Huawei Freebuds 3 Review
The true wireless market is booming. Huawei is trying a surprising breakthrough with its Huawei Freebuds 3, a model that combines earbuds with active noise canceling. Do the two mix well?
- Pleasant sound
- Chic charging case
- High wearing comfort
- Short battery life (3 hours 8 minutes)
- Wind-prone noise canceling
Huawei had surprised during the 2019 edition of the IFA by presenting the very first true wireless earbuds with active noise reduction on the market. The announcement is surprising since all manufacturers trying to active noise reduction have gone through semi-in-ear or in-ear models. Seeking to surf the resounding success of AirPods, the Chinese brand highlights its Kirin A1 audio chip and its proprietary technologies to promise solid sound performance, reduced latency, intuitive use, and very good quality voice capture.
The resemblance of Huawei Freebuds 3 to the famous AirPods will certainly not have escaped you. Aesthetic appreciation aside, this pair of headphones benefit from very honest build quality and finish. The whole seems robust, even if the manufacturer does not promise any particular resistance for sports practice, for example. You can also see a few assembly marks here and there, but nothing that compromises the strength of the headphones. The storage case benefits from the same design work.
The Freebuds 3 do well in terms of comfort. Remember that these are so-called “button” earphones, so there are no tips to seal the entrance to the ear canal. However, they are light (4.5 g per earpiece), fit very easily in the conch of the flag, and are placed naturally. Once adjusted, we didn’t notice any maintenance issues for classic on-the-go listening. The plastic coating, on the other hand, becomes slippery with moisture and sweat.
While failing to isolate the user from the outside world, the button format has the advantage of being more universal than the intra format in terms of comfort. No headset is, however, perfectly universal. For example, two reported a small discomfort between the tragus and the anti-tragus among the ten or so people surveyed during long use sessions (more than an hour of consecutive use). Nothing too bad, though.
The resemblance to Apple’s AirPods isn’t limited to design. Indeed, all the functions offered by the Huawei Freebuds 3 can be unlocked with the terminals under EMUI 10. We then benefit from three additional ergonomic functions:
- Presence detection (autoplay/pause).
- Simplification of Bluetooth pairing (a pop-up appears when the earphones are near the phone, such as AirPods paired with iOS smartphones).
- Automatic pairing toggle on all Huawei devices ( Watch GT 2 or Matebookfor example).
Although we lament the lack of presence detection on all terminals, the manufacturer has not forgotten the other Android users by making its AI Life application available on the Play Store. Certain information, options, and additional features are thus accessible to the greatest number … except to iOS users since the application is not present on the App Store.
The pairing and the startup of Huawei Freebuds 3 are done in a relatively conventional way if we put aside the specificities related to smartphones under EMUI 10. Pairing is very simple and fast, whether to use one of the two headphones or both. However, we would still have appreciated a mono summation when using a single earphone (left or right channel depending on the earphone used). Freebuds communicate via Bluetooth 5.1 (SBC and AAC codecs supported) with a single device at a time (no multipoint connection). However, the wireless connection is very stable.
The manufacturer has chosen the sensitive touch panel for its flagship headphones. At the risk of repeating ourselves, the resemblance to AirPods is once again glaring. There is indeed only one action available per earpiece via double-tap, which frankly limits the possibilities. Fortunately, the controls are quite responsive, and it is possible to assign the action of each earpiece through the app. This same app also summarizes the battery level of each cell and allows adjusting the active noise reduction. We will come back to this last point in detail in the Audio part of this test.
The autonomy promised by Huawei is around 4 hours without active noise reduction, possibly recharging the headphones four times. A time that we were able to achieve in practice, or even exceed (up to 4 h 20 min on several occasions). On the other hand, we could not recharge our headphones more than three consecutive times with the box before having to recharge them. Unsurprisingly, autonomy takes a serious hit with the activation of active noise reduction. We then arrive at a duration of use per charge of between 2 h 40 min and three h, far from the four h 30 min of the AirPods Pro or the six h 30 min of the WF-1000XM3. Recharging via the mains is, on the other hand, very fast: it only takes an hour to fully charge the box and the headphones once the batteries are flat. Note that the box is compatible with Qi wireless charging and reverse wireless charging with compatible devices; a little extra is always welcome.
Side latency, Freebuds 3 are among the good students in the category of true wireless. Using an application that natively compensates for part of the Bluetooth latency (such as Youtube, Netflix, etc.) allows you to follow a video with a minimum of comfort. The onboard microphones are doing well and delivering a very good quality of capture for calls. The intelligibility of the voice is ensured in a noisy environment. Your interlocutor will have no trouble understanding you. However, there are some limitations (muffled voice, “chewed” syllables) in some very noisy places. Other than that, they are doing their job.
Audio Quality of Huawei Freebuds 3
The Freebuds 3 offers a good listening experience, moreover for in-ear headphones. The sound rendering is not the most faithful, but still very well mastered and musical.
This pair of headphones deliver a sound rendering for the least colorful, with a nice signature in W. We find the limits of this format of headphones in the lowest frequencies, below 40 Hz. This prevents enjoying relatively round and warm bass since the Freebuds 3 put a little more emphasis on this region. Nevertheless, the feeling of impact is there, the seat relatively solid – again, for headphones of this type and in a calm environment – and the definition sufficient to correctly identify the elements operating in this region. Even on particularly demanding songs, the good behavior of the membranes keeps the bass in place without any overflow.
The most audible coloration is that located in the midrange, between 1 and 2 kHz. Both male and female voices are propelled to the front of the stage. Their intelligibility is therefore perfectly assured. Lovers of clear vocals will surely appreciate it. The attack, in other words, the “slamming” aspect of many sources (percussions, stringed instruments…), is also highlighted. This gives the sound a particularly punchy and dynamic aspect, without being aggressive, if we stay at a reasonable listening level (human hearing is particularly sensitive in this area).
The Freebuds 3 are much smoother and smoother in the high mids, and the accuracy is good up to the higher frequencies. The highs also have the right to a certain coloring with an accentuated brilliance. Rest assured, the effect is much less impressive than what the measurement might suggest. There is no hissing or sibilance exaggeration.
The reproduction of the stereo scene is good, even very good horizontally, thanks to extremely low crosstalk. As a result, the different elements are well placed on the soundstage, and we can easily distinguish the subtle effects. However, certain remarks (the depth of the bass, the perception of fine details…) should be put into perspective with the extremely low passive isolation of these headphones. Without the help of active noise reduction, certain frequency bands and details are very quickly obscured by surrounding sounds.
Let’s come to active noise reduction since this is one of the main arguments of Freebuds 3. Even giving it the benefit of the doubt, we were not surprised by its poor performance. The headphones’ button format is not suitable for this technology since the entrance to the ear canal is not “sealed.” Due to the construction of the ear of our measuring dummy and the format of the headphones, we were unable to take relevant measurements and sufficiently close to our listening experience.
The manufacturer still offers the possibility of adapting the active noise reduction algorithm via a sensitive touch wheel located in the AI Life application. Once the right setting is found, we perceive a certain decline in the mids, but it is still far from what other semi-intros / intros can offer. Engine and road noise in public transport is hardly attenuated. The voices are still perceptible, even if a little less present. We can also hear sounds located in the treble (metallic contact noise, “s” and “f” sounds, etc.). What’s more, these barely noticeable changes vary enormously depending on the placement of the earpiece and the setting in the app. We are very often obliged to reposition the headphones and even to redo the adjustment in the application.
Huawei Freebuds 3 has a strong case for Android users looking for easy-to-use earbuds (for comfort or low insulation) and good sound performance. That said, we still wonder what went through the manufacturer’s mind to integrate active noise reduction in headphones of this type at all costs: a very anecdotal additional feature that unnecessarily increases the bill. If you seriously plan to buy true wireless with this feature, we recommend that you look at the WF-1000XM3, AirPods Pro (especially if you already have a foot in the Apple universe), or Track Air +.