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Zolo Liberty+ wireless earbuds review

I was genuinely excited for the Zolo Liberty+ earbuds. Zolo's an audio-centric offshoot of Anker, the company that makes pretty much everything, makes it relatively inexpensive, and makes it reasonably well. So a Kickstarter campaign for $99? I was in, saving about $50 off the retail price in the process. A few months later (plus a little extra time because white earbuds are hard, apparently), and I was exercising with a new set of Bluetooth buds, and without a connecting wire snagging my neck.

See at Zolo Audio

Zolo Liberty+

The format is simple at this point. You've got two independent — as in truly wireless — earbuds, and a case for charging and carrying them around. You charge the case, the case charges the buds. (And you can, of course, charge the case and the buds at the same time.) Zolo says to expect 3 hours or so of playback time before the buds need to be charged again, but that was fairly moot for me, since I'd just pop 'em back in the case when I was done with my workout, and they'd charge right back up for next time. The charging case itself is supposed to get you more than 48 hours of use. But, again, I'd just plug it in once I got home, and we'd be back to 100%. Because when it comes to hitting the gym with no music, you don't mess around.

Price$149 (retail)
TechBluetooth 5.0, AAC, SBC
Drivers2x 6mm graphene dynamic
Battery life3.5 hours before recharge, 48+ with charging case (microUSB)
Water resistanceSweat-proof IPX5
AppsAndroid (opens in new tab), iOS (opens in new tab)

The buds and case are nicely constructed. The only real complaint here is that the case uses Micro-USB for charging — a step backward for anyone expecting "the future" of USB-C to actually take hold at some point. (Wireless charging would have been great, I guess, but it's not too surprising not see that as an option.) Hell, even the in-box experience is nice. I'll gripe about Micro-USB, but also enjoy the fact that Zolo included a braided yellow (because branding!) cable for charging.

Fitting the buds was simple enough. Just stick it in your ear hole, and twist a little to fit. I didn't have any issues with it falling out while on an elliptical or with light jogging. But if you do need to fiddle with the fit a bit, you've got options in the box. Nice touch.

Sound quality was just fine, too. I wasn't expecting the best for $150, but wasn't disappointed at all either. There's decent passive sound isolation as well. There's an option in the included Zolo app for "transparency," with which the microphone is used to feed in sound from the outside world. It was worthless in the gym, though — just too much noise from the overhead music and weights clanging, so I just left it off. There are a few built-in EQ presets, but none of them really suited me, so I just stuck with the default.

The buds themselves have the basic one-button operation going on. I don't do much beyond play/pause and picking up the occasional phone call, so that's simple enough, but it also ties into Google Assistant on Android, or Siri on iOS, which is just fine.

All in all — perfectly usable, truly wireless earbuds at a decent price. Of course, post-purchase is where companies really start to stand out, right?

Don't lose the charger. Or an earbud. Because you'll be SOL.

Admittedly, I screwed up. I grabbed the Liberty+ case as I was getting out of my car, forgetting to extract the buds and leave the charger behind. I realized that, and didn't bother walking 50 feet back to the care to lock the case inside. Instead, I left it in an open-face cubby, along with my sweatshirt and keys. I'm pretty sure the case was at least partially visible. And when I finished my workout an hour or so later, it was gone.

The joke's on whomever ganked the case, I guess, because the earbuds were safely in use in my ears. But I was left without a way to charge them.

Time for a little detective work. Not to have my YMCA check security footage — ain't nobody got time for that, and Karma's a bitch. No, I wanted to see how the upstart Zolo Audio handles this sort of thing.

That you can't actually buy the Liberty+ yet — it's still listed as "coming in 2018," though Zolo says to expect it at the end of January — wasn't a good sign. And there's no "buy a spare charger" listing on the site, either. That's no good.

Zolo Liberty+

I emailed customer service, which promised to get back within 48 hours. Three days later (Saturday evening, no less), I got the bad news. There's no way to buy a spare case. You'll have to buy a whole new set. (Same goes for earbud tips, I presume, which also aren't listed on the site anywhere.)

How does this compare to other players in the space?

Apple will replace a single AirPod for $69 and the charging case for $69. That's reasonable.

JayBird — whose X3 wired Bluetooth buds I had (and in the interim have been) enjoyed — sells a new charging case (opens in new tab) for $69, a spare earbud for $59, and new tips for $9. Also completely reasonable. (I've since ordered the $179 Run buds (opens in new tab) — more on those at another time.)

Bose's more expensive $249 SoundSport Free (opens in new tab) has a spare charger for $49 (opens in new tab), and tips for $9.

The first-gen Jabra Elite Sport (opens in new tab) (new ones were just announced at CES) has a spare charging case for $99 (opens in new tab), and a replacement but for $79.

Sony's WF-1000X buds? Nothing.

The bottom line

Good earbuds are one thing. Good earbuds at a good price are another. But it's worth remembering that the purchase is just one part of the product lifecycle, and really should be just a part of your decision to buy. I was happy spending money on the Zolo Audio Liberty+ — especially at the discounted Kickstarter price. (Remember, they'll retail at $150.)

A good product can fall apart if post-sale support falls flat.

The earbuds worked great. I didn't have any problems with the audio cutting out, they sounded great, and worked really well.

But accidents do happen. And if I do something dumb — like leaving the case out where someone might happen to walk off with it — then I should also have the opportunity to redeem myself, without having to pay full price for a full new product. That's where companies can (and do) differentiate themselves.

And there's where an upstart like Zolo Audio fell flat in this case.

See at Zolo Audio

  • Looking for a pair of wireless earbuds, curious to your thoughts on the Jaybird Run's. Also curious to know if I should be looking to buy now or wait until the next generation.
  • As a result of a negative experience with the BlueBuds X, I am extremely apprehensive about purchasing anything from Jaybird. They were excellent when they worked, but the battery completely crapped out after about 18 months and the best Jaybird would do is give me a discount coupon for a new pair. Needless to say, the headphones were out of warranty and Jaybird was under no obligation to do anything for me, but a $150 pair of headphones should last more than 18 months. As such, I chose to vote with my wallet.
  • The Liberty+ do not fit into the charging case without fiddling, unlike Bose, which pop right in via magnets. The pair I got stopped working in the right ear within a week, and I was advised I had to wait a few months for a replacement. When I complained, they gave me about $15 back to shut me up. I waited a month and then they told me I needed to send them back before they would send a replacement. I rejected that, since much more expensive items, like cell phones and laptops normally do not require a return before the replacement is sent. They balked and told me that they won’t do it for ‘such an expensive product’ ($100 headphones??? Please!).
    To get me off their back they are refunding my money. Crappy customer service, poor production planning, and a mediocre product. A complete disappointment, especially with all of the hype surrounding this product. Big thumbs down.
  • I got used to fitting 'em in there just fine. And at least you still have a charging case.
  • I have had absolutely ZERO issues with mine fitting in the case, even with the largest tips and jackets on them. They just drop in...
  • I've got a pair as well and I haven't had any issues with them. I do agree that they are a bit tiddly when putting them back and removing them. But I would still say a very good first attempt from them
  • Those who bought on Kickstarter been left to wait. Even till now many ppl didn't receive their products.
    But this is not the point I want you to understand. Sound quality is good enough for music and passive NC does improve sound quality well. Transparency is fairly good, I did not use this function. Most annoying thing is the cut outs.
    It has constant cut outs while you listening music, watching movie. So this is what you get with Bluetooth 5.0 and it doesn't matter whether you keep your phone in your hand or placing it in the pocket. And it comes and goes randomly.
    My honest opinion? I would like to love them. But sadly this product just unfinished.
  • My set doesn't cut out, it's what was most surprising, as I had tried early BT attempts at fully wireless.
    Using for couple months now, no cut outs at all. What's your source? I mostly use mine from LG V20
    and macbook pro
    and LG Sport Watch
  • Phil, does your pair of Liberty+ support AAC? Both pairs I ordered so far do NOT show AAC as being enabled on my Pixel 2 XL unlike all the other headphones I've recently paired that support it. Zolo is telling me it can only be seen by special software, but I'm not buying that answer. I think this was omitted or is supposed to become available with a future update.
  • It's listed on the spec sheet. Other than that I can't tell you, because I can't charge them anymore.
  • "here's an option in the included Zolo app for "transparency," with which the microphone is used to feed in sound from the outside world. It was worthless in the gym, though — just too much noise from the overhead music and weights clanging, so I just left it off. " This is so unhelpful. I would have liked a real review of a feature that I'm very interested in. Screw the gym, how does this work if I'm outside walking or on a bike? Can I safely keep both buds in while I'm walking or should i continue to take one ear out for safety like I do now? if safe to leave both in, how does what I'm listening sound like with outside noise also coming in? On line about how it isn't useful at the gym wasn't at useful to include. May as well have said nothing.
  • I'd tell you more about that feature, BUT I CAN'T CHARGE THE DAMN THINGS ANYMORE. (Also: Thus the "mini" review.)
  • In my experience using transparent mode (using it @ work), the Liberty+ will pick up normal conversations as if I wasn't wearing them, but background noises can get considerably louder if that's the only thing the mics can pickup. Also, the said mics will stop momentary on sudden loudness (balloon popping, doors slammed shut, etc.) as to protect your hearing(?). (Oh yeah, I got my Liberty+ via the kickstarter campaign too)
  • Here's my experience (BTW, it's also enabled with a 3-second hold on one of the bud buttons). Situation 1 - airplanes flying overhead. During a walk (in winter, with a fleece hat over my ears) I heard zero noise from a private jet flying overhead. Next jet that came along, I enabled transparency and heard it nicely. Situation 2 - Talking with a neighbor. I wore them when I went out to shovel once day. I ended up walking to the next building over and helping a neighbor trying to move their car. I enabled transparency and was talking with the neighbors across the car. Some wind being picked up by the microphones made it a little difficult to hear them but I could still have a conversation. I posted my own thoughts on these in the forums.
  • I don't understand the desire to get rid of the connecting wire. I've owned five or so pairs of bluetooth earbuds and have never had the connecting wire "snag" on anything or otherwise be problematic or uncomfortable. One exception might be the rare occasion when I'm wearing a coat or sweater that zips to the chin but it's not cold enough that I want to zip it all the way up. In that case, the connecting wire might rub on the zipper track and make a barely audible friction noise as I walk. The only use I have in my mind for for earbuds without a connecting wire would be if they are small enough to function as a concealed earpiece to play audio off my phone without others knowing.
  • Hey Phil,
    I have both the LIberty and Liberty+. You can charge using the regular Liberty case. The regular Liberty is available to purchase from Amazon. I know it's not the ideal solution, but you'll at least be able to charge the set you have.
  • You're complaining about the lack of spare parts for a product that isn't even available in the public yet? What the heck? At least wait until the product is actually RELEASED before drawing conclusions about crappy product support from the manufacturer.
  • So you tag this with "Instead, it's a cautionary tale." but that's entirely due to your ignorance in leaving the charge base available for theft? Once again you are the worst reviewer and such a joke. These things work great, sound great, and come at a great price. I really wish they'd drop you as a reviewer, or if you have that control, stop reviewing on your own, you're simply not good at it.
  • Just lost my case today during my commute. I guess they fell when I put them in my bag...noticed at worked. I contacted them earlier today...but really sad to have fallen on your article! This sucks!