Launched at one of the last physical tech events of the year, at what was supposed to be the Mobile World Congress, the Honor Magic Earbuds enter a busy market of true wireless earbuds with active noise cancellation. So how do the AirPod-style headphones stack up against the competition? I've been wearing them to find out.
- Fast, reliable pairing
- Comfortable to wear
- Super loud
- Good battery life
- Poor ANC
- Unusable in windy conditions
- Chunky design
Honor Magic Earbuds release date and price
The Honor Magic Earbuds were initially launched at an event in Barcelona in February (remember those!) alongside the Honor 9X and the Honor MagicBook 14. The product initially launched in Russia, Germany, Netherlands, France, Italy, The UK, and Malaysia, as several other countries have since followed.
In Europe, the price is set at €99.90. Pre-orders have been live since May 5, with the first shipments due to land on May 21, 2020, although this may differ slightly depending on your specific region. The price in The UK is £89.99. Two colors are available: Pearl White and 'Robin Egg Blue'.
In-ear design with familiar inspiration
Like so many manufacturers these days, Honor has taken inspiration from the Apple AirPods Pro for its latest pair of true wireless earbuds. The result is a bit like a combination of both the AirPods and AirPods Pro, as you still get a sizable stem on each earbud as with the regular AirPods, but with the silicone tips of the Pro variant for that in-ear comfort and noise isolation.
These have been crafted to maximize comfort and stability for everyday wear, and Honor has delivered on this promise. The Magic Earbuds are very comfortable to wear for sustained periods of time and feel secure when out walking or doing light exercise. I wouldn't class these, or any true wireless in-ear headphones without wingtips, as proper sports headphones though. The in-ear design forms a tight seal to provide passive noise isolation that further prevents ambient noise from seeping into the’ audio.
The Magic Earbuds are certainly modern-looking, but they are not as sleek as some of the competition. They are, however, pretty light, with each earbud weighing only 5.5g, and the charging case 51g. The new Honor earbuds are truly portable and can easily slip into most pockets.
There is a built-in capacitive sensor on the Magic Earbuds to allow for touch controls, which allow you to double-tap for music, voice calling controls, and long tap to enable or disable the active noise cancellation. You can also customize these control shortcuts through Huawei AI Life APP. I found pairing to be swift on both the Google Pixel 4 and the Samsung Galaxy S20 without the need for the app. I used the new Magic Earbuds with a MacBook Pro for Google Hangouts calls without any connection issues. The earbuds are optimized to work with the EMUI 10.0 operating system, much like how Apple does with its audio products, but you won't have any issues with pairing and performance if you use a non-Huawei or Honor smartphone.
Hybrid Active Noise Cancelling
Honor has gone with ANC in a pair of true wireless earbuds for the first time. The brand is calling this its "Hybrid Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) technology". There is also triple-microphone noise reduction dedicated to creating an immersive and distraction-free listening. The hybrid part is not quite as technologically advanced as it sounds. Essentially, the Honor Magic Buds use a combination of microphone-powered ANC and the natural noise isolation you get from an in-ear design with silicone tips.
The Magic Earbuds combine a feedforward mic that cancels environmental noise and a feedback mic that further filters out the remaining undesirable sound in your ears. The result, on paper at least, is that distracting background noise can be filtered out up to 32 dB.
In practice, the performance is somewhat disappointing. Whilst you do feel a calmer, quieter presence once the ANC turns on upon pairing the earbuds with your smartphone, unfortunately, this doesn't really hold up unless you are in an environment that is already particularly quite. The Magic Earbuds can go from tranquil to silent, but as soon as the outside noise reaches any kind of significant level, things start falling apart.
One use case I love using ANC headphones for is when vacuuming. The consistent frequency of the appliance makes it particularly vulnerable to ANC headphones, and with several other pairs I have at home, the drone of the vacuum can be completely canceled out to the point where I can no longer hear if it is turned on or not. With the Magic Earbuds, however, this was not the case. It was quieter, but still hummed under the podcast I was listening to.
The most frustrating aspect of this hybrid ANC technology, however, is encountered when using them outdoors. Wind causes a very strange sensation in your ear canal as you can hear the ANC actively fighting against the hiss. It ruins the listening experience significantly. Riding a bicycle whilst wearing these is an absolute non-starter.
Loud, punchy sounds
The Honor Magic Earbuds achieve good sound quality with rich details. There's a powerful 10mm dynamic driver unit in each of these, which provides more than enough volume and delivers plenty of punch. The Magic Earbuds produce strong bass and clear trebles. The driver provides smooth transmission of the audio signal for clear and well-balanced music listening.
I was surprised at the audio quality and overall volume of the Magic Earbuds. Compared to some of the over-ear headphones I have tested in this price range with bigger drivers, these true wireless earbuds can easily fill your head with quality-sounding audio.
Yet it is exactly this powerful audio performance that makes the weak ANC even more superfluous. With an in-ear design, you get a certain level of passive noise isolation, and the rest can be drowned out with volume. You really don't need to mess around with the ANC, which can cause a whistling sound in even moderately breezy conditions. For the record, the Honor Magic Earbuds support Bluetooth 5.0, 2DP 1.3, HFP 1.6, and AVRCP 1.5. The Bluetooth audio codecs on offer here are SBC and AAC.
Ample battery life
Honor has equipped the Magic Earbuds with low-consumption Bluetooth technology (5.0) that offers approximately three and a half hours of continuous music playback, or two and a half hours of voice calls on a single charge. The 410 mAh battery in the charging and carry case brings the total up to 14.5 hours of music playback.
These numbers are approximate usage hours when ANC is turned off. The battery life supports up to approximately three hours of continuous music playback or two hours of calls and up to 12 hours of music playback overall with the charging case when ANC is activated.
Naturally, actual usage times vary depending on volume, conditions of use, environmental factors, and all the rest of it. I found the earbuds could easily get me through a full day of use. Especially when you are popping them in and out of the charging case from time to time. When you do need to refill the battery, the charging case is supplied energy via USB-C.
For the price of just under 100 bucks, the Honor Magic Earbuds are a solid pair of earbuds with all of the modern conveniences we are used to these such as fast pairing, good battery life, and a compact carry case. The ANC side of this product does feel a little tagged on as a marketing gimmick. It's not really powerful enough to deliver the kind of noise cancellation true ANC fans would want, and with the in-ear design and plenty of audio power, you really don't need to use it. I'd go as far to say as it actually makes the audio experience worse when it is activated.
Yet, for owners of Honor and Huawei smartphones who are looking for an affordable AirPods Pro-like headphones solution, with all of the hardware-software optimizations that come from sticking to one ecosystem, the Honor Magic Earbuds are a decent buy.
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