Despite being in the headlines for the wrong reasons for a chunk of the last 18 months, Huawei has stuck to their guns and continued to deliver quality hardware. Their audio accessories are no exception to this with generally excellent sound and a really solid and consistent look. They will undoubtedly continue to do so and if the FreeBuds Pro is anything to go by, they’re going to do it well.
We’ve been trialling some over the last few weeks and we’ll take you through the experience in today’s review.
Design and fit
Two things were immediately evident on the first access and use of the FreeBuds Pro; one great, one not so much. The case is pretty nice, flat and lightweight but when you open the case to retrieve the earphones there’s a problem straight away. The case is so tight and cramped, it’s actually difficult to get them out of the case. Once you do manage to get them out of the case, you’re in for a treat.
The fit is as close to perfection as I’ve come across with a wireless earphone solution. They’re lightweight, fit well, are well balanced and are so comfortable that I have actually forgotten I had them in on more than one occasion. The combination of great fit and comfort is a great start to a genuinely great user experience.
The fit is, in fact, that good that despite trying (running, jumping and even shaking around like a mad-man) I wasn’t able to get them to fall out without specifically removing them from my ears. No need to stop your run or hop off the treadmill to retrieve a wandering earbud.
It’s easy to look at the FreeBuds Pro and see them as a clone of the Apple Airpods Pro, they’re white, roughly the same size and similar physical look. They have included some great features beyond the physical design, specifically the noise-cancelling capabilities. Like a number of other earbuds the FreeBuds Pro have three options, all of which worked really well for their intended use case:
- Off – No artificial alterations to the surrounding noise
- Noise Cancelling – Active Noise-cancelling to remove the surrounding noise and environmental distractions
- Awareness – keeping your media playing, but providing play through of the surrounding noise to maintain your awareness of your surroundings
So there’s plenty to like in the design, let’s take a look at useability.
Setup and use
There are no surprises here in terms of setup, turn them on, find them on your connecting device and pair. Changing the connected device is as easy as pressing the connect button on the case and re-pairing to your new device.
Controls are extremely simple to use:
- Slide your finger up or down the stem to raise or lower volume
- Squeaze the stem once to play or pause playback
- Squeaze the stem twice to go to the next track
- Squeaze the stem three times to go back a track
- Long squeaze of the stem rotates through the Noise Cancelling options
And if for some reason you need to talk to a real person, just pulling one earpiece out automatically pauses playback. A small, but really welcome feature if you’re listening to an audiobook or podcast where details are really important to your listening.
The feature I really liked in this package was that they automatically altered settings to suit your environment. So in a generally noisy environment, the ANC kicked in, when I was out on an evening walk by the roadside awareness was enabled.
There is a bit of a detractor though in the design of the carr/charging case. Initially, I thought it was just me but had several other people check and the combination of the size of the case, the position of the lid and how well recessed the earbuds are: They’re surprisingly fiddly and difficult to get out of the case. The case itself is a lovely size and shape to either drop in your bag or carry in your pocket throughout the day.
Make or Break: How do they sound?
This really is the make or break moment for any audio equipment, the audio they produce. Huawei has delivered a very good, considering they’re in-ear, outstanding audio experience. I was surprised at the amount of power and punch they produced all without producing any distortion or losing clarity at higher volumes. Interestingly, Huawei seems to have gone for quality sound over quantity (volume) in audio delivery with the maximum volume not being huge but still giving quality sound.
Highlighted by crisp highs, clean mids and punchy bass with and dynamic audio delivery there’s honestly little to criticise. I listened to a wide range of media (Movies, Audiobooks, Podcasts and a wide range of music genres) throughout the review period and found that the FreeBuds Pro are extremely capable. So capable in fact, that I didn’t feel the need to use an equalizer to tune the sound to my liking, it was already there.
This extended to really good quality phone calls, for both the wearer and the person on the other end of calls. The microphones on the FreeBuds Pro capture very good voice clarity even in reasonably noisy environments.
Since March my listening habits have changed significantly since I’m at home more, am not going to annoy my co-workers so have speakers on a lot more. But I’m still listening to hours every day of music or other various media. On paper Huawei set the expectation of:
- 3.5 hours per charge, up to a further 16 hours with the charging case for calls
- 4.5 hours listening, up to a further 20 hours with the case for media playback with ANC
While it may be a bit of a risk in some terms vs under-promising and over-delivering, the theory and practice are well aligned. This wasn’t just a one-off either, the usage time was very consistent even when the volume was changed.
Charging doesn’t take long at all, which means you’ll get good playtime from minimal charge time and if you set up a decent routine for charging, you’ll never be without sound.
Would I buy them
Based on functionality alone, the short answer is yes I would. But there’s a couple of variables that need to be considered. One is the frustration of the case and retrieving your headphones when you want to use them. This I overcame after about two weeks where I finally figured out a way that works for me, to easily get them out – using the tip of my little finger to lift the bud and grab it with the other hand.
For a lot of people though, the sticking point will be the price. The FreeBuds Pro comes in at $329.00 and if you can overcome that, I think 99% of buyers are going to be happy with their purchase.
The hardware manufacturers are getting better and smarter in their designs, making in-ear headphones lighter, better balanced, more comfortable and delivering an increasingly impressive sound. At this point in time, the FreeBuds Pro are a luxury listening option and a good two or three steps ahead of others I’ve tried. That makes them worth more, but are they worth $100+ more than other options?
They’re clearly — look at them — aimed at taking on the might of the Apple Airpods Pro and having listened to both, they make a really good case of this. Unfortunately, Huawei doesn’t have the standing that Apple does at this point, so wearing that purchase cost is a fairly big request for a lot of people.
Personally, I think they’re about $80 too expensive to be really competitive. At the $249.00 mark which is still a big cost for in-ear listening, they’d be a really big seller because they really are that good.
If you’re keen to take a closer look the Sydney based Huawei Stores are the place to go, otherwise check them out online to see the range of colours (Ceramic White, Silver Frost, Carbon Black) and purchase.
Due to hygiene reasons, Huawei have not requested the FreeBuds Pro to be returned.