It’s getting harder and harder to stand out in the wireless earbuds market. At almost any price point, you can find a pair of earbuds with a variety of features scattered around. Being within a specific ecosystem like AirPods for iOS users or Galaxy Buds Live for Samsung users is an easy way to choose the earbuds that are right for you. Anker doesn’t have exactly its own phone to sell with Liberty line earbuds, so it’s a strategy to offer the features you want at a competitive price.
The $129.99 Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro buds do a lot of things well, but at this price so are many other earbuds. The highly competitive active noise canceling features and well-designed apps stand out.
The sprout itself is a stem-shaped design with silicone ear tips like Apple’s AirPods Pro. (I don’t think the name is the only way Anker was inspired by Apple.) The Liberty Air 2 Pro has no other use than a cool, textured matte finish with a gold fan-like cover over the speaker. Available in “Onyx Black”, “Titanium White”, “Sapphire Blue” and “Crystal Pink”. The box includes 9 sizes of silicone eartips, ranging from XXXS to XL, to create the best seal and prevent movement of the ear canal.
In addition to the ANC, fit is very important in the earbuds, especially for the best sound quality experience at low frequencies. To make sure you’ve chosen the best sized tip, Anker offers tip fit tests within the Soundcore app. The app plays orchestral music like a ringtone for about 10 seconds, then displays a “good seal” or “bad seal” result for each earbud. (Yes, it’s basically the same thing Apple does with AirPods Pro. Inspiration.)
There’s also an audio test called HearID that claims to map individual hearing sensitivity across multiple frequencies to best match your EQ settings. It plays about 30 different tones per ear and asks you to check whether you can hear the tones or not. Next comes a graph of results and an EQ preset stored in the app. In my tests, the bass was deep and the treble was low, so the music was richer.
Both the fit test and the EQ setup test are done by different earbud manufacturers, and not everyone finds these tests useful, but I appreciate the options.
A large, stone-looking case can open and close slides with a satisfying click. It most closely resembles the case of the Galaxy Buds Pro. It’s taller than it’s tall, but it’s bigger and doesn’t fit in your pocket as much as most earbud cases. There are 3 battery lights on the front and a button for pairing on the back. It may sound like a small detail, but I really like the earbuds that have a physical button for pairing. It’s much easier to use than tapping on the earbuds to pair, as on the Jabra Elite 85t.
Like most earbuds, the Air 2 Pro has a tap control when worn. Double-tap the left bird to skip the next track, double-tap the right to play and pause, or press and hold either for 2 seconds. Switches the ambient sound mode. It’s nice that the sprout reacts quickly to my tabs, but I’m disappointed with how limited the controls are. All can be customized in the app, but I would like to have a single tap or triple tap option.
Both buds can be used independently of each other, and in-ear detection can be turned on and off in Anker’s app. The music stops when the earbuds are removed from the ears. Put the sprout back in your ear and it will start over. In-ear detection was a bit sensitive to my taste. For example, when I put on the hood, whenever the earphones hit the hood, the music paused even though the bud was still plugged into my ear. A quick readjustment of the bud will play the music again, but ultimately it will completely turn off ear detection.
The battery life is on par with other ANC earbuds. Anker claims a battery life of 7 hours with the ANC off and 6 hours with the ANC on. There are three extra charges on the case, which can be charged wirelessly or via the USB-C port on the back. This was more than enough juice to bring me from the tight in-ear seals of the buds to the tips of my ears in need of a break. There’s also a 15-minute fast charge for 3 hours of listening when you plug the case into an outlet via USB-C.
Liberty Air 2 Pro supports SBC and AAC audio codecs. There are 11mm drivers that produce more high-pitched sounds. I often wanted more bass while the music was full and immersive with the crisp separation. Increasing the bass in the app’s EQ helped, but it wasn’t as clean as the AirPods Pro’s bass. The 1970s punk and soul sounded great, but the more modern R&Bs felt a bit flatter.
I’m most impressed with the Liberty Air 2 Pro’s active noise canceling capabilities. There aren’t many options to include it at this price other than Amazon’s Echo Buds.
The Air 2 Pro has three ambient sound modes: Full Noise Cancellation, Transparent Mode, and Normal. Full ANC and Transparency modes have more specific controls for managing pass-through sound levels. You can activate the transmission mode to cancel bass frequencies such as train sounds. Indoor mode for mid-range frequencies; The outdoor mode that Anker claims is best suited for urban spaces. Or build a custom mode for making calls with optimal settings. I set up the ANC as Transport and left it for most of the time and found it to be similar to the ANC on the Jabra Elite 85t, a set of earbuds that cost $100 more than the Anker.
The noise canceling had blurred the outside world, but it wasn’t as isolated as the AirPods Pro or Galaxy Buds Pro. Transparent mode is serviceable, but doesn’t have the same earbud-free feel as AirPods Pro. There is a Vocal Transparency mode that passes high frequencies, such as voice, while removing low frequencies. It was helpful when listening to the train announcement, but ultimately it was much easier to pull out the earbuds to hear the announcement.
Most of the apps for wireless earbuds are so bad that you just need to open it once and set up EQ settings and some custom touch controls. The Soundcore app made me repeat it over and over again to play with all the different controls I provided.
When I was bored on the train, I opened the app, started testing all invisibility modes, and strangers chatted with each other in the car. I also enjoyed turning the EQ settings up and down. The app is full of pleasing colors, easy to navigate, and surprisingly rare in the earbuds market.
It’s getting harder and harder to get impressed by the new pair of buds in the wireless earbuds market, full of valuable (not very valuable) competition. But the Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro’s competitive $130 price tag brought me back, and it’s back for more because of its true active noise canceling and well-designed apps. They certainly have more bass and a smaller case available, but Anker has created a pair of wireless earbuds that bridge the gap between a more budget-friendly option and a versatile, reliable and versatile earbud. Ears every day.
Photo from Becca Farsace / The Verge