I use headphones like the average person: to take calls and block out distractions while working and to listen to music or audiobooks while exercising or out on backpacking trips. For ages, I relied on the same corded pair because they worked just fine. But a few years ago, after I started noticing wireless AirPods sticking out of the ears of most everyone I came across, I jumped on the bandwagon and bought a pair.
It didn’t take long to realize they were not ideal for me: Unless I wedge them in at a very specific angle, it is almost impossible to keep the buds in my ears while running or hiking (a complaint I am not the first to make). This fit issue means that even when I wear them for low-impact activities like working at my computer, the audio quality is never great and the AirPods, while not noise-canceling, do little to block ambient sounds. They (and their case) also lose a charge too quickly to be useful on multiday hikes through the backcountry, where battery power is at a premium and I need to save my external battery for my headlamp and phone.
Ahead of some mountain trips last summer, I decided to look for a better (for me) pair of headphones. After spending what I did on AirPods, though, I didn’t want to drop another hundred-plus bucks. So I did a little digging, searching for cheaper in-ear headphones, sorting the options I found by popularity, then by reviews. The model that rose to the top of the list, the Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo Wireless Earbuds, seemed as compact as AirPods, also came in a handy case, and had rubber tips — a design I was looking for because I thought it would make them grippier inside my ears. They also cost just $45. I figured that if they didn’t prove any better than my AirPods, I could at least leave those at home and take the cheaper alternatives on the trail without worrying too much if they broke or I left them behind. (I’m not promoting being careless, $45 is just a far less painful price for a replacement than the $160 you might spend on new AirPods.)
The earbuds come in a handful of colors: You can get white ones with a white case (shown), black ones with a black, blue, or red case, and gray ones with a gray-and-yellow case.
A year later, I am happy to report that I’ve not only yet to lose or break the headphones, but that they’ve outperformed my AirPods in almost every situation. The Anker earbuds come with three sizes of soft rubber EarTips as well as three sizes of rubber attachments called EarWings that slide over each bud to give it an even more custom fit. (I use the middle size in both.) Even on the bumpiest of runs or hikes, one has never fallen out. Because they fit better, the Anker earbuds do a better job of blocking out ambient sounds, even though they are not noise-canceling. The tight fit results in cleaner and crisper audio, too. Plus, like AirPods, these allow you to pause, rewind, or skip whatever you’re playing simply by touching an earbud, so I never have to pull out my phone when my music is on shuffle and a five-minute savasana plays in the middle of a run. Their battery life is also quite impressive. This past winter, I left the earbuds in my truck for a month. When I finally pulled them out, they (and their case) were still fully charged. More recently, I used them for several hours each day on a 23-day backpacking trip and only had to charge the earbuds once in that whole time. I actually can’t say how long a charge lasts because I’ve never managed to drain the earbuds entirely in the year that I’ve owned them.
As good as they are, I wouldn’t call the Anker earbuds perfect. They have no trouble pairing with my iPhone, but I’ve had issues using them for work calls. I’m able to hear the other person, but half the time they can’t hear me. This tracks with other reviews I’ve read, which say that disconnecting and reconnecting them to your phone’s Bluetooth often does the trick. I find that tedious so I just use my AirPods for calls. But for everything else, you’ll find the Anker earbuds stuck — firmly and securely — in my ears.
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