It is not common to implement active noise cancelling on open-fit earbuds. But Huawei did it with their latest true wireless earbuds, the Freebuds 3. Priced competitively at S$239, the Freebuds 3 are loaded with technology to rival the Apple AirPods series.
Unboxing and Operations
It’s no surprise that the Freebuds 3 is inspired by Apple’s implementation, in a good way. I liked the way Freebuds 3 initiates pairing, that is, by pressing the button on the case. And if you are using a smartphone running on EMUI 10 and above, your phone will pop-up an animated pairing notification, just like AirPods on iPhone. But these are just nice UI: for other Android devices, you just install the “Huawei Life AI” app and you can get most of the features, like battery indicator, ANC adjustments, double-tap shortcut customisation, and firmware updates.
A little lacking would be the battery life, with just 4 hours on each earbud, but the round case contains up to 20 hours of extended use and supports wireless charging. The controls are also limited to double-tap shortcuts which can be customised from the app, unlike other earbuds where there are a few more options like single and triple taps.
It is more challenging to apply noise cancelling on open-fit earbuds because there is no passive noise isolation to start with hence the drivers need to work harder to cancel the ambient noise. Active noise cancellation works by playing an exact opposite sound wave. True to my test, the Huawei Freebuds 3 is incapable of basic noise-isolation against almost all the in-ear earbuds in the market, since there is no passive noise cancellation to start with. What the Freebuds 3 could effectively eliminate are the traffic noises and environmental hums, but you’re out of luck in a restaurant or cafe with chatty guests roughing it out on cutlery.
I also noticed that the ANC actively adjusts depending on the environment. For instance, when I encountered wind, the ANC will disengage for a while and re-activate. This means the ANC couldn’t work in a windy environment.
Despite the noise-cancelling inefficiencies, the Freebuds 3 is practically a saviour for someone who hates earbuds sticking into the ear canals. You can still hear things around you, it does not isolate you completely like those big players, but it removes the hiss and the hums that you wouldn’t notice in the first place. The “cleaning up” of these everyday noises elevates the clarity of the audio without increasing the volume.
And the sound quality is quite balanced, with comfortable sound staging, open bass, clean treble. Due to the lack of in-ear seal, the lower and midrange frequencies lack the energy to sustain the booms and tend to sound shouty. I had to turn up the volume a lot more to counter the human chatters, but certainly beats having no ANC. Compared to the Plantronics BackBeat FIT 3100, another open-fit TWS earbuds, the Freebuds 3 is less warm and full.
The earbuds connect independently to the smartphones, so even if one of the earbuds are docked on the case, the other earbuds continue to play, albeit in the respective L-R channels and does not switch to mono.
The Huawei Freebuds 3 may not be the best ANC headphones, but it is the best ANC open-fit earbuds. If you do not like in-canal earbuds and needed ANC, the Freebuds 3 is your saviour, and it helps that they don’t cost as much as other ANC earphones.