HUAWEI has seriously upgraded its audio game (to be honest, the company has been improving its entire game in the past few years) starting with the FreeBuds 3 last year. For 2020, HUAWEI offers a bulletproof audio palette, from FreeLace Pro with great sound to Premium FreeBuds Pro.
For 2020, however, the company has ventured into full-fledged over-ear headphones, with FreeBuds Studio being the company’s first such product. The timing is perfect as Apple has just announced a similar product with the AirPods Max, which is a major competitor to FreeBuds Studio among a few select brands from other brands such as Sony, Bose, Shure, Jabra, and similar companies.
We’ll wrap up the two weeks we’ve spent using the wireless noise cancellation cans with our HUAWEI FreeBuds Studio review below.
HUAWEI FreeBuds Studio specifications
The FreeBuds Studio comes in gold and black (our device) and weighs 260 grams, which is pretty light considering its size. The claimed 24-hour playback (with the ANC turned off) is achieved by the 410 mAh battery, which you can charge via a USB Type-C port on the right.
The sound comes from the two dynamic 40 mm drivers with an operating frequency of 4 Hz to 48 kHz, which goes well beyond the sound range that can be perceived by human ears. Thanks to the six microphones inside the headphones, intelligent and dynamic noise suppression is possible (eight in total, four on each side).
Other hardware components are radios for Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity, three buttons (two on the right for power supply and Bluetooth and one on the left for switching the ANC mode) and a touchpad on the back on the right for gestures in addition to a microphone sensor, capacitance sensor, IMU sensor as well as premium audio codec chip.
Design, build and fit
Everything about FreeBuds Studio screams premium (including the price) the moment you unpack the headphones. They come in a very nice carrying case (which is not made of leather) that will provide protection during your trip.
The upper part of the headrest (or headband) is made of soft plastic, while the lower part that comes in contact with your head is made of vegan leather (as are the speaker cushions that are in contact with your ears) and in the middle are softly padded.
The pillows themselves are also soft to the touch and very comfortable to wear. The chassis is made of metal and sliding the two cans up and down to adjust your fit is very accurate and firm. The back of the cans and the outer shell are also made of polycarbonate, but the overall look and feel of the product is top notch.
Once you’ve found the best fit for your head size, you need to make sure that the cans (pillows) fit your ears well. It’s an easy customization, but we had to tweak a little on occasion to get the best isolation and audio quality.
When you’ve done all of this, you’ll be amazed at how light and soft they feel. After a while, you will actually forget you are wearing them, which is exactly the opposite of some other headphones that become uncomfortable to wear after a while.
This might be more of a personal impression or a problem, but I didn’t start sweating after wearing the FreeBuds Studio for an extended period of time, which I occasionally encounter when using other headphones.
It takes a little getting used to getting used to the positions of the buttons on either side, but you will get used to them after a few hours.
On the other hand, the cushions do not appear to be removable, which can lead to problems with wear and tear over time. We wish owners could easily remove old ones when they are worn or damaged in order to replace them with new ones.
Audio quality, ANC and experience
The dynamic 40mm drivers meet expectations. However, as mentioned earlier, you need to make sure the fit is snug for the drivers to shine. Why is it so important? HUAWEI uses a TAT (Tee Audio Tube) structure, which is responsible for connecting the inner ear cavity with the anterior and posterior acoustic cavity. The TAT structure not only balances the air pressure in your ears and offers a comfortable wearing experience, but also filters out medium and high-frequency noises.
All of this simply means that these cans sound really good. With a very wide frequency response, you can be sure that you will hear even the deepest bass as well as the highest hiss.
HUAWEI designed the FreeBuds Studio with HiFi quality in mind. The potential of the drivers themselves is expanded by an audio codec chip that has less distortion and lower noise floor while offering a higher dynamic range.
To get the most out of the headphones, you need to ensure that the source (your music) is of high quality. When it comes to audio quality, audiophiles know that the overall quality of your entire system is as good as its weakest component. It doesn’t matter how hi-fi your headphones are if the music you’re playing is poor quality.
However, if you’re playing lossless or very high bitrate encoded music, you’ll be more than happy with the audio quality of FreeBuds Studio. With the high-resolution L2HC codec, the headphones can transmit audio at a speed of up to 960 kbps. That’s more than twice the frequency and almost four times the transmission speed of the AAC codec for 24-bit audio.
Unless you are into technology and the terminology above, all you need to know is that you will not be disappointed. You will love the sounds you hear and you might even hear parts or instruments in a song that you never knew were there.
Similar to other products in the FreeBuds and FreeLace family of youngest headphones, FreeBuds Studio also features HUAWEI’s proprietary Active Noise Cancelation system. If you have a current HUAWEI or HONOR phone, you can optimize the ANC in the AI Life app and choose between Ultra, Cozy and General modes. These instruct the ANC to be more or less aggressive depending on the environment.
If you use the FreeBuds Studio with another phone (e.g. an iPhone), you can only select one of the following three modes: ANC on, Awareness and ANC off.
In awareness mode, ambient noises can be let through so that you are always aware of your surroundings while listening to music. The voice mode, which you can activate in the AI Life app, only lets human voices through while blocking the rest of the ambient noise.
Noise cancellation extends to phone calls as well. FreeBuds Studio uses six microphones to properly enhance your calls. According to HUAWEI, “The four outward-facing microphones effectively pick up human voices from the background noise using beamforming technology. The other two inward-facing microphones collect the voice in the ear and avoid strong wind disturbances. “
And since these are phone calls, I’ll mention here (rather than in the “Experience” section below) that we didn’t have any issues. We heard people very well and we were heard loud and clear on the other end of the call, be it a normal call or WhatsApp / Face Time / Facebook.
While the overall experience can vary depending on what type of phone you’re using (of course, your experience will be the best when paired with a current HUAWEI phone), the FreeBuds Studio offers a superior user interface.
Once you get used to the gestures available on the touchpad 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 very flat. Swiping up and down increases or decreases the volume. Swiping back and forth will take you to your next or previous track. Double tapping will activate the play / pause or answer / end button, while tapping and holding will either activate your voice assistant or reject the incoming call.
The experience is also complemented by the wear detection function. FreeBuds Studio detects whether you are wearing it or not, and music pauses automatically when you remove the headphones and resumes when you put them back on.
We tested FreeBuds Studio with both a HUAWEI Mate 40 Pro and an iPhone 12 Pro Max, as well as a desktop computer, to fully capture the pairing and overall experience. It’s worth mentioning here that the FreeBuds Studio has a dual device connection that allows you to connect two devices at the same time.
With the Mate 40 Pro, pairing is seamless. EMUI 11 will automatically detect the headphones and ask them to pair thanks to the pop-up pairing feature that searches, finds and offers to connect to FreeBuds Studio. From now on it’s all about tweaking the settings in the AI Life app to your liking and using EMUI’s hists in the sound settings, which can have a dramatic effect on your experience.
Pairing with the iPhone and the desktop computer provides a similar experience. You will need to manually put the FreeBuds Studio into pairing mode (there is a Bluetooth button on the right) and then manually pair it with your phone or computer. They don’t have software to tinker with the settings, so expect a raw user experience, but premium nonetheless. With the ANC button on the left side you can still activate or deactivate the noise suppression and switch the awareness mode.
Battery life shouldn’t be a problem. Our mileage was pretty close to what HUAWEI claims: 24 hours of music playback with the ANC off and almost 20 hours with the ANC on. We obviously didn’t manage to test everything in one take, but the time periods used added up near these numbers.
However, it took more than an hour for the hair to fully charge from 0 to 100 percent. 10 minutes of quick charge was enough for almost eight hours of music playback.
The price of the FreeBuds Studio varies from market to market. This has been HUAWEI’s approach in the recent past, and it is with this product too.
In the UK, at the time of this review, it will set you back £ 229.99 from the original £ 299.99 and HUAWEI throws in a Watch Fit worth £ 119.99.
In France you pay € 299.99, but in Spain you pay € 249.99. In any case, we’re looking at a rather high price, but compared to the almost 600 euros Apple charges for the AirPods Max, it is less than half the price.
Considering that the FreeBuds Studio is HUAWEI’s first full-fledged headphone, the company got it to the point in every way. With a great design, great audio quality, great noise cancellation, and great battery life, the FreeBuds Studio is a great choice if you are looking for wireless headphones not just for the holidays.
Advantages and disadvantages
+ great design;
+ good battery life;
+ excellent audio quality;
+ first-class noise cancellation;
+ Touch gestures;
+ Connection with multiple devices;
+ Wear detection.
– no IP protection class at all (watch out for rain);
– Some features are only available for HUAWEI phones.
– only two color options;
– Cushions cannot be removed / replaced by the user.