Today I’m taking a look as some true wireless earbuds from Anker that aim to compete with Apple’s Airpods, but at half the price. The Anker Soundcore Liberty Air earphones at around £80 or $80 have many similarities to Apple’s Airpods but with an arguably more secure in-ear design, and an IPX5 water resistance rating.
Anker are a brand best known for power banks and chargers, but they also make some very popular Bluetooth speakers, like the Soundcore 2 I reviewed a while back. These are the first earphones I’ve tried from them, so I was keen to see how they fared.
Although half the price of the Apple Airpods, these still aren’t cheap earbuds and the premium packaging supports their price. They’re available in both black and white – I’ve bought the black version.
In the box you get the earbuds themselves in a charging case, a micro-USB charging cable, and some extra small, small and large ear tips in addition to the already fitted medium tips. There’s also a thick multilingual user manual that covers basic operation.
The case weighs 57g with the earbuds and is quite compact measuring 30mm thick by 48mm tall and 61mm wide. The black version has a matte finish which does good job of attracting fingerprints. There’s the “soundcore” branding across its lid. The build quality of the case is ok and its size and rounded edges make it quite comfortable to open one-handed, or to slide into a pocket.
There’s a micro-USB port at the bottom to charge the case. The bottom of the case is curved, so if you want to stand it up, for charging perhaps, you need to turn it upside down on its flat top.
I would have liked to have seen a USB-C port at this price point, especially with Anker’s heritage. There’s no wireless charging, nor fast charging – the maximum input current is 0.5A. Charging the case’s 500mAh battery takes 1-2 hours.
The case provides an additional 15 hours of battery life on top of the built in 5 hour battery life of the earpods.
Opening and closing the lid, which has a rather satisfying mechanism, turns on the case’s charge status lights. Three solid white LEDs indicate more than 70% of battery life remaining, there’s two LEDs when charge is between 30% and 70%, one LED for 5%-30% and flashing white when there’s less than 5% remaining.
When you first get the earbuds you’ll need to remove them from the case and peel off the protective film before you can charge them. The earbuds have “soundcore” branding along their stem. The charging pins and microphones sit at the bottom of each stem, which measures 4 cm in total.
When you put the earbuds back in the case, their white status LEDs will be solid white while they charge and then turn off when fully charged. In use they’ll flash red every second when the battery is low. A full charge from empty took 1 hour and 15 minutes. You will have to open the case to check if the earbuds are fully charged.
When charging the case, the 3 LEDs go steady white for a second and then light up according to the case’s charge level, all turning steady white when it reaches full capacity.
The earbuds themselves are held securely in the case with magnets. They do feel a little cheap, with a glossy finish which like the case, attracts fingerprints. I would have preferred the matte finish of the case.
They are lightweight though at just under 6g each. Both earbuds have a microphone at the bottom for phone calls and voice commands. The rounded bottom of the case is an odd design when you’re replacing the earbuds in the case, since unless you’re holding it in your hand, it just falls over.
Pairing the earbuds is a very simple process. When you take them out of the case, they automatically pair with each other, with both their white LEDs flashing slowly. Then the right LED will flash quickly to indicate it’s in pairing mode. Choose “Soundcore Liberty Air” in your Bluetooth device list. Both LEDs now flash slowly every second or so to show they are paired to a device. You can check the battery level, on Apple devices at least, by swiping right from the home screen.
You’re really pairing to the right earbud, which itself is connected to the left earbud. So you can use the right earbud on its own if you like – just leave the left one in the case. But you can’t pair to the left earbud on its own, like you can with some other true wireless stereo or TWS earbuds. If you want to listen to just the left earbud, you’ll need to still take them both out of the case.
Unfortunately you can only pair to one device. If I want to, say, move the pairing from my iPad to my Apple Watch, I need to first disconnect from the iPad. The right white LED will again flash quickly to indicate pairing mode, and I can tap on it in Bluetooth settings on the Apple Watch.
If you don’t know what device you’re paired to it’s a bit more complicated. Hold your finger on the right earbud until a red LED lights up. Take your finger off and then hold it down again until the white LED flashes quickly, indicating it’s back in pairing mode. You can then select Soundcore Liberty Air in your Bluetooth device list.
If there’s a problem with the stereo connection between the earbuds and you can only hear sound on one side, you can factory reset them. There are two methods to do this depending on your earbuds – the instructions in my user manual were incorrect for mine.
The first method that’ll I’ll describe here applies if you have a serial number printed in the lid of the case like I have here. If your serial number is printed on the charging cable you’ll need to use the second method – I’ll provide a link down below to a video by Anker on that procedure.
First off remove all pairing records. Then remove both earbuds and insert just the right earbud into the case. When the white charging LED is lit, tap and hold your finger on the touchpad for 7 seconds until the LED flashes red 3 times, then release. Now do the same with the left earbud. Remove them both from the case. The left earbud’s LED will flash white slowly and the right earbud’s LED will flash white quickly, ready for pairing. You can then tap on Soundcore Liberty Air in your Bluetooth device to connect.
Fitting and controls
The medium ear tips are already fitted and should fit most people’s ears. There is a L and R on each earbud but it’s difficult to see, on the black version at least.
Insert them into your ear canal and twist them slightly to get a good fit. If you need to try different ear tips, just pull the medium tips off and push on a smaller or larger size.
I did find the medium tip fitted best, but it wasn’t that secure in my ears. They’re ok for general use but failed miserably on a run, falling out within 5 minutes. Of course, everyone’s ears are different so they may be fine for you.
They are comfortable though, and their light weight means you hardly notice them.
The Liberty Airs have touch controls which work pretty well. I don’t mind physical buttons, but with these in-ear earbuds it can be a little uncomfortable pressing them further into your ear with a button press.
Tapping the right earbud twice, plays andpauses music, podcasts or videos. And will also answer or end a call.
Tapping the left earbud twice activates your voice assistant. It easy to get these two controls mixed up, activating your voice assistant instead of pausing your music or vice versa.
Tapping and holding the left and right earbuds for two seconds plays the previous and next tracks respectively.
The touch controls don’t offer any feedback, so it’s hard to know sometimes whether you’ve tapped the right spot until you realise nothing’s happened! I could activate the touchpad with gloves on – with about a 50% success rate.
Unfortunately there’s no volume controls – you’ll have to use your device to control volume. Or you could use your voice assistant. On my iPad, or iPhone I can double tap the left earbud to activate Siri, wait for the confirmation double beep, which might take a second, and then say “Turn the volume down to 50%”.
There’s also no in-ear detection, so you’ll need to pause your audio manually.
Audio quality, battery life & performance
When it comes to audio quality, I think the Liberty Air’s justify their price tag. They sound crisp and handle the mids particularly well. Bass is not bad and will depend to some degree on how good the fit is in your ear. They don’t go particularly loud, and the highs can sound a bit harsh if you do have the volume at its maximum.
Overall the sound quality is good and think most people would be pretty happy with them.
I didn’t find the fit as good as some other earbuds I’ve tried, which also means sound isolation isn’t as good. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – sometimes you want to hear what’s going on around you. There was a bit a sound leakage at full volume, but nothing too serious. There’s no active noise reduction.
Phone calls come binaurally through both earbuds, which can sound strange especially with the sound isolation, but you can always just use the right earbud on its own if you like. I found voice calls just a little muffled compared to some other true wireless earbuds I’ve tried, but still more than acceptable. The mics do a good job though – I couldn’t hear any difference listening to a phone call with someone using the earbuds’ microphones. They use what Anker call “Dual-mic uplink noise reduction” which basically means they use two microphones, one for voice and one for background noise and apply some signal processing to subtract this noise and improve the audio.
Like many Bluetooth earphones I’ve tried they is some audio delay playing games and watching YouTube videos although this delay wasn’t perceptible on Netflix.
I tried pairing them with an Apple Watch and did get some drop outs. This didn’t happen all the time and was better when I was outside, away from any possible interference. I didn’t get these dropouts with my iPhone or iPad, even indoors.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, I did try using the earbuds for running with little success. I just couldn’t get a secure fit which is a shame because they have an decent IPX5 rating for water resistance. That rating doesn’t apply to the case though.
Battery life was above average, as true wireless earbuds go at least. I got close to the quoted 5 hours of battery life, running them at around 70% volume.
The earbuds use Bluetooth 5.0 and I found the range to be good from my iPhone and iPad. I had no dropouts in the next room around 10 metres away.
I got the Anker Soundcore Liberty Airs on sale for around £50 or $50 and if you can get them for that price they are a bargain – check the link in the description for the latest price. Even at their usual £80 or $80, they are definitely worth considering. They offer good sound quality, battery life is more than acceptable, especially if you’ve got the case with you, the touch controls work pretty well and their IPX5 rating does provide some reassurance if you’re going to be using them out and about.
I didn’t find the fit secure enough for running, for my ears at least, and I felt that the build quality particularly of the earbuds, could be a little better for the asking price. And on that picky theme I’d also like some volume controls.
But if you’re after a cheaper alternative to Apple’s Airpods, with decent sound, many similar features and a not hugely dissimilar design, or if you’re just after some reasonably priced good sounding wireless earbuds, I think you’d be more than happy with the Soundcore Liberty Airs.
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Amazon link: Anker Soundcore Liberty Air wireless earphones