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There’s a lot to like about Anker’s new Soundcore Liberty 4 NC true wireless noise-cancelling earbuds: well-balanced sound, terrific user tools, stylish design, and an attractive $99.99 price tag at a time when the best-in-class competition cost three times as much.
On the downside, you’ll need to make sure the buds’ silicone tips seal your ear canals extra tight to kickstart their noise suppression circuitry. And to avoid disappointment, don’t take Soundcore’s bold “up to 98.5% noise reduction” claims too seriously; the operative words here are “up to.”
Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 NC design & build quality
Anker has fast become a serious player in the wireless earbuds space, with more than a dozen models. Its Soundcore Liberty 4 NC keeps the momentum going as a value entry with features both brand new and trickled down from pricier models, including a Bluetooth 5.3 radio with multi-point connection support that enables them to be paired with more than one audio source simultaneously. Google Fast Pair support makes for zippy connections to compatible Android devices.
The coaxial driver in Anker’s pricier Soundcore Liberty 4 buds is replaced by a single 11mm driver here. The heart-rate sensor in that model has been excised as well–and it isn’t missed.
Stems with responsive touch-sensitive controls make these headphones look more like Apple’s AirPods Pro than Sony’s brand-new WF-1000XM5, although said stems are considerably longer and wider than the ones on Apple’s product. Those controls are user-customizable, by the way, and I found them much easier to use than the buttons on the Soundcore Liberty 4.
Listening to the Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 NC
Anker’s latest buds support Sony’s high-resolution LDAC codec for Android devices as well as Apple’s AAC codec and the pedestrian SBC codec. They’re certified Hi-Res Audio Wireless by the Japan Audio Society, and they really did sound good with every track I tossed at them, from AfroPop (Angelique Kidjo) to ZappaRock (a newly unearthed motherlode from the Zappa archives titled Funky Nothingness).
A 3D Surround Sound processing mode widens and brightens the earbuds’ sound stage; however, it won’t decode the Dolby Atmos or Sony 360 Reality spatial audio you’ll encounter with music from services like Apple Music (which features the former codec) or Amazon Music Unlimited and Tidal (which offer the latter).
Interestingly, Anker’s customizable HearID EQ delivered slightly more finessed tuning with the Liberty 4 NC than it did on the more expensive Liberty 4. The process requires the wearer to take a personalized hearing assessment in a quiet room, first tapping on an app screen when you hear faint beeps and then choosing the “better-sounding” music clip from a series of pairs.
The resultant frequency curve delivered more satisfying, naturalistic, and balanced performances than Anker’s 20-plus other preset and user-adjustable EQ options. Only the detail-obsessed Acoustic EQ profile seemed a better choice with jazz, singer-songwriters, and music in similar veins. I found it to be a tad more revealing of bass-string wobble, brushed-cymbal shimmer, and such.
Anker’s instructive and helpful Safe Listening tools are also commendable, including a responsive volume level meter and a switchable volume limiter you can set to top off the throughput at anywhere from 75dB (vacuum cleaner volume) to 100dB (ambulance siren). Every earbud and headphone maker should include such a feature.
Anker promises a generous 10 hours of battery life with ANC disabled, and another 40 hours from the battery inside the charging case. Enabling ANC drops those hours to 8 and 32 respectively. The case can be recharged via a USB-C cable or a Qi charger pad.
Anker Liberty 4 NC active noise-cancelling performance
Anker’s bold claim to “reduce noise by up to 98.5%” is something of a head-scratcher. Neither Bose nor Sony make such an audacious promise for their flagship noise-cancelling buds. A footnote in the product’s sales material reports that this spec is certified by SGS (a third-party testing organization similar to Underwriters Laboratory), but that it applies only to the reduction of “deepest frequency” noises. So, it will help eliminate some noise, but certainly not all of it.
I didn’t find Anker’s new Adaptive QNC20 processing mode to be all that effective. When activated, it promises to instantly adjust for and squash random sound disturbances as they pop up. A cutaway illustration of a Soundcore Liberty 4 NC bud near the middle of Anker’s website suggests how this filtering is performed: By comparing the sound reaching a noise isolation chamber on the back side of each earbud’s 11mm driver to the sound detected by sensors on the opposite side of the driver in each bud.
Here’s the rub (no pun intended): Anker’s noise-reduction processing only works well (and the bass response only digs deep) when the buds are very tightly secured in your ear canals to completely seal the entrances. I typically use medium-size silicone tips (the size usually pre-attached when you open a set of buds); with the Liberty 4 NC, I needed to move up to the large tips to eliminate any hint of leakage.
For me, that tight seal entailed a trade off in comfort for long listening sessions: Pesky inner-ear pressure and itching (a danger sign of ear stress) set in after two hours, even though I never cranked the volume louder than 76dB. I can comfortably wear the looser-fitting Apple Airpods Pro (2nd gen)—my all-day faves—for about six hours.
Phone-call performance with the Anker Liberty 4 NC
A fit test in the Soundcore app will help determine which size tip is best for you. The acid test is in the listening: Does environmental noise level drop dramatically when you switch the Ambient Sound setting from Transparency to Normal and then to Noise Cancelling?
Anker offers almost too many ways to customize noise reduction: You can also engage in a 10-step Manual noise-reduction option that’s dramatically variable, for instance, or a Transportation group with separate settings for airplane, train, bus, and automobile motor-noise reduction.
On my urban walkabouts, the switchable Adaptive circuitry was not at all reactive when cars, trucks, and motorcycles roared by, and it was only minimally effective in squelching pedestrian chatter. The switchable Sound Leak Compensation mode was a total dud, and Wind Noise Detection helped only a little.
But there is good news for commuters: Anker’s noise reduction is at its best tamping down the specific, steady motor frequencies humming on trains and buses and—to a lesser degree—blocking out the sound pollution on underground subway cars and airplanes. I experienced the first three personally and simulated the fourth by cranking up an airplane cabin-noise recording on Amazon Music.
Indoors or out, calls made and received while wearing the buds sounded a bit muffled on both ends of the conversation. I expected more from a design boasting six microphones per bud.
Should you buy the Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 NC?
Anker’s budget-priced noise-cancelling earbuds don’t hush the world or deliver super bass response the way my overall favorite Bose QC Earbuds II do, but Anker’s product costs three times less. The Soundcore Liberty 4 NC do entertain sweetly, they can take you from here to Timbuktu on a single case charge, and they offer useful hearing tuning and protection tools. On that score, they offer a considerable value proposition for bargain hunters.
Jonathan Takiff is a veteran tech and entertainment writer based in Philadelphia. A long time staffer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com, his work has also appeared in numerous publications including Sound & Vision, Playboy, and Popular Science.