If you reject the look and feel of AirPods with every fiber of your being, let us stipulate up top: The Anker Soundcore Liberty Airs are not for you. Known for its well-priced tech accessories, Anker is hardly trying to conceal the fact that the brand has made earbuds that look a helluva lot like AirPods for half the price. But, plot twist: The Liberty Airs sound just as good as AirPods on a quiet day, and it’s highly possible they’ll fit your ears better, too.
Granted, AirPods are not cheap, so half the price — $80 at the time of publishing — may still be too steep for some. For those looking for a pair of earbuds that’ll do the bare minimum, but do it well (good wireless connection, decent sound, and a durable case), the SoundPeats True Wireless Earbuds might be more your speed.
Despite a wonky pairing experience — connecting the earbuds after initial setup can take some finagling, especially if you’re on the move — the SoundPeats surprised us with their overall comfort and excellent sound quality for the price. Our testers also favored them over other inexpensive models from TaoTronics and JLab because of their smaller (read: pocketable) charging case.
For the rest of us who crave a good steal and some sweet, sweet audio, there’s the Liberty Airs. Like most budget models, the on-ear playback controls don’t include volume control, but they are touch-sensitive, which is a handy detail. A double-tap on the right earbud allows you to stop and play music and answer calls, while a double-tap on the left activates voice assistant. You’ll also be able to hop around with a tap and hold (right goes forward; left goes back).
When it comes to features, don’t expect the Liberty Airs to offer the same perks you’d get with AirPods, like a fancy H1 chip that provides seamless pairing to Apple products. And with a build that features stouter stems and a glossier finish, there’s no denying you’ll have AirPods lookalikes dangling from your earlobes. But the Liberty Airs offer plenty of their own advantages, including the best sound you’ll get from a pair of true wireless earbuds under $100.
To get a sense of the Liberty Airs’ audio quality, you could, like us, fire up a record that’s been on heavy rotation, like, say, Big Thief’s U.F.O.F., and perform your own audio test. For a track like “Jenni,” the Liberty Airs do a wonderful job balancing out the song’s droning basslines, hazy electric guitars, and feathery vocals. But no matter the music genre (or podcast), we found the bass as well as the mid- and high ranges to be well-balanced and clear, with a surprisingly deep soundscape that blows other budget models out of the water.
The sound quality is made better by the included silicone tips, which do an exceptional job blocking out ambient noise — a small but important detail AirPods lack. The Liberty Airs fit quite snugly as a result of this, and can withstand even the most active workouts. They’re also IPX5-certified so you don’t have to worry about damaging ’em with sweat.
In terms of connectivity, these buds boast Bluetooth 5 compatibility, which, in theory, will extend the range of your wireless connection (800 feet, up from 200 feet). The catch? You’ll need a Bluetooth 5–compatible gadget to take full advantage of the technology. In our experience at BuzzFeed’s New York HQ, we were able to travel from one side of a floor to the other without the connection dropping, proving that if open office plans are good for anything, it’s testing true wireless earbuds.
As for the battery life? At an advertised five hours on a single charge, it’s great, if not standard for all true wireless earbuds no matter the price point. In our testing, we got up to just below 4.5 hours of listening at various volume levels. The charging case, which features a nifty LED battery life indicator, adds another 15ish hours. Luckily, you should have no problems getting along with the charging case, which has a fantastic (albeit fingerprint-prone) build with a light magnet to secure the buds in place.
Despite sitting on the higher end of the budget category, the Liberty Airs are a tremendous value and could easily retail at double the price without people taking to the streets in protest. For that fact alone, we’ve gotta hand it to Anker on another job well done.