You can't walk around a city for more than 10 minutes without seeing someone using Apple AirPods (opens in new tab). They're incredibly popular, and while they weren't the first in the "true wireless" earbuds segment they easily have the largest mind share. Contrary to popular believe the AirPods don't just work with iPhones; but they still have a massive limiting factor for most people in that, at $160, they're incredibly expensive.
Enter Anker, one of the most popular brands for computing accessories, speakers and headphones. Its Soundcore brand launched its own AIrPods competitor, vying for the price-conscious would-be AirPods buyers with the Liberty Air truly wireless headphones. They closely mimic Apple's design, keeping things compact and intuitive, and have solid audio quality to match. And here's the thing: they're just $80.
- Solid audio quality
- Long battery life
- Compact case
- Great price
- Micro-USB charging
- Call quality is a clear weak point
- Pillow-shaped case doesn't stay put
- Occasional L/R sync issues
Anker Soundcore Liberty Air What's good
The biggest thing keeping me from using any of these "true wireless" earbuds on a regular basis, up to this point, has been the size of the case. Sure the earbuds are wireless and don't weigh down your ears or neck, but they come with a cumbersome case that makes the whole package impractical. This is where AirPods consistently win, and where Anker has made a huge step ahead of so many other companies. The Liberty Air case is actually small! Small enough to disappear in a jacket pocket, or even drop in a jeans pocket next to my slim wallet without too much of an issue.
Getting over the "the case is small enough that I can actually use the earbuds" discussion, the earbuds themselves are worth talking about. There's nothing particularly exciting about the earbuds, and there doesn't have to be. They're efficiently designed, effectively looking like shiny piano black AirPods (they're available in white (opens in new tab) also) with no visual flourish outside of a few dimples and Soundcore branding. They have typical earbud drivers and a selection of rubber ear tip sizes. The fit is fine, just like any other basic, non-ergonomic earbuds. They don't have any pressure points on my ears, and they're so light you can easily forget they're there — I actually managed to fall asleep with them in multiple times on a recent trip.
The earbud touch controls are split between the left and right for different functions, with the right being the primary controller. You can manage play/pause (call pickup/end) and track skip forward on the right earbud with either a double tap or long press, and then track skip back or activate your assistant service in the same way on the left earbud. You don't get volume controls like some offer, but given how finicky those controls can be on a tiny touch surface I understand why they're missing.
Audio quality for both music and spoken word is acceptable; not spectacular. They sound like an inexpensive pair of Bluetooth neckbuds, with a decent range and good quality, but little bass. The fact that they actually have rubber tips, unlike AirPods, gives them some passive noise cancellation to immediately improve the audio experience. But I wouldn't buy these for their sound reproduction — you buy them because they have good enough sound and the extra utility of being truly wireless.
Audio keeps flowing for up to 5 hours, and the case recharges the earbuds three more times after that. Since you'll need to have the case around anyway for safe keeping, battery life is a non-issue. The case hinges open with a satisfactory click, and holds the earbuds with a surprisingly strong magnet. Three LEDs on the outside show the case charge level, and small LEDs on each bud show their individual charge.
Anker Soundcore Liberty Air What isn't so good
For all of the great parts of the Liberty Airs, the big weak point has to be call quality — both incoming and outgoing. Anker bills the headphones as providing "crystal-clear calls," but I wouldn't go anywhere near that. On my end, the headphones seem to apply way too aggressive of noise cancellation in loud environments, making callers sound distant and tinny with an odd hollow effect. On the other end, callers were not impressed. Making both cellular and VoIP calls, the other person either said they had trouble hearing me, said I sounded distant, or at best said I sounded "alright." That's hardly crystal-clear, and it made me self-conscious about taking calls with the headphones. Bad call quality is a common refrain in customers reviews as well (opens in new tab).
I freely admit that I don't take that many calls — perhaps half a dozen a month on average — and most people nowadays lean heavily on messaging instead. For this use case, and at this price, I'm willing to look past poor call quality; and probably skip using them for calls altogether. But if calls over your headphones are important to you, you should find a different pair of earbuds.
Outside of call quality, I have little to complain about with the earbuds. I had a handful of instances where the earbuds would lose their left/right sync for a brief moment, throwing echoey sound or just dropping the left earbud for a moment and reconnecting. That's the reality of a true wireless earbud setup — you not only get the occasional Bluetooth issues with the device you're connected to, but also between the earbuds.
Now please allow me to nitpick on the case for a moment. For all of the its great features, it has a few head-scratching issues. First is that it charges over Micro-USB, which I just cannot understand; it's time to be done with this silly old port. Also, the case is rounded on every side but the top, meaning it won't sit still on a table — it ends up spinning around or wobbling everywhere you put it! The lid also doesn't close with as much confidence as it opens — I haven't had it unnecessarily spring open yet, but a bit stronger magnet would've been better.
Should you buy the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air?
I'm generally a fan of neckbud-style headphones — the $69 OnePlus Bullets Wireless (opens in new tab) are priced competitively — because they typically have longer battery life, charge directly without a case, and are easy to take out and drop around your neck when not in use.
But I can see the use case for true wireless earbuds like the Soundcore Liberty Air. Battery life of the earbuds themselves, not to mention with the case, is plenty good. Audio quality also matches Bluetooth neckbuds of a similar price, and the rubberized ear tips give the same sort of passive noise isolation. The only place the Liberty Air fall behind is in call quality — everything else is personal preference.
3.5 out of 5
If you've stayed away from buying a pair of true wireless earbuds up to this point because they were either too expensive on the high end or had bad reviews and low quality on the low end, you may find a great middle ground with the Soudcore Liberty Air. For half the price of AirPods, you get a comparable product with no downsides that would make you immediately turn away. They're priced to be competitively with other compact wireless headphones, but have all of the benefits of modern truly wireless technology — and that makes them worth considering as your next pair of headphones.
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