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 just $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.
Editor’s note: this review was updated on November 25, 2021, to include mic poll results, an updated frequency response chart, expand the list of buying options, and updated scoring.
Who is the Anker Soundcore Life A1 for?
- 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). 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 dropped the Bluetooth 5.0 connection. The device was left 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 will be blinking 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. Speaking of codecs, iPhone users will stick to AAC, while Android devices may gain more consistent performance with SBC.
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 cancelling (ANC).
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. Due to auditory masking, your perception of three-dimensional space is limited when listening with the Life A1—at least compared to more premium true wireless earphones.
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 masks the midrange, even on the Acoustic setting. Incidentally, 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.
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’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 November 25, 2021, 43.9% 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:
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 auditory masking, 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 only $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?
No matter how you cut it, nearly every alternative to the Anker Soundcore Life A1 will cost more money. If ANC and more EQ options are what you’re after on a budget, try its sibling, the Anker Liberty Air 2 Pro.
Since the A1 has a lot in common with Beats, try the (premium-priced) Powerbeats Pro for its long battery life and workout-friendly design. Alternatively, you might want the Android and Apple-friendly Beats Fit Pro which sports a similar winged design.