Huawei FreeBuds 4 Review
After its in-ear headphones, Huawei has launched new wireless noise-canceling models, but with an open format, the Huawei FreeBuds 4. Can they compete with the best headphones on the market? This is what we will see in this complete test.
While Huawei has already launched its FreeBuds 4i at the start of the year and FreeBuds Pro headphones at the end of 2020, the Chinese manufacturer has not forgotten the wireless headphones with an open format. The Huawei FreeBuds 4, the brand’s latest additions, are thus open-fit headphones succeeding the FreeBuds 3 of 2019. But will they be able to convince in the face of an increasingly competitive market? This is what we will see in this complete test.
- Comfortable design
- Good sound quality
- Wear detection
- Annoying case
- Middling battery life
- No ANC control
- App issues
We take the same and start again. At first glance, this is what we could say when discovering the Huawei FreeBuds 4. However, it must be noted that the case and the format of the headphones is a direct extension of what Huawei has accustomed us to for a year and a half. . The case is thus still round, in the shape of a pebble, very close to that of the Huawei FreeBuds 3 launched at the end of 2019. However, it turns out to be a little lighter than the brand’s previous headphones and a little more compact. For example, we go from a diameter of 5.9 mm to a diameter of 5.8 mm. It does not change radically, far from it, but it is always advantageous to store it comfortably in a jeans pocket.
In use, the FreeBuds 4 case is also very easy to transport. It also opens very easily, thanks to a cover held by a simple spring hinge. It is much more intuitive than among many manufacturers using a button clasp which is not always easy to handle with one hand. Huawei has made progress on the ease of taking the headphones out of the case too. While the FreeBuds 4i and FreeBuds Pro were criticized for not leaving a step to slide a finger to have a good grip on the head of the headphones, this is now the case on the FreeBuds 4, and it is good more pleasant, especially if you have sweaty hands from the summer heat.
On the side of buttons and connectors, Huawei is still doing as much in simplicity. The box has a simple USB-C socket for charging on the contour, an LED on the front to indicate the battery level or the pairing status, and a button on the side to start the pairing precisely. Last point to underline, the rather thin hinge allowing to maintain the cover on the case. We would have liked it to be wider and with a little less slack to reassure its solidity.
The other big common point between the Huawei FreeBuds 4 and the FreeBuds 3 lies in the format of the headphones themselves. First, it must be said that, like their predecessors, the newborns of the Chinese manufacturer are wireless headphones, of course, but with an open-fit format. Concretely, this means that the headphones do not have tips to fit into the ear canal. The advantage of this formula is to avoid both physical and auditory discomfort with a blocking effect for users since the canal is not blocked. But, on the other hand, the sounds can tend to escape on this type of earphone, and there is no passive isolation, the external sound waves being able to bypass the earphone to reach the eardrum.
Huawei perfectly assumes this choice. According to the manufacturer’s figures, 52% of users prefer open headphones of this type, especially because of their comfort. This is why the firm wanted to keep this type of product in its catalog alongside the FreeBuds Pro and FreeBuds 4i, two pairs of in-ear headphones.
It must be said that the comfort sold by Huawei is very much in the game on these FreeBuds 4. Like Apple with its AirPods – whose FreeBuds design seems inspired – the headphones are particularly comfortable, and they hold well in place thanks to their rod. Headphones never tire the ear, and their lightness – 4.1 grams on the scale – allows them to be forgotten quite easily. Even when running, shaking your head, or chewing, the headphones stay in place. Note that the headphones are IPX4 certified and are therefore resistant to both rain and sweat. We can therefore go running without fear.
REDUCED NOISE REDUCTION, BUT MULTIPOINT BLUETOOTH
As with all its wireless headphones, Huawei offers a host of features on its FreeBuds 4. We find touch controls and functions via a dedicated application and an active reduction mode for ambient noise. For pairing the earphones with the smartphone, it is done automatically by opening the case the first time to a Huawei smartphone or tablet with at least EMUI 10. For other smartphones, PCs or tablets, open the box and press the pairing button for a few seconds so that the FreeBuds 4 can be found in the Bluetooth menu.
Like most wireless headphones on the market, the Huawei FreeBuds 4 can be controlled using touch surfaces. However, in the case of Huawei headphones, all of the rods, in their entire length, are tactile. We can therefore press wherever we want to control the headphones.
By default, Huawei offers relatively simple controls with a double-tap to pause the music or restart playback, a slide up or down to manage the sound volume, and a long press to activate or deactivate noise reduction. . By default, these are also the same controls that are offered with the left earphone and the right earphone.
If we appreciate the possibility of adjusting the volume with the touch functions of the FreeBuds 4, this, therefore, comes at a cost: it is not possible, by default, to use the FreeBuds 4 to go to the next track. Or to go back. However, this option can be activated in AI Life. Moreover, the Huawei application – which we will talk about later – indeed allows you to modify the touch controls … at least in part.
It is, in fact, not possible to modify the sliding up or down, just like the long press. On the other hand, you can assign the double press to several functions depending on the earpiece, left or right. For example, it is possible to choose that a double press on the left keeps the play/pause function, but that the same gesture, on the right earphone, allows you to go to the next title. Unfortunately, we only have two ears and, as you will have understood, it is, unfortunately, impossible to choose at the same time the pause, the next track, and then return to the previous track.
THE HUAWEI AI LIFE APP
As always, it is Huawei’s AI Life application that will allow you to manage the features of Huawei FreeBuds 4 more finely. As always, pay attention to the version of the application you download: the application from the Google Play Store does not. Is no longer updated. You will need to download the application from Huawei’s AppGallery store or scan the QR Code on the packaging of the headphones. Suffice to say that it’s rather frustrating to discover that Huawei’s main application to manage its headsets and headphones is no longer maintained on the main Android store on the market. Especially since AI Life is now available – and up to date – on the Apple App Store and the FreeBuds 4 can be used without problem on an iPhone or iPad.
Once downloaded and installed, the application will allow you to modify the touch controls, as we have seen previously, and update the headphones’ firmware. In addition, some other functions are present such as sound quality management for voice calls – if you want to improve it even if it means reducing the headphones’ battery – activation of noise reduction, automatic pause or emission sound on each earpiece to find if you have lost them.
It is also from AI Life that you will have access to the “Connection Hub,” the list of all the devices to which the FreeBuds 4 have already been paired and those to which they are currently connected.
Overall, the application does not revolutionize the genre and is far from what Sony can offer. Still, with a few shortcomings – such as the lack of a built-in equalizer – the essential is present.
ACTIVE NOISE REDUCTION
Like all FreeBuds since the FreeBuds 3, the Huawei FreeBuds 4 have an active noise canceling feature. However, if it was to be welcomed on the FreeBuds 3i, FreeBuds 4i, FreeBuds Pro, or the FreeBuds Studio headphones, it is less the case on FreeBuds 4.
Due to the lack of passive isolation, the FreeBuds 4 have a hard time filtering out ambient noise. Although it’s mechanical, the headphones may try to analyze the external noise to propose a phase inversion – opposite sound frequencies – the sound will always manage to reach the eardrum.
On the FreeBuds 4, this noise reduction function is somewhat anecdotal and hardly convincing. Admittedly, we will hear a slight difference once the function is activated, but it is pretty subtle. It is significantly distant sounds, such as traffic noise in the distance, that will be filtered, and not nearby noises, which are more present. Therefore, noise reduction will reduce overall noise pollution but certainly won’t isolate you in bubble-like in-ear headphones can. Please don’t rely on it to enjoy your music without hearing the sounds of motorcycles, talking around, or the sound of a much-needed fan on these hot days.
Huawei may announce a noise reduction of up to 25 dB and various parameters to adapt the noise reduction according to the shape of the ear or the position of the headphones. Still, it is impossible to detect a noticeable difference. After the FreeBuds 3 or the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, Huawei again fails to offer convincing noise reduction on open-fit headphones.
One of the main novelties of the FreeBuds 4 comes from its Bluetooth 5.2 connection. If the manufacturer already offered multipoint Bluetooth on its FreeBuds Pro, the function was missing. However, that is not the case here. Not only can the FreeBuds 4 be paired to multiple sources at the same time, but they can also connect to two devices simultaneously. Concretely, you can listen to music on your computer and answer your phone if it rings, all without removing your headphones. Better yet, unlike Samsung, Huawei allows this functionality even with smartphones from other manufacturers.
The only slight downside with this feature is the handling of two sources. Indeed, while several headphones prioritize the source emitting the most recent sound, the FreeBuds impose to cut the music on a basis before enjoying a second source. In addition, this function is not without causing problems in terms of Bluetooth stability. Concretely, it is not uncommon to have blackouts if you watch a streaming video on your PC while the headphones are connected simultaneously on your smartphone.
It is all the more unfortunate that, when connected to a single source, the FreeBuds 4 offers excellent Bluetooth signal stability. Even with the smartphone in the jeans pocket and the hand over it, the headphones manage to capture the signal perfectly and not suffer from micro-cuts. However, in a week of testing, my connection losses can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Finally, note that the FreeBuds 4 work individually from each other. Therefore, you can store one of the headphones in its case and continue to enjoy the second without any problem. In this type of use, the earpiece that continues to be worn will then retrieve the two stereo channels and transform them into a mono sound signal so that you do not lose half of the audio experience.
DISAPPOINTING AUDIO QUALITY
Huawei has integrated rather large transducers, 14.3 mm in diameter, for the management of audio on its headphones. The headphones are also able to go up to a frequency of 40,000 Hz in the treble.
On the codec side, however, FreeBuds 4 are rather limited. We will find support for SBC and AAC, the most commonly supported codecs, but no aptX, aptX Adaptive, aptX HD, or LDAC. As a high-quality codec, Huawei does not communicate either in the presence of a particular codec, whether it is the LHDC or the L2HC. These two codecs have been put forward for a long time by the Chinese manufacturer on its headsets. And smartphones.
To test the Huawei FreeBuds 4, I connected them to an Oppo Find X2 Pro using the AAC codec. The tracks for the test were offered on Spotify in “very high” quality, 320 kbps Ogg Vorbis.
From the first titles launched with the FreeBuds 4, the observation is simple: the headphones primarily emphasize the midrange and treble. This is particularly obvious on a track like Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy, where the base layer in the background is usually very sustained. So it is especially the snaps of the fingers and the singer’s voice highlighted by FreeBuds 4. Especially since, on the whole, the bass offered by Huawei’s headphones is quite slobbery and far from pleasant… and unfortunately, the same is true for the rest of the soundstage.
The highs, for example, are particularly dry and too deep, with a lack of sharpness. So much so that the sound signature of the headphones can tend to cause hearing fatigue. Not only is the signature not neutral, but it is also tiring. On the other hand, the vocals are better quality, except at high volume and a slight tendency to saturation in the mids and quite an unpleasant sibilance, audible in particular on Come Away with Me by Norah Jones.
Suppose you don’t like this sound signature… too bad for you. But, unfortunately, Huawei does not allow it to be changed using an equalizer in the AI Life app. You will, therefore, necessarily have to go through that of your smartphone or your audio playback application.
Fortunately, the FreeBuds 4 make up for it on the rather large and appreciable soundstage, with good spatialization effects. The same goes for the dynamics of the headphones, which are relatively high. In other words, headphones do an excellent job of differentiating between loud sounds and sounds played weakly… at least in the highs. So it is indeed, especially the mediums and the highs which will be pushed in the fortissimo, enough to increase the effect of auditory fatigue.
For voice calls, the FreeBuds 4 is very successful at filtering out ambient noise – including wind – for the person you’re talking to. However, this is not without consequences for the quality of your voice, which will be remarkably muffled at the other end of the line. To remedy this, Huawei offers an option “HD calls” in the AI Life application. This will significantly improve the quality of the capture, to the detriment of the headphones’ autonomy. However, the result is not perfect, but our interlocutor noted a considerable gain after activating the option.
On the battery side, the case of the Huawei FreeBuds 4 has a 410 mAh accumulator, while the headphones themselves benefit from 30 mAh batteries. According to Huawei, this would allow you to enjoy 4 hours of listening with the headphones and up to 22 hours with the charging case.
For my part, by launching the listening on the FreeBuds 4 with a volume at 75% and the noise reduction activated, I was able to use them for 3:49 before running out of battery. So, admittedly, it is close to the promises of the manufacturer. Still, currently, many headphones offer a much longer autonomy, sometimes approaching six to seven hours of use, even with noise reduction.
For recharging the headphones in their case, Huawei announces that an hour is enough for a full charge, and it is indeed the case. Starting with headphones with 0% battery, it only took 32 minutes for them to be fully charged, to 100%. However, after this charging session, the case – initially 100% charged – only had 87% battery power. This suggests that the box will allow the FreeBuds 4 to be powered six to seven times on a single charge.
Finally, note that, for recharging, the FreeBuds 4 are supplied with a USB-A to USB-C cable but without a power adapter. The case is also compatible with wireless charging.