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Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 review: Very nearly flawless

Our Rating :
£139.99 from
Price when reviewed : 140
inc VAT

The Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 are exceptionally well rounded, with effective ANC, solid spatial audio and even a built-in heart-rate monitor

Pros

  • Powerful and articulate audio
  • Decent noise cancellation
  • Spatial audio support

Cons

  • Limited control options
  • Spatial audio rapidly drains battery

The Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 are the latest true wireless earbuds from a brand that regularly features on our best headphones roundups. We’ve been consistently impressed by Anker’s ability to deliver effective active noise cancellation on a budget, with the Soundcore Life Q30 and Life P3 – our picks for the best affordable ANC headphones and earbuds, respectively – being cases in point.

While their improvements to noise cancellation don’t match how much more they cost than the Life P3, the Soundcore Liberty 4 have more strings to their bow than just ANC. Strong audio performance, including support for a spatial audio mode, solid battery life and the unique, if somewhat superfluous, fitness-focused features make the Liberty 4 an impressively well-rounded offering.

Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 review: What do you get for the money?

The Liberty 4 have a list price of £140, which is £20 more expensive than the previous entry in the Liberty series, the 3 Pro. They justify this extra price in a number of ways, the first of which is an upgrade to Bluetooth 5.3. Codec support once again extends to SBC, AAC and the high-resolution LDAC, and Bluetooth multipoint returns, allowing you to connect the buds to two devices simultaneously.

The design of the Liberty 4 is a fairly radical departure from what we saw with the 3 Pro, dropping the drum shape and ear wings for short stems, closer to buds such as the Apple AirPods Pro 2. The charging case keeps the same sliding cover as the 3 Pro’s, which looks as slick as ever and makes opening it one-handed a breeze, and it’s also lightweight at 43.5g.

Controls are similar to the AirPods Pro, with pressure-sensitive panels near the tips of each stem that you squeeze to execute commands. By default, a single squeeze plays and pauses music, a double squeeze cycles through noise cancellation modes, and a triple squeeze skips tracks. There only being three commands for each bud does limit your options, but you can at least reprogram them in the Soundcore app. I dropped the playing/pausing in favour of track skipping, as the Liberty 4 offer wear detection to automatically pause music when a bud is removed and resume playback when the bud is returned to your ear.

The app is stacked with features, including an eight-band graphic equaliser, a toggle for the LDAC codec and the noise cancellation settings. ANC can be set manually to weak, medium or strong, or you can use the adaptive mode to have it adjust automatically based on the level of ambient sound around you. Transparency mode also comes in a couple of flavours, allowing you to select a vocal-enhancing setting that boosts vocal frequencies or an overall transparency that filters in all external sound equally.

Rounding out the app’s offerings are spatial audio and the “Soundcore Wellness” fitness suite. The former aims to position different elements of a track more precisely in the soundstage, creating a broader and more immersive sense of space. The latter, meanwhile, offers features such as a heart-rate monitor, an exercise tracker and roundups for your weekly activity and caloric intake.

Battery life comes in at around nine hours in-ear, with the charging case pushing the total up to 28 hours. Those figures fall to seven and 24 hours with ANC enabled, or five and 15 hours with spatial audio turned on. The Liberty 4 support both wireless and fast charging, with the latter providing up to three hours of listening from 15 minutes on charge.

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Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 review: What do we like about them?

While the Soundcore Liberty 4 offer plenty of extra bells and whistles, the most attractive thing about them is how terrific they sound for the money. Audio comes via a pair of dual dynamic drivers, with a woofer and tweeter in each bud working to produce an exceptionally detailed sonic profile. Two Steps from Hell’s track “Liberty Rising” is a great showcase of how well the buds articulate different frequencies, with each element of the complex composition finding space in the soundstage to shine.

Treble reproduction is light and bouncy, with Gene Pitney’s vocals in “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance” remaining crisp throughout and the frantic strings that enter the soundstage later in the track hitting their high pitches without distorting. On the other end of the spectrum, low-end reproduction is also impressive. The thrumming bass guitar and steadily pounding drums carried plenty of weight in the Levellers’ “The Liberty Song”, but avoided overwhelming the lower-mids.

The adaptive noise cancellation puts in a solid showing, recognising the growing drones of a plane’s engines and increasing efforts to block them out. The tricky higher pitches weren’t fully eradicated, but dampened enough to ensure I remained focused on my music, not what was going on around me. Transparency mode is decent overall, filtering outside noise in without it sounding overprocessed, though disappointingly the vocal mode didn’t boost voices any better than the standard mode.

Spatial audio has two settings, Music and Movie, but I found that Movie mode worked better for both, offering a broader soundstage than its counterpart. You can also toggle head-tracking on and off, which takes roughly five seconds to catch up with you when you turn your head. You’re not getting the same kind of pinpoint accuracy that you’d get from the likes of Sony’s WF-1000XM4 or the Apple AirPods Pro 2, but those are both pricier than the Liberty 4, and only support spatial audio via specific services.

As the Liberty 4’s spatial audio is universal, I booted up Netflix to test out the Movie mode and randomly selected the featured film Fall. This soon proved to be a horrendous mistake. Bolts sprung loose from the 2,000 foot-high tower as the protagonists climbed, tumbling nauseatingly down through the cavernous soundstage, while ravenous vultures thundered around my ears as they circled their soon-to-be prey. It wasn’t all effective – dialogue took on an unnatural and distracting echoey quality – but overall, the spatial audio made an already vertigo-inducing film even more immersive.

Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 review: What could be improved?

I was such a fan of the spatial audio Movie mode that I found myself using it most of the time, which had a detrimental effect on battery life. The 15 hours or so of use you’ll get with it engaged is well below what you can expect from most other earbuds, so you’ll find yourself needing to recharge the case more regularly than usual.

The Liberty 4 still sound great in standard mode, so it’s not the end of the world to switch back when battery life starts to run low, but a little more power efficiency to support one of the buds’ standout features wouldn’t go amiss.

As I noted in my 1MORE Aero review, I’d also appreciate the option to have one of the controls toggle the spatial audio on and off, to save having to dive into the app so frequently. The control scheme is missing a touch and hold function, so that would be a neat place for the spatial audio to slot in, and I would have liked to have seen Anker make volume adjustable by sliding a finger up or down either stem, too.

While the inclusion of a heart-rate monitor is an unusual one and will appeal to some people, it wasn’t something I found myself using very often. It works well enough – the results closely matched those reported by my Xiaomi Mi Band 7 – but isn’t as convenient as a smartwatch or dedicated fitness tracker. I’m interested to see what further fitness features Anker may look to integrate into future in-ear products but, for now at least, the Wellness suite is something I imagine most people won’t engage with all that often.

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Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 review: Should you buy them?

A couple of minor issues aside, the Liberty 4 are a roaring success, pairing excellent sound with a great range of features and customisation options. Spatial audio is closer to the 1MORE Aero than premium offerings from Sony and Apple in terms of its efficacy, but certainly adds enough immersion to films and breadth to songs to justify its inclusion.

While I wasn’t particularly taken by the heart-rate monitoring and wellness features, they’re something you won’t find on many other earbuds and will appeal to those who don’t own a dedicated device for tracking workouts. Even without them, the Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 would be an excellent package offering brilliant sound, useful features and decent battery life – as long as you don’t stick religiously to the spatial audio mode.

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