Huawei FreeBuds 5i brings hi-res audio support to affordable wireless earbuds

Huawei FreeBuds 5i true wireless earbuds with charging case in Nebula Black
(Image credit: Huawei)

Huawei has a new pair of true wireless earbuds, and they're easy on the wallet. The FreeBuds 5i pack hi-res audio, active noise cancellation (ANC), equaliser presets and the ability to wirelessly switch between two devices seamlessly, yet they cost just £89.99 (about $109, AU$160).

They look a lot pricier. The case has a pebble stone design and textured surface, which is achieved using inkjet-coating techniques. They come in three finishes: Isle Blue, Nebula Black, and Ceramic White.

The stems on the earbuds are 7mm shorter than their predecessors', the FreeBuds 4i, making for a snugger fit. And they weigh 4.9g each, which is lighter than a lot of earbuds.

They're certified for Hi-Res Audio Wireless with Sony's LDAC codec onboard, which in the 5i buds, lets you stream high-resolution audio up to 24-bit/96kHz files over Bluetooth at up to 990kbps data speeds (the highest rate supported by an existing codec).

Why the inclusion of a hi-res codec at this ultra-budget price? Huawei told us it's done some research and has found that there's a lot of interest from consumers who want to buy a pair of earbuds for under €100 and also want good sound quality.

Alongside this are "algorithms" designed to render the sound as faithfully as possible. Inside each bud is a 10mm dynamic driver, and multi-EQ effects let you adjust the audio on the fly (for example, by choosing bass boost or treble boost) using the brand's AI Life app.

The FreeBuds 5i have hybrid noise-cancellation tech, which uses both inward and outward-facing microphones. Huawei claims this not only detects external noise to cancel, but picks up extra noise within the ear canal, cancelling sound level as high as 42dB. Three ANC modes (Ultra, General and Cozy) let you tweak the ANC settings depending on your situation.

The same tech promises to make calls nice and clear, using an AI neural network algorithm to distinguish your voice from other sounds.

Huawei FreeBuds 5i true wireless earbuds in Isle Blue

(Image credit: Huawei)

The FreeBuds 5i have six hours of playtime on a single charge with ANC on. The total battery life of 28 hours with the charging case is impressive for the money (and is longer than the Award-winning Sony WF-1000XM4's total of 24 hours). A quick 15-minute charge will give you four hours of runtime.

Want to listen to audio from your laptop and then take a hands-free call from your phone? No problem. The Huawei buds support multipoint connectivity, letting you switch between two devices without you having to lift a finger.

The buds are rated IP54 dust- and water-proof, too, so will survive dusty, sandy and wet environments.

One neat feature lets you snap a photo with your smartphone by double tapping your earbud. However, you'll need a Huawei smartphone to use this feature.

The FreeBuds 5i go on sale on 16th January direct from Huawei, with stock arriving in Currys, Amazon and Argos from February in the UK.

Huawei's more premium FreeBuds Pro were a little disappointing, only scoring three stars in our review. Here's hoping this budget pair will fare a little better.

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Joe has been writing about tech for 17 years, first on staff at T3 magazine, then in a freelance capacity for Stuff, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Men's Health, GQ, The Mirror, Trusted Reviews, TechRadar and many more (including What Hi-Fi?). His specialities include all things mobile, headphones and speakers that he can't justifying spending money on.