Honor is better-known for its phones than headphones, but it has made a pair with a striking resemblance to the Apple AirPods Pro, the Earbuds 3 Pro.
They cost significantly less than Apple’s earphones. But they are not flat-out cheap, so can they compete?
In a surprise result, the Honor EarBuds 3 Pro sound better than the AirPods Pro in some, but not all, senses. Let’s break it down to see if these might be a viable alternative to the biggest name in true wireless sound.
Design and battery life
These two pairs of earphones look similar. The Honor set’s similarities are flat-out shameless in some areas, such as the band of silver on the back of the otherwise all-white charging case.
The shape Apple uses for the back of each earpiece is smoother, but you can’t mistake how much of an AirPod Pro-inspired design the Earbuds 3 Pro’s is. And that’s putting it mildly.
These are both very comfortable earphonbes. They’re light, they use the same style of tips and, if anything, Honor’s silicone tips feel a little softer than Apple’s.
The AirPods Pro have a clear advantage for battery life, though. Honor says the Earbuds 3 Pro last four hours with active noise cancelation switched on, six hours without. However, I’ve never managed to get them to last six hours. And I find the first earbud often loses charge just before the four-hour mark with ANC.
Apple’s AirPods Pro are rated at six hours use with active noise cancellation, miles ahead of Honor. The Apple charge case also has a tiny speaker that emits tones to help you find the case and let you know when the AirPods are properly in place and charging.
Active noise cancellation
I started using the Honor Earbuds 3 Pro weeks before the AirPods Pro 2nd Gen. I had a chance to use them on a couple of flights and was mostly impressed by the results.
The Honor Earbuds 3 Pro’s ANC did not seem as “complete” as that of Bose or Sony, blocking out what seemed like a more targeted set of frequencies. But it still does the job, and these earphones let you alter the intensity level. There are Intelligent (auto), Cozy, Moderate and Ultra modes.
Apple’s AirPods Pro active noise cancellation goes far beyond simply “effective”. These are a contender for the most effective true wireless ANC earphones made to date.
It’s truly excellent ANC, and creates the sense of being transported from the stress of noisy environments without much of the potentially uncomfortable sense of pressure early generations of ANC headphones were known for. They did seem to potentially trigger a few headaches in the first weeks of use, though, something I have not experienced with other pairs before.
However, at the most it tipped me over at a point I was already under the weather, and may have been correlation, not causation.
The AirPods Pro also offer a few extra features like spatial audio and head tracking, with certain content when used with an iPhone.
Here’s where things get interesting. The Apple AirPods have superior tuning, but the Honor Earbuds 3 Pro hits heights that the EarPods can’t quite reach in a couple of important areas.
Let’s start with that AirPods Pro tuning. These are extremely tasteful-sounding earphones, with well-controlled bass and balanced, even tonality.
The Honor EarBuds Pro 3 have noticeably boosted bass, the classic tool of mainstream consumer headphones and earphones. At one point I spent a while trying to EQ this down a bit with software, but Honor’s app doesn’t give you the tools to do so.
It’s hard to poke any holes in the AirPods Pro sound, because Apple has done nothing major wrong here. However, in direct comparison the Honor pair seems a bit more bold and lively, with greater dynamic range to the sound. Surprising as it may seem, the Earbuds 3 Pro may well seem more immersive and engaging to many ears.
They sound more expansive and three-dimensional. While Apple has more mature-sounding tonal makeup, Honor actually win out in a few areas that separate good earphones from great ones.