Huawei FreeBuds 5 Review
The most unique-looking earbuds we've seen
The Huawei FreeBuds 5 are a complete rethinking of the FreeBuds design language, with a rather unique look compared to the rest of the true wireless competition. It’s not just a fashion choice either, with a comfortable open-ear fit, impressive audio performance and handy smarts. It’s just a shame the battery life dwindles so much when the (not quite successful) ANC is active.
- Unique, stylish design
- Superbly comfortable fit
- Impressive sound performance
- Middling battery life
- AI Life app can be difficult to install on Android
- ANC doesn’t make much of a difference
- UKRRP: £139.99
- EuropeRRP: €159.99
- Unique designSports a unique design that separates them from the rest of the competition
- Impressive bass performanceUltra Magnetic driver that aims to deliver deep bass
- Fast charging techTwo hours of use from a 5 minute charge
The Huawei FreeBuds 5 don’t look anything like the FreeBuds 4 that came before them. In fact, the FreeBuds 5 don’t resemble any of the most popular earbuds in 2023, with a rather unique design that’s best described as a cross between organic and metallic.
It’s a design that works though; the buds not only look incredibly stylish but the open-ear design allows for a comfortable fit without going deep into the ear canal like some ear-tipped alternatives. And, despite the open design, bass performance is still excellent.
It’s just a shame that I can’t say the same about the Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), which doesn’t blend well with the open design of the buds and does little to quieten the environment.
Still, with other key features including wireless Hi-Res audio support, a low-latency mode for gaming and fast charging tech, the Huawei FreeBuds 5 remain a stylish-yet-capable option that costs less than Apple’s third-gen AirPods.
- Unique design and finish
- Open-ear design
- Very comfortable to wear
The FreeBuds 5 not only look completely different to the FreeBuds 4, but practically any other set of true wireless earbuds on the market in 2023. An AirPods dupe, these are certainly not.
In fact, I’d liken the oddly organic-yet-metallic look to Terminator’s T2000, looking more like liquid metal drops than your typical wireless earbuds. I adore the design and applaud Huawei for doing something different, and they’re still oddly stylish. Everyone I’ve shown them to during my month with the buds complemented the odd design.
It also helps that the buds are available in attractive colourful finishes including Ceramic White, Coral Orange and Frost Silver, with the buds sporting a shiny reflective finish that adds to the premium look – though it can also make fingerprints and smudges much more noticeable as a result.
The design isn’t solely focused on being fashionable either; the thick stems have the perfect groove for gripping the buds, making it a doddle to grab them out of the charging case and adjust the fit in-ear without accidentally toggling the touch controls.
The open design of the buds means you won’t find eartips here, and that might lead some to believe that the buds won’t be as secure as tipped alternatives, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Admittedly, donning the buds for the first time, I expected them to fall out within minutes. They don’t feel like they go in the ear, but rather sit perfectly balanced on the outer edge of the ear canal. However, much to my surprise, the buds always stayed perfectly in place regardless of what I was doing, even staying secure during a (rare, and slightly embarrassing) jog.
This also means they’re much more comfortable than tipped alternatives without that fatigue you feel after long listening sessions, and there’s none of that ‘bunged-up’ feeling here either. In fact, they’re so comfortable that I’ve used them to listen to the sound of rain to fall asleep – and I sleep on my side. That’s a feat that has been exclusive to Apple’s AirPods 3 up until now.
When not in active use, the FreeBuds 5 live in a pocketable egg-shaped charge case, making it instantly stand out from the sea of AirPod case dupes not only in terms of look, sporting a frosted finish matching the buds, but the overall design.
The lid lifts easily, the buds are easy to take out thanks to the solid stems and the lid snaps shut with magnets, helping keep them safe when stored in a pocket or rucksack. A single LED on the front displays connectivity and available charge, with a small button on the right to trigger Bluetooth pairing and a USB-C port on the bottom edge for charging.
The buds are IP54 rated, so use in light rain or during exercise shouldn’t be an issue. That doesn’t extend to the case, however, with no kind of water resistance on offer.
- Auto play/pause tech
- AI Life app has custom EQ
- Customisable ANC
When it comes to smarts, the FreeBuds 5 offer all the staples of a capable pair of true wireless earbuds, including automatic play/pause tech when removing and re-inserting the buds, touch controls and a companion app for iOS and Android that lets you customise features and change the EQ too. It also boasts a few rather unique features, like a low-latency audio mode great for mobile gaming.
Let’s start with those touch controls; you can double-tap to play or pause music, long-press to cycle between transparency and ANC modes and swipe up and down to control volume. The gesture controls aren’t quite as sensitive as Apple’s AirPods Pro 2, occasionally missing a swipe input, but such incidents were few and far between. Most of the time, the buds did exactly what I wanted.
If you want to customise those shortcuts, you’ll need to download the Huawei AI Life app. It can be a bit of a pain to install on Android since its shift from Google Play to Huawei AppGallery, but it’s a one-time inconvenience.
Once installed, the app is simple to use, quickly connecting to the buds and providing the ability to not only customise the gesture controls of the buds but change the preset EQs, or for those with a bit more knowledge, create a custom 10-point EQ to tailor the sound output to your preferences.
The app is also where you can enable ANC as well as select the ANC profile, ranging from General (maximum cancellation) to Cozy (minimum cancellation) with Dynamic (automatic switching based on ambient noise) offering the best of both worlds.
The FreeBuds 5 can also connect to multiple devices at once, allowing you to connect to, say, a smart TV and your smartphone and switch between the two depending on which screen you’re currently using. It’s easy to do too; just pause playback on one connected device and start it on the other. The buds will instantly switch input, no manual reconnection required.
Three microphones allow for decent call quality too, with the recipients of most calls having no complaints about hearing my voice – a nice change from the NuraTrue Pro, which I get complaints about all the time. However, it was apparently just as easy to hear my surroundings, leading me to believe that Huawei has more work to do on its background noise reduction algorithm.
- Well-rounded audio experience
- Great bass performance despite open-ear design
- ANC isn’t that effective
The FreeBuds 5 are small and mighty, sporting 11mm dual-magnetic dynamic driver units offering a wide frequency range of 16Hz to a whopping 40kHz, much more than the average 20Hz – 20kHz range you’ll find on much of the similarly-priced competition.
Listening to Ex’s & Oh’s by Elle King, the buds offer a well-rounded experience with a great balance between the bass, mids and treble with a wide spatial soundstage. The latter can further be improved by DTS:X or Dolby Atmos, though that will depend on the smartphone you connect the buds to – it’s not a feature of the buds, but rather the phone playing the music.
The bass, in particular, is impressive despite the open-ear design of the buds, with powerful bass usually requiring a complete seal around the ear canal – it certainly sounds like Huawei’s proprietary Bass Turbo tech and expanded frequency range are doing their jobs well. If anything, it makes me wonder how wonderfully bassy the FreeBuds 5 could be if they had eartips like the FreeBuds 5i…
It’s not just focused on bassy, upbeat tunes though; Bob Marley’s vocals in Buffalo Solider were clear and crisp with decent sound separation from the rest of the track, and the relaxing backing track of Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car really showcased how warm the acoustics can be.
It’s an exquisite experience at a cheaper price point than Apple’s £169 / $179 AirPods 3, complete with Hi-Res Audio support at up to 990kbps via the LDAC codec, though that’ll require a Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 or Snapdragon 8 Gen 2-equipped phone to take advantage of.
The FreeBuds 5 also sport ANC capabilities – a bit of an oddity considering the open-ear design employed by the buds encourage exterior sound to leak in. In fact, I’d argue that it’s not really that noticeable in everyday use and, as such, I had it disabled for most of my testing in a bid to get as much battery life from the buds as possible.
I did hear a slight dulling of certain low frequencies, like the hum of a nearby fan, but I could still quite clearly hear most of what was going on around me.
Personally, I don’t find that much of an issue as I love the fact that open-ear buds like the FreeBuds 5 and Apple’s AirPods 3 allow me to still be aware of my surroundings while listening to my favourite tunes, though it does become a challenge using the buds in exceptionally loud environments without cranking the volume up.
If you really do want something that’ll dull the sounds of the morning commute, you’ll find much better results from in-ear buds like the AirPods Pro 2 or Sony’s popular WF-1000XM4.
- Average 5-hour battery life
- ANC brings playback down to 3 hours
- 30 hours of battery life inc. charging case
When it comes to battery life, the FreeBuds 5 do little to stand out from the competition with a rather standard five hours of playback before requiring a top-up from the charging case, however that does drop to around three hours if you’ve got ANC active – almost half of what you’ll get from Apple’s second-gen AirPods Pro with ANC enabled.
That’s more than enough for the majority of my needs, be it listening to music on my hour-long commute to work or chatting on the phone with my other half, but it might not suffice if you intend on, say, listening to music for an entire 8-hour shift at work.
The only saving grace is that the charging case has fast charge tech that’ll provide two hours of use after just five minutes in the case according to Huawei – but again, this is without ANC active.
The case itself holds an additional 25 hours of battery life, bringing the total to 30 hours, with a fairly short charge cycle of around 45 minutes via USB-C. Qi wireless charging is supposedly on offer for more convenient case charging, but I found it rather finicky to use during testing and mostly opted for the cable connection.
Should you buy it?
You want a pair of stylish, great-sounding earbuds: The FreeBuds 5 not only look unique but sound great, complete with wireless Hi-Res audio support.
You want headphones that’ll quieten the background: While the FreeBuds 5 sport ANC, it’s not as effective as in-ear or over-ear rivals with an open-ear design leaking environmental noise.
The Huawei FreeBuds 5 set themselves apart from the competition with a unique, fashionable design that’s both pleasing to the eye and superbly comfortable to wear, even over longer periods of use. The touch controls are responsive, the auto-pause tech is responsive and the low-latency audio mode is a nice touch for mobile gamers.
It’s the audio performance that really cements the FreeBuds 5 experience, with a wide 16Hz – 40kHz frequency response range and support for wireless Hi-Res audio playback via the LDAC codec delivering a well-balanced audio experience with exquisite detail. The ANC isn’t that effective at quietening the environment, but that’s no real surprise considering the open-ear design of the FreeBuds 5.
I just wish the battery lasted a little longer as 3 hours with ANC active isn’t quite up to the standard of premium competitors like the AirPods Pro 2.
How we test
We test every pair of headphones we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry-standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Find out more about how we test in our ethics policy.
Tested the earbuds for one month
Drained the battery fully
Listened to a mixed selection of songs
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The buds themselves offer IP54 water resistance, but the case offers no kind of resistance whatsoever.
You’ll get 30 hours inc. the charging case, though only around 3-5 hours on a single charge.
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