My go-to earbuds for the past several years have been the Anker Soundcore Liberty 2 Pros. They were always a bit nerdy looking, too chunky, too big, too black, but the sound was excellent, if lacking active noise reduction. They've been given a 2021 refresh, and with a new model number, now known as the Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro, they have cleared up nearly all of the older model's limitations.
Let's start with the most important thing: sound quality. The 2s were great. These are even better. Out of the box the sonic reproduction is better than the comparably priced Apple buds. This is in part because they take a completely different design approach. These seal off the outside world with soft silicone ear tips, and provide a more controlled micro-listening environment for your eardrums. The result, you get immersed in the sound, feel the richer bass, and get to revel in the tight detail and subtly in the musical presentation without distraction from local ambient noise.
Even more important, they use a dual driver design, so that different frequencies are handled by specialty micro-speakers, each designed to deliver the best sound possible, no compromise sound in their designated frequency range. Just as in a good speaker, where the tweeter handles the upper registry, and the woofer plays the rest, the multiple drivers here reproduce the sound more accurately than if a single speaker tried to do everything.
This is, of course, great when you're home ensconced on the couch, but what about when you're crossing the street? Soundcore's solution is what they call transparent mode, available through a switch in the app. It pipes in a bit of sound from the outside world into the audio mix.
New to the Liberty 3 Pro is active noise cancellation, a welcome addition. While I think the overall sound quality is better than the Bose wireless earbuds I have tried, the noise cancellation is not as strong. I suppose the real test, for me, is how well airplane noise is filtered out, and given the pandemic I'm not likely to find out soon. However, in my non-airborne tests, what I noticed is that without active noise cancellation I would sometimes pickup ambient rumble when the earbuds were in and no music playing that was louder and more annoying than when I wasn't wearing them. Turning on noise cancellation got rid of that sound, but since this noise was an artifact I couldn't hear if the buds were not being worn, I'm not sure how to weight it as a feature.
HearID ANC in the app customizes your listening experience to the geometry of your ears and the limitations of your hearing. You run a simple series of tests and it locks in a listening profile that improves audio accuracy.
I would characterize the balance of the sound as incredibly detailed and tight, skewing somewhat toward a brighter palate. It isn't that the bass is weak, but that it is not overwhelming the music with the artificial thumpiness from which some earbuds suffer. A perfect example of this was listening to Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor played by Benjamin Alard on his recent release, J.S. Bach:The Complete works for Keyboard, Vol. 5. The organ was resplendent, the low pedal notes convincing, but not at the expense and detail of the mid and upper pipes.
The new version comes in multiple colors, including a basic black and (Apple) white, purple, silver, and grey. This, plus the fact that the size has been considerably reduced, and you have a more fashion friendly, less nerdy look. Each bud has a touch-panel on its side which can be used to control the volume, answer the phone, or skip tracks. These replace the buttons of the old model and are much easier to use.
Saving battery life, the Soundcore Liberty 3 Pros have sensors that turn them off while not in your ear. Have them out and want to answer a call? Just pick one up, put it in your ear and it will automatically power up and answer the phone.
You can also pair the headphones to two devices at the same time. For instance, I can connect them to my computer and iPhone simultaneously and not have to worry about switching back and forth.
The earbuds come in a charging case (with LEDs that indicate how much power you have). The batteries in the case can be charged by a USB-c cable (supplied) or using an optional magnetic docking station. I was able to get six hours out of the buds, but if you need more, the case stores a day's worth of extra juice. I really never ran out of power.
Setting up the earbuds is relatively easy: download the app, upgrade the firmware, take the hearing tests to optimize the performance, and you're almost ready to go. As with almost all wireless earbuds, you can swap the eartips and wings for a more comfortable and secure fit. A few things, minor dings, struck me about this process. First, the written instructions use a nearly microscopic font, and as tiny as the English is, the eleven other languages shown on the same page are even smaller. I found it difficult from the illustration to figure out exactly how the wings (used to hold the earbud in place when you move) were to be positioned. Fortunately, I was able to refer to the one I hadn't yet altered to see how it was supposed to fit, because the picture would not have been sufficient.
Turning them on is as simple as opening the case and putting them in your ears. You don't have to scramble to find tiny buttons - just wear them. It worked flawlessly for me, much better than the previous model. The earbuds are IPX4, so water resistant enough for most workouts, but probably not something you'd take into a hot tub.
I found them comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. In fact, I like falling asleep to music at night, so would wear them to bed. Unlike bulky headphones, I could wear them while lying down in almost any position, and the wings kept them snugly in place.
Simply put, the Anker Soundcore Liberty 3 Pros are great, musical devices capable of providing excellent sound at a more than fair price relative to the competition. I think they will take up the mantel as my go-to earbuds for the foreseeable future.