In plain black or gold with clean lines and state-of-the-art features, the FreeBuds Studio from Huawei are, first of all, a real eye-catcher in terms of shape and technology. They target the same market and are in direct competition with other Bluetooth over-ears like those from Bose, Sennheiser and Sony, and – clearly – also want to outdo them. However, for this to succeed at all, you will need a current Smartphone from the same manufacturer.
Plastic, metal frame, faux leather, three buttons. Huawei uses these materials to make the FreeBuds Studio, which, at 260 grams, look pretty good, even if the fit was a bit slippery on me and had to be adjusted quite often. The synthetic leather of the ear cups and headband is neatly finished and supple, but it does get a little sweaty on the ears after a while. However, the wearing comfort was pleasant and light – thanks to some pressure compensating openings and channels. The adjustable metal earpieces feel high-quality and robust, and they are very smooth, easy to move and not notched. Unlike more conventional designs, they do not end in a fork into which the ear cups are hooked, but retract into the middle of the ear cups. Although this looks very good, it has its pitfalls when it comes to operating the device on the ear by means of swiping gestures, because your fingers tend to touch the metal ends when swiping.
These headphones are equipped with Bluetooth 5.2, which delivers LE audio and the LC3 codec, which provides better sound at lower data rates and many other improvements. However, Huawei does not implement the LC3 codec, but its own L2HC High-Resolution Codec in addition to SBC and AAC, which delivers data rates of up to 960 KB/sec. It can transmit a frequency range of 4Hz to 48kHz and is very low-latency, so that picture and sound in films and gaming are virtually synchronous. The downside is that the L2HC codec requires a Huawei phone with at least EMUI 11.0, which limits the selection to the Mate 40 (kindly provided by Huawei for this review) and the P40 series. For all other features, such as fast pairing and low-latency gaming, the phone must use at least EMUI 10.1.
The app “AI-Life”, is also limited to the Android operating system, but it is worth installing if you can get hold of the right version, which is only available in Huawei’s own AppGallery and not in the general PlayStore. Without that version of the app, the FreeBuds Studio are not recognised.
Once these hurdles have been overcome, you can finally put FreeBuds Studio on.
Straight out of the box, the FreeBuds Studio sound pleasantly balanced and open with their dynamic 40 mm drivers. The tuning from the lows to the highs is quite successful and offers powerful and very well penetrating sound, which makes even small details easy to identify and locate in a crisp, fast-paced manner on the wide stereo stage. This natural sound, which does not become tiring even over longer periods of time, is unfortunately deprived of its bass foundation when noise cancellation is activated; this leads to a distinct flattening which, to my taste, does not sound as good.
“Intelligent” and “dynamic” is what Huawei calls its active noise cancellation. And indeed, if you activate the dynamic setting in the app, it changes from “Low” to “Standard” to “Ultra” in different scenarios, depending on exposure to external noise. These three levels can also be switched on or off manually. The impression given by the sound protection is that mainly the low frequencies are cancelled out, while the high frequencies still come through. Typing on a keyboard remains audible, whereas the rumbling of a tram disappears. This was pretty much as expected, but it was not as effective as advertised: The ANC behaves rather averagely in every situation. The system’s inherent noise is noticeable when switching through the levels; it increases massively from “Low” to “Ultra” and is quite audible in passages of quiet music. It becomes even noisier as soon as you switch on the attention mode, i.e. when the outward-facing microphones transmit ambient noise to your ears. You can counteract this noise somewhat by toggling the “Emphasise voices” switch in the app, which makes the environment sound a little more natural overall. Strangely, neither the app not or the headphones remember this setting. This means that when the awareness function is switched off and on again, “Highlight voices” is deactivated.
Thanks to Bluetooth 5.2, the FreeBuds Studio can pair with two devices at the same time, which works quite well and makes it possible to jump back and forth between the devices almost seamlessly. For example, if the music stops on one device, you can start something new on the other and vice versa. The FreeBuds Studio are controlled by tapping and swiping gestures on the right headphone, making full remote control including volume changes possible. This is very welcome, as it allows you to keep your players in your pocket.
In the AI-Life app, only one gesture can be redefined for this and the behaviour of the ANC button on the left headphone can be restricted somewhat, otherwise the “Shortcuts” item only shows the defined gestures. Under the item “Intelligent Wear Detection”, you can also set whether the music stops when the FreeBuds are taken off and continues when they are put on again. Among other things, updates can be managed and the search function can be activated. All in all, the app offers a pretty decent package, although it hints at more customisability than it actually allows.
When making calls, it becomes apparent that the extensive noise reduction measures are well worth it – the caller on the end of the line could hear us clearly and with little artificial sound.
The Freebuds Studio are said to run for 24 hours with ANC deactivated, which is a quite realistic estimate; in addition, a ten-minute charge promises a runtime of a further eight hours. On the other hand, purely passive operation of the FreeBuds Studio is not possible, as they do not have a jack connection via which an analogue signal can be fed.
The FreeBuds Studio are impressive in terms of workmanship, runtime, features and sound, although the latter is only really excellent and balanced if the ANC remains deactivated. Although the ANC does a solid job, especially due to the constantly adapting dynamics, it falls short of expectations and possibilities due to the strong background noise, especially in Ultra mode. The fact that the optimal performance of the FreeBuds Studio can only be unleashed with a cutting-edge smartphone from the same company is, in my opinion, a minus point for these headphones, they are thus probably a little too far ahead of their time, but this is not to say that the headphones sound dramatically worse when used with iOS or an older Android.
- Ear couplingOver-ear
- Transducer principledynamic
- Frequency response (headphones)4 - 48.000 Hz
- Weight without cable260 g
What's in the box
- USB-C charging cable
- Charging case
- available in black and gold
- BT codecs: SBC, AAC, L2HC
- BT version: 5.2