The Huawei FreeLace Pro are a fantastic alternative to the FreeBuds Pro
The Huawei FreeLace Pro launched at HDC 2020 alongside a slew of other Huawei products. I enjoyed the Huawei FreeBuds Pro which launched at that event and crowned them as the best TWS earphones I’ve ever used. Huawei was kind enough to send us a pair of the FreeLace Pro for review just a couple of weeks back, and they sound just as good. Both the FreeLace Pro and the FreeBuds Pro offer 40dB active noise cancellation. At a starting price of €119 in Europe, these are significantly cheaper than the FreeBuds Pro.
About this review: We received the Huawei FreeLace Pro from Huawei UK for review in the middle of November. Huawei had no input on the contents of this review.
The Huawei FreeLace Pro are quite similar to the Huawei FreeBuds Pro in a lot of ways; but as the naming would imply, the FreeLace Pro have a neckband design while the FreeBuds Pro are truly wireless earbuds. Interestingly, they don’t pack the same chipset. In fact, Huawei hasn’t specified what chipset is in use here, so it’s unlikely to be the Kirin A1 which has made its way not just to the FreeBuds Pro, but to Huawei’s latest wearables as well. There’s Bluetooth 5.0 (no Bluetooth 5.2 here), a USB-C charging connector that you can plug into your phone, and each earphone is equipped with a 14.2mm driver. The FreeBuds Pro actually only had an 11mm driver, and a larger driver typically means more bass. However, driver design is actually more important than the size, which is why the FreeBuds Pro can achieve similar results despite the smaller size.
The FreeLace Pro feature a neckband design – that is, they wrap around your neck, and the neckband itself is designed to sit on your shoulders. They’re light and comfortable to forget that they’re even there, which is a design intention as these are more suited to those who may want a pair of wireless earphones for running or other sports activities. These are less likely to fall out and land on the ground somewhere than true wireless earphones, and the eartips themselves sit a lot more snug in my ear than any of the other included tips in the FreeBuds Pro.
On the right side of the neckband are the button controls, while the left side houses the USB-C connector that you can use to charge the earphones. You can charge the earphones through any USB-C port, which includes your smartphone. In fact, connecting the earphones to a Huawei or Honor device will automatically pair them with that device. They charge relatively quickly from your smartphone, though I find the integrated Type-C connector both incredibly convenient and incredibly inconvenient. In the case that you want to charge your earphones when you’re out and about, it’s super simple. In fact, Huawei says that a 5-minute charge from your smartphone will get you 5 hours of playback. The problem comes when you want to charge them anywhere else, as you’ll need to find a USB-C port on another device instead. There is an included USB-C to USB-A adapter in the box so that you can charge them in any normal USB port, but that’s an extra cable to carry around for that convenience. Personally, it’s not a big deal, but I can understand that may put some people off.
On the same side as the USB-C port are the controls. They’re clicky and tactile, though they can be a bit fumbly as they all feel the same. The power button can be double-tapped to connect to the previously connected device as well.
If anything, my biggest gripe with the Huwaei FreeLace Pro is the lack of automatic playback detection. Rather than pausing audio automatically and playing it again when you remove them from your ears and put them back, they’ll continue playing until you magnetically reconnect both of the earbuds together. As well, to turn on and off ANC, or to enable transparency mode, you need to hold down on the left earphone only while it’s in your ear to cycle through the three modes.
Design and Comfort
The Huawei FreeBuds Pro have an interesting design, as the earpiece itself sticks out more than I’ve seen from other wireless earphones. The ones that I have are pretty dark green, and if I’m honest, I’m not a huge fan of the color. Aside from personal preference, the shiny metal at the end of each neckband is a nice touch, and the neckband is, as already mentioned, quite comfortable to wear. It’s easy to forget that you’re wearing it, and the earphones themselves are comfortable to wear in-ear for long periods of time without worrying about making your ears uncomfortable. They’re a pretty unique design, which I don’t care about but I know that many do. There are other types of tips that come in the box too, so you can mix and match to find your fit if the ones pre-installed don’t fit your ears.
Huawei FreeLace Pro – Audio Quality, Active Noise Cancelling
This is the most important section of any audio review, and a lot of this is going to be reiterating the same points that I made in my review of the FreeBuds Pro. For €119 wireless earphones, these are fantastic. You don’t get the convenience of true wireless or the benefit of the Kirin A1 which is why these are cheaper, but Huawei certainly hasn’t skimped on the audio quality. As I’ve always said though, a pair of expensive wireless earphones will probably be easily bested by any decently specced pair of wired headphones. Remember when I said driver size doesn’t matter? That’s not quite true, as a much larger driver (such as the 40mm drivers in my Sony WH-1000XM3) will knock anything significantly smaller out of the park. When we’re in the realm of a couple of millimeters though, the driver design certainly matters more.
The Huawei FreeLace Pro are a pretty luxury pair of wireless earphones, and as is always the case with wireless earphones, they have a particular use case. Do you listen to a lot of music on the go, and are you active enough that true wireless earphones can get annoying? The Huawei FreeLace Pro will stay put in your ears, and they sound really good in all situations. These earphones are good enough to serve a day-to-day use, however, when I get home, I’ll instantly switch back to my Sony wireless headphones instead. That’s not a slight against the FreeLace Pro – that’s just to give you an idea of the difference in utility between headphones and earphones.
Comfort, noise cancellation, and audio quality are all exceptional here. If you want to check out the playlist that I’ve been listening to when testing the Huawei FreeLace Pro, you can check that out here. Songs like The Suburbs and Conductor sound as good as ever, and the bass is strong but clean. Overall, I’m a massive fan of the audio on these.
Just like the FreeBuds Pro, the ANC is brilliant, but it’s the same experience in both the good and the bad. For starters, it can be somewhat aggressive in how it cancels surrounding sounds. If you’re not familiar with ANC, it’s basically a tech that analyzes sounds around you and then creates a “counter” sound that cancels out the sound waves that it’s detecting with the microphones. When I’m on a train or in a car, it can become quite violent when it tries to cancel out audio, and the audio “shakes” as a result. I generally leave the noise canceling on “dynamic”, which lets the earphones decide which ANC option will work best. I found that changing it from dynamic to “cozy” works fine in situations such as a train or a car, and eliminates most (but not all) of the shaking. I haven’t really noticed any differences between the different ANC modes apart from that.
The audio codec is just as important as the hardware though, and on Android and Windows, the Huawei FreeBuds Pro will default to streaming with the SBC audio codec. The lower quality was immediately noticeable, though I was able to switch the codec over to AAC in the Bluetooth settings of my phone. On Windows, you’re not going to be able to switch over to AAC, though.
Battery life on the Huawei FreeLace Pro
Huawei says that on a single charge, the FreeLace Pro should last for about 22 hours of music playback. This will obviously differ depending on whether ANC is on or off, and will also differ depending on the volume of the media that you’re playing. This rated time for music playback is with ANC switched off, and with it switched on, you’re looking at a still respectable playback time of around 12-14 hours from my testing. It’s roughly half of the rated battery life, but it’s still certainly good enough to get you through the day, especially when you can charge them up quickly from your smartphone. If anything, battery life matters even less here considering you can effectively always charge them quickly in a pinch. USB C ports are commonplace on smartphones now, so you will spend no real time away from your music.
Conclusion – The Huawei FreeLace Pro are great wireless earphones
As I expected going into this review, the Huawei FreeLace Pro are pretty much just as good as their true wireless counterparts. Sure, you lose out on some of the convenience of a set of truly wireless earphones, but Huawei has made up for that with a cheaper price tag and useful features. Being able to charge from your smartphone pretty much anywhere is, 90% of the time, incredibly useful, and the battery life is nothing short of exceptional when compared to the much smaller 3-4 hours on the FreeBuds Pro. I’ve been really impressed by how good the Huawei FreeLace Pro are, and for €119, they’re a stellar choice for anyone who doesn’t want to go truly wireless.