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Anker Zolo Liberty Plus review: Anker's top totally wireless earphones don't top the AirPods

At their early-bird price of $99, the Anker Zolo Liberty Plus was a good deal. But a price hike makes them less attractive.

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David Carnoy
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David Carnoy

Executive Editor / Reviews

Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.

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Anker's better known for its mobile battery accessories, but lately it's been making a serious push into the headphone market. It's selling two new totally wireless headphones, the Zolo Liberty and Zolo Liberty Plus, that respectively retail for $100 (£70 or about $AU130 converted) and $150 (£110 or about $AU190 converted). They're both pretty good but not quite good enough to make you forget about the AirPods or Jabra's Elite 65t.

zolo
6.8

Anker Zolo Liberty Plus

The Good

The Zolo Liberty are totally wireless earphones that offer a strong feature set and good sound at their price point. They're sweatproof and include a charging case that delivers twice as much battery life as the AirPods charging case.

The Bad

May not fit some people's ears securely. If you can't get a secure fit, sound will suffer badly. Cost almost as much as the AirPods.

The Bottom Line

The Anker Zolo Liberty Plus can be a very good totally wireless headphone, but it won't fit some people's ears -- and that's a problem.

These are noise isolating buds and from a design standpoint aren't so different from Jaybird's Run headphones and Bragi's entry-level The Headphone.

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The headphones also come in white.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What's different about the Plus? Well, for starters it's got a little bit of a premium look and feel to it. I got an early listen to it shortly before Anker launched an Indiegogo campaign for it last summer (2017), with early-bird pricing set at less than $100. From what I saw and heard, it seemed like a good deal at the time, but after using the final product for a few weeks, I'm less enthusiastic about it at $150, especially after the new Jabra hit the market.  

The more premium design extends to the Liberty Plus' charging case. While it's slightly smaller than the standard Liberty's charging case, it has a little bit of metal trim and a higher capacity battery inside so it's a little heavier as a result.

That bigger battery gives your more juice for charging on the go. Anker says you can get about 6-7 extra charges from the standard Liberty's case and 13-14 from the Liberty Plus' case.  But the base battery life for both models is rated at 3.5 hours. That's not quite as good the AirPods's battery life.

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The earphones come with a few different tips and silicon sleeves (this one has fins) that are designed to help you get a secure fit.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Liberty Plus' other extra features include a companion app that allows you to tweak the sound and toggle on a transparency mode. That mode comes in handy if you're a runner or biker and you want to hear the traffic around you. It's also one of the first headphones to feature Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, though it won't do you any good until Bluetooth 5.0 devices show up hopefully later this year.
As for the sound, I thought they both sounded quite decent for this type of totally wireless earphone, although the Liberty Plus does sound slightly clearer and smoother with better defined bass. The Liberty Plus' sound doesn't measure up to what you get from a good wired in-ear headphone, but it compared favorably to that of other premium totally wireless headphones I've tested -- and the wireless connection was generally solid with only the occasional Bluetooth hiccup.

Anker Zolo Liberty Plus earphones

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But here's the problem. The standard Liberty fit my ears better. It's designed slightly differently and for whatever reason, the Liberty Plus just wouldn't stay in my ears as well as the cheaper model. And if you can't get a tight seal with this type of headphone, the sound will suffer.

It's quite possible that you'll have a different experience because everybody's ears are shaped differently. But if I had to tell you which one to buy, I'd personally go with the standard Zolo Liberty.

In the Zolo Plus' price range, you're going to be better off with the AirPods or for a little bit more, Jabra's Elite 65t, which also performs better as a headset for making calls. I also prefer the Jaybird Run.

zolo
6.8

Anker Zolo Liberty Plus

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 8Sound 8Value 6
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