The Soundcore brand started life as a Kickstarter campaign with a completely different name.
Charging accessory powerhouse Anker was leveraging its supply chain smarts to break into the emerging space of true wireless earbuds. The earbuds then, and most of the other buds Soundcore sells now, can all be described as “fine”. Their designs are often generic (perhaps too generic given similarities they share to no-name brands on Amazon and Alibaba) but their relatively affordable pricing always saved them from too much scrutiny.
But the Liberty Pro line has always stood out from Soundcore’s pack as the wireless earbuds the company really, really wants to make a difference with. The company has come a long way with the Liberty 3 Pro, its flagship, $170 active noise cancellation (ANC) earbuds. They aren’t quite the AirPods Pro slayer some of Soundcore’s sponsored influencer videos would have you believe, but I’d be lying if I said Anker wasn’t getting damn close.
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Big box of options
The Liberty 3 Pro have surprisingly great packaging, both in the quality of the box and the presentation. The large flap has instructions on how to insert the earbuds into your ear and the right side has the earbuds and their case housed in foam. It was the spine of the box that impressed me most. Instead of hiding the alternate ear tips away in a single-use plastic baggie like other earbuds, all four ear tip sizes are on display front and center. There aren’t even a pair of tips applied to the earbuds in the box (however a set of wingtips are already there). In total, you get four pairs of wings and ear tips.
One thing to note is that wingtips are not optional with the Liberty 3 Pro. The earbuds have a hard plastic housing that hooks onto the wings and I would not advise having that locked into your ear unprotected. While swapping ear tips was easy enough thanks to a satisfying snap-on fixture, swapping wingtips was a pain. I was never able to get the wingtips to fit perfectly around the rather complex housing, which requires you to have the ear-detect sensor perfectly exposed through a small cutout and then wrap the thinnest part of the wingtip around an even thinner part of the earbud. This didn’t make using the earbuds uncomfortable by any means, but things always looked a bit off, especially around the ear-detect sensor.
Fresh and stylish
While the earbuds are a bit large compared to smaller buds from Samsung and Apple, it’s not a problem given the audio, active noise cancellation (ANC), and battery performance on offer here. Once you find the right wingtip and ear tip combo for you, you’ll get a secure fit that is helped by the pressure-relief valve that lets in some air to ease discomfort. The earbuds themselves have a unique ovular shape with a glossy touchpad that catches light differently depending on the environment. The “Dusk Purple” earbuds Anker sent were my favorite; they also come in Midnight Black, Frost White, and Fog Gray.
The case is also nice. It has a larger profile than the AirPods and Galaxy Buds case designs, but it’s still slim so it should fit fine in most pockets. The lid slides back instead of snapping up, which then triggers two LEDs to pulse under the ear tips. This, combined with the satin finish on the outer plastic and the gloss plastic inside the case gives off a very Men in Black vibe. The satin texture feels good to hold.
Battery life here is superb. Anker promises up to eight hours on a charge and 36 hours in the case. That’s with ANC off; with ANC on, you can expect six hours on the earbuds, closer in line with the rest of the competition. I wasn’t able to do a full drain test but the battery indicator in the app did seem to track with my usage. A two-hour listening session knocked the earbuds to around 75 percent. The case supports USB-C charging and Qi wireless as well. A 15-minute charge in the case gives you three hours of listening time, but there doesn’t appear to be any fast charging to refuel the case.
As for features, the Liberty 3 Pro are packed full of them. It’s kind of ridiculous. The headline here is “HearID” which is Soundcore’s branding for custom-audio tech. On the Liberty 3 Pro, this takes the form of custom EQ and custom ANC tuning, all configured in the Soundcore app.
HearID ANC is very impressive. The test to configure it does require you to take it in a loud environment. I turned on my kitchen sink and stood next to the running water to meet the app’s preferred noise level. It took a few seconds to set up and then I was done. The ANC here is balanced and not at all uncomfortable. I wouldn’t put it at the top of my list for the best ANC around but it is far from being the worst. These earbuds do feature a wind-noise reduction setting, but for some reason, it’s not on by default and has to be flipped on in the app. If you’re walking outside in a windy area you’ll definitely notice the improvement it brings to the noise cancellation. From what I could tell, turning wind-noise reduction on didn’t cause any dip in audio quality, so there’s no reason to leave it off.
HearID EQ is for the music side of the equation. It requires you to take a rather lengthy hearing test to configure a customized EQ for your hearing. Personally, I don’t trust this hearing test. I had issues hearing frequencies produced by the left earbud that just didn’t make sense given my age (24) and exposure. I was the nerdy kid who always wore earplugs at concerts and I never crank my earbuds up too high. The right earbud test was much more consistent to what I expected, so the resulting EQ curve would have you believe I’m suffering extreme hearing loss in my left ear. This curve just doesn’t make sense. This could be isolated to hardware issues with my review unit but I had no confidence after multiple tests with odd performance. I had my annual physical recently and my hearing test there raised no red flags.
HearID ANC is very impressive.
I chose to disable HearID EQ and just use the default “Soundcore Signature” EQ instead and was very impressed by it. For the most part, you’re getting balanced sound that has just the right amount of oomph from the bass. I found the dynamic range to be a bit lacking in places, as parts of the highs can come off a bit distorted at high volumes, but the overall package here is very solid. You’re not getting anywhere close to the top of the pack, like the AirPods Pro, Beats Fit Pro or Sony WF-1000XM4, but I would take these over AirPods 3 which cost $10 more and have no ANC.
As for audio codec support, it’s good to see AAC here for best use on iOS, but Anker has chosen to go with LDAC over aptX for higher fidelity wireless audio on Android. LDAC rollout is getting better, and Google is starting to support it at the OS level, but given Qualcomm’s sheer dominance in Android phones, I would have liked to see aptX or aptX HD to guarantee the broadest support on most phones for people who do want higher-bitrate audio.
Odd bugs, solid buds
The biggest downside with the Liberty 3 Pro is the overall experience. As nice as this package is, it’s not as seamless as I’d like to see. Everything sounds great when you get it going but there are just enough tiny hiccups along the way to make it worth considering other options.
The ear-detect sensor wasn’t great in my testing. After I popped one earbud in, I heard music play as I picked up the second bud to insert because it thought my palm was my ear. Then, if I took an earbud out to listen to someone talking, there was a long delay (almost two seconds) before my audio paused. The touch controls were also on the sensitive side and I experienced the odd phantom tap here and there.
Soundcore has a ways to go, but it’s getting close.
Stability is a real problem, too. In my first few days of testing, the earbuds would often fall out of sync with each other and my phone after a few minutes of use. I asked Anker about this and was told it was unaware of any problems, but a recent firmware update seems to have fixed the issue on my review unit. I’m mentioning it here as something to keep an eye on, and also to advise updating your earbuds as soon as possible.
If the user experience was as good as the audio and ANC, the Liberty 3 Pro would be a no-brainer. Instead, they make an otherwise premium experience feel a bit cheap. Unreliable custom EQ isn’t helping. The Liberty 3 Pro are by far Anker’s best earbuds under the Soundcore brand — there’s no question about it. Now the company needs to polish those remaining rough spots to show it can make a proper flagship that stands toe-to-toe with the industry’s best. Soundcore has a ways to go, but it’s getting close.