Huawei FreeClip TWS headset review

20.01.2024 11:04

Huawei regularly surprises users with its experiments in the design and construction of completely wireless headsets. Examples include Huawei FreeBuds Lipstick with a lipstick-shaped case or Huawei FreeBuds 5 in the form of earbuds. In the new model, Huawei FreeClip, the developers decided to rethink the design of the TWS headset, influencing not only its appearance, but also the way it is worn.

Huawei FreeClip resemble clips, earrings or cuffs, as indicated in the marketing. They are attached to the ear using two rounded elements and a special arc, while the sound guide does not penetrate into the ear canal, creating a “half-open” design. This affects the comfort of use and, most importantly, the sound of the headset.

The ear canal remains open, allowing the user to hear surrounding sounds — useful when walking outdoors. However, the lack of passive soundproofing can be a disadvantage in noisy environments, although this solution may be preferable for outdoor use. According to the creators, the headset provides less sound leakage.

The design of Huawei FreeClip stands out for its specificity — not every user will like the idea of wearing headphones in the form of earrings. However, for many, this could be an interesting fashion accessory, given that the TWS headset not only reproduces sound, but is also a stylish wardrobe item. FreeClip provides a comfortable fit, supports full multi-point and fast charging, and also provides high quality sound. As a result, we can say that the experiment was a success. It remains to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the device and determine for whom it is suitable.

Specifications

Speakers∅10.8 mm with double magnet
ConnectionBluetooth 5.3
Codec supportSBC, AAC, L2HC and LC3
MultipointThere is
Controltouch zones, software
Active Noise CancellationNo
Sensorsbone conduction, IMU, Hall, capacitive
Headphone battery capacity55 mAh
Case battery capacity510 mAh
Battery lifeup to 8 hours (music playback)
up to 5 hours (voice calls)
Autonomy including charging from the caseup to 36 hours (music playback)
up to 20 hours (voice calls)
Charging connectorUSB Type-C, wireless
Fast charging10 minutes for 3 hours playback
Fully charged
  • about 40 minutes for headphones (in charging case)
  • about 60 minutes for charging case without headphones (wired charging)
  • about 150 minutes for charging case without headphones inside (wireless charging)
Water protectionIP54 (headphones only)
Case dimensions60×52×27 mm
Earphone dimensions22×16×10 mm
Weight of one earphone5.6 g
Case weight44.5 g

Packaging and accessories

We have a testing version of the Huawei FreeClip available without official retail packaging. Therefore, we will not be showing the box this time. However, it is expected that the official packaging will be made in the standard Huawei style, which includes a thick white cardboard box with a removable lid on which the image and name of the device are placed, as well as a gold-colored manufacturer logo and brief specifications...

Please note that the packaging of headphones intended for retail sale may differ significantly from what we found in our sample. However, we can still tell you that inside the box of our test unit we found short instructions, as well as a coupon that gives you the opportunity to get a subscription to the Huawei Music streaming service.

Design and construction

The headset comes in two colors: strict black and brighter and more original purple. The second option is somehow more consistent with the design style of the headphones as a whole — this is what we tested.

Let's take a look at the illustration from Huawei to immediately answer the question of how to wear earrings correctly. The round part is opposite the ear canal, and the bean-shaped part provides support on the back surface of the auricle. These two parts of the headphones are connected by an elastic “membrane”. Let's take a closer look at each of these details below.

The case is designed in a modern shape, similar to sea pebbles: compact dimensions, no sharp corners, flat front and back panels. Thanks to this design, the case easily fits into a small pocket.

The surface is matte, fingerprints do not appear on it from touching. But the hinge fastening on the rear panel is made of glossy material — it’s better not to touch it again.

The front panel contains a small manufacturer's logo and an LED headset status indicator. The case is not overloaded with decorative elements, so it looks strict and elegant.

The lid can be easily opened with a finger of the same hand that holds the case. There is a closer and it works somewhere in the middle of the way, it also provides reliable fixation in both positions.

The headphones are absolutely identical in shape — accordingly, any of them can be placed in any of the slots. They are securely held inside using magnetic fasteners.

Inside the recesses for the bean-shaped part of the headset, spring contacts for charging are visible. Each element is installed in a separate part of the slot, and their additional retention is provided by a connecting element, which is also fixed in a recess on the cover. This design ensures that the headphones are securely and tightly secured in the case. Even with special shaking of the case near the ear, no sounds are heard inside.

Brief information about the device and logos of certification systems are printed on the inside of the recesses in the cover. On the side surface you can see a button to start the process of pairing the headset with the device that serves as the sound source.

The design of Huawei FreeClip has already been mentioned earlier. The headphones are certainly attractive with their stylish and original shape. Despite their extravagance, the manufacturer claims that these headphones can be the perfect addition to any look in any situation.

Each earbud consists of three parts: a bean-shaped element, another in the shape of a ball, and an elastic connector that the manufacturer calls “C-bridge Design.”

The “ball” contains a speaker, the “bean” contains the electronic part and batteries, the charging contacts of which are visible on the bottom of the element.

At the top of the “bean” there are holes for microphones of the noise reduction system and “wind protection” for voice calls. On the upper surface of the round element, microphone holes for voice transmission are visible.

The connecting connector between the halves of the headphones provides a strong and comfortable connection thanks to a well-chosen level of elasticity. According to the manufacturer, inside the connector there are 9 wires and a core made of nitinol, combining titanium and nickel, which has a “memory effect”. This effect allows the connector to adapt to the shape of the user's ear and «remember» the set position.

“Bean” looks nice and has a special recess on the inner surface, which provides comfortable and reliable support on the back of the ear.

The ball-shaped element fits very delicately to the ear and does not create excessive pressure on the cartilage. In general, the headphones have a very comfortable fit — the manufacturer claims that this result was achieved thanks to the analysis of 30 thousand ear models of real users.

The hole on the inside of the round part for the ∅10.8 mm speaker with a dual magnet is covered with a metal mesh, which can be easily cleaned if necessary.

Let's finish by looking at another illustration from the website, which shows the location of all microphones: including noise reduction and windproof mics, bone conduction sensors (VPU: Voice Pick Up), and talk microphones mic).

Connection

Smartphones with updated EMUI firmware automatically detect and offer to connect Huawei FreeClip immediately after opening the case lid. Also, the same offer appeared from a laptop running Windows 11. The connection can also be made in the traditional way through the menu of the mobile device. The pairing process starts automatically when you first open the lid, and can be activated later using a button on the case.

It is important to note that the headset supports full multipoint, and its organization in Huawei devices is considered one of the most convenient. Connecting a second device is activated by the same button on the case, and moving focus between sources is performed correctly. According to the manufacturer, FreeClip supports the main codecs SBC and AAC, as well as those developed by Huawei L2HC and even the new LC3. However, despite this statement, we were unable to enable L2HC and LC3 support using the Bluetooth Tweaker utility we traditionally use for testing. It is worth noting that, for example, in the case of FreeBuds Pro 3, “advanced” codecs needed to be activated through the application, but in this case such an option was not found.

We also found that the maximum value for the SBC Bitpool parameter is 53, which is even slightly higher than the recommended value for the High Quality profile. However, the AAC bitrate is limited to 192 Kbps, which seems to be a rather controversial decision. A possible explanation for this limitation may be the desire to provide a more stable connection to the source.

The headphones are absolutely identical in shape, and the user can insert any of the headphones into any ear — the system will automatically calibrate the right and left audio channels. We tested the functionality of this feature several times using a special track with separate left and right channels, and the results were flawless. Mobile devices with current versions of the EMUI 13 shell also support the simultaneous connection of two pairs of FreeClips or FreeBuds — this is a very convenient feature that allows, for example, to watch a movie with someone using one tablet.

Management and software

To use Huawei headphones, it is recommended to install the AI Life application, as many functions of the device become unavailable without it. After installing and connecting the headset, charge indicators for the headphones and case appear on the main screen of the application. A banner appears at the top of the screen asking you to read instructions on how to properly use FreeClip. This manual provides a detailed description of all the features of the device with illustrations.

In the “connection center” you can configure the operation of the multipoint — in particular, select your preferred device. There is no particular reason to do this again — in automatic mode everything works as correctly and conveniently as possible.

In the Sound section, you can choose from four sound profiles. And here, of course, there is a reason to be a little upset — a full-fledged equalizer like, for example, in the already mentioned FreeBuds Pro 3 will clearly be sorely missed.

The headset is controlled by touching any of its surfaces, be it the round part, the bean-shaped part, or the flexible element connecting them. Despite the conventional name “touch control,” microphones are responsible for registering touches, and they respond even to light taps. By default, double-tap is used to start or stop playback, as well as answer and end a call. Triple tap is used to scroll through songs.

Controls can be customized in AI Life, but the number of available options is not very large. Single touch is blocked to avoid accidental triggering — in the case of recording taps with microphones, this measure is absolutely justified.

The double-tap and triple-tap functions can be configured quite flexibly, allowing different combinations for the right and left earbuds. The wearing sensor automatically pauses music playback when you remove one of the earbuds, and automatically resumes playback when the earbud is returned to your ear.

There is also a headphone search function — when activated, they emit a signal at the maximum volume level, allowing you to find them in a more or less quiet room.

In the settings section, you can view information about the device, disable wear sensors and the auto-switching function of the right and left channels, and also increase the maximum volume level.

Exploitation

The fit method of the Huawei FreeClip is quite unique, providing a secure and comfortable fit. In terms of comfort, the headphones have no problems — the bean-shaped part fits comfortably to the back of the ear, and the round part is neatly placed near the ear canal. However, regarding reliability, the situation is not so clear. In everyday use and even during moderate-intensity activities, the headphones fit perfectly. However, during sudden and intense movements, such as jumping rope or training with a punching bag, they may move a little, which can negatively affect the sound quality.

Thus, Huawei FreeClip is ideal for walking and outdoor activities. With their IP54 water resistance, you don't have to worry about raindrops, and the semi-open design allows you to stay aware of your surroundings, while reducing the risk of being in a dangerous situation. However, for intense workouts in the gym, it may be better to choose a different device. Sudden movements can reduce the comfort and security of the fit. Additionally, most fitness clubs typically have background music, and using headphones with low passive sound isolation may require a higher volume to drown out the background noise.

Using the Huawei FreeClip has several similarities to bone conduction headphones, but there are a few important differences. Firstly, the headphones sound much more exciting than similar devices. We will talk about this in detail below. Secondly, there are fewer sound “leaks” — those around you will not be aware of your musical atmosphere unless the volume level is very high. In addition, users do not have to worry about the privacy of their conversations.

The developers also introduced noise reduction and wind protection technology using “bean” microphones located on the surface of the device. During testing, we tried the headphones in windy conditions, and while we couldn't fully compare the sound with the feature on and off due to it being constantly on, it's worth noting that the effect of wind on sound quality was minimal.

Microphones for voice communication

Huawei FreeClip is equipped with two microphones and a bone conduction sensor, which are designed to provide high-quality speech transmission. Our approach to microphone testing does not currently include evaluation of the bone conduction sensor. Therefore, in this context, we pay more attention to audio recordings to evaluate the quality of microphones. However, for the sake of completeness, we will also look at the frequency response of microphones.

To measure the frequency response, we use a specially prepared room and a monitor acoustic system that reproduces a sweep tone. Since the frequency response of the speakers is non-uniform, we first obtain its graph using a calibrated measuring microphone. This data is then used to create a correction profile that compensates for the acoustics. The signal is then recorded using a testing device occupying a similar position to the measuring microphone. The resulting graph is adjusted using a pre-created profile, which allows us to obtain an individual frequency response of the microphone under test.

An adult male's voice typically spans a fundamental frequency of 85 to 155 Hz, while a woman's voice ranges from 165 to 255 Hz. Despite this, frequencies from 300 to 3400 Hz are commonly used for voice transmission, which are called “voice frequencies”. This range contains formants responsible for speech intelligibility. Frequencies below this range are usually cut off not only due to transmission limitations, but also due to the presence of various unwanted sounds, such as the hum of engines or low-frequency crowd noise.

The microphone is tuned logically: about 60% of the total voice energy is concentrated in the range from approximately 100 to 500 Hz. Important plosives for speech intelligibility lie in the range from 125 Hz to 250 Hz, which is reflected by a noticeable rise. The peak around 1.5 kHz is aimed at improving subjective speech clarity. However, the high-frequency range, which is usually important for the clarity of voice transmission, is for some reason significantly cut off. This range is likely added by the bone conduction sensor.

Autonomy and charging

The manufacturer promises up to 8 hours of battery life during music playback, which sounds very impressive. However, it is worth noting that these figures are usually indicated for “ideal conditions”, and actual autonomy may be slightly lower. Let's do some testing to evaluate how the headphones handle battery life in more realistic conditions.

The safe sound pressure level for listening to music is considered to be 75 dB, but many listeners prefer levels in the region of 90-100 dB. We will play white noise through headphones while maintaining the sound pressure level at 95 dB. Immediately after the start of playback, we will start recording the signal from the measuring stand, and based on the length of the resulting track, it will be possible to estimate the battery life of each earphone.

The headphones show a uniform discharge, with a time difference of no more than 10 minutes between them. Considering that most users prefer to use headphones in stereo mode and usually place both in the charging case when unplugging one, we will provide battery life data for the earbud that lasted less.

  • Test 1: 7 hours 1 minute
  • Test 2: 7 hours 4 minutes
  • Test 3: 7 hours 12 minutes

Total: 7 hours 6 minutes. This is slightly less than what the manufacturer claims, but is still enough for most daily activities. Quick access to charging also provides an added level of convenience. According to the statement, after 10 minutes in the case, the headphones are ready to work for up to 3 hours, but our tests showed even a slightly longer time — about 3 hours 15 minutes.

Fully charging the headphones takes about 40 minutes, and the case via USB takes about an hour. When using wireless charging, the time may vary depending on the characteristics of the charger. When the case is connected to a power source, it emits a weak but noticeable beep.

The case is capable of fully charging the headphones approximately 4 times, which provides the user with at least 28 hours of autonomy. Thus, even with active use of the headphones, charging will be required once a week.

Sound and frequency response measurements

Judging by the description, Huawei FreeClip is equipped with highly sensitive emitters, including two magnets and a moving coil, capable of providing high-quality sound. The marketing materials also mention «reverse sound field technology», which provides intelligent volume control and effective sound wave suppression, which in turn reduces sound leakage. Let's start talking about sound with volume level — the headphones have enough headroom to compensate for the peculiarities of their placement. If necessary, you can even “shout” relatively loud external sounds, but it is worth remembering that this can negatively affect hearing and reduce the benefits of the “semi-open” design.

To measure the amplitude-frequency response (AFC), we will use a stand equipped with a model of the auricle. This will allow us to correctly position the headphones relative to the simulated ear canal and obtain accurate measurements.

Predictably, there are no correction curves for a type of headphone like the Huawei FreeClip, and this time we will have to do without them. In general, the main sound features are visible without additional correction. Due to the “semi-open” design, Huawei FreeClip does not stand out much in reproducing “deep bass”, but the mids sound more or less smooth with an acceptable level of detail. The treble range may be a little harsh, but this character may appeal to those who appreciate bright and expressive highs, especially with hi-hat hits.

EQ presets do exactly what they're supposed to do, as their name suggests. Let us remind you that there are four of them in total — we saw the default sound above, we will analyze the remaining three now.

  1. “Voices”: the manufacturer suggests using it to emphasize vocals and listen to podcasts; when activated, the midrange is slightly highlighted by pulling back the bass and high frequencies
  2. “Bass Boost”: The low frequencies are actually boosted, but very subtly
  3. «Treble Boost»: The highs are given extra emphasis, partially achieved by pulling the bass back

The lack of a full-fledged equalizer leaves much to be desired, especially in the context of the ability to slightly adjust accents, for example, on the treble. However, the sound of the Huawei FreeClip turns out to be quite satisfactory. While there are in-ear solutions that deliver higher-level audio (like Huawei's FreeBuds Pro 2), the FreeClips sound pretty reasonable within the context of their design.

Results

Potential Huawei FreeClip buyers may be attracted by two key features. Firstly, it has an outstanding design and style, which may not be to everyone's taste, but for certain audiences it can be a deciding factor in their choice. Secondly, the «semi-open» design allows the user to remain in contact with their surroundings during activities such as walking or jogging. Previously, similar capabilities were offered by bone conduction headphones, but the FreeClip has noticeably better sound and lower levels of sound leakage.

The disadvantages of the headset are directly related to its advantages: low noise insulation and slightly lower sound quality compared to advanced in-ear solutions. However, despite this, FreeClips offer convenient operation, long battery life, a comfortable fit, moisture protection and other advantages. Overall, as a fashion accessory and alternative to bone conduction headphones for a variety of activities, the Huawei FreeClip can be considered a very attractive option.