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HUAWEI FreeBuds Pro review: great sound, even better noise cancelation

By Anton D. Nagy October 7, 2020, 5:15 am
HUAWEI FreeBuds Pro review

We’ve been using the HUAWEI FreeBuds Pro for close to one month.

When I first heard about the features, and later experienced first-hand the capabilities of the HUAWEI FreeBuds 3, I knew it was going to be something special. The earbuds were beautiful, sounded good, and they featured active noise cancellation. For those new to these terms, there are three types of noise-canceling earbuds out there: 1. active (which use smart algorithms to cancel out outside noise), 2. passive (those which you insert deep inside your ear canal, and physically block out some of the noise), and 3. a combination of number 1 and 2 above.

HUAWEI FreeBuds Pro review

When Apple announced the AirPods Pro, which are in-ear noise-canceling earbuds (number 3 above), I had a feeling that HUAWEI will not just sit back and let this pass, more so that we were coming up on the one year mark since the FreeBuds 3 were introduced.

Enter the FreeBuds Pro, HUAWEI’s answer to the AirPods Pro, and the follow-up to the successful FreeBuds 3. They’re not only completely redesigned, but are much smarter, and, to give you a hint of the conclusion of this review, these should definitely be on your shortlist of noise-canceling earbuds for the holidays. This is our HUAWEI FreeBuds 3 review, and we’re going to take a look at every aspect so that you can know exactly what to expect when you purchase these bad boys.

HUAWEI FreeBuds Pro specs

This year’s flagship ANC wireless earbuds from HUAWEI are powered by the same HiSilicon Kirin A1 chip that stands at the heart of the FreeBuds 3, as well as most HUAWEI smartwatches, including the most recent HUAWEI Watch GT 2 Pro.

HUAWEI FreeBuds Pro review

If you have a smartphone (or watch, or another device you pair them to) that supports Bluetooth 5.2, the FreeBuds Pro will take advantage of that.

You can look up the full spec-sheet yourselves, but worth mentioning here is also the bone sensor, which is one of the main features for clear voice calls, as well as a battery capacity of 55mAh per earbud, and 580mAh for the charging case (which can be charged via cable or wirelessly).

For the audiophiles among you, worth noting also the rather large, for its size, 11mm dynamic driver that’s inside each earbud, generating a really pleasant, loud, accurate, and close to audiophile-grade sound quality.

HUAWEI FreeBuds Pro review

However, the main feature is the Active Noise Cancellation, which, opposed to last year’s model, is now coupled with in-ear canal placement (offering extra passive noise cancellation), and the addition of AI algorithms that help filter out the noise without tampering with the audio quality. 

Design, build, and fit

The charging case itself weighs about 60 grams, and measures 70 x 51.3 x 24.6mm, is rather compact, and has a glossy finish to it. It’s available in three colors: Silver Frost, Ceramic White, and the Carbon Black we have been using for the past month.

Flipping the charging case open reveals the two earbuds, weighing about 6 grams each, and measuring 26 x 29.6 x 21.7mm. This is also where you will encounter the first thing on our cons list: it is rather difficult to pull out the earbuds from the charging case, or we haven’t figured out an easy way to do it just yet. The buds themselves are glossy as well, and the magnets hold them pretty tightly in place, so you’ll probably have to fumble around until you successfully remove them.

HUAWEI FreeBuds Pro review

In terms of design, they look pretty much like any other wireless earbud, interestingly though, nothing like the AirPods Pro, which is really a good thing.

Inside the earbuds, there’s the 11mm dynamic driver we already mentioned, which is paired with an intelligent EQ which relies on the in-ear microphone to adjust sound and keep it balanced.

Also inside, HUAWEI went with a three-mic approach: two microphones are facing outside, in order to pick up noise (to be canceled out), while featuring also an anti-wind noise cancellation tube, and one is an in-ear microphone that’s responsible for voice clarity. There’s also a bone sensor that enhances the voice by reading the bone vibration.

HUAWEI FreeBuds Pro review

Still on the inside of this tiny earbud, you’ll find the Kirin A1 chip with Bluetooth 5.2 capabilities, and not one, but two Bluetooth antennas per each earbud to improve signal strength, coverage, and avoid interferences. 

On the outside there a sensor and a button on each earbud, which responds to swipes and pinches. We’ll get to that in our Experience segment below.

Last, but not least, the fit: HUAWEI bundles three silicon earbuds with the FreeBuds Pro: small, medium, and large. You’ll easily find the perfect fit for your ears, but if you’re not sure, the AI Life app can check the fit for you by playing some sounds and picking them up with the in-ear microphone to suggest a different fit, or to confirm the perfect fit.

Audio quality, ANC, and Experience

The HUAWEI FreeBuds Pro sound really good. Compared to the predecessor, they deliver more oomph on the lower end of the frequency spectrum (bass), which is understandable, as these are in-ear canal type earbuds, compared to the FreeBuds 3.

These more powerful lows aren’t at all distorted, so don’t think of it as exaggerated. Regardless of the genre that you prefer, you’ll be very satisfied with the quality output, as the FreeBuds Pro offers a very warm sound with a rather wide soundstage. 

HUAWEI FreeBuds Pro review

Thanks to the microphones and chips inside the buds, as well as some software wizardry, the buds adapt thanks to the dynamic equalizer where multiple mics listen to the sound and adapt if for optimal output.

Being in-ear type earbuds, simply wearing them with good-fitting silicone blocks out a lot of the outside noise. However, the FreeBuds Pro offer a level of active noise cancellation which is unrivaled in this particular class of wireless ANC earbuds. 

You have the option to turn ANC off, and when you turn it on, you can customize it depending on the environment. Modes include Dynamic, Cozy, General, and Ultra, with the first one being an automatic mode, and the following three being manual, depending on the level of noise that surrounds you.

When I first tried it out I was shocked at the level of cancelation these earbuds offer. It completely cuts out most if not all of the noises surrounding you.

Then there’s HUAWEI’s take on Apple’s “Transparency” mode, called “Awareness” mode. With this option turned on, the earbuds allow through certain mid and high frequencies. Usage scenarios include hearing important announcements at the airport, for example, or better hearing people talking around you. 

The overall experience is top-notch, from the in-hand feel, in-ear fit, to the sound quality, and even the software that allows you to control some of the settings.

HUAWEI FreeBuds Pro review

However, there’s plenty of things you can control from the buds themselves. For instance, volume control is achieved by sliding your finger on the front part of the earbud stem (on both of them). Sliding up will increase the volume, sliding down will decrease it.

Then you can also squeeze the stem (HUAWEI calls this gesture “pinch”). While all these gestures are customizable, default actions are Play/Pause music for a single pinch, Reject Call/Next song for a double pinch, and Previous song on a triple pinch. 

Pinching and holding enables or disables the noise cancellation feature.

In terms of battery life, HUAWEI advertises 7 hours of music playback with ANC turned off, and 4.5 hours with ANC on. These numbers jump to 30 hours of music playback with ANC off, and 20 hours with ANC on if you take into consideration the charging case. Our experience was pretty close to the advertised numbers, which is a huge improvement over last year’s model.

Conclusion

I was never a huge fan of ANC-capable earbuds, maybe because none of the ANC-enabled ones I’ve tried out so far managed to impress me. The FreeBuds Pro, on the other hand, did!

Even though some features of the earbuds are exclusive to HUAWEI smartphones (Auto-Pairing for instance, as well as the Ultra-low Latency connection; AI Life app not available on iOS), I can still highly recommend the FreeBuds Pro for anyone who likes to enjoy music at exceptional audio quality, for a long period of time (good battery life), and with a pair of relatively small, but elegant earbuds.

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Because it offers great audio quality and active noise cancellation, good battery life, and overall user experience, the versatile HUAWEI FreeBuds Pro is our Editor’s Choice for best ANC true wireless earbuds.

The FreeBuds Pro are available for £169.99 in the UK from HUAWEI, or €179,00 in the EU. While a bit pricey, they’re still much cheaper than the main competitor, the Apple AirPods Pro, but I think you’ll be more than satisfied with your purchase.

Pros and Cons 

ProsCons
+ premium materials
+ good battery life
+ great audio quality
+ even better noise cancellation
+ touch/gesture controls
+ stable connection
– earbuds are difficult to remove from the case
– no water resistance
– some features are exclusive to HUAWEI phones

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