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Anker Liberty Air 2 Pro noise-canceling earbuds review: A good AirPods Pro alternative for less

At $130, these new Anker buds may just be the best new substitute for those who can't afford the AirPods Pro -- or Android users.

The buds in black.

David Carnoy/CNET

I was expecting Anker to release a noise-canceling version of its popular Liberty Air 2 earbuds last year, but the launch apparently got delayed a few months, thanks in part to the pandemic. But the Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro ($130, £130), the company's first earbuds to feature active noise canceling, are now available and except for one small but notable issue, they're an excellent set of true-wireless earbuds that measure up pretty well against Apple's AirPods Pro for significantly less money.

8.0

Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2

Like

  • Lightweight, comfortable
  • Very good sound quality
  • Active noise canceling
  • Good headset performance for calls
  • IPX4 water-resistance
  • Ambient and transparency modes
  • Decent battery life with USB-C and wireless charging

Don't Like

  • If you don't get a tight seal, noise canceling and sound suffer (included ear tips may not work for some ears)
  • Transparency mode isn't as good as that of AirPods Pro

Let's start with the small problem I had: None of the included ear tips really fit my ears (nine pairs are included). And by fit, I mean I wasn't able to get a really tight seal. And I can tell you that, with these earbuds, a tight seal is imperative because if you don't get one, you will not be impressed with the sound quality or the noise canceling.

The problem for me wasn't the size of the ear tip, it was the design of the part of the tip that fits over the earbud's nozzle. It was inset, so the ear tip slid back onto the earbud too far and didn't go quite deep enough into my ear canal. To be clear, this is a personal problem and specific to my ears -- they should fit the majority of people just fine with the included tips -- but I was shocked at the difference it made when I found an ear tip that fit properly. (I happen to have a lot around because I review a lot of earbuds.)

Read more: Best noise-canceling true wireless earbuds for 2021

Both sound quality and noise canceling improved dramatically and I was able to run with the earbuds without the right one becoming loose in my ear. (Like many people, my left ear is slightly different from my right, though I'll try not to bore you with the details.) As with the AirPods Pro, these are IPX4 water-resistant, which means they're splashproof but not waterproof -- meaning they should be fine for most workouts and wet weather.

The Liberty Air 2s are lightweight to the point of feeling a little cheap, although they don't look cheap. They're available in four colors -- black, blue, white and pink. That said, I found them comfortable to wear once I got the right ear tips on them. I also found that they paired quickly with my iPhone 12 ($829 at Amazon) and Samsung Galaxy Note 10 ($550 at Samsung) and maintained a rock-solid wireless connection. They don't have multipoint Bluetooth pairing that allows you to easily switch between devices, however. 

anker-soundcore-liberty-2-pro-3

The buds with my ear tips on them -- the tips extend out slightly more, which helped me get a tight seal. 

David Carnoy/CNET

With a tight seal, the noise canceling was effective, muffling a lot of lower-frequency sounds -- people's voices can still be heard, albeit in fainter tones -- and was close to on par with the muffling abilities of the AirPods Pro, though a touch behind.

There are two transparency modes -- one augments ambient sound a bit while the other is supposed to be a more natural sound mode, similar to the AirPods Pro's transparency mode that lets you hear the outside world with almost no colorization. Alas, the Liberty Air 2 Pros' "natural" transparency mode isn't as good as Apple's, with some audible hiss.

You can toggle between the modes via the Soundcore companion app or using the tap and hold gesture on the right earbud. The buds have touch controls that are customizable in the companion app and there's also a SoundID feature in the app that's designed to customize the sound to your hearing (or you can simply use the equalizer settings to tweak the sound to your liking).

anker-soundcore-liberty-air-2-pro-4

Testing call quality in the streets of New York.

David Carnoy/CNET

These sound better than the Liberty Air 2, which are now selling for $80, down from their list price of $100. The Liberty Air 2 had a touch of treble push that could make them sound slightly harsh with certain tracks. The Air 2 Pro has a warmer sound, with plump, punchy bass and good detail without overemphasizing the treble. They're just richer sounding and overall more pleasant to listen to (they should work well with a variety of music types). They measure up well to the AirPods Pro in the sound department and maybe even sound slightly better.

They also work well for voice calls. Their noise reduction did a decent job of reducing background noise in the streets of New York, although it didn't completely eliminate it. Callers said they thought my voice was slightly clearer with the AirPods Pro, but it was a relatively minor difference and the Liberty Air 2 Pro seems fairly close in terms of overall call quality. The AirPods Pro may have a slight advantage but it's a relatively small difference.

anker-liberty-air-pro-2-color-options.png

The Liberty Air 2 Pro comes in four color options.

Anker

It's also worth noting that the Liberty Air 2 Pro has a feature that's missing from the Liberty Air 2: sidetone, or the ability to hear your own voice in the earbuds when you're calling. That's an important feature for people working from home.

As for battery life, it seems pretty decent. They're rated for six hours of playback at moderate volume levels with noise canceling on (seven hours with it off) and an extra 15 hours (or almost three charges with ANC on) in the charging case, which charges via USB-C and wirelessly.

In the end, except for my personal issue with the ear tips, which will be an issue for a certain percentage of users -- if you see an online user review that says the noise canceling and sound are mediocre, that user most likely didn't get a tight seal -- I was generally impressed with the Liberty Air 2 Pro. They do seem like a decent value, but it also wouldn't surprise me to see them on sale for closer to $100 later in the year. On Amazon, they were briefly on sale for that price at launch with a discount code.

Here's a look at the key features, according to Anker:

  • 11mm Purenote drivers
  • Targeted Active Noise Cancellation
  • Six-mic uplink noise reduction helps optimize voices and minimize background noise.
  • Two transparency modes
  • HearID Personalized Sound (via app)
  • Up to 6 hours of battery life with ANC on (7 hours with it off) and charging case provides 15 hours of extra juice.
  • Wearing detection for autoplay/pause
  • Earbuds fast charge: 10 minutes gets you 2 hours of playback
  • Buds can be worn independently.
  • Customizable user touch controls to set preferences for play/pause, track advance, volume, etc.
  • IPX4 waterproof
  • Nine sets of silicone ear tips, ranging from XXXS to XL and L Plus
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • USB-C fast charge and wireless charging 
  • Price: $130 (£130)
  • Available in four colors (black, white, blue and pink)