For me at least, the Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2 was an unexpected delight. And for once I’m not going to beat around the bush: for the offer price of $256, the FreeBuds Pro 2 will be hard to beat in the sub-$300 True Wireless Stereo (TWS) earbuds category.
In terms of the value proposition, the closest that I know of in that price range would probably be Final Audio’s ZE3000, an outstanding, stripped-down pair of earbuds designed primarily around audio quality and priced at $219. However, it does not have an active noise-cancelling (ANC) circuit. I don’t profess to have tried everything in that range, but the sound quality for the price is outstanding. However, there is a clear compromise here; seeing that ANC is more or less regarded as a ubiquitous feature, the ZE3000, unfortunately, is not something I would recommend to just anyone.
Which brings us to the FreeBuds Pro 2. It has more going for it than just its sound, and what makes it impressive is that it does everything else well enough. So let’s just check the boxes, shall we?
ANC: The ANC is actually pretty decent for the price. It offers three levels of noise cancelling–Cozy, General, and Ultra–along with a Dynamic mode that adjusts according to the environment. It does a fair enough job of nullifying most external noise. At Ultra settings, you can easily block out the bulk of the noise on the MRT, and without any undue sound pressure on your ears. It copes well and adapts to the presence of wind and bufetting noise is kept to the minimum. The transparency mode sounds good enough too, and there’s an added option to focus on voices. It makes it easier to hear others, but your own voice turns into a nasally whine; still, it works, I guess.
The adaptive noise canceling also applies to the microphone, and say, if it gets really windy, the ANC will reduce the noise significantly. It does affect the quality of your voice, however, but at least there is still clarity.
Also, the FreeBuds Pro 2 also sounds good even when noise cancelling is turned off; most of the time, earbuds are optimised with the ANC turned on.
Battery life: The battery life isn’t great. Commutes are fine but hop on a call and you might be down and out in less than two hours depending on your settings. As such, I don’t think these are great for casual listening during long stretches of work. You can reduce the load and stretch it out to five hours or so without ANC, but turn everything on and turn it out loud and the battery goes pretty quick. As I listen mostly on commutes, this compromise doesn’t affect me as much and I have no complaints. The case charges quickly enough via cable, and having a Qi-wireless option is pretty convenient. I find myself charging the case more often, but in this instance, I’m still fine with this trade-off; I consider it manageable.
Controls: Using a pinch or a swipe–as opposed to tapping–as controls is also pretty neat in my book because it’s really difficult to accidentally trigger an action whenever you touch your ears. You can configure the buttons for a variety of basic actions via the AILife app. However, I have a skill issue in trying to get the gestures to always work. The pinching action is fine as you can feel an audible click that affirms that your actions are registered, but swiping to raise or lower volume was a real pain and it took me a while before I finally got the hang of it. Your mileage may vary.
App: Loses points here in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation–having a single app to handle all of your Huawei devices sounds like a perfect idea for those with many Huawei smart devices. But if you only have a pair of earbuds, it feels like you’re using a generic OEM product.
But to be fair, the menus are easy to navigate and easy to understand–just the way I like it. Sure, there aren’t many features, but I really couldn’t care less. I could do without the Find my Earphones feature, because it only works if your earbuds are out of the case. Just give me something that just works without too much fuss.
The Android version has additional options to manage device connectivity, which is handy for prioritising devices if you have more than two paired to the earbuds.
Bling: With its glossy metallic finish, the FreeBuds Pro 2 looks great in stock photographs. And then you touch them–fingerprint magnet confirmed and you’ll need to clean them often. But my pet peeve was that it was such a pain to pull them out of the case without the damned thing flying across the room–it was so slippery. Eventually I got the hang of it, but I’m still docking points off for this form over function decision. To date, I have not smacked anyone in the face on the MRT with a flying earbud and hopefully, I haven’t jinxed myself after saying that.
Showdown: Devialet Gemini
For the new Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2, the most interesting bullet point is the collaboration with upmarket French audio wizards Devialet. It brings to mind the question: how do these earbuds stack up against Devialet’s own Gemini? Note that I’ll be focusing primarily on sound quality in this comparison.
The Devialet Gemini was originally released in 2020 at $459, placing it in a price bracket that competes directly with the latest Sony XM series earbuds (in this case, it’s the Sony WF-1000 XM4). Priced at $256 (offer price), the FreeBuds Pro 2 is almost half the price, so is it half as good?
Things get a little spicier now that the Gemini is priced at $279. Conventional logic says that the Gemini will be the automatic buy, is it not? Well, yes, and not really. When I had originally the idea to compare these two earbuds, it was with the knowledge that the Gemini resides in a higher price bracket, but the revised pricing has certainly thrown me for a loop.
In many ways, these earbuds are cut from the same cloth. They’re both designed to be simple to use, and the controls for ANC and Hearthrough capabilities are relatively simple. That said, you have more options for noise cancelling and transparency/Hearthrough levels on the Gemini. The FreeBuds Pro 2 and Gemini prioritise sound, and regardless of whichever earbuds you choose, your ears will be in for a treat. As far as earbuds go, these two, along with Final Audio ZE3000 are among the best True Wireless earbuds you can get in the sub-$300 range, audio-wise.
But given the original price tag of the Gemini, it’s quite surprising how well the FreeBuds Pro 2 matches up to its spiritual cousin, the two-year release gap notwithstanding.
The Gemini has more headroom, is able to drive the sound harder, and its performance in the bass department is best described as… sultry. Its more neutral midrange allows the instruments to shine on their own merit. While they perform well across most genres of music, the separation between instruments isn’t its strong suit, and things can get a little claustrophobic on heavily layered tracks. When the mix gets a little intense, it sounds like everyone is fighting for your attention. It’s on tracks where instruments are given room to breathe that the Gemini really shines, making it perfect for jazz and classical pieces.
The FreeBuds Pro 2 on the other hand is voiced to be punchier and with a slight mid-range emphasis that really brings vocals to the fore. The separation between instruments is pretty good and it’s better than the Gemini in this regard. These are pretty responsive earbuds and clearly work best with energetic, hard-hitting musical numbers. Metal and electronica, anyone? It’s also great with details and subtleties, and nuances like the brushstrokes on Blue on Green are as clear as day.
In short, the FreeBuds Pro 2 does well with anything you throw at it. Between the two, the FreeBuds Pro 2 is more versatile. With the right audio tracks, the Gemini does a convincing ‘sell’ of earbuds that cost twice as much.
So much so, that I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that it might come down to a matter of taste more than anything else. I sound like a cop-out saying this, but if you prefer laid-back, acoustically driven tracks, just spring for the Gemini, and if you are someone who has more diverse tastes in music then just pick up the FreeBuds Pro 2.
On a more pragmatic side, it can simply be a matter of whether your phone supports the highest resolution codecs available: aptX (Gemini) or LDAC (FreeBuds). Or if you’re an iPhone user, you have to choose between AAC (Gemini) and AAC (FreeBuds); i.e. decide based on your listening preferences. This brings to mind the question: does the codec really matter in this case? Actually yes.
So far, I’ve compared the two earbuds using AAC transmission codecs (AKA I used it on an iPhone), which is fair because everyone’s equipment is different and it’s not uncommon to simply use the earbuds as is straight out of the box. Furthermore, it’s much easier to find headphones and phones that support AAC.
But on Android devices, you tend to have codecs that have more bandwidth than AAC. The Gemini audio experience is a little better with aptX enabled, but when you take the shackles off the FreeBuds Pro 2, they truly come alive.
This means getting proper high resolution files–16-bit, 44.kHz files and above recommended–and enabling LDAC (unfortunately no aptX support) to optimise for audio quality. In this form, the inherently more detailed drivers on the FreeBuds Pro 2 edges the Gemini off the table… like a cat doing cat things to stuff on your table–why is this thing only $256???
In a nutshell, if you have a LDAC-capable phone, I strongly recommend springing for the FreeBuds Pro 2 if you value audio quality (battery life be damned). It sounds great via an ESS 9280 DAC (ROG Phone 6) but even a less decorated WCD9375 DAC in a cheap and cheerful Redmi Note 10 sounds wonderful too.
Price $256 (U.P. $298)
Driver φ 11 mm dynamic driver + planar diaphragm driver
Frequency response 14 Hz ~ 48 kHz
Audio formats SBC, AAC, LDAC
Bluetooth BT 5.2
Sensors Bone, accelerometer, gyroscope, infrared
Battery 55 mAh (per earbud) and 580 mAh (case)
Rated playtime 4-6.5 hours (ANC ON-ANC OFF), 18-30 hours with charging case
Charging USB-C, Qi standard (2W)
Splash resistance IP54
Weight 2x 6.1g (earbud) and 52g (case)
- Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2 - 8.25/108.3/10
Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2
Value Proposition ½☐
Design & Build Quality ½☐
Perfect TRS earbuds for those who value audio quality but aren’t keen to jump into the audiophile rabbit hole. Great sound with manageable compromises and a killer price.