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Hands-on review: The Huawei FreeBuds Studio headphones

02 Dec 2020

Huawei’s FreeBuds Studio headphones mark Huawei’s first foray into over-ear headphones, and it’s a solid entrance into the market.

Look

Released in October, The Freebuds Studio headphones come with a sleek black case that easily cushions headphones and the cable from knocks and bumps in your backpack. The earcups and headband are reasonably sturdy, padded, and. The pleather-covered earcups are spacious and remained comfortable for extended testing periods. These are a worthy competitor in the cutthroat arena of wearable audio devices.

The headphones have similar touch-based controls to what you will see on other modern headphones – i.e. tap once to pause, and once to play (or tap twice to answer a call and tap again to hang up), swipe right for next track and left for previous track, swipe up for volume up and down for volume down. The right earcup even has a removable sticker on the earcup in case you forget the controls. Touch and hold to access a voice assistant like Alexa or Google Assistant.

There are also physical power and Bluetooth pairing buttons on the right earcup, and an ANC button on the left earcup. With its own dedicated button, Bluetooth supports multipoint pairing to two devices at once (multipoint pairing). Pairing is so simple, unlike other brands of headphones where you’re struggling to hold the power button down for the correct amount of time.  When I tested Bluetooth range, I managed about 15 metres (obstacles in the way) before the sound started cutting out.

The headphones are fitted with a 410mAh battery, which can give 24 hours playback with ANC off, 5 hours playback on 10 minutes of fast charge (ANC enabled) and 8 hours from 10 minutes of fast charge (ANC disabled). These seemed about accurate.

Sound

The default sound settings are probably not going to be ones you will stick with for very long. While the bass can get as low as 33hz according to my tests (Huawei claims a range of 4hz to 48kHz), the music sounds like it’s being funnelled through a tube. Please make use of your device’s inbuilt equaliser or a third party app. It might take a bit of adjustment, but once you get a perfect mix these headphones can quite capably drown you in the sound of music.

The active noise cancelling is one technology that Huawei got right the first time. ANC blocks out everything – the clatter of fingers on a keyboard, other voices in the room – it’s just you and the music, in an otherworldly scene much like what's displayed in the main image for this story. Aah, bliss. Unfortunately, despite the sound blocking earcups, other people could still the music I was playing, although others in the room said the sound bleed wasn’t too distracting.

There are four ANC settings: ultra mode (public transport, loud areas), general mode (cafes, restaurants), cozy mode (quiet indoor spaces), and dynamic (auto-detection). The headphones will also provide ANC for phone calls too.

Awareness mode mutes ANC so you can hear more of your ambient surroundings – and your own voice (as long as you turn the volume down, of course). It’s a smart decision to use this when you’re walking along busy streets and need to be able to hear what’s going on around you.

Huawei’s AI Life app for Android

All of Huawei’s documentation points towards the AI Life app as the central point for headphone settings. But don’t download it from Google Play. You either need to down the app directly from Huawei or if you have a Huawei device, download from Huawei’s App Gallery.

And in small print on Huawei’s website, the company says that the AI Life App is NOT available on iOS or Windows smartphones yet.

The app displays battery charge levels, noise control settings, wear detection, and a reminder of the gestures you need to know. It’s a simple app, but without EQ settings, it’s somewhat lacking in functionality. Nevertheless, it’s a good app to have on hand.

Verdict

Once you’ve tuned the EQ to your liking, the FreeBuds Studio headphones could very easily become your comfy, go-to headphones for whatever audio tickles your fancy.  While Sony and Bose rule the roost, Huawei has made a commendable entrance into the headphones arena.  

In New Zealand, the FreeBuds Studio headphones are available in Black for NZ$599. They're available now from PB Tech, and coming soon to 2degrees.