Whether you’re spending $20 or $200 on your next pair of earbuds, you want to know that money is being put to good use. Well, rest assured all $40 you throw at the Anker SoundCore Liberty Neo goes into an all-around great product. Yes, it’s inexpensive, but it isn’t cheap.
Editor’s note: this Anker SoundCore Liberty Neo review was updated on January 18, 2021, to include information about the best true wireless earbuds under $50, and expand the list of buying options.
Who should get the Anker SoundCore Liberty Neo?
- Average consumers on a tight budget will appreciate Anker’s cheap true wireless earbuds, because they afford all the necessities for an unbeatable $40 price.
- Athletes should consider these for their secure fit and IPX7 water-resistant rating. Not only can these earbuds withstand all the sweat you fling at them, but they can also be submerged for up to 30 minutes at a time. Unfortunately, you can’t swim with them since they lack onboard storage, but if your friends surprise-toss you into a pool, they’re safe.
Are the Anker SoundCore Liberty Neo easy to use?
Yes, these earbuds are very easy to use; you can control playback, adjust volume, access your virtual assistant, and answer or decline calls directly from the earbuds. Unlike the Anker SoundCore Life P2, which I had high hopes for, the buttons aren’t painful to operate. Since the housings protrude from the ear quite a bit, it’s easy to grab hold of the ‘bud while pressing the button to reduce pressure against the ear.
The earbuds are pretty bland as far as design goes, but they work and fit really well. You’re afforded a variety of ear tips and silicone sleeves, some of which are winged; to get the most out of the earbuds, make sure to find the proper combination of tips and sleeves. Doing so not only keeps the earbuds in place but also improves isolation and thus, improves sound quality.
The SoundCore branded charging case is equally uninspiring: the oblong housing is shiny and bland. It hosts a centered silicone flap protecting the microUSB input and opens with a slight creak. This isn’t ideal but, hey, it works. It’s relatively small size makes it easy to pocket or drop into a purse, unlike alternatives we’ve seen from Creative.
Are the Liberty Neo good for exercising?
We reached out to Anker because the specifications vary from the Anker and SoundCore websites regarding just water-resistance. The former cites an IPX5 rating, while the latter lists IPX7. We’ve been informed by Anker that the IPX7 rating is accurate.
Assuming these earbuds received the higher IPX7 rating, which means they can be completely submerged for 30 minutes at a time. This makes them virtually impervious to sweat; no matter how intense your HIIT workout is, these buds will endure. Since these grant such a secure fit, they’re a great choice for indoor exercise. Outdoor athletes should get something with ambient aware mode, or surrender to listening in mono mode, which is supported but only with the right earbud.
Should you get the Anker SoundCore app?
As of May 2020, no, because the SoundCore app only supports certain headset models, and the Anker SoundCore Liberty Neo is excluded from the list. Now, this headset may be supported in the future, in which case, the app will be worth downloading because it will presumably facilitate firmware updates. Until then, you don’t gain anything from downloading it.
Connection stability isn’t predictable
Yes and no. These Bluetooth 5.0 earphones stay well connected indoors, but whenever I took them outside connection stability became a real tossup. When inside my apartment, the headset stayed connected through a layer of drywall, but walking outdoors proved difficult. I kept my smartphone in my right pocket which the Anker SoundCore manual suggests for optimal connectivity. Even so, the left earbud’s connection hiccuped. Now, if you’re not one for listening to music while walking around, this is a non-issue, but outdoor athletes may want to look elsewhere.
Learn more: Why is true wireless connectivity so bad?
As is the norm for economical headsets, the Anker SoundCore Liberty Neo only supports AAC and SBC. Android users looking for reliable, high-quality Bluetooth codecs should turn their ears toward the company’s more premium Liberty Air 2 model. You’re unlikely to notice any difference in codec quality when out and about in a noisy environment, but if you crank the volume up, you may run into some compression artifacts that can make your music sound bad.
How do you pair the SoundCore Liberty Neo?
This follows the standard pairing procedure: open the charging case and remove both earbuds. Wait until the LED indicator on each earbud housing flashes white to indicate pairing mode; from there, open the Bluetooth menu on your desired device and select “Anker SoundCore Liberty Neo.” Bluetooth multipoint is not supported, so you can only connect to one device at a time. Switching devices requires you to manually disconnect from the current device and select the Liberty Neo headset from the secondary device’s Bluetooth menu.
How long does the battery last?
It took 4 hours, 48 minutes until the SoundCore Liberty Neo batteries were depleted, which falls short of the five-hour standalone battery life. The charging case supplies an additional 15 hours of battery, so the earbuds should carry you through a week of commuting before topping the case up via microUSB cable. Yes, you did in fact read “microUSB” correctly, but these are the cut corners that accompany cheap earbuds. You have to set aside 1.5 hours to fully charge the earbuds, and fast charging isn’t featured. Again, not great, but you pay for what you get.
How does the Anker SoundCore Liberty Neo sound?
The dynamic drivers boost bass notes, making them sound twice as loud as their counterparts in the mids and highs. While this isn’t something you’d use to monitor music in a studio, this type of response appeals to what most of us consumers are familiar with: exaggerated lows and slightly emphasized treble notes. Popular music genres like hip-hop and pop will sound okay, but flirting with other genres like classical or even country, and you’ll run into some auditory masking—when a loud sound makes it hard to perceive a relatively quiet one.
In the frequency response chart above, the dotted red line represents the platonic ideal. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world though—plus, most of us are trained to prefer an adjusted frequency response with some deviations from said dotted line. This is for any number of reasons, as it applies to cheap headsets, amplified bass can hide poor audio engineering or cheap drivers.
Isolation is excellent, a positive consequence of the stable fit and cogent seal created by the appropriate wing and ear tip combination. Low frequencies like washing machines and dryers are rendered half as loud, while conversations are tamped down as well.
Lows, mids, and highs
Sylvan Esso’s song Wolf opens with a synthesized beat and predictable finger snapping pattern underscoring Amelia Meath’s vocals. The lyrics “the modern wolf, he’s kinder,” are relayed clearly during these first 10 seconds before deeper notes enter the song. You can hear Meath’s uneven breath at the end of the word “kinder,” which is impressive from this kind of earphone.
Related: How to read charts
Auditory masking comes into play during repeated “Ohs” that act as interludes throughout the ballad. Skip ahead to 1:05 to hear this: you should be able to hear the same breathy sounds resonating from her concentric “Ohs,” but can’t because the low-frequency kick drum and synth beats make it hard to perceive. Generally, the Anker SoundCore Liberty Neo sound much better than one would expect, but reproduction of nuanced details isn’t stellar.
Can I use the Anker SoundCore Liberty Neo for phone calls?
Absolutely. All things considered, the microphone is very good. The slight de-emphasis from 20-250Hz is probably intentional as a means of combating the proximity effect—when low frequencies are distorted as a speaker gets too close to the microphone. While my voice doesn’t sound completely accurate, speech intelligibility is there; this is the most important thing when considering a good headset microphone.
Anker SoundCore Liberty Neo microphone demo:
Anyone who fields calls in noisy environments, though, should look into either a dedicated conference call headset or just more premium earbuds. The mic system on the Anker SoundCore Liberty Neo is no match for blustery winds or nearby conversations. Everything was relayed to the person on the other line, which quickly became annoying.
Should you buy the Anker SoundCore Liberty Neo?
Yes, the Anker SoundCore Liberty Neo are a great pair of cheap true wireless earbuds. These earbuds are by no means perfect; outdoor connection stutters are universally annoying, but the compromises come with the affordable territory. Anyone looking to get the most out of spending the bare minimum will appreciate Anker’s pricing and its high-value offerings.
How does Liberty Neo compare to other true wireless earbuds?
The Anker SoundCore Liberty Neo is oddly priced at $40, making it a weird in between for people considering things like the Anker SoundCore Life P2 ($60), or JLab Go Air ($30).
Anker SoundCore Liberty Neo vs JLab GO Air
The JLab GO Air is $10 less than the Liberty Neo, which may not seem like a lot but that makes the Go Air 25% cheaper than Anker SoundCore headset. People who want just the bare essentials should get the JLab Go Air: they’re smaller and lighter than the Liberty Neo, are IP44 dust and water-resistant, and support quick charging. Both JLab and Anker SoundCore’s earbuds claim five hours of playtime on a single charge, but tested under identical conditions, the Liberty Neo outlasted the GO Air by nearly 45 minutes.
What are the benefits to spending an extra $10 for the Liberty Neo? Sound and mic quality are much better with the Liberty Neo than with the GO Air. Microphone quality, in particular, is night and day between the two headsets, so if your days are filled with phone calls, get the Liberty Neo instead.
Anker SoundCore Liberty Neo vs Anker SoundCore Life P2
These are very different headsets, despite being made by the same company. The Life P2 has a stemmed design and mimics the AirPods and its competitors. During testing, I enjoyed the P2 for how easy it was to insert and remove the buds from the case and the slew of premium features it supported for just $60: quick charging, aptX support, and IPX7 water-resistance.
One shortcoming I just couldn’t forgive, though, was how painful it was to operate the onboard controls. It truly pained my ear canals to skip tracks or pause my music. For that reason alone, I recommend saving $30 and getting the Liberty Neo instead, or shelling out a bit more for the Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2.