AirPods vs. Anker Soundcore Liberty Air: a cheap, great alternative

AirPods are great, but they are expensive. Here's an alternative earbud that costs half the price.

Lexy Savvides Principal Video Producer
Lexy is an on-air presenter and award-winning producer who covers consumer tech, including the latest smartphones, wearables and emerging trends like assistive robotics. She's won two Gold Telly Awards for her video series Beta Test. Prior to her career at CNET, she was a magazine editor, radio announcer and DJ. Lexy is based in San Francisco.
Expertise Wearables, smartwatches, mobile phones, photography, health tech, assistive robotics Credentials
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Lexy Savvides
4 min read

Apple's  AirPods  2 are wildly popular Bluetooth earbuds but they're far from the most affordable option out there. They normally cost $159 or $199 with the wireless charging case, but they're currently discounted to $145 and $180, respectively, at Amazon. So if you're on a budget and want most of the same features as the AirPods, another great option is the  Anker Soundcore Liberty Air  because they cost just $80.

There are many cheap AirPods alternatives out there, but I chose to compare the AirPods to Anker's buds because they are a CNET favorite and they're much more affordable. Find my detailed thoughts and experiences in the video above. 

Lexy Savvides/CNET

AirPods vs. Liberty Air

AirPodsLiberty Air
Connectivity H1 chip, Bluetooth 5.0Bluetooth 5.0
Battery (earbuds alone) 5 hours5 hours
Battery (including case) 24 hours20 hours
Fast charge 15 minutes = 3 hrs.No
Adjustable ear tips NoYes
Noise isolation NoYes
Wireless charging Yes (with wireless charging case)No
Controls Tap controls, Hey Siri supportTap controls
Water resistance No official ratingIPX5

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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.


One size fits most or interchangeable tips?

Lexy Savvides/CNET

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 let you control playback easily.

Angela Lang/CNET

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 five 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 five 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 a whole suite of options to choose from. But if you have your heart set on the look of the AirPods, we've also tried out $35 AirPod knockoffs. Or you can keep your eyes open for the rare times when the AirPods go on sale.

Watch this: AirPods 2 vs. AirPods: What's the difference?

Originally published July 9.