There is no shortage of true wireless earbuds nowadays. Although new, this product category has taken the audio world by storm and appealed to most users thanks to a combination of convenience, portability, and longer listening time between charges. The first generation of products was expensive and riddled with issues, but with time, we're seeing more and more good affordable options, like Anker's Soundcore portfolio.

The company first dipped its toes in this market less than two years ago with the Zolo Liberty and Liberty+, but has since done what it's wont to do by releasing model after model across many price points and form factors. Its new line-up, announced in September, forges on in the same direction, with a few noteworthy additions: USB-C and wireless charging on many models, and a high-end option for picky listeners. Here, I'll be looking at the latter, the $150 Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro as well as the more affordable $100 Soundcore Liberty Air 2.

Specs

Battery 2 Pro: 8hrs + 24hrs with the case (total 32hrs)
Air 2: 7hrs + 21hrs with the case (total 28hrs)
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.0
Audio codec format SBC, AAC, aptX
Frequency response 20 Hz - 20 kHz
Drivers 2 Pro: 11mm, Knowles balanced armature
Air 2: 5mm
Other 4-Mic noise reduction technology with Qualcomm cVc 8.0 for phone calls

The Good

USB-C and Qi Both models can conveniently charge over USB-C or wireless Qi pads.
Value $100 to $150 for these is a very realistic and competitive price given all the features.
Battery life 7 or 8 hours on a charge, with 3 more charges from their respective cases.
Sound (2 Pro) The 2 Pro sound really good with lots of depth, loud volume, and clarity.

The Not So Good

Sensors Only the Air 2 have sensors, and they only work to pause music when you remove the buds, not to resume it when you put them back in.
Bulk (2 Pro) Both buds and case are on the larger side. You can't lie on your side while wearing these.
Sound (Air 2) They sound good, but not as loud or filling as the 2 Pro.

Design, controls, what's in the box

Liberty 2 Pro

The pebble-shaped case and the top-sliding mechanism to open it are one of the first unique characteristics you notice about the 2 Pro. The case is mostly hollow on the inside and doesn't cradle the buds tightly, but the magnets holding them are strong enough that they won't let them fall if you open the case, turn it upside-down, and shake it.

Liberty 2 Pro case and buds.

The 2 Pros are on the bulky side and stick far out of the ear. Form factor-wise, they're neither small and fully in-ear like Samsung's Galaxy Buds or Plantronics' BackBeat Pro 5100, nor have the long stem shape of Apple's Airpods. They're more reminiscent of Sony's WF-1000XM3 but with the addition of a silicone stabilizer.

My favorite feature about this design is that it allows for a small physical button on the upper outer part. Unlike most competitors, you don't have to worry about a touch-sensitive area that you only trigger 70% of the time or a button that jams the buds inside your ear each time you press it. It's nicer to have a clicky button with real feedback and without unwanted side effects.

One press on either bud pauses the music, two fast-forwards (right) or rewinds (left), and a double-click and hold triggers the voice assistant (Google or Siri) by default. You can thankfully customize these to enable volume controls.

Liberty 2 Pro buds.

It took me a bit of time to figure out how to wear the buds right (and even more to place them back in the case correctly) but that small learning curve is worth it. The 2 Pro are very stable in my ears and don't budge no matter how much I twist and move my head.

Liberty Air 2

Anker's first-gen Liberty Air have been my go-to wireless buds over the past months, so I was excited to try out the Air 2. The design remains very similar — and similar to Apple's Airpods — but you get a new matte silver exterior and a dash of bright red for the in-ear tips and outer bottom tip. They also come in black if you prefer a more inoffensive look.

Left: Liberty Air 2 case and buds. Right: Buds.

The case has been reworked with a pebble-like exterior color and feel and a new annoying orientation for placing the buds. Instead of putting the stem in toward the front middle, you have to get it in from the back corner. I find it more difficult to get the Air 2 back in their case than the older Air.

Left: One bud. Right: Liberty Air (left) vs Air 2 (right).

Due to their form factor, I found them less stable in my ear and I often had to push them back in as they started to slip out when I got a little sweaty. Controls are touch-sensitive, so you'll have to double tap the right bud to play/pause, or the left one to fast-forward. Tapping and holding for two seconds activates the voice assistant, but again, you can customize these to enable volume controls.

Another way to pause music is to just take them out of your ear. The Air 2 have a sensor that'll pause music immediately, but unfortunately that doesn't resume music when you put them back in your ear. It's also not there in the more expensive 2 Pro.

Common features

Seeing USB-C charging trickle down to an affordable price range is nice, but Anker is taking things a step further by also offering Qi wireless charging on both of these models. It's super convenient to just plop them down on my bedstand wireless pad every week or so to make sure they remain topped off.

Charging cases with USB-C and button to check battery level.

Mono and stereo mode are supported on both products, so you can take out one earbud (left or right) and use it on its own. Controls become more limited in that case, understandably. As with most true wireless buds, there's no Multipoint, so you can't have two devices connected at the same time. You can pair several, but the buds will connect to the most recent device first.

Both models come with manuals, a short USB A-to-C charging cable, and extra tips. The Air 2 offer five different tip sizes, while the 2 Pro have seven plus 3 different silicone stabilizer sizes.

Top: Liberty Air 2. Bottom: Liberty 2 Pro.

Battery life, sound quality, app

The moment you open the 2 Pro or Air 2's case, the buds turn on, so by the time you take them out and place them in your ear, they're already paired with your phone and ready to go. I like this immediacy, though it has meant that I can no longer absentmindedly fiddle with the case like I'm used to unless I want the buds to turn on, connect, then be forced to immediately turn off.

Battery life on both models is excellent. I've never had to use these buds long enough to drain them, but after about 4 hours of listening, they're at around 50%, indicating they can last as long as promised.

Left: Top left to bottom right: Liberty Air 2, Plantronics BackBeat Pro 5100, Liberty Air, Zolo Liberty+, Liberty 2 Pro. Right: Left to right: Zolo Liberty+, Plantronics BackBeat Pro 5100, Liberty 2 Pro, Liberty Air 2, Liberty Air.

Soundcore
Soundcore
Developer: Anker
Price: Free

The Soundcore Android app offers a bit of customization. You can see the current power level of each bud, choose controls (including assigning volume controls instead of voice assistant), change between multiple preset equalizers, and configure something called HearID. This is Anker's attempt at mapping your hearing sensibility in both ears and personalizing the sound profile so it fits you more. It didn't change much for me and I preferred the default "Soundcore Signature" equalizer setting.

The Liberty 2 Pro sound mighty impressive for the price. They're loud and powerful, with a wide soundstage, lots of clarity on mids, crisp highs, and deep bass. A busy arrangement like Artsvik's Fly with me doesn't faze them, and you can still hear the ethnic sounds behind the deafening rising siren of Iveta Mukuchyan's Lovewave around the 35-50 seconds mark. Rock, pop, hip-hop, electronic, latin, jazz, country, they work well with every genre. Podcasts and vocal-heavy songs too.

On the other hand, there's nothing inherently wrong with the Air 2's sound, especially for the price and for an average user. They only sound duller, less powerful, and less impressive when you directly compare them to the 2 Pro. They handle mids and highs just fine, but lows are significantly less punchy than on the 2 Pro. Artem, however, had an issue with highs on his unit sounding as if they were coming from a low bitrate media file. It's likely a problem with his particular unit since I didn't notice anything similar, but you should check this out and return your unit if it exhibits a similar behavior.

Both products are serviceable for phone calls. Anker brags about its 4-mic noise reduction tech with Qualcomm cVc 8.0, but people I talked to weren't astonished by the clarity of my voice. They just said they could hear me well enough to conduct a conversation.

Should you buy it?

Anker SoundCore Liberty 2 Pro/Air 2
8.5/10

Yes. If you're looking for affordable true wireless buds that offer more value than most competitors on the market, you've got two excellent choices right here. Both last enough on a charge and offer way more with their case, both have USB-C and Qi charging, work in stereo and mono mode, pair super quickly with your phone, and come with a nice Android app to customize controls and sound.

If you're on a tight budget, the $100 Air 2 bring a smaller form factor and case, and have an additional sensor to automatically pause music when removed from your ear. Their touch controls aren't my favorite, but they do the job. I can say the same thing about their sound: It's serviceable for the price. The only real competition you should consider are the Galaxy Buds, which offer less battery life, but a more stable fit and smarter sensors.

Those willing to drop an extra $50 wouldn't be disappointed with the 2 Pro. They don't have the smart sensor and are bulkier, but they're more stable in the ear, have a simple button for controls, and sound way more impressive. You'd be hard-pressed to find a competing product in that price range with as many features and as good a sound.

In case you're reading this and wishing for a middle ground between both models, there's an answer. The regular Soundcore Liberty 2 (not Pro nor Air) have the same design and case as the Pro, 10mm drivers, USB-C but no Qi charging, 8hrs (32 total) of battery life, and cost the same $100 as the Air 2. I haven't tried them so I can't tell you how good they are, but they're worth considering if you want an affordable unit without the Airpods look.

Buy it if

  • You value USB-C and/or Qi charging, and want the best true wireless buds $100 or $150 can buy.

Don't buy it if

  • You want active noise cancellation or smart sensors to pause/resume music.

Where to buy