Anker Soundcore Liberty Air review: Half the price AirPods, better sound for some ears

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For a year I’ve been searching for a recommendable budget true wireless alternative to Apple’s AirPods, and I finally found it in Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air earphones. Available in white and black, they cost $80, or half the price of the AirPods. It’s also much better than its fully wireless predecessors from Anker’s other sister brands, the Zolo Liberty and Zolo Liberty Plus, despite costing less.

At first glance the Liberty Air look similar to the AirPods. What’s different, however, is that they have a noise-isolating design with silicone tips that seal off your ear canals and passively muffle noise around you. The AirPods are “hard” buds and have an open design that lets sound in.

The Liberty Air in black (also available in white).


Sarah Tew/CNET

Of course, the one issue with in-ear headphones regardless of their design is that they might not fit everyone’s ears. For instance, I can wear the AirPods while sitting or walking at a casual pace. But if I break into a run, they fall out. Plenty of others don’t have that problem.

When it comes to in-ear noise-isolating headphones, getting a tight seal is crucial to optimizing sound quality and bass performance. I managed to get a perfect fit with the large set of included ear tips (there are also extra small, small and medium tips) and the earphones fit my ears far more securely than the AirPods. I was able to run with them without a problem and they’re water-resistant with an IPX5 water-resistance rating.

I can’t guarantee they’ll fit your ears as well as mine — they didn’t, for at least one of my coworkers. And some people may prefer the AirPods’ fit. But for a guy like me who worries about keeping my AirPods in my ears without a set of accessory sports fins, the Liberty Air felt, well, liberating.

The microphone and charging contacts are at the end of the stick.


Sarah Tew/CNET

They also sound good. The sound isn’t as clean and rich as that of the far more expensive Sennheiser True Wireless. But the clarity is decent, the earphones are relatively well-balanced and the bass has some good kick to it. With a tight seal, the bass performance is better than the AirPods’ and about the same as the Jabra Elite 65t’s ($155 at Amazon) and Elite Active 65t’s ($184 at Amazon). I did notice that these guys had a little trouble with more complicated tracks where several instruments are playing at once (everything tends to get a little mashed together, which is a byproduct of Bluetooth compression and the quality of the headphones).   

Battery life is rated at five hours — the same as the AirPods — and the compact charge case (it isn’t as small as the AirPods case, but it’s still pretty small) provides an additional three charges. From my testing, you’ll fall a little short of that five hours if you crank your earphones at higher volumes, but if you keep the volume at closer to 60-70 percent, you’ll get close to five hours. It’s also worth mentioning that I didn’t have to raise the volume too high to achieve sufficient loudness.



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