Is 2021 the year of affordable noise-cancelling true wireless earphones? A month or so in, it’s starting to look that way. At $129.99, Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro earphones are one of several options we’re testing out as the entire audio industry, it seems, searches for a sliver of the wire-free ANC (active noise cancellation) spotlight that Apple and Bose have been hogging. Let’s be clear: Anker’s earphones certainly don’t outpeform the $250 AirPods Pro or the $280 QuietComfort Earbuds. But that doesn’t change the fact that these are the most effective sub-$150 in-ears we’ve tested from an ANC perspective. A wildly sculpted sound signature is likely to scare away audiophiles, but for the price, these earphones get far more right than wrong, and earn our Editors’ Choice award for affordable true wireless noise cancellation.
Available in black, blue, pink, or white, the Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro earpieces have a stem-style design and fit quite securely. There’s a generous array of eartip options to ensure a secure fit, with nine total pairs of eartips in various sizes and materials.
Internally, 11mm drivers deliver a frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz. The earphones are compatible with Bluetooth 5.0 and support AAC and SBC codecs, but not AptX.
The earpieces have touch-sensitive panels, and the on-ear controls are divided between the two. The left ear skips forward when double tapped, while the right ear plays or pauses when double tapped. A double tap on either ear answers incoming calls, and a two-second press ends calls. When not on a call, a two-second press puts the earpieces in ambient sound mode, which allows you to hear your surroundings. There’s no volume or track navigation controls, but they can be adjusted a bit in the app.
An IPX4 rating means the earphones can withstand light splashes, some exposure to rain and sweat, and can be wiped down with a damp cloth, but should never be soaked or rinsed under a faucet. This modest water-resistance rating is becoming something of a standard with many true wireless in-ears that aren’t expressly designed for exercise.
The charging case has a rubbery texture and a rounded, boxlike contour. The lid slides backward rather than flipping up, revealing the charging docks. Overall, its compact size, easily gripped surface, and graceful lid design stand out in a field of small, glossy flip-top charging cases that can easily slip out of the hand when you try to pop the lid open. The outer side panel houses battery status LEDs, a reset button, and a USB-C port for the included USB-A-to-USB-C charging cable, which is of generous length. The case can also be charged wirelessly via Qi pads.
The Soundcore app for Android and iOS is a one-size-fits-all app for various Anker Soundcore products. It’s worth downloading for the various ANC controls and customizable eight-band EQ with presets. There’s also a feature that measures your personal hearing characteristics and adjusts the audio accordingly—not everyone will have a great experience with this type of feature, but you can always disable it if you don’t like the results. You can also customize your on-ear controls and download firmware upgrades.
Anker estimates battery life to be roughly seven hours per charge, with 21 extra hours in the cas. These are solid numbers for true wireless in-ears, but your results will vary with your volume levels.
The app makes it easy to switch between various listening modes. You can turn on Transparency mode and then switch between Fully Transparent or Vocal mode, for instance, which highlights voices nearby. And noise cancellation has four settings: Custom, Indoor, Outdoor, and Transport. The Custom mode is intriguing—you can move an in-app dial around and the movement of the dial will focus on eliminating different sections of the frequency range. It’s not wildly effective, but it could work well in certain specific noisy environments. Of the three other modes, we found Transport mode, which focuses on deep, low rumble like you might hear on a plane or train, to be the most effective.
It’s worth noting that all of the noise cancellation modes introduce a high-frequency hiss, which you can hear in a quiet setting when no music is playing. It’s not unpleasant, but it’s a typical mark of low-cost ANC circuitry. Regardless, the earphones do well dialing back low-frequency rumble—they’re actually a little more effective than the AirPods Pro in this regard. We played recordings of noisy cafes at high levels through near-field monitors, and the earphones also did a solid job with mids and highs, though they seem to let more of the midrange through than the AirPods do, while the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds block out lows, mids, and highs more efficiently.
There is an audible difference in sound quality with ANC on or off. It’s not drastic, and at this price it’s forgivable, but with ANC on, there’s a bit of change in the high-frequency response during music playback.
One note on both the ANC and audio performance: The in-ear fit is secure, but it can vary while feeling stable. This can not only cause ear-to-ear audio balance issues, or less effective ANC, but it can create a wide range of audio possibilities, even when the ear-to-ear fit is well matched. In short, if you feel like bass depth is missing, you probably need to twist and adjust the earpieces for a better fit.
See How We Test HeadphonesSee How We Test Headphones
With ANC off and the EQ set to default, the earphones deliver solid low-frequency response on tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout.” At top, unwise listening levels, the lows don’t distort, and are well balanced with the higher frequencies.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro’s general sound signature. The drums on this track sound powerful and dialed up in the lows—the drums receive a healthy dose of bass boosting. Callahan’s baritone vocals also have an extra layer of low-mid richness to them, though the high-mids are similarly sculpted and boosted here to retain detail and clarity. The acoustic strums and higher-register percussive hits also have a dialed up brightness to them. In other words, this is a sculpted sound signature with boosted lows and highs, and not much focus on accuracy.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives less high-mid presence than we’re used to hearing. Instead, its punchy attack is replaced by a deep thud of dialed-up bass. Interestingly, the vinyl hiss and crackle takes a step forward in the mix, so there’s some high-frequency sculpting going on that dials up the highs but doesn’t do as much for the high-mids, which get a bit outmatched by the lows. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with subwoofer-like depth. When the vocals come in, they sound like they have more highs than high-mids. In other words, the sound signature is notably scooped, with lots of bass depth and bright highs, but less high-mid and midrange presence. This sound signature will appeal to plenty, but it’s not for those seeking an accurate mix.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, get too much deep bass boosting to sound natural. The higher-register brass, strings, and vocals maintain their brightness, but lose a bit of their high-mid crispness.
The mic offers average intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone, we could understand every word we recorded, despite some typical Bluetooth distortion in the mix. The signal is strong enough that on a reliable mobile connection, callers should understand you.
If you like a bass-forward sound signature, Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro earphones have plenty to offer, with some of the most effective noise cancellation we’ve heard under $150. That said, the $250 AirPods Pro offer similar ANC performance, paired with a more realistic sound signature and seamless integration with Apple devices. The $280 Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, meanwhile, are by far the best based purely on noise cancellation, though they arguably sound the strongest as well. If ANC isn’t a priority, meanwhile, we’re fans of the $150 JBL Live 300TWS, which offer stronger sound quality in a more exercise-friendly build. But if you’re looking for noise cancellation on a budget, the Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro earphones deliver the best you’ll find under $150, and earn our Editors’ Choice award.Source