How do I open this review? Do I go with the “saturated headphone market” approach? Maybe it’s more of a “Huawei plugging the gaps in the consumer market” because of the whole Trump and China thing? What ever way I open it, was really matters here is that Huawei has produced a pair of over-ear headphones and given the incredible accessories they’ve made to date, like the FreeBuds Pro earbuds, these deserve full attention. Here’s my review of the unusually named Huawei FreeBuds Studio.
Buds? They’re Called FreeBuds?
When these landed in for review I stopped and kind of stared at the box for a few seconds. Yes, these headphones are indeed called the FreeBuds Studio. It’s a bizarre choice considering they’re in no way buds. I can only assume that Huawei is trying to build out the entire audio arm of their accessory range to sit under FreeBuds.
Huawei FreeBuds Studio Review
I wanted to get that out of the way good and early. Yes, unusual name but now let’s get on with the meaty bit. The review.
FreeBuds Studio Design
The Huawei FreeBuds Studio sound awesome, ok? But I’ve got to start with the design of this pair of headphones. They’re gorgeous. I mean, they are genuinely striking. I’ve been testing a lot of headphones lately, including the rather impressive JBL Club One headphones. While many of these headphones have great sound, none have left me appreciating their design like the FreeBuds Studio.
As soon as I took them out of the box, I loved how light this new pair of over-ears felt. At just 260g, you immediately know you could wear these headphones for hours without them weighing your head down. While that’s a little heavier than my beloved Bose QC35 II headphones it’s a world apart from the heavier JBL Club One.
While the weight is important, comfort in headphones is dictated by many factors. Keeping with Huawei’s shift towards sustainable leather alternatives, the FreeBuds Studio headphones use protein leather on the ear cups and headband. Both are generously padded meaning, combined with the headphones weight, these are incredibly comfy.
The cups are connected to the headband with premium feeling stainless steel. The result is not just comfort but secure headphones which don’t move around too much. This also adds to the noise cancelling experience, but more on that later.
Some of the controls are fairly obvious. On the left headphone you get the Active Noise Cancelling control button (ANC). On the right you’ll find power, Bluetooth and the USB-C port. What’s less obvious is that the right headphone also has a touch interface. Usually I hate these with a passion but the FreeBuds Studio gesture controls aren’t that bad. This is down to the ensure headphone surface being the control area.
- Swipe Up – Volume Up
- Swipe Down – Volume Down
- Swipe Left – Previous Track
- Swipe Right – Next Track
- Double Tap – Play/Pause
- Press and Hold – Launch Smart Assistant
All of these, including rather surprisingly the smart assistant, work really well. Touch accuracy is high, so maybe, just maybe, gesture controls could win me back over.
There is one thing I’ll call out here which will be a deal-breaker for some and a mere footnote for others. There’s no wired connection option. On the headphones there’s not 3.5mm connection and no additional connectors in the box. This is a wireless only job.
The last thing to touch on is the colours you can pick up the FreeBuds Studio. The shell of the headphones isn’t massively premium. However that’s made up for with the gorgeous soft protein leather, stainless steel band and lovely colours. You can pick up the FreeBuds Studio in Black and Rose Gold.
Right, so design-wise these are nearly faultless. I don’t think I’m too surprised by that given Huawei has always had a massive focus on aesthetics and that premium vibe. But for all the looks in the world, can Huawei product a genuinely great pair of headphones to compete with the very best?
FreeBuds Studio Sound Quality
When I first trialed the FreeBuds Studio I thought they were quiet. My mistake was not reading the manual and realising I could increase the volume using gesture controls on the headphones themselves. So watch out for that.
Once I worked out how to use technology, embarrassing as that was for me, I was blown away by the level of sound quality the FreeBuds Studio delivered. Now, I won’t lie. They’re not mind blowing but I think that’s down to the fact I test so many headphones. They are, however, as good, if not better than, some of my favourite headphones across a range of sound specs.
The overall sound experience is crisp and generally brilliant. The built in drivers provide a surprisingly sharp sound across treble, mids and bass with little bleed. I’ve been testing some podcasts, jazz and metal, Slipknot as the latter with the headphones delivering in every single category.
Active Noise Cancelling
Huawei has been toying with ANC over the past few years. The FreeBuds 3 were a little lack lustre on this particular spec but the ambition was not to be sniffed at. The FreeBuds Pro nailed it and left me a bit shook at how good ANC could be in a fair of buds, let alone a pair of buds by a company not traditionally considered to be an audio specialist.
It seems rather fitting that the FreeBuds Studio pull together several elements to make a truly remarkable pair of ANC headphones. I’ve mentioned in a few reviews that my new standardised test no longer requires flying. Instead, my trusty fan extractor in the kitchen is the test. To my utter shock, the FreeBuds Studio takes it to the Bose QC35 II headphones for noise cancelling.
Now, hearing being such a subjective thing is an important note to make. I’ve always considered the Bose to be the best ANC headphones on the market while others say the same of the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones. I guess what I’m really saying is that there may be small gaps between the top-of-the-range ANC headphones but the FreeBuds Studio are sitting amongst the very top level headphones on the market.
Wireless headphones over the years have come on leaps and bounds when it comes to making and taking calls. The Huawei FreeBuds 3 packed in so much technology to ensure call clarity that I now actually consider this to be a crucial part of good headphones.
Sure enough, the FreeBuds Studio maintain expectations for call quality in quiet scenarios. The quality does take a drop when calling in noisy, or particularly windy scenarios. This was a particular strength of the Huawei FreeBuds range until now but the over-ear form factor does mean new and unique design challenges for Huawei.
Other FreeBuds Studio Notes
Right, so that’s the bulk of this headphone review done and dusted but there are some other thing worth noting.
One feature I adore is multi-device connections. This is great when working from home and despite everything what Huawei has been going through, this remains completely operating system agnostic.
This feature means you can connect your headphones to your Windows laptop and iPhone. While working away on your laptop, you can listen to Spotify but as soon as you get a call your headphones will cleverly switch to the phone.
Smart Assistant Support
Huawei has begun rolling out and testing its own smart assistant called Celia. It’s very early stage and unfortunately resembles the ability of Samsung’s Bixby at the moment. This means that, for me at least, there are really still only two smart assistants battling it out for my favour:
- Google Assistant
- Amazon Alexa
The cool thing here is that the Huawei FreeBuds Studio can still activate and control this assistants. All you have to do is long press the right headphone.
This element of the test is on-going but I’m happy enough to give you an early opinion. Particularly considering the lightweight nature of these headphones, the battery life is remarkable. I’ve been using them for ages already and the battery is depleting really slowly.
Huawei advertise that the FreeBuds Studio are expected to deliver 20 hours of ANC listening or 24 hours with ANC disabled. The key call out being there’s very few flights you’d be caught short of battery life with these. Even if you did get a chance to charge for just ten minutes, you’d buy yourself another 8 hours with a full charge being achieved in 60 minutes.
Huawei FreeBuds Studio: The Verdict
I’m very conscious that Huawei sends me a lot of gear to review and that it’s nearly always a positive conclusion I reach. I’m actually on the look out for negatives more than ever to try and strike some balance here. Unfortunately, the FreeBuds Studio aren’t helping.
These headphones are almost perfect and frankly, for a brand traditionally associated with smartphones and modems, Huawei’s seamless transition into the audio space will surely frighten the likes of Bose, Sennheiser and Sony.
The FreeBuds Studio are comfortable, easy to use and all while delivering a fantastic audio experience. There is absolutely no reason why these shouldn’t be considered at the very top of the list when it comes to ANC over-ear headphones. At €299, Huawei might very well be able to sneak in and land grab some share of the headphone market this Christmas.
The FreeBuds Studio will be available in selection Vodafone stores around Ireland from November 6th.