Got your heart set on a pair of Apple’s AirPods 2, but can’t quite stomach the price? At $159, or $199 with the wireless charging case, these Bluetooth earbuds are expensive (although they’re currently discounted to $145 and $180, respectively, at Amazon). You might even be able to find them a little cheaper on. But the wireless earbuds have a unique design and might not fit well in some people’s ears. What if you could get most of what the AirPods offer, maybe with a better fit, for cheap?
There are many cheap AirPods alternatives out there, but the most highly rated option and a CNET favorite is the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air. After using both for several weeks, I found out that (spoiler alert) paying half the price for wireless earbuds doesn’t mean you get half the earbuds. Find my detailed thoughts and experiences in the video above.
AirPods vs. Liberty Air
|Connectivity||H1 chip, Bluetooth 5.0||Bluetooth 5.0|
|Battery (earbuds alone)||5 hours||5 hours|
|Battery (including case)||24 hours||20 hours|
|Fast charge||15 minutes = 3 hrs.||No|
|Adjustable ear tips||No||Yes|
|Wireless charging||Yes (with wireless charging case)||No|
|Controls||Tap controls, Hey Siri support||Tap controls|
|Water resistance||No official rating||IPX5|
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It’s an open-and-shut case
Because AirPods don’t have a seal and have more of an open design, they let in a lot more external noise. This is great in some situations, like if you want to hear your surroundings (think personal safety), but it’s not so great if you want to be immersed in your tunes or podcasts without cranking up the volume. Anker’s wireless earbuds have interchangeable tips included in the box that help seal the bud more securely in your ear canal and block out more external noise. They’re not noise canceling, but help isolate sound better than the AirPods.
In general, I don’t have a problem working out or running with the AirPods — I’ve even headbanged with them to show that they don’t fall out of my ears.
But that won’t be the case for everyone, and if you’re concerned they might fall out or know they just don’t fit well, the Liberty Air is better suited. I found the in-ear design comfortable to wear, even after a few hours of listening. Just make sure to swap out the tip for one of the three size options for the best and most secure fit.
I also love how the Liberty Air has a black or white option rather than the single white color for the AirPods. Each has a charging case that stores the buds when not in use, though the Liberty Air case is slightly bulkier. For charging the case itself, AirPods uses a Lightning connector while the Liberty Air uses Micro-USB.
Music and sound quality is very close
When comparing the earbuds for the best overall music and sound quality, I found it hard to decide which one I preferred the most given that audio quality is so close. While I don’t consider myself a hardcore audiophile, I did find that the AirPods had a little more bass and sounded more rounded for music. For podcasts though, I preferred the Liberty Air because of the tighter seal, which helped block out external noise. I also appreciated not having to crank up the volume as much thanks to the tighter seal.
In a blind test, calls sound clearer on the AirPods to the person on the other end. I also thought calls sounded better on my end with the AirPods, though not by much.
Tap controls and connections
Though both earbuds have tap controls to change the track or summon your voice assistant, I preferred the AirPods’ implementation more. You can go into the Bluetooth settings on iOS and double-tap to change tap commands like skip forward/back, play/pause or summon Siri. If you’re using AirPods on Android, the tap functions are preset and can’t be changed. On the Liberty Air, these tap controls are set so you need to memorize which tap command does what. This took me a lot longer to memorize than if I’d been able to set them myself.
Establishing a connection was more seamless on the AirPods too, especially when switching between devices. I love the autoconnect option on iOS devices that happens as soon as you open the charging case. Just bring your phone or tablet nearby, open the case and the connection establishes instantly.
The Liberty Air automatically connect too, but only once you’ve set up the Bluetooth connection in your settings menu. Both wireless earbuds maintained connection well whether I was using Android or iOS and neither gave me any significant dropout issues.
Battery life is pretty good on both
The AirPods gave me 5 hours of listening time from the buds and 24 hours of total charge time in the case. Anker’s earbuds gave me a little more than 5 hours listening time from the buds, probably because I didn’t have to crank the volume up as loud. But you get slightly less overall battery life, with the case giving 20 hours total charge.
For half the price, the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air are incredible value for money compared to the AirPods and you get most of the features from the more expensive earbuds, with few compromises. If you’re on a tight budget but want an AirPod-like experience, consider this a great option.
Anker is not the only company making more affordable AirPods alternatives under $100 — there’s ato choose from. But if you have your heart set on the look of the AirPods, we’ve also tried out . Or you can keep your eyes open for the .
Originally published July 9.
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