OnePlus Buds 3 review: more than just a gift to receive with a OnePlus phone

The OnePlus Buds 3 are easy to like with plenty of features, but their overtly bass-heavy sound makes them hard to love.

May 16, 2024 - 01:50
 0  5
OnePlus Buds 3 review: more than just a gift to receive with a OnePlus phone

OnePlus Buds 3: Two-minute review

Like many smartphone companies, OnePlus makes true wireless earbuds to go alongside its smartphones, that it will ship as a pre-order bonus or as a handy extra purchase for die-hard fans of the brand. The OnePlus Buds 3 arrive as another pair of fairly affordable buds in this spirit, but they’re among the better such options.

So are they some of the best budget earbuds around? They're not far off. You’re probably considering the OnePlus Buds 3 if you own one of the best OnePlus phones already, but you’ll be able to enjoy them if you own any other brand of mobile smartphone too; unlike Apple, OnePlus doesn’t lock its tech to pre-existing customers.

At a glance, the OnePlus Buds 3 bear more than a passing resemblance to their predecessors, the OnePlus Buds 2 Pro. And while it’s true, these aren’t exactly wild revisions on the 2023 models, they’re more affordable and have some improvements across the board. 

In some areas, OnePlus may have gone too far, and the sound quality is something of a sore spot. In our Buds 2 Pro review we said bass was “not especially heavy” and the Buds 3 have overcorrected, taking inspiration from the RWE Bagger 288 (which Google tells me is the heaviest vehicle in the world) because it’s heavy.

The bass on the Buds 3 is just too much, no matter how much playing around you do in the equalizer, blowing the treble into the distant corners of the sound mix. You shouldn’t buy these if you like a balanced or neutral sound.

Did I say equalizer? Yes I did, because that’s one of the many cool features packed into the smartphone tie-in app. Other features include spatial audio, ear canal scanning to get a tailor-made sound, the ability to change to different active noise cancellation (ANC) modes and more. For not-really-that-expensive earbuds, the feature range on display is really something.

You’ll have to enjoy these features in small bursts, though, because the OnePlus Buds 3 will only last for 6.5 hours of listening in one go when ANC is turned on. Turning it off boosts that to 10 hours, but that’s still nothing to write home about – thankfully the case is generous with extra charges.

That ANC is pretty good, too, and it’s got to be one of the best I’ve tested in the sub-$100 / £100 / AU$200 price range. There are a range of strength levels and a transparency mode, to let you fully customize how much sound comes through, but at any level the buds are a dab hand at getting rid of annoying unwanted noises.

While they’re not quite fantastic enough to make it into our ranking of the best wireless earbuds, the OnePlus Buds 3 do have a lot going for them. If you receive them as a gift alongside a OnePlus phone, you should count yourself lucky, and they’re well worth considering even if you have to buy them on their own. 

OnePlus Buds 3 review: Price and release date

The OnePlus Buds 3 earbuds in a hand.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Unveiled in January 2024
  • Costs you $99 / £89 / AU$179

The OnePlus Buds 3 were officially unveiled at the end of January 2024, in lieu of the new smartphone the company sometimes unveils at the beginning of the year.

You’ll pay $99 / £89  AU$179 to pick up the buds – in theory, though these are the kind of earbuds that you’re more likely to acquire through pre-order bonuses or as a free gift with a OnePlus phone, rather than as a chosen purchase.

That price shows these as being more affordable (read: lower-end) than 2023’s OnePlus Buds 2 Pro, despite being similar in terms of design and the feature set. Unless you find those dramatically marked down, the OnePlus Buds 3 will be a much more tempting purchase.

OnePlus Buds 3 review: Specs

OnePlus Buds 3 review: Features

A OnePlus Buds 3 bud in the case

(Image credit: Future)
  • 10-hour buds battery, 44-hour with case
  • Absolutely loads of features thanks to app
  • Buds are slow to pair 

The OnePlus Buds 3 earbuds have a middling battery life: 10 hours with ANC turned off, which drops to 6.5 hours when it’s on. That’s not amazing, though some rivals last an even shorter amount of time. The charging case rockets that figure up to 44 hours (with ANC off, 28 with it on) which is a much bigger jump-up than cases often provide, so people on long journeys can rely on this case. 

When setting up the OnePlus Buds 3, I was perturbed to find no tie-in app available on the Google Play Store. Instead, I was prompted (both by the recommended suggestions, and OnePlus’ own website), to install a third-party app called HeyMelody which has a pretty low rating on the Play Store. It seems this is how people without a OnePlus phone control the buds – handsets from the company seemingly have a first-party control app.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the buds worked well without the app, and I only downloaded it to access extra features. You can enjoy music and noise cancellation without HeyMelody, you just can’t control your sound, or access certain extras you’re paying for.

The app lets you play with an equalizer (more on that later) and adjust noise cancellation, with an impressive range of options in terms of strength and efficacy (a Transparency mode cancels some sounds but maintains important ones). It’s actually mildly handy once you’ve set it up, though it’s definitely not required.

The OnePlus Buds 3 buds in the case

(Image credit: Future)

You can also use the app to set up the touch controls: the two buds can have individual commands mapped for one, two or three taps, as well as a long hold or a slide gesture. That’s a lot of potential, though I found that the almost-imperceptible button area meant I frequently missed the correct area when trying to use the touch controls.

The OnePlus Buds 3 are among the better earbuds at this price that I’ve tested when it comes to noise cancellation, using a deft hand to remove annoying background noises. I tested in Max mode, although there are degrees of intensity if you’d rather only strip out a middling amount of sound.

HeyMelody brings two extra features I’d like to flag: first off is Golden Sound, which lets the buds scan your ear canal in order to calibrate your music. The instructions on the test are poorly worded and it took me a few tries to figure out what it was actually asking, but it’s a cool additional feature, even if the results are barely audible.

Then there’s OnePlus 3D Audio, which had a much more palpable effect. This is basically spatial audio, and it really creates a sense of dynamic (though artificial) soundstage, really improving music. It’s only available on certain apps so I’m not going to take it into account for the music quality section later, but luckily the super-niche music app Spotify (you may have heard of it) is one of the compatible apps.

One thing I should note is that the OnePlus Buds 3 had a pretty slow average phone pairing time compared to most rivals I’ve tested. When I put the buds on, they’d take up to ten seconds to connect with my phone, and almost always over five, which is slower than basically every other alternative I’ve tried.

This was also the case when I first set up the earbuds, and my phone took a good while to detect them.

  • Features score: 4/5

OnePlus Buds 3 review: Design

The OnePlus Buds 3 bud in an ear.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Lightweight and barebones case
  • Small buds with touch controls
  • IP55 certification

I’ve got to say, I’m a big fan of the look of the OnePlus Buds 3.

The carry case is a tiny lightweight pebble, measuring just 5.9 x 5 x 2.6 cm and weighing 40.8g – that’s the kind of case you can easily lose in your bag or pocket, it’s more svelte than the majority of its competitors. It has naught but the essentials – space for the earbuds, and a USB-C charging port.

I did find that the smooth material of the buds made them a tad hard to remove from the case though – every removal required roughly three slips before a successful attempt.

The case is made from plastic, hence its lightness, though it does feel like it’d snap if you clenched it in your fist too hard. Our smartest gadget-reviewing minds have a suggestion: don’t do that.

Like their carry case, the buds themselves are incredibly lightweight, with their 4.8g barely registering on scales (or your ear). As wireless earbuds go, they’re pretty barebones: no OnePlus branding, no obvious sensor or buttons, just a tip and a stem.

There is, in fact, a sensor on each earbud, but it’s denoted just by a slightly matted area on the stem, so you’d be forgiven for missing it. It’s so subtle that it avoids detection not just by your eyes, but by your fingertips too – but I've already discussed that above.

The buds have IP55 certification, which means they’ll survive splashes or bursts of water, but shouldn’t be submerged in liquid.

  • Design score: 4/5

OnePlus Buds 3 review: Sound quality

  • Bass-heavy sound
  • Treble is lacking
  • Equalizer lets you tweak sound to an extent

The OnePlus Buds 3 bud on a log.

(Image credit: Future)

You can’t exactly expect precision-tuned sound on earbuds that cost this little, and you won’t get that on the OnePlus Buds 3. That said, they’re nothing to turn your nose up at either for this money.

These earbuds will appeal to people who like their bass-heavy sound, because that’s exactly what they provide. Whatever kind of music I tested, from pop and house to acoustic singer-songwriter tracks, the lower range of instruments and notes was always a lot more prevalent.

Some people might like that, but it was a little overbearing in plenty of songs – you don’t listen to rock to only hear the guitar’s lower E string, after all. Treble is all but blown out, meaning vocal lines lose their clean sparkle and harmonies and countermelodies were often harder to hear than I’d like.

The OnePlus Buds 3 earbud in a hand.

(Image credit: Future)

The mids within my reference music tracks often stood up to the brutal barrages from the bass, but treble was almost always less prominent than I’d like. Saying that, sometimes when it was palpable, peaking made me wish it was buried even further…

The in-app equalizer lets you tweak your sound to a certain extent, with a few presets, a customization option and also a bass boost option, but honestly I found all of my tweaking was for naught. The equalizer is very light touch, and you might not notice changes unless you’re really (really) listening for them.

  • Sound quality: 3/5

OnePlus Buds 3 review: Value

The OnePlus Buds 3 charging case on a log.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Great value if received as gift
  • Decent for the price, but a shade off fantastic

As mentioned before, it’s hard to envision someone buying the OnePlus Buds 3 full-price, given that they’re likely designed to be bundled with a new OnePlus phone.

If that’s how you’re acquiring these buds, they’re a great little gift; they’re solid all-around wearables that’ll save you from having to buy a separate pair to use with your brand new shiny smartphone.

If you’re paying full-price, the value proposition is different. The OnePlus Buds 3 are fine for their price (and you’re certainly getting some flagship fit and spatial audio features), but there are other sub-$100/£100/AU$100 rivals that’ll give you more sonic bang for your buck.

  • Value: 3.5/5

Should I buy the OnePlus Buds 3?

Buy it if…

Don’t buy it if…

OnePlus Buds 3 review: Also consider

How I tested the OnePlus Buds 3

The rear of the OnePlus Buds 3 case

(Image credit: Future)
  • Tested for 10 days
  • Tested at home, in the office and on walks

The OnePlus Buds 3 were tested over the course of the week, with the review writing period rounding the testing period out by a few extra days. The main device I paired with was a Xiaomi Mi Note 10 smartphone, but I also tested it alongside a Windows laptop and an iPad. I did not test it with a OnePlus phone.

I listened to a range of music genres in different places including my office, my home and on various walks around my neighborhood. I mostly tied with the strongest noise cancellation mode and the EQ set to the default setting.

I've been testing gadgets for TechRadar for over five years, and in that time I've reviewed many OnePlus phones and headphones like this.

  • First reviewed in May 2024

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