The original FreeBuds Pro were among my favourite earbuds of 2020 and the Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2 are a worthy successor, improving on the originals in just about every area. They’re lighter and now possess an IP54 rating, an additional mic on each bud elevates call quality and noise cancelling performance, and Huawei’s partnership with French audio whizzes Devialet results in a more assured sonic performance.
The result is a pair of earbuds that are superior to their predecessors but make slightly less of a splash in a market that’s become increasingly oversaturated in the past two years.
Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2 review: What you need to know
We’ve previously seen Huawei team up with Devialet on the Sound, Sound X and Sound Joy speakers but the FreeBuds Pro 2 are the first headphones it’s co-engineered with the high-end audio manufacturers.
The partnership has paid off in the past and, this time around, Devialet’s influence sees the earbuds incorporate a quad-magnet dynamic driver that handles low-end reproduction. Huawei says the driver is the first of its kind in the true-wireless realm and it works in combination with a separate planar diaphragm that looks after mid-range and treble frequencies. This driver measures 11mm, while the diaphragm is flat, as opposed to a more traditional cone shape, which reduces reverberations to deliver cleaner treble.
The FreeBuds Pro 2 operate wirelessly over Bluetooth 5.2 and support multipoint and dual device pairing, while codec support extends to SBC, AAC, Sony LDAC and Huawei HWA. Like the original FreeBuds Pro, the Pro 2 offer noise cancellation that can be set to adjust automatically depending on your external environment.
With ANC on, in-ear battery life clocks in at four hours, a figure that increases to around 6hrs 30mins if you turn off noise cancellation. Total battery life including the charging case, which can be topped up via USB-C or using a Qi wireless charging pad, is rated at 18 hours with ANC on, and 30 hours with it disabled. Those figures with noise cancellation engaged are pretty lacklustre – if you listen to music at high volumes, stream high-res content or spend a lot of time on calls, you’ll find yourself having to charge the FreeBuds Pro 2 more frequently than rival earphones.
You can check how much battery life you’ve got remaining in the Huawei AI Life app, which is available on both iOS and Android and allows for a few additional customisation options. The app wasn’t on the App Store when the original FreeBuds Pro came out but iPhone users now get a similar experience to owners of Huawei and Android smartphones.
Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2 review: Price and competition
The Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2 cost £169, the same as the original FreeBuds Pro at launch. Those buds can now be picked up for under £100, which is great value given their noise-cancelling capabilities and impactful audio.
Sony’s WF-1000XM4 are the noise-cancelling earbuds to beat thanks to a winning combination of smart features, stellar sound and a comfortable fit. They’re more costly than the offerings from Huawei but had fallen from their initial launch price of £250 to around £200 at the time of writing.
The Apple AirPods Pro and Beats Fit Pro are two other very capable competitors and cost £189 and £180, respectively. However, if you like the look of the former, you’ll probably want to wait for the new AirPods Pro 2, which were revealed at Apple’s iPhone 14 event on 7 September and are available to preorder now.
Other options in the FreeBuds Pro 2’s price bracket worth considering include the House of Marley Redemption ANC 2 (£150) and 1MORE EVO (£160), both of which received five-star reviews and our Recommended award.
Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2 review: Design and features
The FreeBuds Pro 2 retain the cuboid stems of their predecessors but they’ve been shrunk down a bit and their edges are now a little smoother. The length of the stems has been reduced by 9%, while the thickness is down 14%, which may not sound like a lot but makes them look less blocky and keeps their weight under 6g apiece.
Another welcome upgrade sees the FreeBuds Pro 2 stamped with IPX54 certification. Huawei said the first model was water resistant but there was no official rating so I’m glad to see one here.
There are three colourways available: ceramic white, silver frost and the silver blue reviewed here, which shimmer when they catch the light. They won’t be for everyone, but I’m all for a bit of deviation from the black-and-white norm.
Small, medium and large silicone ear tips are included in the box and I was able to achieve a very comfortable fit with the largest pair. The shape of the buds ensures they rest snugly in your ears and they provide a decent level of passive noise cancellation, too.
The charging case, which is not water resistant, is pretty much identical to that of the original FreeBuds Pro, save the presence of the Devialet logo on the reflective plate that straddles the hinge. The lid has a pleasing snap to it but getting the buds out of the case can be a little tricky if you’ve got greasy fingers.
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I’ve already mentioned wireless charging, multipoint pairing and noise cancellation, but the FreeBuds Pro 2 have a few other tricks up their sleeves. Huawei has stuck with the pinch-and-slide touch controls that served the original earbuds very well and these can all be turned off in the AI Life app. Unfortunately, you can’t reassign actions to specific gestures but the setup works well by default so that’s not the end of the world.
The other features of note are smart wear-detection, which worked flawlessly during testing, a low latency mode designed to prevent choppy audio in heavily populated locations and a handy “Find My Earphones” option that plays a loud sound through the buds to help you locate them if they’re nearby.
Although not a feature per se, it’s also worth noting that call quality on the FreeBuds Pro 2 remains very good. Huawei has incorporated a new wind-resistant mesh to reduce the impact of gusts when on calls, a newly added third mic boosts clarity, and AI can adjust which mics are used depending on wind speed and direction. Gales will still cause issues, but light breezes do little to hamper vocal clarity.
Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2 review: Sound quality
One of the biggest advantages the Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2 have over the 2020 model is their ability to stream high-resolution audio via LDAC and HWA. This, combined with the innovative acoustic arrangement dreamt up by Devialet, delivers a definite improvement on their predecessors in the sound quality department.
The FreeBuds Pro 2 deliver dynamically astute, detailed audio underpinned by a rich bass response. Huawei states that the buds are able to extend down to 14Hz and, while I can’t verify that claim, they had no issues reproducing the disturbingly deep bassline on Ed Rush & Optical’s track “Watermelon”. The deliberately distorted low-end is symbolic of the DJ duo’s work in the late 90s and the ushering in of a new era of Drum & Bass. It’s moody, dark and unsettling and the FreeBuds Pro 2 captured that convincingly.
Their soundstage isn’t the widest, so you don’t get the same sense of space you do with the AirPods Pro or Sony WF-1000XM4 and instrument separation isn’t as sharp as a result. That’s not to say it’s bad – I was able to pick out the various components of the London Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of “Betrayal & Desolation” from the Braveheart soundtrack easily enough – it’s just not quite up there with the best in the business. It’s also unlikely to bother those who primarily listen to less nuanced mainstream music.
While the likes of Apple, Sony and Nura have all jumped on spatial audio in its various guises, the FreeBuds Pro 2 have no such feature. Given what I’ve said about the breadth of their audio presentation, they’d probably benefit from it but Huawei says it currently has no plans to go down that route.
What it has done, however, is incorporate system-agnostic EQ options via the AI Life app. This means that, regardless of whether you’re using an iPhone 13, Galaxy S22 Ultra or Mate Xs 2, you can freely switch between EQ presets and create custom presets using a ten-band graphic equaliser. I’m all for audio personalisation options so this is a very good thing.
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Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2 review: Noise cancellation
The FreeBuds Pro’s most impressive feature was ANC and it’s even better with the new earphones. You have the same four options – Cosy, General, Ultra and Dynamic – with the first three cancelling out an increasing amount of external sound and the fourth adjusting noise cancellation on the fly depending on how noisy your environment is.
I wasn’t able to pick up too much of a difference between how much sound was attenuated by the original Pro and Pro 2 using the Cosy and General modes, but the Ultra mode was definitely more effective at blocking out low-end frequencies. Ambient noise on a busy London tube was dampened to the point where loud conversations and a dog yapping were all that made their way to my ears, while my flight to Berlin for IFA proved especially serene with the Pro 2 in.
Dynamic mode switches quickly when your noise cancelling requirements change and I don’t recall any occasion when I was using it and felt either too much or too little external sound was being blocked out. I’ve not tested every pair of noise-cancelling earbuds in the Pro 2’s price range but they offer the best ANC of the £150 to £180 options I have had in my ears.
The transparency mode isn’t quite as impressive but still does an admirable job of letting external sound in without sounding too unnatural and there’s an option to specifically enhance voices, which works successfully.
Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2 review: Verdict
The Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2 may not be best-in-class but they’re certainly in contention for the title of best wireless earbuds in their price range. Their noise cancellation is great, sound quality is impressive and they’re very comfortable, too.
Their EQ options, IP rating, and effective touch controls further strengthen their case, although they are let down a touch by their in-ear battery life. The ability to remap the touch controls wouldn’t go amiss, nor would some form of spatial audio, but the FreeBuds Pro 2 are otherwise an impressive sequel, no matter the smartphone you own.