Huawei FreeBuds Studio review: meet your new best Bud
Impressive ANC-infused cans from the phone giant.
Huawei has a plan. With its smartphone world in flux, it’s looking at new areas of the technology world to conquer. If there is an area that is a notoriously tough nut to crack, though, it’s audio.
The headphone market, in particular, is a stuffy one. Outside the world of Bose, JBL, Sony and the like there’s only really one brand that’s truly proved to be an outlier. That’s Beats - a headphone company that doesn’t so much prove its worth through audio quality but bludgeons with conspicuous consumption. Wearing Beats, even after its billion dollar takeover by Apple, is a symbol, a statement.
Huawei has a strong, passionate user base but it’s no Beats. To make its latest headphone stand out, then, it needs to do it with sheer audio quality. Has it got what it takes?
Here are 5 things to know…
1. We’re as confused by the name as you are
These aren’t ‘buds’ but full-size over-the-ear headphones. We kind of get what Huawei is doing here, calling its headphones the Huawei FreeBuds Studio. FreeBuds is a brand of earphones it already has, a brand that has already brought one of the best noise-cancelling earbuds to the market - the Huawei FreeBuds Pro. So, it’s certainly dining on this success.
It’s a little confusing but it’s thankfully one of the very few niggles that we had with the headphones.
2. They are design for long journeys and comfort
While it’s not like many of us will be going on a long journey any time soon, the Huawei FreeBuds Studio are ready and waiting for when you do.
Design-wise, they look and feel premium. They come in a sturdy carry case and are lightweight, at 260g. Compare this to the QuietComfort 35 wireless headphones II they are 20g heavier and pretty much on a par with the Sony WH-1000XM4, which clock in at 254g.
Looks-wise they’re great. There’s a touch of the industrial to the design with the ear cups. There is a stainless steel cylindrical arm that’s visible on each side - this is the adjustable headband. The bigger you make the headphones, the more of the band you see. It’s an acquired taste but we like it - it’s the opposite of what Sony has done with the Sony WH-1000XM4, where it has tried to hide the headband as much as possible.
The actual ear cups are really big and really comfy. They do look a little oversized but don’t look silly when on. Huawei has used protein leather for the cups, which is a nice nod to its sustainability efforts, and they sit well on the head, the headband offering a sturdy secure fit.
We have worn them for hours on end without any issues, even missing a delivery driver or two as a result which is testament to the quality of the ANC.
3. The tech is impressive
Huawei has thought seriously about the tech it’s packed into its cans and we’re impressed. A 4Hz to 48kHz frequency range - basically, the range of sound you can hear from the headphones - is up there with class-leading headphones. There are four mics on each side that can detect ambient sound and this is backed up by a sensor in the headphones that pings 100 times a second, detecting your surroundings and adapting the Active Noise Cancelling to suit. There are three modes in total: ultra (for planes), general (for cafes and busy areas) and cosy (to cut out the noise of air conditioning in offices and the like).
We nearly always use the ultimate noise cancelling when we have a pair of ANC headphones on and did for most of our tests with the Huawei FreeBuds Studio and were impressed with how well they deal with balancing the ear pressure in the ears - something that can be an issue with ANC.
Pairing was fast, too, thanks to the Huawei's auto search functionality and you can link the headphones up to two devices at once.
We’re never the greatest admirer of touch controls but we got on with the ones on the Huawei FreeBuds Studio - a quick slide up or down sorts out the volume, left to right skips tracks and a double tap pauses what you are listening to, ending and starting any calls.
As for call quality, the sound clarity was decent - there are mics everywhere on these headphones, six mics are used just to pick up what you are saying.
4. The sound is even more impressive
While the likes of the Sony WH-1000XM4’s edge the sound performance of the Huawei FreeBuds Studio, we are utterly impressed at Huawei’s first attempt at a proper over-ear noise-cancelling set of cans.
Played through Tidal on the Huawei Mate 40 (which supports Huawei’s high-res audio codec), we listened to a number of Master Quality albums to get the most out of the headphones.
Say Peace from Common’s Beautiful Revolution (Pt 1) album was propulsive, the lilting bass much clearer than we were expecting. Faithless’ What Shall I Do? ramped things up further - more bass, more clarity. We never felt that the FreeBuds Studio were struggling in the low end and the ANC really gave you that bubble of solace that you want when having your headphones on. We put on The Plan by Travis Scott just to give the low end one last test and the rumble was magnificent.
Try, by Neil Young on Homegrown, took the tempo down a bit, the acoustic guitar having a lovely timbre to it, as did the snares and soft bass. The bass was tuned a little heavy to what we would like on this one, though, which wasn’t noticeable in the bass-heavy tracks but is when you go for something a bit softer.
The woodwind of The Mandalorian soundtrack reverberated well through the headphones, too. Although this is only mastered to HiFi standard, it’s a good track to try out the mid-range of the headphones and they passed with flying colours.
5. Big battery, small charge time
The best thing we can say about the battery life for the Huawei FreeBuds Studio is that you don’t really worry about it.
Huawei is quoting a full 24 hours on one charge (with ANC) but the beauty here is that you can give them 10 minutes’ charge and get five hours’ ANC playback and eight hours without ANC on, which is ideal for any journey you might be doing right now, given the circumstances. We have no worries that these will outlast the hardiest of flights if and when we all hop back on to a plane.
Huawei FreeBuds Studio: Final Verdict
The biggest challenge Huawei will have with the Huawei FreeBuds Studio is convincing the world it is a powerhouse in audio. These headphones certainly showcase this and with just a few tweaks, and iterations, we are no doubt they will be challengers to the best ANC headphone crown down the line.
But when you are competing with Sony, Apple, Bose and Beats, all go-to headphone brands because of their years of being in the industry, it’s certainly a challenge. One we’re in no doubt Huawei is happy to accept.