Headphones are getting more and more intelligent these days offering noise cancelling, Voice detection, AI for a variety of features and simultaneous multiple-device connections. The fact that the Huawei Freebuds Studio tick all of these boxes piqued my interest, now we’ve got a pair on the test bench and it’s time to share our findings.
Let’s start with placing these into their market segment: They’re a $499.00 investment and from our experience, they’re worth it and belong in the same company as Bose, Sony and Sennheiser high-end ANC headphones. They Freebuds Studio tick
all of the right boxes for sound, style and features.
Design and Features
The Huawei Freebuds Studio are over-ear headphones with an intelligent active noise cancelling (ANC) feature. But there’s so much more to these that need to be explored because of the features and styling that are included.
So, one of the big areas that need to be considered when you’re looking at headphones is comfort and — while it’s pretty subjective — these really are comfy. There is a very fine line to walk between not enough, too much padding and adding weight which can make them uncomfortable to wear for long periods. Not the case with the Freebuds Studio headphones, they’ve been padded well making them outstandingly comfortable for long listening periods.
Some of the comforts come from the adjustability of the headphones across the headband:
- The headband is adjustable in its length
- The headband also provides sufficient, but not overpowering pressure to keep the earcups on your head solidly
- The earcups are adjustable with hinging up and down, as well as front and rear
The physical size of the earcups is a bit of a highlight, they are near perfect for me. They fit well around my ears providing excellent noise isolation before you turn the ANC on. I did wonder if the padding would cause issues being too hot in warm weather, but even on a 30-degree day I was perfectly comfortable with these on.
I’m really impressed with the button and touch control implementation, it’s simple and quite elegant. With only a few physical touch buttons, one on the left for manual controls of the ANC and two on the right for power and Bluetooth controls.
But it’s the touch controls that make this impressive with sensors on the outside of the right ear cup. The touch gestures are so simple:
- Double Tap: Answers or hangs up a call or play/pause media playback
- Swipe up/down: Raises and lowers the volume of media
- Swipe forward/back: Advance or back a track
I find it interesting that Huawei has taken the step of removing the 3.5mm jack. Thankfully, they have included fast charging via USB C. But honestly, unless you’re — not anytime soon of course — on a long haul flight, with no access to charging for a while, you’re going to be fine with the battery.
Fully charged you’ll get around 24 hours of continuous playback (without ANC, about 20 with) from the Freebuds Studio, but I found with brief breaks, you’ll get noticeably more. But if you are caught out, just 10 minutes will get you around 8 hours of playback or 60 minutes for a full charge. A really nice little feature of the carry case is that there’s a “hidden” compartment for the USB C charging cable, so you’ve always got one with you.
Nice inclusions that finish the package
With every piece of hardware you buy, there are some nice to have inclusions you won’t always get. In the case of wireless headphones, it can be a case, charging cable and 3.5mm cable. For the Freebuds Studio, those inclusions are the case and charging cable hidden the earlier mentioned hidden compartment. But the case is a lot more than just a carry bag, it’s hard enough in its construction that it will protect your headphones in a backpack for a daily commute. It also houses the headphones really snugly so they won’t move around causing any minor damage to them. I have noticed in the few weeks I’ve been reviewing these, that there is a scratch — no idea where from — on one of the ear cups which is a bit disappointing, but not a deal breaker for me.
As a package, you’re getting solid headphones that are very comfortable and offer a full feature range that you’d expect for the $500 price tag.
It’s not perfect though…
Thanks to the issues Huawei face not so long ago at the hands of the former President of the USA, resulting in their shifting focus, the Huawei AI Life app is more readily available through their own App Gallery than the Play Store. Or to be more specific, the device list on the Play Store version is not exactly comprehensive and the Freebuds Studio are not there. So you need to install the Huawei App gallery as a sideloaded app to get the latest version of their AI life app.
The AI Life app
Huawei’s app is simple but quite elegant in its implementation. The features are in place to control your headphones, and keep them up to date. At a single touch, you can manually change your ANC mode, turn on and off features like wear detection and change the touch control shortcuts. Other simple features include the ability to view the battery level, enable or disable dual connect (the ability to connect to multiple devices at once) and updating the firmware on your headphones.
Sound quality and Noise Cancelling
These are some of the best sounding set of headphones I’ve tried in this range. They sit well in the company of the other big names with well balanced sound. The highs are crisp, the mid-range (typically where vocals reside) are very clean and the bass is consistent – but not the best I’ve heard.
Specific to the bass, I found that at low volume it’s significantly underpowered resulting in the low frequency response being flat or at times, outright absent. In my experience, this isn’t unusual to this type of headphones though, with Bose and Sennheiser both having a similar result. But when you get to roughly half volume, the balance and sound are excellent. These have been really well tuned for a wide range of music, to not be overpowering in any particular range. If you need to tweak the sound, you’ll be able to do this through your chosen streaming app or with an EQ app.
Noise Cancelling and other intelligent features
The noise-cancelling on the Freebuds Studio is, in short, excellent. Again I’m going to happily sit these in the company of Bose, Sony and Sennheiser. They really are impressively good, in fact, I’d say — focussing on the ANC — they’re second only in this group to Sony. The level of ambient noise that is simply “gone” when you enable ANC is astounding, well worth an investment if you’re a regular air traveller (if that ever happens again…) but there are a couple of really cool features in this as well.
ANC controls are as simple as the push of a button to cycle between ANC, Awareness and off. ANC is clearly the noise-cancelling mode, but what I really like about the awareness mode is that it’s not just bringing through the sounds from around you, it amplifies them really clearly so you are acutely aware of your surroundings even when playback is active.
The fit of the headphones results in good noise isolation too, so the full suite gives you everything you need from a set of headphones. But there’s a bit more to this than meets the eye, the intelligent mode changing is actually quite brilliant. If you’re in an open-plan office — as I am — you’ll find that if voices are detected and you respond: the ANC mode will be disabled and changed to awareness to enable conversation. The same if you’re outside and cars are around you which is a great safety feature.
Wear detection has come a long way from the first generation of devices that had the feature. Putting the headphones on and off triggers playback to play and pause, this is hugely useful if you’re listening to or watching something that you need to take in.
The other smart feature which I frankly love is when you’ve dual connected to two devices for listening and playback. In my case, this was my phone and tablet, usually streaming media to my tablet and using my phone sparingly. But on occasion when my phone was ringing during streaming, the playback on my tablet was automatically paused and controls transferred to the phone for call management.
Should you buy them?
Honestly, if you can overcome the price as a barrier: These really do belong in the top echelon of noise-cancelling (consumer grade) headphones. But that barrier to entry is the price and for day to day users, $499.00 is just too much to pay for media playback and ANC.
The sound quality is very good and very well balanced for a wide range of listening from movies and TV through to the heaviest of tunes and relaxation options. The comfort levels and adjustability make these very attractive to anyone who needs to wear headphones a lot and I expect they’ll last the test of time due to their solid construction.
NB. At the time of publishing this review, the cost is down to $399.00 on the Huawei site and $369.00 on Amazon. At that price, I honestly wouldn’t hesitate to push the budget from $250 up to grab these instead, they are worth the extra coin!
Due to hygiene reasons, Huawei have not requested the unit back.