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Now that Apple's AirPods have grown from being those weird looking sticks in your ears to something so common it seems like everyone is wearing them, competitors have taken notice. While AirPods are certainly very good, they are also quite expensive. Other manufacturers, like computer and phone accessory giant Anker, are hoping to cash in with similar — but more affordable — offerings.
Enter the Liberty Air earphones from Anker subsidiary Soundcore. They look similar to the AirPods, but cost half the price. The real question is, though, can they hold their own in a direct comparison against Apple's first-party offering?
You can read our full independent reviews of Apple’s AirPods here and Soundcore's Liberty Air here. But now, we want to give you a point-by-point comparison between these two popular options so that you can choose an earphone that works best for you and your needs.
AirPods vs. Liberty Air Direct Comparison Results
Named product is the winner in each category:
- Fit & Comfort: Liberty Air
- Design & Build Quality: AirPods
- Sound Quality: Liberty Air
- Call Quality: AirPods
- Controls: Tie
- Battery Life: AirPods
- Lifestyle: Liberty Air
- Cost/Value: Tie
Overall Fit and Comfort
Apple’s AirPods may look like someone just snipped the wires off those free (and mostly worthless) EarPods that come bundled with every iPhone, but au contraire. AirPods are vastly more comfortable and less susceptible to falling out than the EarPods ever were. I was definitely surprised by how comfortable they were, especially since I can’t stand the EarPods. It was only after a couple of hours of solid use that I began to have any comfort issues.
Even though they are slightly heavier, Liberty Air earphones are more comfortable than AirPods for long-term listening — but not by much. They have a more traditional in-ear design, which admittedly, may bother some users. However, this in-ear design provides superior noise isolation when compared to AirPods. (Noise isolation helps protect hearing when using loud equipment, such as lawn mowers or weed trimmers.) AirPods, meanwhile, provide no noise isolation.
Winner: Liberty Air
Design and Build Quality
Apple is famous for its high production quality, and the company unashamedly charges for it. AirPods are no exception. Even though they are plastic, all glued edges are seamless — including where plastic meets the chrome metal ends. The outer shell is smooth and it’s a finger-print magnet, but the earbuds hang on surprisingly well.
The way the case and its hinge operate is almost magical. Sometimes, I just hold it and open-close-open-close for awhile before I finally catch myself and stop. There is no other case like it anywhere else.
Anker and its Soundcore brand make many really good products — including the Liberty Air earphones. However, they don’t feel as exclusive as AirPods. These earphones are shiny, like Apple’s version, but they lack a premium feel — it's mostly just standard plastic. There's nothing too special about the case, either. It’s hinged in a similar fashion as the AirPods' case, but its closure doesn’t feel magnetic or anything approaching magic. It’s just a hinge.
Even though Liberty Air’s visual aesthetic is similar to AirPods, there are enough differences to set them apart. It's also worth nothing that the Liberty Air earphones are available in both white or black, while AirPods are available in white only.
Sound Quality When Listening to Music
Not only do Apple’s AirPods feel better than the awful EarPods, they sound infinitely better. With music, bass is shockingly decent. Something this small that just sits in the ear should not have much noticeable bass, but it's there. Mind you, AirPods are not audiophile quality, but it ain’t bad.
As good as AirPods sound, Liberty Air earphones sound better — if you have a good seal. That’s the key to any earphone, really. When the seal around the ear tip isn’t good, there’s no bass at all, and in these situations, the AirPods will beat Liberty Air earphones every time. But when the seal is secure, the bass kicks in and the audio improves dramatically. The Liberty Air earphones are definitely made for music.
Winner: Liberty Air
Audio Quality During Phone Calls
Even though I sometimes listen to music on AirPods, using them for phone calls is why I not only love them, it’s also why I depend on them. AirPods (and some Beats headphone/earphones) use Apple's proprietary W1 chip to seamlessly connect to an iPhone (the W1 will not work with Android phones), so when a call comes in, I just take the AirPods out of the case and an instant connection is made.
In addition, people on the other end of the call can never tell I’m using AirPods. It sounds identical to when I speak directly into the iPhone.
Liberty Air earphones use the excellent Bluetooth 5 protocol. However, it still can’t compete with the W1 chip. When wearing Liberty Air earphones and a call comes in, I would fumble with the earphones and usually have to play with Bluetooth settings while yelling into the iPhone, “Hold on, I’m pairing my earphones!” Not fun. Plus, people on the other end can tell I’m using some other device to talk with them, and not the iPhone.
AirPods have basic controls built in, and there are only four double-tap choices: Bringing up Siri, Play/Pause, Next Track or Previous Track. Any of the four choices can be assigned independently to each left or right AirPod — or they can be turned off entirely. If you want to be able to tap any command other than what Apple permits, you’re out of luck.
With AirPods, you can turn on/off automatic ear detection, which will activate AirPods once placed in either ear. All controls are determined by settings on the iPhone.
Liberty Air earphones have more varied commands, but they also have a steep learning curve. A series of taps, double taps and extended taps in one or the other earphone can play, pause or skip a song, answer or end phone calls, and even bring up Apple's Siri voice assistant, Alexa or Google Assistant. These touch controls cannot be customized.
Note that when extended taps are incorporated into earphones and assigned a task, it’s easy to accidentally call up that task by pushing the earphone into the ear, which can happen when it feels like they might be coming loose. This can be somewhat annoying.
Extended Battery Life
Liberty Air earphones provide five hours of playtime with three charges (total: 20 hours play) from the case before it needs to be recharged.
Of course, all battery life times are approximate depending on multiple factors.
Fitting into Your Lifestyle
Apple’s AirPods are great for people constantly on the go with the need to connect quickly and efficiently. They're OK for music, but are not good at reducing background noise from commuting. AirPods have no rated sweat or water resistance, but many people exercise with them without them coming loose or being ruined by sweat. However, since they are expensive, caution is recommended.
Liberty Air earphones have an IPX5 water protection rating, making them perfect for intense exercising just short of swimming. Plus, the earphone design helps them remain in place better than AirPods.
Winner: Liberty Air
Overall Cost and Value
Apple’s AirPods are not cheap. At $160, they are one of the most expensive totally wireless ear buds available. However, comparing value is something else entirely. The W1 chip alone makes AirPods one of the more desirable earbuds for iPhone users. They're worth the extra cost for those who can afford them and for people who already deeply entrenched in the Apple ecosystem.
Soundcore’s Liberty Air earphones have a lot of features not available on AirPods. They sound slightly better, have built-in sweat resistance and they come in black, all for $79 — exactly half the price of AirPods. But, as always, Liberty Air’s value is dependent on what you are looking for.
If getting a low price is your goal, there’s no contest — go with the Liberty Air. They offer everything you'd want from true wireless earbuds, just shy of any Apple-specific functionality.
Since both brands of earphones are Bluetooth capable, it means you can use either with any phone, and ultimately, the deciding factor comes down to what your personal ecosystem includes more of, Apple or Google.
The Bottom Line
If you’ve been wanting AirPods, but refuse to pay the “Apple tax”, just hang on a bit longer. The rumor is that new AirPods are coming out soon, with more features. This means that the current-generation AirPods will go down in price.
For those who need something close to AirPods that can pair with Android devices, and you want or need the extra features, you can’t go wrong with the Liberty Air earphones. They will certainly save you a lot of money.
Any product or service prices/offers that appear in this article are accurate at time of publish, and are subject to change without notice. Please verify the actual selling price and offer details on the merchant’s site before making a purchase.