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Home / Reviews / Audio / Headphones / CMF by Nothing Buds review: orange is the new bargain

CMF by Nothing Buds review: orange is the new bargain

An exceptional all-rounder on a budget... as long as you like orange

CMF Buds and case featured

Stuff Verdict

The CMF by Nothing Buds are a surprising all-round package that sounds good, noise cancel above their level, and stand out in design. All that for less than £50 – they’re a no-brainer, really.

Pros

  • ANC better than the price
  • Comfy and secure fit
  • Decent overall sound
  • Offers dual connectivity

Cons

  • Bass gets a little muddy
  • Lacks high notes somewhat
  • Mic quality isn’t the best

Introduction

New kid on the block Nothing was already offering fresh designs on the tech you know and love. Now for the real bargain hunters, the company launched sub-brand CMF, catering for properly budget devices. This line-up take the best bits from the firm’s top offerings and dilutes them down to hit a price point that won’t make your eyes water. The CMF Buds are an even more watered-down take on the Buds Pro true wireless earphones, being even cheaper, yet somehow almost as good.

The result is a surprising set of in-ear buds that are a great all-rounder, for less than $50/£50. They put a new spin on Nothing’s stand-out styling with bright orange colouring, and pack must-have features like active noise cancelling. Not too shabby, eh?

But how do they fare out in the real world? After a few weeks of listening, I’m convinced these new buds are a no-brainer, and are worth more than you’ll actually pay for them.

How we test headphones

Every pair of earphones and headphones reviewed on Stuff is used for a minimum of a week’s worth of daily listening. We use a playlist of test tracks made up of multiple genres to assess sound, and use our years of experience to compare to other models. Manufacturers have no visibility on reviews before they appear online, and we never accept payment to feature products.

Find out more about how we test and rate products.

Design & build: snug in your lug

As a sub-brand, CMF is sticking true to Nothing’s core belief of stand-out design. With Nothing, the shtick is transparent gadgets; with CMF it’s bright and bold colours. For the CMF Buds, we’re talking bright orange. Wireless buds can often look a bit samey, so I’m pleased to see CMF’s latest offer something a little different.

That said, they keep a familiar shape, with the outer stem extending to around the bottom of your ear (or my ear, at least) to house touch controls – more on that later. These buds are shaped to fit in your lugs pretty snugly, both comfortable and secure. I’d be quite happy to wear these while working out, without fear of them falling out. This is thanks to different sized rubber ear tips, which come included in the box. I found the medium size they came with worked best, but there’s a smaller and larger option depending on your ears.

If you’re wearing wireless buds out in the rain or while you’re getting sweaty, IPX2 water resistance is probably the bare minimum you need to keep yourself covered. Thankfully, the CMF Buds offer IP54 water resistance, so they’re more than protected against rain, sweat, or accidental toilet drops. Just try not to keep them submerged too long, and make sure they’re dry before juicing them up. This level of water protection is impressive, especially at this price. Similar budget buds, such as the Samsung Galaxy Buds FE, also offer water resistance – but at a lower level (IPX2) and for more money ($99/£99).

If orange doesn’t quite tickle your fancy, there are Dark Grey and Light Grey offerings (which are pretty close to black and white). You’ll get the charging case in a matching colour, though the silver lanyard loop is always silver.

This is a nice inclusion, as it twists round. I find myself fidgeting with this while it’s in my pocket. The lanyard strap comes included, which is also a matching colour. As you’d expect, it fits easily into your pocket – though it might be more of a squeeze in the little money pocket nobody ever uses. The case is a little larger than an AirPods Pro case, but not massive.

Features & battery: more than you bargained for


As I mentioned above, the CMF Buds are controlled by touch-sensitive stems. The touch area sits at the top of the stem, just on the back of the bud. They’re not too sensitive, though you do need to make sure your finger’s poking the right spot. Out of the box, there’s the usual single tap to control playback, and a tap and hold to switch ANC modes on or off. Double tapping skips forward, and triple tapping goes back, But double tapping also answers/hangs up a call, while triple tapping can also reject a call. These can get a little confusing, but fortunately you can toggle them in the Nothing X companion app – more on this later.

CMF by Nothing has packed in all the features you’d expect, even for such a cheap price. The CMF Buds get in-ear detection, which automatically pauses playback when you remove a bud. There’s a find my earbuds function that plays sounds remotely in case you misplace them. Bluetooth connectivity is top-notch, allowing for dual connectivity. If you’ve got an Android smartphone, you can use Fast Pair, or otherwise just pair them normally.

On board, there are four mics that get used during calls (and for ANC). They work, and you can hear a voice clearly, but the sound isn’t the best quality. They also start to suffer if you’re outside in the wind, even though there’s a feature that’s meant to combat this.

According to the brand, the CMF Buds are good for just over five hours with ANC enabled, or eight with it switched off. I found that a little ambitious, and the buds would often die an hour or two sooner. That’s still on par with many budget earphones, though. The case can supply three full charges, which gives you around 35 hours of battery total. That should get you through a solid few days with a few recharges. As you might expect, you don’t get wireless charging on the case, so it’s USB-C top-ups only. The buds slot into the case with magnetic attachments to juice back up.

App interface: styled out

The CMF Buds use the same Nothing X companion app as Nothing’s Ear 2 buds and the CMF Buds Pro. The app is clearly laid out and fairly comprehensive, and you can get started without needing an account. You’ll need to give it access to Bluetooth, but it doesn’t ask for anything else. It’s completely styled out in the Nothing design, with the signature dot font, and same glyphs and bright colours throughout. Paying such close attention to the design of the companion app is a nice touch.

Nothing’s app handles over-the-air updates, includes a few welcome accessibility options like adjusting the left/right sound balance, and lets you manage the dual Bluetooth connectivity. Battery percentages are easily visible on the homepage, and the handy Android homescreen widget puts toggles for ANC modes and disabling the touch controls in easy reach.

I was happy to see an equaliser option in the Settings menu – it’s a nice touch on a budget device. There are a bunch of handy presets, and you can fully customise the EQ. By default, you’ll find the Ultra Bass turned on by default. It cranks up the bass a little. Of course, you can switch this off. If you’re toggling the EQ, you might want to turn up the high-end to accomodate for the buds’ sound quality, which we’ll touch on now.

Sound quality and noise cancelling: quiet riot

CMF by Nothing has used custom 12.4mm bio-fiber drivers, with audio tuned by Dirac. There’s definitely an emphasis on the low-end here, with copper coils inside the buds to emphasise bass. The hefty low end dominates the mix, even in places it shouldn’t, and muddies whatever you’re listening to. You can switch Ultra Bass off, but then the low end becomes somewhat lacklustre. It’s a bit of a catch-22 situation.

Voices on podcasts or videos were more boomy than they needed to be, and electronic or rock tracks were overwhelmed by the low-end. With the feature on, it makes the sound somewhat muffled and muddy, distorting the track you’re playing. There’s still a decent amount of mid-range clarity, but it starts to struggle on the high-end. Particularly high notes are just flattened or skipped out entirely, and any sort of high-range vocals sound tinny.

Now that’s some criticism, but let’s not forget the price here. If the CMF Buds were pricier, then this would be a sore point. But for less than $50/£50, the audio is pretty impressive. You’re unlikely to find buds at this price that sound better, and you will have to accept the less-than-perfect audio. As I mentioned, you can use the custom EQ to try and correct elements of the sound.

I was very impressed with the active noise cancellation, which is a lot better than the CMF Buds’ price would suggest. The four mics and ANC algorithms that Nothing cooked up mean that these buds excel here. You don’t notice the weird ear popping effect, and it cancels out high-end and low-end sounds alike. It cancelled out the background noise in a cafe, the hum on a train, and even me banging on my desk. That’s something other affordable noise cancelling earbuds usually struggle with.

CMF by Nothing Buds verdict

CMF Buds in hand

If you’re looking for a super affordable set of wireless earbuds, the CMF Buds should be high on your list. They’re comfy, have a companion app that brings a decent level of sound customisation, sound pretty decent, and excel in noise cancellation. The bass-heavy audio won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but the EQ settings, durablitiy, and design are factors that outweight this. They’re not too bad at battery life, either.

To sum it up, they’re great all-rounders. And if you’re looking to save money while shopping for buds, this option is a no-brainer.

Stuff Says…

Score: 4/5

The CMF by Nothing Buds are a surprising all-round package that sounds good, noise cancel above their level, and stand out in design. All that for less than £50 – they’re a no-brainer, really.

Pros

ANC better than the price

Comfy and secure fit

Decent overall sound

Offers dual connectivity

Cons

Bass gets a little muddy

Lacks high notes somewhat

Mic quality isn’t the best

CMF Buds technical specifications

Drivers12.4mm
ANCYes
Bluetooth versionBluetooth 5.3
Codecs supportedSBC, AAC
DurabilityIP54
Battery life5.6hrs/8hrs (buds, ANC on/off), 24hrs/35.5hrs (case, ANC on/off)
Dimensions32.6 x 20.4 x 24.4mm, 4.6g (buds)
54.7 x 54.7 x 22.9mm, 43.7g (case)
Profile image of Connor Jewiss Connor Jewiss

About

Connor is a writer for Stuff, working across the magazine and the Stuff.tv website. He has been writing for around seven years now, with writing across the web and in print too. Connor has experience on most major platforms, though does hold a place in his heart for macOS, iOS/iPadOS, electric vehicles, and smartphone tech. Just like everyone else around here, he’s a fan of gadgets of all sorts! Aside from writing, Connor is involved in the startup scene. This exciting involvement puts him at the front of new and exciting tech, always on the lookout for innovating products.

Areas of expertise

Mobile, macOS, EVs, smart home

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