As Apple pushes new versions of its flagship earbuds, the AirPods, into higher and higher price ranges, it leaves a lot of room for competitors to undercut it on price. That’s exactly what Soundcore is doing with its new Liberty Air 2 true wireless earbuds. From the shape of the protruding microphone arms to the wireless charging case, the Liberty Air 2 earbuds look, sound, and feel a lot like the AirPods for a lot less money.
I don’t want to use a phrase like “you get what you pay for,” in relation to the Apple Airpods since I prefer some earbuds—like the Monoprice True Wireless Plus—that are even cheaper than the $99 Liberty Air 2. But, in a comparison strictly between the AirPods and the Liberty Air 2, the Air 2 do feel like less of a bargain. Soundcore tried to make the Air 2 stand out with some interesting features, like better microphones and a companion app with equalizers customized for your individual hearing profile. Unfortunately, these features all fell flat for me.
Making a good impression is a great start, and the Air 2 look extremely swanky. They have the sleek curves and smooth lines that I look for in a very sexy piece of tech. Plus, their matte black exterior helps to hide smudges from skin oils and fingerprints, so they always look more or less amazing. I also really want to call out the splashes of ruddy orange at the end of the arms and under the silicone ear tips. The Air 2 overall look really fancy, and I got stopped by several strangers in elevators and grocery stores to ask about them.
That smooth, seamless appearance comes at a price, though: there’s no physical button on these earbuds. A touch-sensitive button is hidden somewhere in or around the Soundcore logo—I’ve been experimenting, but I’m still not sure exactly where it is. Wherever it is, the way it recognizes touch inputs is seriously spotty. Sometimes, these earbuds completely ignore a direct, purposeful double-tap. Other times, the slightest accidental brush of a finger along the outside edge will skip a music track, ramp up the volume, or—most frustratingly—hang up a phone call. This isn’t usually the type of complaint that makes it into a tech review, but seriously: I’ve accidentally hung up on my girlfriend so many times in the past week that I owe her some flowers.
One of the features that I thought showed promise was the Soundcore companion app, which let me define my own touch controls. I had terrible luck getting the Liberty Air 2 to recognize a double-tap, so I was only too happy to change the input on pausing and skipping tracks to something else. Just holding my finger on my right earbud for two seconds takes longer than a double-tap, but it works often enough that I wasn’t annoyed by it.
I encountered a few problems with Bluetooth connectivity, too. Sometimes, custom controls I saved in the app…