couple of very important headphone settings can be changed directly on the Bluetooth settings page. For the rest, such an opportunity was not provided, however, the issue is solved by installing third-party software. The HeyMelody app is downloaded from Google Play and allows you to fully control your headset.

Multipoint OnePlus Buds Z does not support, which was checked by an attempt to simultaneously connect to a smartphone and a PC running Windows 10. In parallel, using the Bluetooth Tweaker utility, a complete list of supported codecs and their modes was obtained.

There are only two codecs – the basic SBC, plus a slightly more advanced AAC – for everyday use, their capabilities are abundant. Any of the headphones can be listened to in mono mode, switching is fast and seamless – the playing track is not interrupted for a second. There is a delay in audio when watching a video, but it is rare. But in games, “out of sync” is felt and noticeably interferes. The problem is easily solved – it is enough just to forcibly switch to the SBC codec, it is definitely suitable for games.

Management and software

As mentioned above, the headset is controlled using touch zones. At the same time, only one type of pressing is supported – double. Single, long, triple touches will have no effect. It is clear about single ones – their use increases the risk of accidental triggering. But what the long ones were guilty of, for example, is not very clear. But there is a correctly working wearing sensor, when you take out any of the headphones, the music is paused.

By default, a double tap on both touch buttons starts the next track. Most users will clearly not be satisfied with this – at least we need to separate the functions of the right and left headphones. To do this, we need either a OnePlus smartphone or the HeyMelody program already mentioned above.

After installation, she offers to connect the device, finds it herself and demonstrates the charging levels of the case and each of the headphones. Next, there is an automatic check for firmware updates – if they are, a notification appears. During the test, the installation took about 4 minutes, but it all depends on the size of the package and the speed of the Internet connection.

The second and last item in the menu on the main page of the application is control settings. You can link play and pause, flip through tracks or call the voice assistant to double tapes on each of the headphones. During testing, we found it most convenient to “hang” on the right earpiece the ability to start the next track, and on the left one – call an assistant, with which you can change the volume and do a lot of other interesting things. Receiving a phone call and ending it, as you might guess, are also performed by double tapping.

Exploitation

The fit is surprisingly comfortable and secure. They do not cause fatigue even after a couple of hours of wearing, and they do not fall out during twisting on an incline bench or jumping rope. Although here, of course, everything is purely individual and depends on the structure of the user’s auricle – we can share only subjective experience. But what is objective is the presence of protection against dust and moisture IP55 – you can practice in the gym without fear of sweat drops, and even run in the rain … So the headphones are perfect for sports.

It is impossible not to mention the silicone cord, which we talked about a little higher – during various activities it comes in handy, allowing you to completely relax and not be afraid of losing your headphones. There is no active “noise reduction”, passive sound insulation directly depends on the correct selection of silicone tips – we traditionally urge readers to experiment more actively with them, it’s worth it.

The quality of the microphones is confidently average: you can talk, the interlocutors especially complain about anything, do not ask again and are generally satisfied with the quality of the connection. But this is in a more or less quiet environment – from home to office, let’s say. But somewhere in a cafe full of visitors or near a busy road, you will have to raise your voice – it will be uncomfortable to talk for a long time.

Autonomy and charging

The manufacturer promises up to 5 hours of headphone operation on a single battery charge. But here it all depends on the operating conditions, of course. A safe sound pressure level when listening to music with headphones is 75 dB, but in practice most listeners prefer a level in the region of 90-100 dB. We broadcast white noise into the headphones, fixing the SPL level in the region of 95 dB, immediately after the start of playback, we start recording the signal from the measuring stand – by the length of the resulting track, it is easy to understand how long each of the headphones worked.

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The headphones are discharged unevenly – the left one works a little longer than the right one. Apparently, the latter is used as a “master” when connecting, and therefore more actively consumes the charge. A very small number of listeners use headphones in mono mode, most often turning off one of them is a reason to put both in the charging case. Therefore, when determining the average autonomy, we will be guided by the earpiece that has worked less.

Conclusion

The OnePlus Buds Z headset turned out to be an extremely original device. There are many surprises, some of them are pleasant, and some are not very good. Limited control options and the need to use third-party configuration software are a drawback. But water resistance and a good fit are a clear plus. The sound, of course, is not for everybody – but just here there is no need to worry, OnePlus Bass Boost will definitely find its fans. There are no “advanced” functions here – just a solid headset for not the most money. Well, Steven Harrington Edition can fall in love with just one design. As mentioned in the introduction, we can quite understand the users who will choose OnePlus headphones just because of it.

Tech Week