Tiny new earbuds bring mighty sound, decent noise cancellation [Review][Updated]

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If you like compact, stemless earbuds with good sound, these are worth a try.★★★★☆
If you like compact, stemless earbuds with good sound, these are worth a try.
Photo: David Snow/Cult of Mac

Don’t want to spend hundreds on great-sounding earbuds? Affordable earbud and speaker maker EarFun unveiled its updated stemless earbuds Monday, EarFun Free Pro 3. They check a lot of quality boxes at a low regular price of $80, or $60 with current discounts (see below).

Like previous EarFun releases, the new buds nail high-quality sound and offer an array of premium features. But in this case, I found the active noise cancellation (ANC) unimpressive — that is, until EarFun sent out firmware update VO.2.1 in early November, and it improved noticeably. 

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EarFun Free Pro 3 Hybrid ANC Wireless Earbuds

In a nutshell, the new EarFun Free Pro 3 earbuds are another excellent product from the company. They sport a compact, stemless design that I find very comfortable. The sound quality is excellent for the price point. The battery lasts a long time. My only quibbles? I found the ANC weak at best and had a bit of a hard time getting the buds’ dual-device connectivity to work.

EarFun called EarFun Free Pro 3 “the first hi-res and QSS dual-certified noise-cancelling earbuds.” QSS refers to Qualcomm Snapdragon Sound, designed to enhance sound quality for all uses, like music and gaming, on mobile devices.

The new buds sport the aptX Adaptive codec, which gets up to 24-bit audio for maximum detail on devices that support it (or perfectly good 16-bit audio on iPhones and other Apple devices). You also get up-to-date Bluetooth 5.3 connectivity.

Great fit and design

I’ve never been a fan of earbud stems. They’re fine in most cases, but sometimes their design seems to limit the fit in the ear and the seal the earbuds provide in the ear canal (and some are designed to dangle, not fit in the ear canal like an ear plug; some people hate having anything in their ears).

EarFun’s new buds are completely stemless, like their excellent predecessor, fitting like an earplug. The bud’s body rests in the ear with the help of a silicone “ear hook” (which doesn’t hook onto anything, it just provides a little more purchase against your skin). In the box you get five sets of ear tips and ear hooks to find the best fit if the ones already on the earbuds don’t work for you.

I found they fit securely right out of the box with the medium ear tips and ear hooks already installed. It pays to experiment with what’s offered, however, to ensure a good ear-canal seal for the best sound quality and passive noise cancellation.

Good sound quality

Once I started using the earbuds, I found they immediately connected via Bluetooth 5.3 to my iPhone 13 Pro. But then they wouldn’t simply connect to my MacBook Pro or my iPad Air, despite me repeatedly putting them back in the case and opening it to trigger Bluetooth.

However, intentionally disconnecting them from iPhone allowed them to pair with iPad and then again with iPhone (always read the manual, folks).

The earbuds issue high-quality sound. Their 7mm wool-composite dynamic drivers offer plenty of detail and minimal vibration for balanced audio across the spectrum.

Convenient app control

One feature I look for in earbuds isn’t on the buds themselves, it’s a decent app for control. While virtually all earbuds come with some form of touch control, like tapping one or the other earbuds once, twice or three times to engage certain functions — answer a call, advance a track, go from noise-cancelling to ambient sound — I prefer an app for certain functions.

The EarFun app has improved over time. Once you connect EarFun Free Pro 3, the opening page gives you immediate control over noise cancellation — Noise Cancelling, Ambient Sound and Normal (off).

You also get a toggle switch to turn on/off low-latency Gaming Mode (“turning on the game mode can deduce the delay of the sound, but the connection may be unstable,” EarFun notes in the app).

Below that, EarFun Equalizer lets you select Default Sound (EarFun Classic), Preset Equalizer (10 of them, based on musical genre and boosting or reducing bass and treble) and Custom Equalizer (10 bars you can shift up or down). Typically, I find the signature sound works well, as it does with Default Sound. And the Rock preset also suited me.

Finally, you can also click through on Customize Controls to adjust how touch controls on the buds work, or turn them off.

Weak Pretty good noise cancellation

You can get them in navy blue or white-silver, too.
You can get them in navy blue or white-silver, too.
Photo: EarFun

EarFun touts the earbuds’ noise cancellation, noting three microphones in each bud help achieve a “maximum ANC depth as high as 43 dB.” Well, I found it surprisingly “meh” at first (update: firmware update VO.2.1 helped beef up the noise cancellation). So-so ANC isn’t necessarily a big deal, if the passive noise cancellation from a good seal in the ear canal is helping.

Soon after trying out the earbuds for the first time, having charged the wireless charging case via USB and perused the product manual, I started fiddling with noise cancellation via the app.

The TV in the next room happened to be blaring Wolf Blitzer’s voice on CNN, along with that of a woman reporting from Gaza. To my surprise, switching back and forth between Noise Cancelling, Ambient Sound and Normal did very little to change how well I could hear them through the earbuds from the kitchen.

I often check noise cancellation without music playing, to get a basic sense of it, and with music playing, in part to see if settings change sound quality. With these buds, music sound quality remained steady, but cancellation of external noise seemed minimal.

When I went into the living room and tried using touch controls to toggle between noise cancellation settings, my findings were similar. Noise Cancelling and Normal sounded too much alike. Ambient Sound let in noticeably more sound, as it should.

As for call quality, audio quality sounded fine and background noise seemed minor.

EarFun Free Pro 3 features:

  • Qualcomm QCC3072 chip
  • aptX Adaptive codec
  • Bluetooth 5.3
  • 7mm wool composite dynamic drivers
  • 3 microphones per bud for ANC (up to 43dB claimed)
  • Clear voice calls with 6 ENC microphones and Qualcomm cVc (Clear Voice Capture) 8.0 algorithm
  • Multi-device connectivity
  • 55ms low latency Game Mode
  • Touch controls and EarFun audio app with equalizers
  • IPX5 sweat and water resistance
  • 33-hour playtime: 7.5 hours (buds) plus 25.5 hours with charging case
  • 2 hours playtime on 10-minute charge
  • Charging via USB-C cable or wireless

As of October 30, you can find EarFun Free Pro 3 at EarFun or on Amazon. They come in brown-black, silver-white or navy blue colors. With a coupon on the Amazon page and discount code AF325OFF, you should be able to get total 25% for a final price of $59.99, EarFun said.

Where to buy: Amazon

EarFun provided Cult of Mac with a review unit for this article. See our reviews policy, and check out other in-depth reviews of Apple-related items.

★★★★☆

We originally published this post on October 30, 2023, and updated it on November 10 with information about improved noise cancellation due to a firmware update.

EarFun Free Pro 3 Noise Canceling Wireless Earbuds
$79.99

The buds offer Snapdragon Sound with Qualcomm aptX Adaptive, 6 ENC microphones, Bluetooth 5.3 wireless with multipoint connection, customizable EQ app, a comfortable fit and up to 33 hours of battery life.

Buy Now
02/21/2024 12:32 am GMT

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