When it comes to affordable wireless earbuds, Anker’s Soundcore line seems to have found the cheat code. Models like the company’s excellent Space A40 (9/10, WIRED Recommends) offer good sound, flagship features, and seriously impressive noise canceling for as little as a third the cost of mega buds from brands like Sony, Samsung, and Apple.
The new Liberty NC are another shockingly well-appointed pair of earbuds at $100. Think of a feature, and these buds probably have at least a passable version of it. There are only a few exceptions reserved for the cream of the crop, like Apple’s fantastic Adaptive Transparency Mode.
With all that bounty at such a low price, there are some compromises here, including fussy controls and a few features that don’t quite work as advertised. Still, with this many goodies all wrapped in a suitably comfy and stylish form factor, it’s hard to put up much of a fight against Anker’s new buds.
For budget in-ears, the Liberty 4 NC are notably flashy. They fall short of Vegas-strip looks, but their variety of colorways and touches like the case’s lighted front button and interior lighting set above the buds give a futuristic vibe.
The case’s matte exterior feels well-built and good in your hands, reminiscent of the egg-like case you’ll get with Google’s Pixel Buds Pro—one of many competitors that cost double or more at full price. As with the Space A40, I was delighted to find the case is Qi-charging compatible, something plenty of pricier buds skip.
The buds themselves mimic Apple’s stem-shaped design. They stick out farther for a more conspicuous look than the AirPods Pro, but their light weight makes them comfy for hours, and once again there’s little here that stands out as notably budget. The caveat is the four pairs of silicon ear tips that look and feel flimsy.
Another budget giveaway, and the one most worthy of pause, is the Liberty 4 NC’s touch controls. Like a lot of touchpads from wireless earbuds a few years back, they’re not always accurate, likely because Anker doesn’t provide much space for the contact point. They mostly worked for me, but I found the right-side controls in particular wouldn’t register at times, and you have to be very deliberate when pressing. They also aren’t as intuitive as what Apple and other premium brands provide.
Credit where it’s due, the controls are fully programmable in Soundcore’s app, allowing for comprehensive control over playback and other features. You can mimic commands on both sides, add volume adjustment, and pretty much arrange the series of single, double, or triple taps (along with a hold command) as you please.
Investigating the Soundcore app further, you’ll find yourself with authority over a vast array of features that easily trump most earbuds at this price.
For starters, you can choose between adaptive active noise canceling, which will adjust to your environment, or controlling it manually. You’ll also find two versions of transparency mode (vocal and full), and in a parody of Sony’s loaded control system, even a version designed to adapt to different transportation modes like trains, planes, and various automobiles. Wind Buffering is one of my favorite extras, effectively keeping your ears from getting blown out while using transparency mode in a breeze.
There’s also a multiband EQ (which definitely comes in handy) and a sound-customization setting that uses a sort of hearing test, though I’m not sure how effective it is at improving the experience. Similarly, the 3D audio feature à la Apple and Sony didn’t seem to offer much sonic enhancement. Some of the Liberty 4 NC’s features seem to just be … there because others have them.
There are plenty more to go around, though, including an earbuds finder, a latency reducer for gaming, multi-point audio to connect to two devices at once, and LDAC high-resolution streaming for supported Android phones (though you can’t use LDAC and multipoint pairing together).
If you’re one to blast tunes beyond what’s healthy, there’s a Safe Volume feature that tells you how loud you’re playing, including a switch to limit playback volume. If you like to tinker, these buds will keep you busy.
Not every Liberty 4 NC feature works as expected, and that extends to its massive battery-playback claims. Soundcore claims 10 hours of playback time and 50 hours total with the charging case, but this doesn’t take into account energy-draining features like noise canceling, wind buffering, and so on. I got more like six to seven hours with ANC, and that’s at middle or low volume. That’s still respectable, and you’ve got four recharges in reserve, but 10 and 50 is a stretch.
I was also slightly annoyed by the lack of granularity between volume levels. I’d sometimes find one level too loud and the level below too quiet. This is one of those audio nerd annoyances, I admit, but if you’re sensitive like me you’ll want to take note.