HUAWEI has seriously upped its audio game (to be honest, the company upped its entire game in the past years) starting with the FreeBuds 3 last year. For 2020, HUAWEI has a bulletproof audio line-up, from the excellent sounding FreeLace Pro all the way to the premium FreeBuds Pro.
For 2020, however, the company has ventured into over-ear full-fledged headphones, the FreeBuds Studio being the company’s first such product. The timing is perfect, as Apple has just announced its own similar product with the AirPods Max, which is really one of the FreeBuds Studio’s main competitors, among a select few from other brands like Sony, Bose, Shure, Jabra, and the likes.
We’re wrapping up the two weeks we’ve spent using the wireless noise-canceling cans with our HUAWEI FreeBuds Studio review below.
HUAWEI FreeBuds Studio Specs
Available in Gold and Black (our unit), the FreeBuds Studio weighs 260 grams, which is pretty lightweight considering its size. The claimed 24-hour playback (with ANC off) is achieved thanks to the 410mAh battery that you charge via a USB-Type C port on the right can.
Sound comes out of the two 40mm dynamic drivers, with an operating frequency of 4Hz to 48kHz, which goes way beyond the range of sound perceivable by human ears. Noise cancellation, which is Intelligent and Dynamic, is possible thanks to the six microphones inside the build of the headphones (there are eight in total, four on each side).
Other hardware components include radios for Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity, three buttons (two on the right for power and Bluetooth, and one on the left for toggling ANC modes), and a touchpad on the back of the right can for gestures, in addition to a microphone sensor, a capacitance sensor, an IMU sensor, as well as a premium audio codec chip.
Design, build, and fit
Everything about the FreeBuds Studio screams premium (including their price point), from the moment you unbox the headphones. They come in a very nice carrying case (which is not leather) that offers protection during your travels.
The top part of the headrest (or headband) is soft-touch plastic, while the bottom part, in contact with your head is vegan leather (so are the speaker cushions that are in contact with your ears), softly padded in the middle.
The cushions themselves are also soft to the touch and very comfortable while wearing. The chassis is made of metal and sliding the two cans up and down to adjust your fit is very accurate and tight. The back of the cans and the outer shell is also made of polycarbonate, but the overall view and feel of the product is a premium one.
Once you find the best fit for your head size, you need to make sure that the cans (cushion) are fitting your ears well. It’s an easy fit, but we occasionally had to adjust a little bit for optimum isolation and audio quality.
Having done all of that, you’ll be surprised at how lightweight and soft they feel. After a period of time, you’ll actually forget you’re wearing them, which is the complete opposite with some other headphones, where they become uncomfortable to wear after a period of time.
This could be more of o personal impression or issue, but I didn’t start to sweat after wearing the FreeBuds Studio for a long period of time, something I occasionally run into when using other headphones.
It takes a little bit of getting used to the locations of the buttons on the two sides, but you’ll get used to them after a couple of hours of usage.
On the downside, the cushions don’t seem to be detachable, which could raise some problems with wear over time. We wish owners could easily remove old ones if they’re worn or damaged in order to replace them with new ones.
Audio quality, ANC, and Experience
The 40mm dynamic drivers live up to the expectations, however, as mentioned earlier, you need to make sure that the fit is tight in order for the drivers to shine. Why is it so important? HUAWEI is using a TAT structure (Tee Audio Tube), which is responsible for linking the inner ear space with the front and back sound cavity. Aside from balancing air pressure inside your ears, offering a comfortable wearing experience, the TAT structure also filters out the medium and high-frequency noise.
All of that, in simpler terms, means that these cans sound really good. With a very wide frequency response, you can rest assured you’ll hear even the deepest bass, as well as the highest hisses.
HUAWEI designed the FreeBuds Studio with Hi-Fi quality in mind. Adding to the potential of the drivers themselves is an audio codec chip that features less distortion and lower noise floor, while at the same time delivering higher dynamic range.
In order to utilize the headphones to their full potential, you need to make sure the source (your music) is high quality. When it comes to audio quality, audiophiles know that the overall quality of your entire system will be as good as the weakest component. It doesn’t matter how Hi-Fi your headphones are if the music you are playing back is low quality.
However, when playing back lossless, or very high bitrate encoded music, you’ll be more than satisfied with the audio quality of the FreeBuds Studio. The L2HC High-resolution Codec enables the headphones to transfer audio at speeds up to 960kbps. That’s more than double the frequency, and almost quadruple the transfer speed of the AAC codec for 24-bit audio.
If you’re not so much into technology and all the terminology above, all you need to know is that you won’t be disappointed. You’ll love the sounds you’ll hear, and you may even hear portions or instruments in a song you never knew they were there.
Similar to other products in the FreeBuds and FreeLace family of recent earphones, the FreeBuds Studio also features HUAWEI’s own Active Noise Cancelation system. If you have a recent HUAWEI or HONOR phone, you can fine-tune the ANC inside the AI Life app, choosing between Ultra, Cozy, and General modes. These instruct the ANC to be more or less aggressive, depending on your surroundings.
If you’re using the FreeBuds Studio with another phone (an iPhone for instance), you can only select one of the following three modes: ANC on, Awareness, and ANC off.
The Awareness mode will allow ambient sound to pass through, so you’re at all times aware of your surroundings while listening to music. The Voice Mode, which you can enable inside the AI Life app, will only allow human voices to pass through while blocking out the rest of the environmental sounds.
Noise cancellation also extends to phone calls. The FreeBuds Studio utilizes six microphones to properly enhance your calls. According to HUAWEI, “the four outward-facing mics effectively pick up human voices from the background noise based on the beamforming technique. The other two inward-facing mics collect the voice in-ear and avoid strong wind interference”.
While the entire experience can vary, depending on what kind of phone you use (of course, your experience will be the best when paired with a recent HUAWEI phone) the FreeBuds Studio offers a superior UX.
Once you’re getting used to the gestures available on the touchpad, located on the back of the right can, you no longer need to have direct access to your phone. The gestures are intuitive and the learning curve is really flat. Swiping up and down increases or decreases audio volume. Swiping forward and back takes you to your next, or previous song. Double-tapping acts as a Play/Pause or Answer/End call button, while tapping and holding either activates your voice assistant or rejects the incoming call.
Adding to the experience is also the wear-detection feature. The FreeBuds Studio recognizes whether you are wearing it or not, and music is automatically paused upon removing the headphones, and it resumes once you put them back on.
We’ve tested the FreeBuds Studio both with a HUAWEI Mate 40 Pro and an iPhone 12 Pro Max, as well as a desktop computer, to fully grasp the pairing and overall experience. Worth mentioning here is that the FreeBuds studio features Dual Device Connection, which enables you to connect to two devices simultaneously.
With the Mate 40 Pro, pairing is seamless. EMUI 11 automatically detects and asks to pair the headphones, thanks to the pop-up pairing feature which searches, finds, and offers to connect to the FreeBuds Studio. From here on, it’s all about tweaking the settings to your liking inside the AI Life app, and EMUI’s Histen inside the sound settings, which could dramatically impact your experience.
Pairing to the, and using on the iPhone and desktop computer offers a similar experience. You have to manually put the FreeBuds Studio in pairing mode (there’s a Bluetooth button on the right can), and then manually pair it to your phone or computer. You have no software to tinker with the settings, so you should expect a raw user experience, but premium nonetheless. The ANC button on the left side still allows you to enable or disable noise cancellation, as well as toggle Awareness mode.
Battery life should not be a concern. Our mileage was fairly close to what HUAWEI claims: 24 hours of music playback with ANC off, and close to 20 with ANC on. We obviously didn’t manage to test it all in one take, but the periods of times used added up close to those numbers.
It did, however, take a hair over one hour to fully charge them from 0 to 100 percent, with 10 minutes of quick charging being enough for close to eight hours of music playback.
When it comes to the price of the FreeBuds Studio, it varies from market to market. This has been HUAWEI’s approach in the recent past, and that’s what it continues to do with this product.
In the UK, it will set you back, at the time of this review, £229.99, down from the initial £299.99, and HUAWEI throws in a Watch Fit, valued £119.99.
In France, you’ll pay €299,99, but in Spain, they’re discounted to €249,99. In any case, we’re looking at a rather premium price-point, but, compared to the close to €600 Apple is asking for the AirPods Max, it’s less than half the price.
Considering that the FreeBuds Studio is HUAWEI’s first full-fledged, over the ear, pair of headphones, the company nailed it in every aspect. With a great design, superior audio quality, excellent noise-canceling, and great battery life, the FreeBuds Studio are a great choice if you’re looking for a pair of wireless headphones for the holidays, and not only.
Pros and Cons
+ great design;
+ good battery life;
+ excellent audio quality;
+ top notch noise cancelling;
+ touch gestures;
+ multi-device connection;
+ wear detection.
– no IP rating whatsoever (beware of rain);
– some features are exclusive to HUAWEI phones;
– only two color options;
– cushions non-user-removable/replaceable.