The second iteration of Huawei's flagship earbuds is worthy of the 'pro' part of its name when it comes to pure technical performance. At first you'll be blown away by the highly detailed, balanced sound that delivers impressively strong (but not overpowering) bass and clear vocals. But the more you listen, the more it feels like something is missing – the personality. Most music comes across as rather clinical and lacking the feel and emotional impact you get from a truly great pair of headphones. The FreeBuds Pro 2 earbuds are still very, very good, but at $349 you're better off waiting until they're on sale or a price drop brings them below $299.
Huawei may be known for its phones, but the tech giant has been making headphones for some time as well. The FreeBuds Pro 2 earbuds manage to cram a lot of impressive tech into a small, lightweight package and the sound quality seems to live up to the hype – well, for the most part.
On a technical level, Huawei's FreeBuds Pro 2 earbuds sound great, with excellent detail across all audible frequencies, strong bass that isn't overbearing, and nice clear vocals. It's a very balanced sound as well, so you don't wind up with excessive low-end or vocals dominating the mix.
But that's not to say the bass is subdued. The FreeBuds' tiny drivers still create a nice full sound that lightly rumbles your ears without distortion. Mids and highs very rarely come off as harsh or tinny and the buds can even get quite loud without breaking up.
And yet despite this technical prowess, the FreeBuds Pro 2s lack personality. Everything sounds a bit clinical and the dynamics can be quite flat, which often reduces the emotional impact. You can hear all the elements, sure, but you can't always feel the music so to speak.
For example, you rarely get the sense that electronic blips and bloops are bouncing around between your ears – grand prog rock tracks designed to build up to an epic conclusion don't really reach the intended heights. Even the delicate pluck of an acoustic string sounds nice, but not quite satisfying.
Still, it's hard not to be impressed by the detail and clarity, and this accurate sound reproduction will be enough for some people. It's just a shame that the personality, which can define truly great headphones, is lacking here.
Note: The bulk of our sound quality assessment was conducted using Spotify for Android on 'Very high' audio quality (320kb/s), with the headphones set to standard quality, AAC Bluetooth. We used the default equaliser setting.
The FreeBuds Pro 2 earbuds sound great but lack personality.
The accompanying AI Life app includes an equaliser with four presets and a custom slot (we assessed the buds on the default setting). A bit of EQ tweaking does help the technical performance and the default setting actually delivers a pleasant balance, but these still don't fix the clinical feel. Even so, it's nice to have an actual equaliser included with the app.
Huawei also claims that the headphones will automatically adjust the EQ to create optimum sound quality based on your ear and ear canal shapes. This, however, is difficult to quantify as everyone's idea of 'good sound' is subjective.
LDAC and lossless performance
Huawei has included support for LDAC, a Bluetooth codec that claims to wirelessly transmit high-resolution audio without compression. It's supposedly similar to aptX, but better. Our test smartphone doesn't support LDAC so we conducted our lossless assessment with standard Bluetooth 5.
A quick run of lossless files (FLAC) streamed via Plex from a local server revealed a marked uptick in sound quality. Dynamics are still a little flat but different instruments, effects and vocal layers do have more breathing room. It's a better indication of what the FreeBuds Pro 2s can actually achieve even though the personality is still kind of lacking.
Lip sync is a key performance aspect for wireless headphones and you won't have any issues with the FreeBuds Pro 2s. Sound quality for movies, shows, and YouTube is just fine as well. Nothing amazing, but they're also not flat-out bad.
The Bluetooth connection is steady for the most part, though you'll probably experience some interference in the form of stuttering or audio dropping out when you're in crowded places. The low latency setting in the AI Life app can mitigate this a bit.
There are three levels of active noise cancellation (ANC) in the FreeBuds Pro 2 app. These adjust the level of ambient noise reduction for low (cosy), moderate (general) and noisy (ultra) environments. There's also a dynamic setting that adjusts these settings on the fly by continually analysing surrounding sounds.
The ANC does a good job of reducing the general hubbub of daily life (like an open-plan office or busy traffic sounds) to a quiet murmur. However, it does seem to rely on audio playback as well, as the ANC is less effective during quieter moments in songs. It may not be the isolated experience you get when wearing higher-end headphones, but you're unlikely to find outside noise distracting.
Dynamic mode works quite well, too – the buds will shift from general to ultra as you move from a quiet side street onto a main road.
Voice and awareness modes
When you pinch the buds, these settings temporarily make it easier to hear other people or announcements (such as train times). Although these features work, pinching the buds is one step away from simply removing them for a moment, so these options feel a little redundant.
You won't have any trouble hearing the person on the other end of the line when you're on a call, and thanks to good voice isolation tech, they won't have any trouble hearing you either. There's a good degree of clarity and volume even though the overall quality is a little compressed. The optional 'HD calls' setting in the AI Life app provides a noticeable uptick in quality albeit at the expense of battery life.
The buds sit comfortably but may be a bit flashy for some.
The FreeBuds Pro 2s don't have built-in support for digital assistants such as Google Home, Alexa and Siri, so voice commands won't work until you activate the assistant on your smartphone or tablet first.
Huawei's AI Life app is basically a central hub for all their products. When connected to the headphones, it lets you adjust noise cancellation, audio equalisation, controls (aka gestures) and other simple settings. It also lists all the previously connected devices so you can easily switch between them.
It's a well-designed app that's clear, easy to navigate and concise without being overly simple. But it's worth noting that Huawei apps are not permitted on the Google Play store so Android owners will need to download it from another website listed in the instruction manual.
The AI Life app is easy to use and can help tailor the buds to suit your ears.
The buds have a handful of simple onboard controls with basic functionality such as play/pause, skip, replay, and answer calls. You can also adjust the volume by swiping up and down the stem.
These are responsive physical controls, not touch commands (aside from the volume), and that's a good thing. Almost everything is controlled by pinching or holding the stem one or more times and you hear a satisfying click once they're active. That means you don't run the risk of accidentally pausing or skipping a song when adjusting the fit or scratching your ear.
It's nice to find a pair of buds that keep things simple, as it's not uncommon to see other brands trying to cram as many touch commands into their headphones as possible. But that being said, the single touch command – volume swipe – doesn't work all that well.
The small case fits comfortably in your jeans pocket.
Huawei claims that the FreeBuds Pro 2 earbuds will last four hours with ANC turned on and that appears to be right on the money.
But your mileage will vary depending on which settings are turned on or off. For example, the batteries will last longer with ANC turned off, but turning on LDAC and HD calls will decrease battery life.
Four hours isn't bad, but it's on the shorter side. It won't cover a flight across the country from Sydney to Perth but it'll be enough to keep you awake on the ride home after a night out. Plus, four hours is fairly common for buds of this size – Apple's AirPods Pro have a claimed battery life of 4.5 hours.
Look, fit and feel
We didn't encounter any fit or comfort issues during our assessment of the FreeBuds. The medium-sized silicon tips sat comfortably and kept each bud in place during light to moderately strenuous movement such as gardening, mowing the lawn, cleaning and walking around town. The carry case is lightweight and small enough to slip into your jeans pocket.
Even though the reflective gloss finish and long stems are hardly discreet, the headphones don't feel like they're in the way. But you may want to consider another brand of headphones if you're not into 'bling' as these are only available in styles suited for those who like a bit of flash.
Each bud has an IP54 rating which protects against dust and liquid splashes, and Huawei also supplies extra small and large-sized silicon tips to help you get the right fit for your ears.
If the FreeBuds Pro 2s had a bit of personality, improved dynamic range and slightly longer battery life, they'd be worth every cent of the $349 price tag. But they're not quite there so you're better off waiting for a sale or price drop that brings them down under $299.
- Bluetooth 5.2 (AAC and SBC) with LDAC for claimed high-res wireless connectivity.
- High-res audio certified.
- Frequency range: 14–48,000Hz.
- Battery life: Up to four hours (claimed, with ANC on).
- Charging case with additional 14 hours of battery (claimed, with ANC on).
- Carry case with USB-C and wireless charging.
- Accompanying smartphone app to adjust equalisation and settings.
- Onboard physical and touch controls.
- Weight: 6.1 grams per bud.
- Charging case weight: 52 grams.