While just about every audio manufacturer offers true wireless earbuds these days, that hasn’t really contributed to a drop in price, with most pairs going for well over $100. So just on that basis alone, Anker’s $79.99 Soundcore Liberty Air earphones are appealing. The deal gets sweeter when you consider they sound better than pairs that cost twice as much. Add simple controls and a water-resistant design, and you get our Editors’ Choice for budget-friendly true wireless earphones.
Available in black, the Soundcore Liberty Air earpieces have a glossy exterior and touch-sensitive control surfaces on the outer panels. Like the Apple AirPods, they have a stem that hangs down from your ear, but unlike the AirPods, they are proper earphones that seal off the ear canal completely. They are also rated IPX5, meaning they can withstand water splashes from any direction, but shouldn’t be submerged.
The on-ear controls divide tasks between the two earpieces, with the right ear controlling playback, call management, and track forward; and the left ear controlling track backward and summoning your mobile device’s voice assistant. All of these actions are handled with various taps or holds for a few seconds. There are also some phone-specific controls that can be utilized when on a call, such as a double-tap putting the current call on hold to answer an incoming call. There are no volume controls.
The flip-top charging case has a black matte surface, with three status LEDs on the front face. The included micro USB charging cable connects to the micro USB port on the bottom panel. You also get five pairs of silicone eartips. The earpieces don’t utilize any earfins in addition to the tips, but the fit is quite secure.
Anker estimates the Soundcore Liberty Air’s battery life to be roughly five hours, with 15 extra hours in the charging case. This isn’t impressive, but it’s fine for the price, and your results will ultimately vary with your volume levels.
Internally, 6mm drivers deliver a frequency range of 20Hz-20kHz. On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the earphones have strong low-frequency depth. At top, unwise listening levels, the bass doesn’t distort, and at more reasonable volumes, the low-frequency response is still quite palpable and decently matched with the highs.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the Soundcore Liberty Air’s general sound signature. The drums on this track get some added bass boosting, pushing them into near-thunderous territory, but stopping just shy of it. Callahan’s baritone vocals get a nice, rich low-mid presence, matched with solid definition in the high-mids. The acoustic guitar strums and the higher-register percussive hits are bright and crisp, and even the tape hiss takes a slight step forward in the mix. In other words, this is a sculpted, boosted, but balanced sound signature.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives plenty of high-mid presence, allowing its attack to maintain its punchy edge, while the vinyl crackle and hiss that are typically in the background get pushed forward. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with serious depth—we’ve certainly heard deeper bass boosting on this track, but Anker definitely doesn’t shy away from the lows. Luckily, the deep lows are balanced with crisp high-mids and highs. The vocal performances are delivered with excellent clarity, but perhaps a bit of added sibilance.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, get some added bass presence, pushing the lower-register instrumentation forward in the mix. But the brightness wins out—the higher register brass, strings, and vocals have a detailed, clear presence in the mix that is anchored by the enhanced lows, not overwhelmed by them.
The mic offers slightly above-average intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 8, we could understand every word recorded, and there wasn’t much in the way of Bluetooth artifacts. There was a little bit of fuzz around the edges of certain words, and the mic sounds a little far, but this is common with true wireless mics, and the signal is generally clear.
At $80, Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air are easily among the best-sounding sub-$100 true wireless earphones available. For a little more, we’re fans of the EOZ Audio Air and the Samsung Galaxy Buds, both of which are below $150. Above $150, there are several great options, including the gym-focused JBL UA True Wireless Flash. But Anker keeps everything simple and gets it right, without offering unnecessary extras that bulk up the price. And for this reason, the Soundcore Liberty Air get our Editors’ Choice for sub-$100 true wireless earphones.