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HUAWEI FreeBuds 5
What we like
What we don't like
HUAWEI FreeBuds 5
The FreeBuds 5 are the newest addition to HUAWEI’s growing catalog of diverse headphones. The true wireless earbuds bring with them a drastic change in appearance, in addition to some neat improvements under the hood. But with some of the best open-ear headphones being constantly updated, HUAWEI has a lot to prove with its latest installment. Not only that, but the recent release of the FreeBuds 5i set the company’s own bar higher than ever. Find out if these newest mid-tier buds are worth your cash in our HUAWEI FreeBuds 5 review.
HUAWEI FreeBuds 5 review: What you need to know
- HUAWEI FreeBuds 5: $139 / £139 / €159
The HUAWEI FreeBuds 5 came to European and UK markets on April 17, 2023. Just like their predecessors, the FreeBuds 4, they’re billed as “open-fit” earbuds. This means they lack the silicon ear tips that would usually seal your ear canals, leaving your audio feed semi-open to the outside world. Aside from this, however, they’re almost entirely unrecognizable from the FreeBuds 4. From the glossy waterdrop design of the buds to the marble-finish egg-shaped charging case, a lot has changed cosmetically in just under two years. It isn’t just the exterior, either. Lift the hood, and you’ll find notable improvements to ANC, sound quality, and Bluetooth connectivity. These upgrades come at a slightly inflated price, costing $139 at launch ($10 more than the FreeBuds 4).
The FreeBuds 5 retain the same AirPods-like plastic exterior we’ve come to expect of most modern earbuds. That said, they do come in a variety of appealing colors — Frost Silver, Ceramic White, and Coral Orange (pictured). The earbuds (but not the charging case) also benefit from an IP54 water-resistant rating, meaning your sweatiest workouts won’t damage the buds. The wider stems make it much easier to control touch gestures too. You can swipe up or down to adjust the volume and enable active noise cancelation (ANC) or reject incoming calls by holding down on the buds. A simple double-tap will also play and pause your music. Some unconventional-looking silicon ear tips are included, which help those with larger ears secure a comfortable fit.
The FreeBuds 5 boast improved battery life and better ANC than their predecessors.
Under the bonnet, the FreeBuds 5 have made some improvements upon features they share with the FreeBuds 4. For example, HUAWEI’s open-fit ANC 3.0 claims to adapt noise canceling to suit the unique size and shape of different ears. While that’s hard to test, the bud’s tri-mic configuration does appear to improve the level of noise reduction capabilities compared to the one found on its predecessors.
Battery life is greater too (although still below the average for wireless buds), with a maximum playback time of five hours with ANC deactivated. With ANC on, the buds should last up to 3.5 hours. The charging case also holds an additional 30 hours of juice, allowing you to potentially top up your buds another six times. Super-fast charging is present, providing up to two hours of playback time from just five minutes of charge. This is in addition to Qi wireless charging for those who prefer a tetherless user experience.
The FreeBuds 5 boast Bluetooth 5.2, allowing HUAWEI smartphones and tablets running EMUI 10.1 or later to pair two devices at once. Simply opening the case will display a prompt on your compatible smartphone, PC, or tablet to automatically switch between the connected devices. Bass frequencies are also 30% more prominent than those of the FreeBuds 4, reproducing sounds as low as 16Hz. They also claim an ultra-wide, personalized frequency response from 100Hz to 2kHz depending on the shape of your ears, fit, and volume level. Again, this is a difficult statistic to prove, but it’s welcome nonetheless. The inclusion of the high-res LDAC Bluetooth Codec is also sure to appease audiophiles looking for comfortable earbuds. For those using phones not compatible with this high-res codec, the FreeBuds 5 supports AAC and SBC Bluetooth connectivity too.
What I like about the HUAWEI FreeBuds 5
According to HUAWEI, the FreeBuds 5 have undergone tens of thousands of ergonomic simulations in order to achieve superior comfort. The fact that I’ve worn them on several occasions for hours at a time myself shows the proof is in the pudding. The head of the earbuds is large enough to sit nicely between the tragus and antitragus, but not so large as to cause friction. It’s also generally much harder to suffer ear fatigue when using open-fit designs. Not having to insert the buds directly into your ear canal means there’s much less pressure inside the ear. You don’t even need to conduct an ear fit test (nor does the AI Life app offer one here), given that the shape of the FreeBuds 5 is generally user-friendly and sits outside the ear canal.
Open-ear headphones also favor those who enjoy hearing vocals and higher-pitched instruments. In quieter environments, I found the sound quality of the FreeBuds 5 to be very enjoyable. While listening to Mind’s Eye by Joe Bonamassa, the guitar and vocals sat nicely on top of the mix. Hi-hats and violins sounded crisp without becoming sibilant, while the bass guitar produced a clear and well-defined tonality. The 11mm audio drivers deliver punchy kick drum notes by making the most of two magnetic circuits and HUAWEI’s proprietary custom tube. This supposedly boosts airflow while reducing resistance to the diaphragm while it vibrates. The result is a satisfying audio field between 16Hz to 40kHz. The inclusion of the LDAC Bluetooth codec enhances this experience even further. Those with compatible smartphones can make the most of a near-lossless 990kbps bitrate while supporting 24-bit 96kHz high-res music files.
HUAWEI’s companion app, AI Life, also boasts some very handy features to improve your audio experience. Most notable of all is the 10-band customizable equalizer. Users can adjust a range of frequencies from 60Hz up to 16kHz by up to +6dB and -6dB. However, it is worth noting that you can only save a maximum of three different custom presets. Those looking for pre-made adjustments can take advantage of the four built-in EQ presets, including default, bass boost, treble boost, and voices.
Personally, I found the bass boost not only enhanced the bass guitar and kick drum but also made the keys more prominent in the mix. The treble boost makes cymbals a little sibilant in some instances while bringing electric guitars to the fore. The voices preset is very good at enhancing vocals and adding clarity to podcasts. Overall, I found all four EQ presets to be much closer to my expectations when compared to other equalizers in competitors’ companion apps.
The FreeBuds 5 make superior comfort and sound quality their number one priority.
Touch gestures are extremely easy and deliberate with the FreeBuds 5. The lack of single-tap functionality stops accidental song skipping or pausing when inserting the buds into the ear. That’s incredibly welcome, as I often do this while using my Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro, for example. The widened stems make it much easier to tap the buds on the go too. They even work with longer hair, as they’re wide enough to find when hidden under your locks. The slide control is pleasing to use, and the buds will automatically pause your music if you take one out. When you put the earbud back in, there’s a distinctive two-tone sound prompt to alert you that your music is about to restart. There’s also a “noise canceling on/off” voice notification when you want to activate or deactivate noise canceling.
I’m also a big fan of the stylish egg-shaped charging case. As well as being aesthetically pleasing, it feels good in the hand and weighs a satisfying 45g. The matte finish keeps fingerprints at bay and appears to be scratch-resistant. The flattened back panel means the case is small enough to place in your pocket with ease. The lid opens and closes with an addictively playful “snap,” too.
There’s a slight magnetic pull on the buds to keep them in place when you open the lid, though not as intense as with the FreeBuds 5i. The LED light on the front is also incredibly useful, indicating the level of charge when you open the case. This glows green when above 90% charge, orange when between 20%-40%, and red below 20%. The pairing button is also easy to locate on the right side of the case, with the USB-C charging port situated at the bottom.
Finally, there’s the microphone quality. Like most true wireless earbuds, the sound you’ll get from the FreeBuds 5 is pretty average. They’re a marked improvement upon the FreeBuds 5i, however, and are good at delivering intelligible audio in quieter environments. For this HUAWEI FreeBuds 5 review, I created a microphone demo where I stood roughly one meter away from a boiling kettle. At first, you can hear my voice clearly and the initial rumbling of the kettle. However, shortly afterward, the earbuds’ background noise suppression kicks in, rendering the rumble of the kettle nearly inaudible. Unfortunately, this also cancels out some of the voice which you can hear at the end of the demo. The sound quality isn’t the best, but other buds on the market have dropped audio with much less intense interference.
How does the microphone sound to you?
While there are many positives to take away from HUAWEI’s latest open-fit buds, they won’t be the best choice for everyone.
What I don’t like about the HUAWEI FreeBuds 5
By design, open-fit headphones are suited for those who want to hear their surroundings and audio feed simultaneously. While that has some useful applications, such as when cycling, running, and crossing the road, I personally struggled to make use of it. In-ear headphones with transparency mode are great at both isolating your music and keeping you connected to the outside world. In contrast, open-fit earbuds only really work in quieter environments. For example, I wore the HUAWEI FreeBuds 5 when flying from London to Vienna. I could hear the airport announcements clearly, but my music was essentially inaudible over all the noise. Even when using the buds’ ANC feature, voices leak through almost entirely unsuppressed. Without a good seal inside the ear canal, it’s almost impossible to isolate your audio field from distracting outside noises.
That’s not to say ANC does nothing — low drones from engines and fans are indeed quieter. Its inclusion also gives people who usually struggle to wear in-ear buds a genuinely viable noise-reducing alternative. However, anything remotely higher-pitched than subtle drones slips through the cracks. You’re also much more likely to have to increase the volume of the buds in order to hear your music. That means exposing your ears to potentially damaging levels of audio. Overall, those looking to isolate their music from outside noises are unlikely to benefit from using these buds.
The “dynamic” noise canceling setting is also pretty inconsistent. Oftentimes, one earbud will switch over to the “general” ANC setting, while the other keeps using “cozy”. They should eventually sync up, but it’s undoubtedly frustrating when you’re trying to enjoy your music. The “dynamic” setting also flips between using “general” and “cozy” too often, even in quieter environments. This can make listening to music feel pretty unnatural. Signal strength is temperamental too, especially in crowded radio environments. Even when streaming via the SBC Bluetooth codec, I suffered signal dropouts and audio skipping at stations.
If you enjoy listening to your music uninterrupted, open-fit earbuds probably aren't for you.
At first glance, the inclusion of extra-large silicon ear tips is a welcome addition. The problem is, they’re an unconventional shape and do very little to help secure a better fit. Each ear tip is less than 1mm thick, and given that the FreeBuds 5 sit on the ear instead of inside the ear canal, the difference in fit is negligible. They’re also incredibly difficult to attach to the buds in the first place. You have to stretch the ear tips over the head of the earbud, and then wrestle with the silicon to pull it into position. They have to sit exactly right so that the audio driver isn’t covered up by the ear tip, which proved more time-consuming and frustrating than expected.
The FreeBuds 5 don’t feel particularly secure, either. For example, when taking off a hoodie, the buds fell straight out of my ears. Unlike other earbud stems, which rest snugly inside the intertragal notch, the FreeBuds 5 protrude in an outward-facing arch. This makes it incredibly easy to remove the buds from your ears. They probably won’t fall out when you’re on a run, but you wouldn’t want to move your head around too much.
Despite modest improvements upon the FreeBuds 4, battery life will likely leave users wanting. Compared to other ANC-capable buds on the market, the FreeBuds 5 fall short of the five-hour average by roughly 1.5 hours. That’s pretty disappointing, especially given HUAWEI’s own FreeBuds 5i lasts up to six hours with ANC on. You’d also expect the FreeBuds 5 to last longer for the price, considering they cost $40 more at launch than their predecessor. Thankfully, the charging case retains more juice than that shared with the FreeBuds 4. The buds may not last long, but at least you can top-up more times while on the go.
Finally, the ongoing HUAWEI-US trade ban means Android users won’t find the aforementioned AI Life app on the Google Play store. In order to traverse this inconvenience, users are forced to either download the app via the HUAWEI AppGallery or to download and sideload it directly from HUAWEI’s website. This is as unwelcome as it is frustrating and convoluted. However, without the companion app installed, Android users will miss out on using the adjustable multi-band EQ and other bespoke features, in addition to important firmware updates. And while those using iOS devices have access to the AI Life app via the App Store, let’s be real, they would likely be better off buying Apple’s AirPods to stick in the same ecosystem and circumnavigating these earbuds altogether…
HUAWEI FreeBuds 5 specs
|HUAWEI FreeBuds 5|
11mm dual-magnetic dynamic driver
Simultaneous Bluetooth connection with dual devices
Supported. Requires HUAWEI smartphones running EMUI 10.1 or later
Active noise canceling
Call noise canceling
AI Life (Android/ iOS)
Per earbud: 42mAh (min)
Charging case: 505mAh (min)
Music playback on 1 charge: 3.5 hours (with ANC enabled)
Music playback on 1 charge: 5 hours (with ANC disabled)
Music playback with charging case: 20 hours (with ANC enabled)
Music playback with charging case: 30 hours (with ANC disabled)
About 2 hours of playback on 5 minutes charge
About 20 minutes for the earbuds (in the charging case)
About 40 minutes for the charging case (without the earbuds)
About 240 minutes for the empty charging case (when charging wirelessly)
$139 / £139 / €159
Should you buy the HUAWEI FreeBuds 5?
If you’re looking for a pair of open-fit earbuds, the HUAWEI FreeBuds 5 are a genuinely convincing choice. They boast better battery life than their predecessor, as well as some handy ANC for louder surroundings. The 10-band adjustable EQ in the AI Life app is also a must-have feature. Combined with pleasant audio capabilities and a powerful dynamic driver, these buds would make for a very good-sounding addition to your headphone arsenal.
The inclusion of the LDAC Bluetooth codec adds further excitement to these earbuds. Audiophiles who have previously struggled with in-ear headphones may finally find solace in the FreeBuds 5. Despite their dramatic design, these earbuds are unquestionably comfortable. The stems are incredibly user-friendly, with simple gestures easily recognized by the buds. For users with long hair, such as myself, you can rest assured these buds will pick up your every command.
However, they’re not for everyone. The fact that these buds are open-fit, as opposed to resting in the ear, cannot be understated. Personally, the level of audio bleed from the FreeBuds 5 is simply too much for me. Voices, in particular, aren’t suppressed enough by the onboard ANC, and its implementation feels a little wonky. Signal strength is variable in congested radio environments too, which leads to audio dropouts and skipping. The battery life is also much shorter than you’d expect for a pair of modern earbuds. Lasting 1.5 hours less on average than their competitors is disappointing, even if it’s an improvement on the FreeBuds 4. Bluetooth multipoint features, but it’s a shame that it’s only accessible for those using HUAWEI phones running EMUI 10.1 or above. For such an important feature, that feels like a shot in the foot.
The HUAWEI FreeBuds 5 provide industry-leading comfort at the cost of isolating your music.
The main take from using these buds is their exceptional comfort and superior audio quality. Compared to their competitors, the FreeBuds 5 offer great-sounding music without the fear of suffering ear fatigue. The default EQ is solid and the inclusion of a multi-band EQ, plus four very effective presets, only enhances this experience further. Overall, these are very comfortable, good-sounding earbuds. You’d struggle to find a better pair of open-fit headphones that include ANC for the price, even with their quirks.
That said, there are some other open-fit buds worthy of your consideration. If you’re running iOS, look no further than Apple’s AirPods (3rd generation) ($199.99 at Amazon). They may not include any ANC capabilities, but they share many great features hosted by Apple’s AirPods Pro 2 (2nd generation), including spatial audio with head tracking. Unfortunately, the charging case doesn’t include the U1 chip here, so you’ll miss out on some Find My-specific features. The buds do host an adaptive EQ, though, which is available not only on iOS but also on Android and Windows. The MagSafe wireless charging case is also a big plus, especially for those regularly on the go.
Fitness enthusiasts looking for a more secure and safer experience may be interested in the Shokz OpenRun ($99.95 at Amazon). These buds use bone conduction technology to keep your ears free to listen out for environmental sounds. They also boast ear hooks to keep the buds connected to your cheekbones. An IP67 water-resistant rating features for sweatier workouts, in addition to fast charging and Bluetooth 5.1. They also benefit from Bluetooth multipoint, as well as a pleasing, if not temperamental, soundscape. One major caveat is that these buds don’t come equipped with a companion app. That means they are very limited when it comes to onboard EQ customization and controls. The Shokz OpenRun also make a pretty irritating beep with every button press, which you’re not able to deactivate. Nevertheless, they’re comfortable, safe, and sound good.
If you still want access to noise canceling, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live ($96.99 at Amazon) serve as a good alternative to the FreeBuds 5. In addition to Bluetooth 5.0, these buds benefit from the Samsung scalable codec. This offers bitrates of up to 512Mbps supporting 24bit 96kHz audio files. However, this only works while using Samsung smartphones running Android 7.0 or above. For those using iOS smartphones, there’s support for streaming over the AAC Bluetooth codec instead. These buds also include fast charging, with one hour of playback time from five minutes charge. The microphone quality is good, and these buds offer a reliable and stable fit. However, sound quality and ANC aren’t great, and the IPX2-resistant rating won’t benefit those looking to use these for their workouts.
Finally, the Bose Sport Open Earbuds ($199.95 at Amazon) offer a secure fit and IPX4-resistant rating. Audio quality is substantially better than sports buds that use bone conduction. The touch and button controls are also incredibly easy to use. The Bose Sport Open Earbuds offer users easy access to their preferred smart assistant, and touch controls can be altered in the Boss Music app. Although there’s no support for the aptX Bluetooth codec here, the unoccluded fit of these buds would likely make it difficult to hear high-res anyway. That said, the buds only support the SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs. The case is unable to charge the buds, too, meaning you need a separate proprietary cradle instead. The ear hooks are also a little uncomfortable, with the price being potentially too high to excuse this.
HUAWEI FreeBuds 5 review: FAQs
If you enjoy using open-fit earbuds, the FreeBuds 5 are definitely worth it. They’re extremely comfortable and offer very good sound quality at a mid-tier price. However, if you prefer to listen to your music uninterrupted, then these buds probably aren’t for you. They don’t seal the ear canal with ear tips, which means environmental sounds, especially voices, leak into the audio feed. This can be distracting and undesirable for most users.
Yes, the HUAWEI FreeBuds 5 have a microphone. The sound quality is pretty average and in line with what you would expect from true wireless earbuds. However, the background noise reduction capabilities do help to maintain voice clarity over low drones and rumbles.
Yes, the HUAWEI FreeBuds 5 do have wireless charging. The charging case supports Qi-certified wireless chargers.
While you can’t submerge the buds fully underwater, the HUAWEI FreeBuds 5 do have an IP54 dust and splash resistance rating. This should keep the buds safe from sweat and dust, which is suitable for most everyday needs. However, the charging case is not water resistant and even the buds IP54 rating may degrade with use.
Aesthetically, the FreeBuds 5 have adopted a signature waterdrop design, ditching the AirPods-style appearance of their predecessor. Internally, the FreeBuds 5 benefit from the LDAC Bluetooth codec, improved battery life, and emphasized bass-boosting. In addition, audio quality is improved and the FreeBuds 5 also have a better-performing microphone and active noise canceling.