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These $149 earbuds solved my biggest problem with Apple's AirPods

Review: Soundcore's Liberty 4 compete in a saturated mid-range audio market, but fast multi-device connectivity and heart-rate tracking may be enough to separate them from the pack.
Written by Christina Darby, Associate Editor on
Reviewed by June Wan
Pros
  • Earbuds are comfortable to wear
  • Allows for seamless multi-device switching and connectivity
  • Excellent microphone quality for the price
Cons
  • Heavily reliant on the app for listening and health insights
  • Custom HearID is not the most reliable
  • Stress insights can seem directionless

Anker's audio arm, Soundcore, recently introduced the Liberty 4 earbuds which, at first, didn't look favorable when stacked beside the AirPods Pro 2 and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II hanging on my work desk. After spending a week with the $149 earbuds, though, I'm glad I didn't put it off as just another pair of wearables in what is now one of the most saturated markets in tech. 

For how much the Liberty 4 costs, don't expect the earbuds to go toe-for-toe with the latest and greatest. Instead, the Soundcore buds excel in smaller aspects, including health tracking and multi-device connectivity, taking small wins that add up to a well-rounded experience. And if those features happen to fall under your priority list, then the Liberty 4 may be one of the best options available. Read on. 

Specifications 

Type 

True wireless, In-canal, Active Noise Canceling (ANC), Adaptive Noise Canceling

Microphones

3 microphones per earbud

Drivers

9.2 mm and 6mm dual dynamic drivers in each earbud 

Connectivity 

Bluetooth 5.3

Battery 

28 hours total playtime; 24 hours ANC playtime 

Charging 

Wireless and USB-C compatible 

Durability 

Earbuds: IPX4

Compatibility 

Bluetooth and AAC, SCC, and LDAC codecs

Colors 

Midnight black, Cloud white 

Price 

$149


Design and fit

Considering the Liberty 4 earbuds have dual drivers, they're impressively compact and sleek-looking. But with their short stemmed design, it's hard not to draw similarities between them and Apple's AirPods. The interior design is simple, with copper-lined, translucent ear tips. The gel ear tip has flexible dual layers, making them thicker than that of competing earbuds and even the Soundcore Space A40

The Liberty 4 has what I consider to be a hybrid fit, relying on both the stems to hang on your ears and the ear tip cushions to mold to your ear canals. Together, the earbuds are very comfortable. The thicker cushioning does take some getting used to, but once the buds are on, they effectively lock into place. Sizing-wise, Soundcore offers the Liberty 4 ear tip cushions in small, medium, and large. Anyone who's read my previous earbuds reviews won't be surprised to know that I opted for the smallest option.

anker-charger-full-view

Sadly, the cushioned ear tips do not color-match with the actual earbuds.

Christina Darby/ZDNET

Like most wireless earbuds, the Liberty 4 offer touch controls and a stem squeeze function to switch between ANC and ambient mode. My biggest issue with touch controls is how sensitive they can be, often hanging up my calls abruptly or skipping a song with the slightest tap or brush-through. That isn't the case here. I appreciated that the Liberty 4 required a firmer touch input and never ended my work meetings when I was simply readjusting the fit. This is one aspect of the Soundcore that I prefer over other earbuds -- and if you're just as bothered by over-sensitive controls -- you'll probably like them just as much. 

Review: Soundcore's new Liberty 4 earbuds with spatial audio can track your heart rate

Case designers, take note

Ever dropped your earbuds case and had to look frantically for that one bud that perfectly blended with your surroundings? Just me? While the Liberty 4 earbuds don't have any tracking capability, the case is cleverly designed so that you'll never have a lost earbud problem in the first place.

Rather than flipping up from the top like a pack of mints, the charging case slides outward  -- similar to old-school slide phones. Instead of dropping the earbuds in stem-first, the Liberty 4 buds lay on their side. The top cover's elastic-like feedback keeps the case closed and earbuds from scattering upon impact -- even from my 8-inch high desk. The slide case is also impressively compact for how solid its battery life is. Soundcore says the case gives the earbuds a total of 28 hours of playtime, which I can attest to after listening to them for 3-4 hours a day and only needing to charge the case once. 

kickstand-anker-magsafe

The two earbuds fit snugly in the slide-out charging case. 

Christina Darby/ ZDNET

Sound quality: Less is more

The sound quality on these earbuds is not market-leading by any means, but it's great for the price. While spatial audio is not as immersive as Apple's AirPods Pro 2 and the earbuds don't have dozens of fancy certifications, the LDAC encoding is sufficient for wireless, lossless audio playback. Generally speaking, listening to music and podcasts on the Liberty 4 is more than passable, especially if you don't consider yourself to be an audiophile. You may not hear every individual instrument or feel the bass as you would on higher-end earbuds, but coming from the AirPods -- as did my colleague Sabrina Ortiz when she gave the buds a listen -- there were times when we found the Liberty 4 to sound better than Apple's offering.

More: The best wireless earbuds you can buy right now

A lesson learned about ANC

With active noise cancellation (ANC) becoming a hot commodity for wireless earbuds, it's no surprise that the Liberty 4 ticks the feature box. But just having the audio technology is not enough, especially if you're shopping for ANC earbuds in specific. The ANC here is effective at blocking out lighter sounds, like the humming of my AC unit, but often struggled to mute the car-honking symphony outside my window.  

In hopes of improving the sound experience, I tried Soundcore's HearID ANC, a custom test that adjusts the noise-canceling levels based on your how well you can hear certain pitches and frequencies. The test took about five minutes to play through a series of beeps and tones so, naturally, I was expecting a noticeable difference after the fact. Unfortunately, the only major difference I noticed was how much more echoey the music sounded. A retest didn't make things better. 

charger-battery-signal

The cushioned ear tips' passive noise cancellation is more useful than HearID ANC.

Christina Darby/ZDNET

Microphone quality

For many, including myself, wireless earbuds aren't just for audio listening but for calling. To me, microphone quality matters -- and Soundcore delivers on that end. With the Liberty 4, I can hear the person on the other end of my call clearly and haven't gotten any complaints from my coworkers during Zoom calls -- or the harshest microphone critic of all: my mother. To my disbelief, there was no, "I can hear all of New York City in the background" comment this time around. 

Review: These impressive earbuds are also self-sanitizing

Monitoring wellness

While wellness wearables have been on the rise lately, the Liberty 4 earbuds are among the first to include heart rate monitoring. As an Apple Watch user, I was curious to see how the sensors from the $149 earbuds would hold up against the $399 monitor on my wrist. Interestingly, both reported my resting heart rate similarly, from me sitting at my desk at 65bpm to 95bpm during my outdoor walks. The gap in price didn't make as big of a difference as I expected.

app view of soundcore liberty 4 buds
Screenshot by Christina Darby/ZDNET

Along with reading your heart rate during rest and exercise, the Liberty 4 earbuds offer stress level analysis. Based on Heart Rate Variability (HRV), the earbuds can detect and display your stress level on the Soundcore app. My quibble with the stress feature is that it simply notifies me of my stress rather than coupling the data with a suggestion or two for how to destress. If I know I'm stressed but don't have a solution to alleviate it, I just start stressing about stressing! While I appreciate Soundcore's intention, I think they missed an opportunity to provide a more helpful in-app "stress reliever" experience. 

Review: Apple Watch 8 is a sleeper hit, even if it doesn't match Samsung's sensors

Convenient connectivity

Here's probably Anker's biggest win over competing manufacturers, including Apple: I can connect the Liberty 4 earbuds to my computer and my phone, and seamlessly switch between the two. Once I've paired the earbuds via Bluetooth, I can quickly transition both the audio and microphone functionality from one device to the other without worrying about disconnections. 

If I'm listening to my classical playlist as I churn out an article, but suddenly realize that I have a Zoom meeting that's about to start, I can just pause the audio on one device and join the meeting from another without needing to reconnect the earbuds. 

Review: AirPods Pro 2 offer two big upgrades but connectivity chaos hasn't been tamed

About the Soundcore app

With the added health features, the Soundcore app is the cornerstone of the Liberty 4's listening and functional experience. There are pluses and minuses to that. On the positive side, the app is the key to accessing heart rate and stress level data, adjusting EQ, and the ANC HearID test. It gives you greater control over what the earbuds do. On the other end, the heavy reliance on the service can take away from the purity of just popping on a pair of earbuds and listening to them for what they are. 

Bottom Line

Soundcore's Liberty 4 earbuds execute the company's promise of quality sound at an affordable price. With easy connectivity, a comfortable design, and heart rate tracking, the Liberty 4 earbuds are just different enough to warrant your interest. Given the thoughtful design of the earbuds and the case, the exceptional microphone quality, and, the fair price of $149, I'll be keeping the Liberty 4 earbuds on my desk for the foreseeable future. If you're looking for a solid pair of wireless earbuds, Soundcore's Liberty 4 may not be game-changing, but they also won't disappoint. 

Alternatives to consider

Besides the Soundcore Liberty 4, here are three other wireless earbuds that you should consider: 

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