Huawei is adding noise cancellation to the third-generation of the FreeBuds, its true wireless earbuds that look almost identical to Apple’s AirPods. The FreeBuds 3, which the company announced onstage today at IFA 2019, include four hours of battery life in the earbuds themselves, and come with a circular puck-shaped charging case that expands their total listening time to 20 hours. The earbuds are available in either black or white.
Huawei claims that the FreeBuds 3 are the world’s first noise-cancelling headphones with an open-fit design. What this means is that the earbuds don’t create a sealed physical barrier between your ear canal and the world around you, like the silicon tips on regular in-ear noise-cancelling headphones try to do.
It’s an unusual design for a pair of noise-cancelling earbuds, and it could have a big impact on how well the feature works in the FreeBuds 3. Active noise cancellation tends to work best on lower-frequency sounds like the rumbling of a plane or traffic noise, but it’s less effective at higher frequencies, which is why it’s helpful to also have the earbuds attempt to physically block sounds from getting into your ears.
When I asked Huawei about this, it said that its priority with the earphones was comfort, and that people are less sensitive to high frequency background noises while they’re trying to listen to music. It added that in some cases hearing high frequencies like car alarms is actually useful for people, since it gives them more awareness of what’s going on around them.
Huawei is also introducing a new chip with the FreeBuds 3 called the A1 chip, which it was keen to compare to the H1 chip that Apple uses in its AirPods. The company says the new chip is the first in the world to support the Bluetooth 5.1 standard, and is designed to offer lower latency and power consumption compared to other Bluetooth chips. However, while Apple’s H1 chip allows its earbuds to automatically pair with phones when they’re in proximity with them, I still had to hop into the Bluetooth settings menu of a phone to pair it with Huawei’s FreeBuds 3.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to properly test the noise-cancellation capabilities of the FreeBuds 3, since Huawei’s demonstration room was almost completely silent. However, the earbuds sounded good in the brief time that I spent with them, with nicely controlled bass levels and an articulate soundstage. I also found that the FreeBuds 3 were comfortable and fit nicely in my ears.
Huawei’s FreeBuds have never been afraid to wear their Apple influence on their sleeve. However, with the noise cancellation introduced with the third-generation earbuds, Huawei is offering a feature you technically won’t get with the AirPods (a least not until next year), even if I’m a little skeptical as to how well noise cancellation will work with an open-fit design in practice.