Updated: Aug 19, 2021
Written by Cheryl Tan
With most big brands going the route of adding ANC into their true wireless earbuds, Huawei has joined the game. The FreeBuds 3 claims to be the world’s first open-fit earbuds with active noise cancellation and bone sensor technology.
I have to admit, I was sceptical of how well the ANC would perform when I heard about it since open-fit earbuds and ANC don’t really go hand-in-hand. The whole point of open-fit earbuds is to allow external noise to trickle in, which defeats the purpose of ANC.
But for the sake of the review, I tested out the FreeBuds 3 with an open mind. The buds come in a puck-shaped carrying case, which does look bulky and certainly has a bigger footprint than others out there. But it still fits into jeans pockets without having too unsightly a bulge, so I’ll give Huawei the point here.
The case closes with a pretty satisfying snap, but the main drawback is that it uses glossy plastic and that means it’s a fingerprint magnet. There’s no way you’ll be able to keep this case pristine and glossy, it’s just the nature of the beast.
Sound quality though, is surprisingly decent. It’s a well-balanced sound with the mids being the most prominent part. I do feel the lows could be a bit meatier, but overall, I think Huawei did a pretty good job tuning these.
The soundstage is a little thin and not as spacious as I would like, but again, most true wireless earphones don’t have great soundstages. Passive noise isolation is as expected, it doesn’t seal the ear so there’s next to no isolation.
Turning on the ANC, I heard it kick in for a second, then it seemed to switch to something akin to Transparency mode. I tested it a few times but always ended up with the same result. Now, I’m not sure if this is an issue with our review unit, but I tested it out again on a second unit and the same issue came up.
At this point, I was pretty certain I was the issue, not the earphones, so I downloaded the Huawei AI Life app and connected it via the app. After updating the earphones, I found the noise-cancelling toggle. Clicking on it brought me to a page where I could adjust the level of noise cancellation via a dial. I played around with it and I finally got it to work.
It was quite effective in cancelling out the low hum of the air-conditioner, but human voices were still very much audible. Sound quality does take a bit of a hit when ANC is on, voices and the soundstage feel a bit more compressed, but it’s common for all earbuds with ANC.
The ANC probably wouldn’t be very useful on a plane or train, but it does help to cut out some external noise. Right now, I’m typing away on my keyboard and I can still hear the clacking of keys even with the FreeBuds 3 in.
There are touch controls on the stems of the earbuds, but I’ve found them to be a bit finicky. Double tapping on the stems don’t always do what you want them to, and it gets old fast when you have to tap 4 or 6 times just to switch songs.
Battery life isn’t fantastic though. I’ve found the earbuds to last around 3.5 hours on a charge with ANC turned on and music around 70%. Considering the effectiveness of the ANC, I think it’s relatively fair to ask for at least 4 hours on a charge. The case holds another 5 charges, so that’s 24 hours total.
Bluetooth connectivity is good, I never got any drops or stutters. Huawei managed to fit 14.2mm dynamic drivers into these, which is pretty impressive considering the size of the earbuds. Unfortunately, there’s no aptx support, only SBC and AAC.
So who should get the FreeBuds 3? I think it’s a no brainer for people who already have or are planning to get a Huawei phone. Pairing is just as easy as the AirPods with iPhones, and of course, you get the ability to customise gestures and such with the AI Life app.
For Apple users, there’s no reason to get these since pairing won’t be as idiotproof and there’s no ecosystem continuity. For other Android users, it really depends. If you’re looking for a pair of open-fit earphones that still offers a bit of ANC, these are great. If you’re looking for the best sound quality or the best ANC performer, there are other options that will beat the FreeBuds 3.
More information about the Huawei FreeBuds 3 (S$238) and buying options are available on Huawei’s website.