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Anker Soundcore Life A1
October 2, 2020
Original: $49 USD
8.2 x 3.7 x 3.3 cm
Ever been to a store and the salesperson tries to get you to buy a specific version of a product (a cologne, or a TV) because “most” people pick that one? Like others, I’m often suspicious of appeals to popularity. So when the Anker Soundcore Life A1 box boldly proclaims “incredible sound loved by 20 million+ people,” I raise an eyebrow. For under $50 USD something has to be missing, right?
At a glance though, the specs make me reconsider—maybe the Life A1 could be the perfect workout companion. We tested the A1 for a week to see how it performs.
Editor’s note: this review was updated on December 30, 2022, to add the JLab Epic Air Sport ANC to the list of alternatives, and to update formatting.
Bass heads will like having two bass-heavy EQ presets. People looking for workout earbuds will appreciate the IPX7 rating and stable connection. Anyone on a budget that doesn’t want to compromise much on features can toy around with all the Life A1 has to offer.
What’s it like to use the Anker Soundcore Life A1?
In the box, you’ll find five sizes of silicone ear tips, and three sizes for wings. The ear tips are nothing too special, while the ear wings do a good job of ensuring a snug fit. If you’re planning to work out with the A1, it’ll stay put with those wings.
With an IPX7 rating, the Soundcore Life A1 earbuds can endure whatever your regimen is, short of sitting at the bottom of a deep lake for hours (just remember to dry them before putting them in charging case). It’ll survive a run in the rain—that kind of workout. The all-plastic buds mix gloss and heavily textured black elements, except the metal covering the drivers, and the matte case is plastic too. On the side, the logo bears some resemblance to a certain Apple-owned property.
The lid of the A1 battery case feels flimsy, with a bit more flex than the sturdier A1 buds. Though the magnetic clasp provides some reassurance, one drop on the wrong floor and it’ll probably crack. Three LEDs show the charging status of the earphones, with one meaning it’s less than 30% charged, two for 30-70%, and three for 100% charged. On the back, Anker has placed a USB-C port. While the Life A1 doesn’t come with a wireless charging pad, the case will charge when you place it on top of a charging mat.
Tapping into the Anker Soundcore Life A1 controls
You’ll have to memorize the button presses on the Soundcore Life A1, because there are no apps or separate buttons. This is where the difference between a premium experience and a budget experience is most noticeable—Anker has included some higher-end features, but with concessions.
You probably won’t be able to tell most of the time which EQ preset you have on, unless you really listen for it. You press the button three times to change the EQ, and you’ll know it happened because the bud plays a little beep to indicate, but doesn’t name it (which would be annoying). So you have to guess which setting you’re on. The Bass Booster is the most obvious EQ because it’s bonkers, which makes it easier to identify the other two.
With a phone call, press either bud once to answer. Press once mid-call to answer a new call and put your current one on hold. Press and hold for one second to transfer between earbuds and phone device, or switch between your current call and another on hold.
Fortunately, the A1 supports mono listening in either earbud, which is great from an accessibility perspective. In mono mode, you can’t adjust volume with the earbuds, but press twice to play/pause or answer a call. Switch to mono from stereo by just replacing a bud in the case.
The manual for the A1 is surprisingly useful and descriptive if you need a refresher every now and then. Most manuals these days seem to follow Apple’s insistence that you should be able to figure things out on your own with exceedingly sparse instructions. Kudos to Anker for including illustrations and clear instructions on how to access features.
Does the Anker Soundcore Life A1 stay connected?
Traversing my entire apartment, behind multiple doors, and down the building hallway, the buds never once drop the Bluetooth 5.0 connection. For this experiment the device sits about nine meters or more away. The A1 is also pretty easy to initially pair—plucking the buds out of the case initiates pairing mode (the buds blink white). You can connect in mono by doing the same thing, but leaving one bud in the case. The rest is pretty much the same as any other true wireless earphone.
Our tests detected 260 milliseconds latency, which is too much for getting voices to stay in sync with video. Anecdotally, this headset is okay for YouTube on my Android phone, but it’s not good enough for daily use.
Using only AAC or SBC, you won’t be getting any low latency performance from the Life A1 unless you have an iPhone. Speaking of codecs, Android devices may gain more consistent performance with SBC, rather than AAC. For Android if you’re set on watching videos, you might need something with aptX or LDAC with less latency.
How’s the battery life of the Anker Soundcore Life A1?
For a complete charge, it takes two hours in the 770mAh capacity charging case. Anker promises a total 35 hours of playback before the case’s charge is exhausted. Our tests yielded 8 hours, 23 minutes of battery life on the A1 buds at a consistent output of 75dB(SPL). As far as results go, it’s above average. Remember part of the reason this is possible is due to the lack of battery drains like active noise canceling (ANC).
How well does the Anker Soundcore Life A1 block out sound?
Most earphones provide some amount of passive noise isolation, similar to how earplugs work. Passive noise isolation relies on a solid seal to block out external sounds. The Anker Soundcore Life A1 performs best when dampening high frequencies above 1kHz. It works progressively worse the pitch of a noise, which is normal for headphones without active noise cancellation (ANC). Having worse bass isolation means that the earphones are constantly competing for your ears’ attention with the outside world; this could be another reason Anker chose to exaggerate the bass frequency response as compensation.
How does the Anker Soundcore Life A1 sound?
In a word, these are “bassy” earphones. The Anker Soundcore Life A1 has three EQ presets that you can cycle through by tapping either earbud three times. Options include Soundcore Signature, Bass Booster, and Acoustic—the website also calls it Podcast mode, but to avoid confusion, let’s stick to what’s on the box.
The Life A1 pumps out some serious bass, which isn't always a good thing.
Soundcore Signature and Bass Booster are somewhat similar, though the latter rattles my ears more. Meanwhile, the Acoustic setting leads to a somewhat exaggerated treble frequency response.
Highs, mids, lows
The Acoustic EQ setting still has amplified bass, but also more treble emphasis. When I listen to the Kylie Minogue-influenced pop track Sweet Spot by Kim Petras on the Anker Soundcore Life A1, I notice how the amplified bass hides the midrange, even on the Acoustic setting. Incidentally, here the Acoustic setting is my preference, because I can better hear the rest of the song’s parts.
The Bass Booster and Soundcore Signature EQ presets work best with genres that lean into lower frequencies already. While the exaggerated bass in the A1 frequency response masks mids and highs in Angel Olsen’s slow, bassy, and pad-heavy cover of Gloria, it doesn’t feel like much is missing. Olsen’s voice still comes through clearly as intended.
Listening to Night Nurse by Dean & Britta, the Anker Soundcore Life A1 significantly masks both singers with the Soundcore Signature and Bass Booster settings. Switching to the Acoustic preset results in an unnatural emphasis to treble notes and sibilant sounds (think sss). With the A1 you might find yourself constantly tapping three times whenever the song changes, because each preset comes across as a compromise.
If you leave the buds on their default setting out of the box, you could download a third party app, like Wavelet. From there follow our guiding chart’s suggestion.
Hold up! Something’s different:
This review contains microphone demos using our old system. We have since purchased a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test fixture (and the appropriate support equipment) to update our testing and data collection. It will take a while to update our backlog of old test results, but we will update this review (and many others!).
We’ve made a big improvement to how we demonstrate the microphone performance of products we review. We now use a standardized test setup that plays back pre-recorded phrases from a calibrated artificial mouth in our test chamber, either with or without simulated background noises, simulated reverberant spaces, or artificial wind. This means that samples from every product can be directly compared, which makes it far easier to make meaningful comparisons between products in terms of the raw speech quality or the product’s ability to reject noise.
These new mic demos will be made obvious in each new sample which begins with the phrase, “This is a SoundGuys standardized microphone demonstration …”
Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.
How’s the mic on the Anker Soundcore Life A1?
Two onboard mics capture your voice with the A1. It supports mono calls as well, which is useful. As of August 19, 2022, 46% of voters describe the mic as “okay.” Lower and mid-frequency voices sound more or less accurate though with a noticeable decrease in sound quality, but in attempting to filter out noise, it can also cut out speech. Volume output from the A1 microphone seems rather quiet as well.
Anker Soundcore Life A1 microphone demo:
How does the microphone sound to you?
Should you buy the Anker Soundcore Life A1?
The Anker Soundcore Life A1 seems built to take on Beats at a value price, from the high IP rating to the bass-focused frequency response presets. Since rhythm and bass are often the foundation of workout music for motivation, and low frequencies are usually the first to get lost from external noises, it makes sense why the A1 is bassy. In a quiet room, the bass can be overwhelming, but the loud bass makes it easier to hear the beat of your music when you’re out in a busy street. No ANC and full mono listening support might also be a “pro” if you’re trying to stay alert on a run outdoors.
The mics sound just adequate, and the A1 provides pretty basic Bluetooth codecs. If these hitches don’t bother you, the Soundcore Life A1 could be a hit. At under $50, it’s hard to complain too much about what the A1 offers because it’s mostly good.
What should you get instead of the Anker Soundcore Life A1?
Let’s first look at the inexpensive alternatives, like the JLab GO Air POP for a mere $17 at Amazon. Somehow JLab manages to pack in a couple EQ presets, a surprisingly good frequency response, and an IPX4 rating against sweat. The downsides are that connection can be spotty, the mic is only okay, and the fit might be more difficult to hone without wings. At that price, however, you may as well try it and buy from a retailer with a good return policy in case it’s too spartan for your needs.
You can also check out the Skullcandy Dime 2 selling for $19.99 at Amazon. Its main benefits include a frequency response that follows our target curve well and the buds feel genuinely comfortable and light. For casual music, it does the job well. Like the JLab GO Air POP, you get an IPX4 rating and only AAC and SBC codecs. Areas where the budget friendly price shows include a short battery life and oddly stiff buttons.
Android users looking to watch their favorite YouTube content without latency ought to consider the aptX compatible, Jabra Elite 3. Jabra has redefined what you get for $79.99 at Amazon by including a solid app with EQ presets, an IP55 rating (dust and water resistance), and a slightly bassy default sound.
If you like the idea of earbuds for exercising, but wish to gain some noise canceling, the JLab Epic Air Sport ANC has an IP66 rating and very good ANC. Its over ear hook design ensures the buds stay put, while you can test the limits of its 15 hour battery life. Costing $89.98 at Amazon it’s a little more expensive than the Anker Soundcore Life A1, but both are good deals.
Frequently asked questions about the Anker Soundcore Life A1
For some people, admittedly, they prefer a bass heavy sound. The real downside of too much bass is that you can’t hear other frequencies as well. It’s like missing out on some aspects of your music. Our ideal curve still supplies a good dose of bass, plus you can hear the rest of the frequencies. Anyway, too much bass can lead folks to crank the volume while trying to hear everything else, and that’s not safe.
No, the Soundcore Life A1 does not ship with any companion app. This means what you get from the box is the finished product.