Odd design choice related to touch-sensitive surfaces
Pricey for what’s delivered
We dig these earbuds for their noise cancellation, fit, and protection from the elements, but the price puts them head to head with the best-in-class Sony WF-1000XM4.
Libratone, based in Copenhagen, Denmark, builds wireless speakers and headphones featuring timeless Danish design. The company’s latest offering, the stylish Air+ (2nd Gen) true wireless earbuds, offer strong noise-cancelling, musical transparency, a good sound signature, and a great fit. A few design quirks—and the fierce competition at the price point—prevent me from giving them a strong recommendation.
Libratone Air+ (2nd Gen) design and feature set
These second-generation noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds are available in white or black (the color of my review set, which I’d say is more of a midnight blue).
They sport a polymer diaphragm driver with neodymium magnets. Libratone says their sonic tuning is inspired by “Nordic audio tuning philosophy.” I’m not quite sure what that means, but as I’ll explain in more detail in my listening tests, I found the Air+ (2nd Gen) to be good performers in terms of bass response, but they sounded somewhat veiled when reproducing some other frequencies.
Note: In the interest of brevity, I’ll refer to these headphones as Air+ from here out.
This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best noise-cancelling headphones, where you’ll find reviews of the competition’s offerings, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping for this type of product.
Touch controls on the Libratone Air+
The Libratone Air+ have touch-sensitive surfaces, but the degree of sensitivity varies. The upper area of the bud is the least sensitive to touch, for example, even though it’s the area you’re most naturally inclined to place your finger. The Air+’s designers want you to touch the earbuds’ stems, instead. This can lead to frustration if your movements aren’t precise, and none of this is thoroughly explained in Libratone’s documentation.
I also found it annoying that every command requires either a double or triple touch. There must be a reason that no commands can be executed with a single touch, but it’s lost on me what that might be. Single-touch commands are pretty much a given with the competition.
Achieving a good seal with the Libratone Air+
Having a choice of three silicone ear tips (small, medium, and large) should allow you to choose a set that gives you a proper seal that will maximize the earbuds’ performance. A good seal directly impacts an earbud’s audio and noise-cancelling performance, and Libratone’s buds include a “smart sensor” that tests if you’ve achieved it.
An ear-tip fit test, activated at the bottom left-hand side of the app’s home screen, runs a quick musical selection to ensure you have a solid seal. If you do, you’ll get “good seal” message for the left and right buds. If you don’t, the app will say “poor seal” and highlight in yellow which of the two earbuds’ fit is lacking. The app presents you with suggestions on how to get a better fit. I wish all earbud manufacturers would include such a feature.
Even if the app indicates you’ve achieved a good seal, however, everyone’s ears are unique and the quality of the seal will vary. Libratone says its onboard smart equalizer automatically tunes the audio based on your wearing status even if the earbud does not fit snugly.
I achieved an excellent fit with the Air+. Once they were in, I was hard-pressed to get them to fall out. Shaking my head, brushing against my ear did nothing to dislodge them.
Where many true wireless earbuds are rated IPX4 for water protection—with the X indicating no claim of protection from dust—Libratone rates its Air+ IP54. This means the manufacturer states the device is sufficiently protected from particulate matter that would cause failure, and that it’s protected from water sprayed from any direction. You shouldn’t go swimming while wearing the Air+, but sweat, rain, or even a rambunctious kid with a water hose shouldn’t be a problem. We’ll tell you everything you need to know about IP codes at the preceding link.
Libratone Air+ listening tests
I tested the Libratone Air+ on Fiio M9 and Astell&Kern SR15 digital audio players and an iPhone 12 Pro. Source material included locally stored high-res music files, Tidal, Apple Music, and source material streamed from my Roon Nucleus server.
The Air+ have a very good sonic signature and delivered the goods on the large repertoire of tracks I use for bass response. Libratone’s new earbuds lacked the bass emphasis and lower-end dynamics present in the B&O Beoplay EX, but there was nothing in the Air+’s presentation that left me unsatisfied with their performance in that respect. The seductive bass lines on Katie Melba’s “Love is a Silent Thief,” for example, were exceedingly satisfying.
The Libratone Air+ didn’t reveal anything new in songs I listen to often, though; in fact, there were times when I found their reproduction to be a bit syrupy. Brandi Carlile’s “Turpentine” is a good example where the guitar riffs lacked crispness and detail. Vocals, meanwhile, sounded a bit veiled.
I expect better musical performances at this price.
Strong noise-cancelling performance
The Libratone Air+ are among the better noise-cancelling earbuds I’ve tested. They’re similar to Apple’s AirPods Pro in this regard, but they’re not comparable to the Sony WF-1000XM4. They did a superb job of masking engine noise and rumble; but like the AirPods Pro, they’re much less effective at blocking voices. On the upside, I didn’t need to switch to transparency mode to hear announcements over an airport’s public address system.
Speaking of transparency mode, Libratone’s implementation is very natural and doesn’t grossly and unnaturally accentuate any frequencies. There were times when I simply forgot I was wearing the Air+–at least until I would speak and my voice would reverberate in my skull.
Bluetooth 5.2 is a plus, but codec support is limited
Qualcomm’s flagship 5.2 chipset and its TrueWireless Mirroring technology are onboard, promising a solid connection with low latency. Libratone touts the Air+’s ability to shuffle between three paired Bluetooth devices. For example, I paired them with both my iPhone 12 Pro and my 16-inch MacBook Pro. By configuring the setting in the app and then tapping the assigned earbud, the headphones successfully switched from one device to the next and back again. When my tapping commands worked, the feature worked mostly as advertised.
I found a frustrating quirk, however, during testing. If I had the Air+ actively paired to one device and then tried to initiate a Bluetooth connection from another device, the Air+ would choke. The Bluetooth connection status would spin endlessly. I experienced this behavior on Android, iOS, and MacOS devices. To remedy the situation, I had to disconnect the Air+ from the paired device and start over. In such a locked-up situation, switching wouldn’t work either.
Codec support is a bit of a downer. The Air+ support the older aptX codec, but not aptX Adaptive, which would enable them to stream music at higher resolutions and sampling rates. There’s no support for Sony’s LDAC codec, either. While not explicitly stated in any of Libratone’s documentation, Apple’s AAC codec is supported as well (I confirmed this with a Libratone spokesperson).
The Libratone Air+ case
Libratone’s songbird logo is prominently displayed on a beveled, mirror-like circle on the front of the earbuds’ charging case. Unlike most true wireless earbuds, which have a flap-like top, the Air+’s case is designed more like a cockpit, with a cover that comes down over about two thirds of the front. Lift the lid and you’ll pull the earbuds forward to release them, not up and out as with most charging cases.
I thought this design would put them at risk of falling out of an open case, but magnets keep them firmly in place until you pull them out. The case’s docking magnets also have different polarities. Put the left earbud in the right-hand socket, and the magnets will literally push the earbud to the left and vice versa. Libratone gives you a visual confirmation when you’ve docked the earbud properly. The letter “L” or “R” illuminates briefly to let you know when the earbud is charging.
The illumination translates into charging too. The circumference of the USB-C charging port on the case’s bottom illuminates when you plug it in. Likewise, when you put the case on a wireless charger, the USB-C port illumines to confirm that the case is charging successfully.
The Air+ are rated to deliver about six hours on a single charge. The charging case is rated for three full charges or about 24 total hours of battery life. The case supports wireless charging and has a USB-C charging port on its bottom.
As innovative as Libratone’s case concept might be, I found it decidedly awkward to use. You must keep your thumb directly under the front flap and your index finger behind it, as if you’re pinching the case. Hold the case by its sides and it will rotate in your fingers and slip out of your hands when you lift the cockpit up.
Libratone’s app is basic, but functional
Libratone’s app presents you with a large circular dial at the top and a three-mode setting at the bottom for transparency, comfort, and adjustable modes. Transparency mode lets the world around you in, comfort mode is noise cancelling, and adjustable mode allows you to adjust the level of noise cancelling or transparency on a scale of 0 to 30, where 0 is full transparency and 30 is maximum noise cancellation.
At the bottom right you’ll find the settings menu, which allows you to adjust the product’s voicing; engage wear detect so that the headphones automatically pause if you remove them from your ears and play again when you put them back; and program the functionality of the two or three tap command on each earbud. The tap command set is expansive and ranges from transparency and noise cancelling settings to volume, voice assists, and device switching.
The bottom line on the Libratone Air+ (2nd Gen)
It’s refreshing to see Libratone think out of the box and take some risks. As with any risk-taking venture, however, you’ll have some hits and some misses.
The Air+ 2 (Gen 2) boast some interesting industrial design elements, but the touch-control aspect is a definite miss. The provide excellent active noise-cancelling and transparency performances and they sound very good, but the limited codec support at this price is a genuine head scratcher.
I don’t love the Libratone Air+ (2nd Gen), but I wouldn’t steer potential buyers away from them, either. If you’re shopping in this price range and don’t like Sony’s WF-1000XM4, you should check these out. They offer a great fit, a useful app, and good musical performance. enough to give them my strongest recommendation nor did I find them to be particularly poor performers. My simple advice: If you like what you’ve read, give the Libratone Air+ 2 a test for yourself and see if their styling and functionality meet your expectations.