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Review: How Do Anker’s $99 Wireless EarBuds Stack Up to AirPods?

The fast pairing of AirPods is fantastic, but is it worth an extra $60?

You’ve probably heard of Anker. The company is known for its high-quality and ever-so-affordable tech accessories, such as portable power banks, wall adapters and charging wires. Anker makes its own well-reviewed audio products, too, which are mostly Bluetooth speakers and earphones, but the company recently started a separate “smart” audio brand: Zolo. The difference from Anker’s other audio devices is that Zolo aims make devices that are more compatible with smart home systems — aka they’ll work with Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana and Siri. The first products under the Zolo name are two truly wireless earbuds, the Zolo Liberty ($99) and Liberty+ ($150).

Both are similar in abilities and design and can work with your phone’s smart assistant. The higher-end Liberty+ earphones have slightly better drivers and can amplify ambient noises, in case you’re riding a bike and want to hear the cars coming up behind you. They also come with a more powerful charging case and Bluetooth 5.0 instead of the Liberty’s Bluetooth 4.2. The Liberty earphones are available now, while the Liberty+ won’t be available until 2018.

I tested Zolo’s less talented Liberty earphones for 72 hours, partially because final review units of the Liberty+ weren’t available, but mostly because the Liberty earphones are more interesting. At $60 less than AirPods ($159) and with roughly the same skill set (fast pairing being the exception), they could be a viable alternative to Apple’s best-in-category product. In the past few weeks, I’ve also reviewed several other wireless earbuds, including the Bose SoundSport Free and the B&O Beoplay E8 ($299) — so how does Anker’s first entry into the space of truly wireless earbuds stack up?

Buy Now: $100

The Good: At $100, the Zolo Liberty is the cheapest truly wireless earbud (by a brand I trust); other companies, like Syllable, whom I had never heard of, sell sub-$100 wireless earphones (here), but I haven’t tested them and would be hesitant to trust that they’d work well. The Zolo Liberty earbuds also, and a bit to my surprise, sound fantastic. The audio is really immersive and clear, which is thanks to its graphene drivers and snug, naturally noise-isolating fit. There’s no dealing with an app. Out of the box, these earphones have a number of tap controls to pause/play music and switch tracks. I could access Siri by double tapping the right earbud, too, ask it about the weather and soccer scores, and to call my brother. The built-in mic worked well for calls.

Who It’s For: Anybody looking for an affordable pair of truly wireless earbuds. It doesn’t matter if you own an iPhone or Android, these will work seamlessly with both.

Watch Out For: The charging case is large compared to the AirPods’ charging case, so much so that I won’t carry it in my pant pocket. (I also am notorious for not liking to carry things in my pockets — I prefer to toss things in my bag.) The earbuds themselves are so naturally noise-isolating that I could barely hear any ambient noises, which is good for audio but not great for safety.

Note: A fair number of early adopters have had issues with the left earbud cutting in and out more than usual. I haven’t had these issues, but I’ll update this post if I start to experience them.

Alternatives: The obvious alternative is Apple’s AirPods. They’re more expensive ($159), but are simply the best if you own an iPhone or iOS device. Google’s Pixel Buds are another, but early reviews haven’t been so encouraging. The Bose SoundSport Free and the B&O Beoplay E8 ($299) both sound terrific, with the Bose’s option being better for working out and the B&O being arguably better designed. Both are way more expensive, however.

Verdict: Are there any real advantages of truly wireless earphones over wireless neckbuds? Probably not. So you’re innately paying more for no wires and a charging case. But if you’re dead set on a pair of truly wireless earbuds that sound great and fit well (for most), the Zolo Liberty earphones are a really good deal.

Key Specs:
Drivers: 5.5mm graphene dynamic (2x)
Frequency Response: 20Hz~20kHz
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2
Water Resistance: IPX5
Battery Life: 3.5 hours (each earbud), 24 hours (with case)

Buy Now: $99

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