Huawei’s latest high-end TWS headphones are the FreeBuds 4 and they provide an iterative upgrade over the FreeBuds 3 of 2019. Not to be confused with the recently released FreeBuds 4.I, the FreeBuds 4 feature an open-ear design with active noise cancellation that claims to filter out up to 25dB of surrounding noise. You also get the latest Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity and longer battery life in a slightly more compact form factor compared to last year’s model.
I had the chance to test the new FreeBuds 4 for a long time, using them as the only pair of headphones for work, travel, the gym and everything in between. Let’s see if the FreeBuds 4 are really a tangible upgrade from their predecessors. More importantly, can you really get reliable ANC from open headphones?
Design and build quality
FreeBuds 4 brings an open style with long shanks immediately reminiscent of Apple’s regular AirPods and with the visual resemblance between the headphones is certainly present. The charging case is slightly smaller and weighs less than that of the FreeBuds 3, which should make them easier to stow in pants pockets and bags. It always looks like you’re carrying a floss kit and I personally prefer the more square look of the AirPods case.
The moment I put FreeBuds 4 in my ears I noticed that they didn’t really stay in place and tended to loosen over time to the point where I felt they were going to slip and fall. Other people who have tried them have said that they fit their sound receptors perfectly, so the problem was apparently on my side.
Despite the lackluster fit, I still enjoyed the lightweight, non-annoying form factor that helped multiple hour-long listening sessions without any fatigue or ear pain.
The charging case has benefited from a more rugged construction this time around compared to the FreeBuds 3 and definitely feels more upscale. The opening mechanism is rock solid and provides a satisfying snap when closing. The top cover can now support the weight of the entire case without closing, which is a clear sign of improved construction. The headphones themselves are well put together and survived the occasional drop of almost 2 meters to the ground without any scuffs or scratches.
Huawei sells two versions of the FreeBuds 4 when it comes to the case – a wired charging version which was used for this review and a wireless charging model which is not yet available. What’s in the box includes the headphones in their charging case, a USB-C cable for charging, and a few manuals. The heads are rated IPX4 for water and dust resistance.
As soon as you place the headphones in your ear, you get an accompanying sound to let you know they’re connected. You can use either separately, which is great if you want to share your music with a friend. Removing either button instantly pauses all media, including videos on smartphones, tablets, and laptops.
The pairing process is the same as with most other TWS headphones – you open the case and hold the pairing button for a few seconds, then select the FreeBuds 4 from the Bluetooth menu. Pairing on Huawei devices is instant as soon as you open the top cover. You also get a stylish animation of the buds to let you know they’re connected.
You can pair two devices simultaneously (your phone and laptop for example) and the headphones are smart enough to know which device you’re using at the exact moment and can switch between them. This feature also worked flawlessly on devices other than Huawei, which is a welcome addition if you’re not fully invested in the Huawei ecosystem.
Huawei’s AI Life app is your one-stop-shop for controlling all functions of FreeBuds 4. Even if you are using a non-Huawei phone, it is best to download the app from Huawei’s AppGallery Store because the Google Play version does not support FreeBuds 4 for some reason. Once setup is complete, you’ll be presented with the battery status of the left and right earbuds as well as their case, a connection center for all your paired devices, and plenty of shortcuts for gesture controls.
Huawei AI Life app controls
The FreeBuds 4’s tactile stems are definitely a highlight and performed exceptionally well in my testing paired with Huawei devices and other brands of smartphones, tablets, and laptops. There is a double tap and a long press gesture on each button as well as a vertical swipe to adjust the volume. You can remap the double and long press actions while the swipes are rightly reserved for adjusting the volume.
The Find My Earphones feature is pretty self-explanatory. Buds can play a very high-pitched noise to help you locate them if they’ve been misplaced.
A big novelty in FreeBuds 4 is the Open-fit Active Noise Cancellation 2.0 system. It makes automatic adjustments to noise cancellation based on the surrounding environment with a dual microphone hybrid noise reduction system instead of the single mic system on the FreeBuds 3.
On paper this means better ambient sound pickup and noise cancellation, but in reality I couldn’t tell the difference from the old model. The FreeBuds 4 can also detect the shape of your ear canal and then apply the best matching noise canceling mode.
This is where it should be mentioned that the quality of the ANC depends on the seal created by the headphones in your ear canal. Thus, the smaller ears will naturally be better positioned here. Compared to in-ear headphones with ANC, the FreeBuds 4 have underperformed in isolating outside noise in my personal experience. People with smaller ear chambers might see different results, so if you get the chance, test the fit before you go out and buy them.
Huawei also offers higher sensitivity mics that can record sounds with a sample rate of up to 48kHz, allowing clear vocals even in the loudest environments. You can find more details in the sound quality section below. There’s also a low latency mode with a 90ms delay on HarmonyOS 2 phones (which we haven’t been able to test yet) and 150ms on EMUI devices, which is definitely a welcome addition for gamers.
The FreeBuds 4 feature 14.3mm dynamic coil drivers. During my testing period, I listened to various musical genres alongside occasional podcasts, YouTube videos, and a few basketball games. The headphones deliver crisp, clear, and rich sound in all use cases without pronouncing too much bass. These aren’t the loudest pairs of TWS headphones on the market, but they still offer a balanced sound profile, which is a big step up from the more affordable options we tested last year.
Although the sound quality is above average for TWS headphones, the noise cancellation is not that impressive. You certainly feel less restless with the ANC on, but it’s nowhere near the level of other high-end in-ear headphones like the AirPods Pro or Sony’s WF-1000XM4. In my testing, I found the FreeBuds 4 to block out subtle outside noises like keystrokes or the hissing water dispenser in the office.
Outdoors or at the gym, the FreeBuds 4 didn’t impress with their noise cancellation, but that’s due to the poor fit of my ears. This in turn complicates their recommendation over a pair of in-ear headphones with suitable silicone tips that can create a better seal in your ear canal.
The voice pickup by the on-board microphones was okay, but the recordings came out muffled. I haven’t seen much of a difference with Huawei’s 48Khz recording rate on and still find Apple’s AirPods as the gold standard for true-to-life voice pickup. During phone calls, people on the other side reported a loud and clear reception coming from my side. Huawei placed the microphones with a windproof duct which does an impressive job in windy environments.
Huawei claims 2.5 hours of battery life with ANC enabled and up to 4 hours without. The charging case extends these numbers to 2 p.m. or 10 p.m. respectively. A 15 minute quick charge gives you up to 2.5 hours of music playback.
In my testing, I found these numbers to be accurate. FreeBuds 4 managed to keep me two full days of work and gym sessions before the low battery indicator came on. I usually listened to music at 60-80% volume. A full charge from 0 to 100% took about 30 minutes, which is pretty impressive.
Huawei’s FreeBuds 4 present a viable option for those looking for a pair of high-end open-top headphones that deliver awesome sound and don’t need stellar ANC. Upgrades over the FreeBuds 3 are iterative and are felt most in the multipoint pairing, revised gesture navigation, and improved microphone system.
At € 150 / £ 130 for the wired charging model and € 170 / £ 150 for the wireless charging version once it launches in July, Huawei’s FreeBuds 4 offer a tough sell given that the FreeBuds 4i more affordable go for € 100 / £ 80 while last year’s excellent FreeBuds Pro fell to € 140 / £ 130.
It’s the in-ear fit that determines which model you choose and if you’re the type who prefers open-ear models, the FreeBuds 4 are for you, but don’t expect the same level of noise cancellation. than the other two models. . Battery life is decent but not the best in its class.
There’s a lot to like here in terms of audio output and extra features with multipoint pairing and perfectly executed gesture controls, but the FreeBuds 4 are hard to recommend due to their questionable fit. If you can grab them at a sales event that Huawei typically offers and your ear canals can hold them with no problem, then the FreeBuds 4 are a worthy consideration for the rare breed of open-ear TWS headphones.