Huawei Sound Review: The perfect smart speaker peripheral
Huawei has a wide range of products spanning its own ecosystem, and the Huawei Sound is yet another addition to the company’s arsenal. Huawei has been pumping out some excellent earphones for quite a while now, and the Huawei Sound made in tandem with French audio technology company Devialet is the latest addition to their portfolio of audio tech. While it’s not a smart speaker (outside of China), I found that it makes an excellent peripheral when used with actual smart speakers like the Amazon Echo.
The Huawei Sound connects via Bluetooth or 3.5mm aux (something that the bigger and beefier Sound X doesn’t have), and you can connect to it quickly via NFC by tapping your phone on the top of the device. If you’ve used a recent pair of Sony headphones that pair via an NFC tag, it works in the exact same way. This is part of Huawei’s “OneHop”, a feature that debuted on their laptops and allows you to connect your phone to your laptop instantly. The Wi-Fi support that Huawei mentions for UPnP streaming is rather cumbersome, and you’ll only be able to control or update your speaker with the Huawei AI Life app available on the company’s AppGallery.
About this review: Huawei sent us the Huawei Sound for review, though they did not have any input in the contents of this review.
Small on form factor, Big on sound
The Huawei Sound is small, but it’s heavy. Weighing in at 2.2kg, this one isn’t going to last on a flimsy, cheap desk. A speaker being heavy is generally a good sign of the hardware inside, but you definitely won’t be carrying this one around too much. It also requires being hooked up to the mains at all times, so you won’t be bringing this speaker to your outdoor parties. The design is incredibly glossy in the top half – so glossy, in fact, that Huawei even packs a cleaning cloth in the box. It picks up fingerprints fast, and so does the touch panel at the top.
However, the reason it’s heavy and not very portable is thanks to the powerful speaker hardware on the inside. Being a single speaker with 360-degree audio, Huawei and Devialet have made use of some clever design tricks to give a wider sound, including using Devialet’s “push-push” acoustic design system in order to counteract distortion at louder volumes. Bigger and more sophisticated speakers are heavy thanks to the usage of large magnets on the inside, and if speakers vibrate too much, they can distort the other speakers that are in the same body.
Even at higher volumes (though I couldn’t use it for long, at the risk of annoying my neighbors), there’s very little distortion, and the low-end in particular still comes through smooth and clear. I previously noticed with my Amazon Echo that the audio levels were balanced across the entire frequency range until it hit higher volumes, where the low-end was drowned out by the mid and high-end. That’s not the case here, and the low-end can keep up with the higher volumes. I was very impressed with the audio quality, though slightly disappointed by the difficulty in integrating it with other services.
However, this got me thinking – while the Huawei Sound is not a smart speaker, why can’t I make it one? The 3.5mm jack is something that the Sound X didn’t have, and most smart speakers nowadays have one as an output. Hooking up my Amazon Echo gives me the best of both worlds – excellent sound quality, and all of the smart features that you’d want, too. Is it perfect? No, because controlling the speaker remotely still requires having a whole other app in the form of Huawei’s AI Life app. Is it an improvement over not being a smart speaker at all? Absolutely. There’s a lot of annoying cabling involved (particularly as the Huawei Sound has its own mains adapter) which can make it look messy, though the results were worth it, in my opinion.
I also noticed a small issue that I had trouble reliably replicating with any other songs. In The Adults Are Talking by The Strokes, the higher guitar lead that plays around the 4-minute mark does not come through on the Huawei Sound. I asked another reviewer with this particular speaker if they had the same issue, and they tested it and told me that they had. I haven’t noticed it with any other songs personally, but it’s something to look out for, as it’s the entire removal of an instrument in a song.
I could live without the Huawei AI Life app
The AI Life app is the only real way to remotely control your new speaker, and it’s a bit finicky to even get working. You’ll need to get the company’s AI Life app from AppGallery, and the app itself can’t actually do a whole lot. You can connect the speaker to your Wi-Fi, update it if there’s a firmware update, and enable and disable settings. There are also some basic sound effects that you can apply which act as glorified equalizers, and you can also increase the bass if you want.
Aside from that, there’s not a whole lot the AI Life app can do, and to cast with UPnP you’ll need to use a third-party application. Huawei recommends BubbleUPnP for Soundcloud and Deezer, though I had a lot of problems getting that working. The progress bar doesn’t update most of the time, and the streaming quality is only 128kbps — a far cry away from the lossless audio quality offered by competitors. The 128kbps streaming quality is a Soundcloud limitation.
Still, in a pinch, it does definitely work. At the end of the day though, the easiest way to stream to the Huawei Sound is just via Bluetooth. Messing around trying to get it working properly over Wi-Fi is more trouble than it’s worth. Why bother trying to get UPnP working when the Huawei Sound supports LDAC? If you have an Android smartphone, LDAC is one of the best codecs around for wireless music streaming that you can get. I had no trouble getting this working, though funnily enough, tapping my Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra to the speaker switched off the display on my phone instantly. This doesn’t happen on the regular Mi 11, and turning on the screen again while still in place will trigger the NFC tag and connect my phone. It’s an oddity for sure, but not something I’ve seen happening on any other device. Even then, it works fine after initially pairing it, so I don’t really care all that much.
The Huawei Sound costs a pretty penny
While the Huawei Sound is, in my opinion, worthy of an investment, it has a pretty steep asking price for a speaker that is not able to do a whole lot. Pairing it with a smart speaker alleviates much of those issues, but for most people, the audio quality of an Amazon Echo is more than enough for a house party or even just casual listening. I love using the Huawei Sound, but at a cost of €169, it’s a tall order for many. If you already have the smart speaker to go with it and are looking for an upgrade to your current system, then this is definitely worth looking into. If you’re looking at getting something a bit beefier than that, then the Huawei Sound X might also be worth a look at.