Nokia Clarity Earbuds+ review: True wireless headphones with ENC and ANC at an attractive price
The Nokia Clarity Earbuds+ feature large 13 mm drivers and an ANC mode. Besides active noise cancellation, HMD Global's wireless in-ears are also supposed to reduce distracting background noise during phone calls via environmental noise cancellation (ENC) via two of the integrated microphones that pick up background noise.
The Clarity Earbuds+ has been available since the beginning of this year exclusively at Amazon for an RRP of €90 (~$95). Other earbuds available at a similar price include the OnePlus Buds Z2 (about €80/~$84) or the somewhat more favorable Honor Earbuds 2 Lite (about €65/~$68).
|Speakers||13 mm driver, dynamic|
|Audio codecs||SBC, AAC|
|Wireless charging||Not supported|
|Weight (per earphone)||4.5 g (~0.16 oz)|
|Weight (charging case)||42 g (~1.5 oz)|
|Microphones||3 microphones per earphone|
|Scope of delivery||Headphones, charging case, silicone ear pads (S, M, L), documentation, safety and warranty card, USB charging cable (type C)|
|Price (MSRP)||90 Euros (~$95)|
Workmanship & Ergonomics: Nokia TWS with a beautiful case
The Clarity Earbuds+ and their charging tray are made of plastic — the latter is covered with a rubberized texture. This texture gives the case a pleasant look as well as a grippy feel. It also prevents fingerprints from becoming a problem. There are two color options to choose from - we received the black version as a test sample.
Together with the headphones, the charging case only weighs about 42 g (~1.5 oz). A magnet closes the lid securely, and the headphones themselves are also magnetically locked to the charging contacts. On the back is a USB-C port that supplies the Nokia TWS with power.
The build quality is good overall, and we do not see much reason for criticism. Nokia includes three different ear canal attachments in the scope of delivery, so there should be a suitable size for every user. We like the wearing comfort; the Clarity Earbuds+ stay securely in the ear canal even during fast head movements.
The in-ear headphones weigh 4.5 grams (~0.16 oz) each and are thus pleasantly light. The Clarity Earbuds+ are sweat- and splash-proof according to IPX4, so a walk in the rain or sweat is no problem.
Features & Operation - Nokia TWS with ANC
Thanks to Bluetooth 5.2 compatibility, users can easily switch between the Nokia TWS and other headphones since they are individually connected to the smartphone. The Clarity Earbuds+ also offer active noise cancellation and a transparency mode, as we have already seen from the Noise cancelling earbuds among others. In this mode, both external microphones are used to transmit ambient noise directly into the ear when needed.
The Nokia headphones are quite simple to use. No app is needed to answer calls or change the listening profiles. Instead, the touch-sensitive outer sides of the headphone stems can be used. The fingers have to stay on the in-ears for about 2 to 3 seconds to switch modes. The various touch and tap gestures are accompanied by corresponding acoustic feedback, which facilitates the operation, since HMD-Global still does not offer a companion app.
HMD Global is a bit coy about the features. We could not find out which audio codecs the Clarity Earbuds+ support during the review period. The somewhat cheaper Clarity Earbuds have the SBC and AAC standard, so we assume this codec selection for the Plus model as well. At least, no other codec is offered to us for selection in the test. In connection with the ENC feature, Nokia also advertises the Qualcomm cVc technology in its inexpensive TWS, so the Clarity Earbuds+ should also use it for ambient noise suppression.
A wear detection that automatically stops music or movie playback when the headphones are taken out of the ear is not present in Nokia's TWS - at least it did not work in the test. Why this feature was omitted in this price range is not understandable.
Voice quality - Nokia Clarity Earbuds+ with ENC
The Nokia Clarity Earbuds+ feature dual-mic ENC technology that uses algorithms to minimize noise, but only during phone calls. ENC helps suppress ambient noise and ensures that the voice can be heard more clearly by the person on the other end of the call. Unlike ANC, users cannot perceive ENC, but the conversation partner can hear voices more clearly. In everyday life, this also works very well. Our voice seems natural and sufficiently loud for the other party. Street noise and birds chirping cannot be perceived by our conversation partners. Even moderate wind does not lead to audible noise.
When talking on the phone, the Nokia TWS can reproduce our counterpart very loudly, voices are well understandable, but slightly distorted. Active noise cancellation is not active during phone calls, so noise is only passively shielded.
Sound quality - Clarity Earbuds+ good sound, but little bass
With 13 mm, the dynamic drivers of the Clarity Earbuds+ are comparatively large for true wireless headphones, which can provide better bass reproduction on the one hand, but also makes the drivers "slower" due to the higher mass. It is all the more surprising that especially low frequencies are somewhat lacking in the sound of Nokia's TWS. Basses are not very present and sometimes barely audible. We definitely lack "pressure" here. Even with bass-heavy music titles, low frequencies are hardly noticeable.
The sound output is nevertheless clear, trebles and the mids are well differentiated. We also never exhausted the maximum volume and thus still had some room for improvement. Voices are emphasized too much for our taste, so vocals are not perfectly embedded in the instrumental music. However, since the RRP of the Clarity Earbuds+ is below the 100 Euros (~$105) mark and they offer ANC, the sound quality is okay.
Thanks to the noise-canceling technology, monotonous noise that is not too loud is shielded well. Especially lower frequencies, like the rolling noise of car tires, are effectively filtered out. With higher tones, like other TWS with ANC, the Clarity Earbuds+ also have problems. It should also not be too windy with Nokia's in-ears, because wind noise is perceptible despite active noise suppression. The ANC-typical background noise is low in Nokia's headphones.
The so-called Ambient Mode can be turned on or off with a long tap on the earpiece, similar to ANC - three confirmation tones are heard. Ambient noise is thus well transmitted to the user and allows good communication with the outside world, but is also accompanied by noise.
Besides playing music, we also used the True Wireless In-Ears for playing video content. The Clarity Earbuds+ do not exhibit a disturbing asynchrony of sound and picture. Nokia does not provide information about the latency, but there is a dedicated low latency mode for games. We used a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 for playing video content including the AAC codec.
Battery life - Nokia headphones could last longer
According to the manufacturer, the wireless headphones, together with the charging case, should enable music playback of up to 20 hours with activated noise cancellation. According to Nokia, 4.5 hours are possible without the case's power supply, although we did not reach this runtime in ANC mode. In everyday use, the Clarity Earbuds+ last more like 3 to 3.5 hours with endless music playback at about 70 percent of the maximum volume. Since the in-ears have only 38 mAh each battery, the somewhat low staying power is explainable. True wireless headphones without ANC, like OnePlus Nord Buds, have a 41 mAh battery. The energy storage of the Honor Earbuds 2 Lite, including activated noise cancellation, for example, can fall back on a significantly higher capacity of 55 mAh.
The charging case as well as the Nokia headphones themselves signal the battery's charge level with LEDs. Below 10 percent, the LEDs start to blink. Why the charging state is not displayed more closely on the charging case with two built-in LEDs probably remains a secret from HMD Global. The percentage charging status of the headphones can at least be read out in the Android Bluetooth menu. Wireless charging is not supported.
Review conclusion on the Nokia Clarity Earbuds+
The Clarity Earbuds+ do a lot right, but also some things wrong. The nice charging case, good voice quality and solid sound qualities as well as the well-functioning active noise cancellation are the strengths of Nokia's TWS. The battery runtimes are not overly long, but they are certainly sufficient for most everyday situations.
Since Nokia has so many audio products in its portfolio, its own application in the PlayStore or AppStore is overdue.
Considering an MSRP of 90 Euros (~$95), the True Wireless headphones lack features like a wear detection or wireless charging, though. The status display of the charging case is also lacking. The in-house Noise cancelling earbuds solved this better. Small compromises also have to be made in terms of sound, which is especially true when listening to bass-rich music.
Our overall impression of the Clarity Earbuds+ would be much more positive with its own audio app including an equalizer, since the weaknesses would be less noticeable. Furthermore, the manufacturer could possibly add missing features, such as wearer recognition, via firmware updates and make the gestures for the sensor surfaces configurable.