Soundcore by Anker Liberty 4 Earbuds – More Functionality Means More Better?
I’ve reviewed quite a few Soundcore products over the last couple of years. I’ve universally been impressed. The Soundcore Liberty 4 earbuds are the most advanced wireless earphones they’ve ever released. They are absolutely packed with features. Interested in spatial audio? The Liberty 4 can do that. Hi-res audio? They’ve got that too. Wellness tracking and exercise tracking? That’s onboard as well. Sound like too much stuff for you? Maybe. But the real question is how they sound. Let’s take a closer look!
Soundcore Liberty 4 Earbuds Unboxing and Overview
There is a lot to talk about with the Soundcore Liberty 4 earbuds. If you are looking for the world’s smallest earbuds, these ain’t it. After testing and loving the Space A40s, these feel positively huge. The case is even much larger. When you start delving into the Liberty 4’s, the reason becomes clear. There is a lot of technology incorporated into these earbuds. That tech requires space.
Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way. Soundcore has included new, clear eartips. These eartips sport a dual-flex technology and are some of the most comfortable I’ve ever worn. The fact that they are clear, however, was not an aesthetic choice. The eartips need to be clear for some of the wellness tracking features. This means the Liberty 4s are not compatible with other, non-clear eartips. With four sizes available, you’re unlikely to having a problem finding a set that fits.
The larger case and larger earbuds means a larger battery. The Liberty 4 earbuds promise 9 hours of playtime on the headphones and 21 additional hours in the case. The case can be charged inductively or via USB-C cable. These earbuds seemed to never need to be charged in my testing. They lived in the case in my car for a month and the case still had three out of four bars. That’s nuts.
Wellness and Health Functions
The Soundcore Liberty 4 earbuds have a wealth of features that you might not expect. Wellness features will track your exercise, heart rate, stress levels, and even posture (as defined by neck strain). The reason for the clear eartips is in the heart rate monitoring. The Liberty 4s use an optical sensor to detect the flow of blood in the subcutaneous blood vessels through an optical sensor. This is done on the right earbud only.
While I didn’t use the Liberty 4 earbuds while exercising (cycling and rock climbing don’t lend themselves to earbuds), I did enable the wellness features. When I was testing them, I accidentally knocked over a cup of coffee. You could clearly see the spike in my stress levels on the graph. While the Liberty 4s aren’t meant to be diagnostic, they are useful for those that want a general idea of their wellness while using the earbuds.
Spatial Audio and Sound Functions
As with all Soundcore products, the Liberty 4 earbuds are compatible with their app. They have a slew of listening DSP presets plus a manual EQ. The presets are convenient to change the overall sound and Soundcore has included a handy graph to show you what that preset is doing to the signal. The manual EQ is nice as it allows you to ensure you are getting no EQ (how I normally listen) or to customize the sound to your exact preferences.
More importantly is the spatial audio feature. Spatial audio is all the rage these days. Spatial audio uses gyroscopes in the headphones so that the audio can be anchored in one spot. Think of watching something on TV with a normal speaker system. If you turn your head to the side to talk to someone, the sound doesn’t move with your head. Spatial audio recreates this effect.
The Soundcore Liberty 4 earbuds can be set to either fix the spatial audio in front of you (so that that content sounds more surround but the source of the content is always directly in front of you). The second setting is so that the source is always in a fixed point (like the TV example above). The spatial audio in the fixed configuration spread the music around you and added a bit of reverb. The head tracking was convincing and impressive. The spatial audio added no noticeable lag.
Transparency and Noise Canceling
Transparency modes and noise canceling were fine with the Liberty 4s. There seems to be a growing idea that there is “the best” transparency or noise canceling out there. In my experience, some are better than others but, overall, they all are about the same. With the Liberty 4s, I found that the transparency mode was loud enough that I could still hear people talk to me over mid-volume music. Does that make it better or worse? You decide.
The Soundcore Liberty 4 earbuds eschew the tap controls of nearly every other earbud I’ve reviewed recently for the “squeeze” made popular by Apple. If you are an Apple Airpod user and want a familiar control scheme, the Liberty 4 might just be for you. Personally, I found the squeeze commands to be much more accurate than the tap controls I’ve used in the past. I’m sure not everyone will agree with me.
As always with Soundcore, you can customize your controls. The Liberty 4s can accept single, double, and triple squeeze commands. The right and left earbuds can be customized individually. You can even customize how hard you have to squeeze for the command to be recognized. There is a soft click when a command is accepted. I found that click to be audible with every volume I used. That said, I rarely blasted my music (I’m old enough to care about my hearing). Your mileage may vary.
As always, I used the Liberty 4s with the manual EQ in the flat configuration. When playing sweeps, the Liberty 4s kicked in around 35Hz and stayed relatively flat throughout the frequency range. Around 8kHz they started to break up and distort a bit. With music, I found the bass response of the Liberty 4s to be quite impressive. With any amount of DSP (automatically added when enabled spatial audio), that bass became authoritative.
The downside of the Liberty 4s was the top end. The treble with these earbuds was overly crisp and piercing. This was so pronounced that I ended up preferring, for the first time with any Soundcore product, a DSP mode. Any mode that rolled off the top end sounded better than flat. Many times, I landed on spatial audio in the fixed orientation. Yes, this added a bit of reverb and bass, but it rolled off the top end in a way that made these headphones much more palatable to me.
This begs the question: Do the Liberty 4 earbuds sound good? I’m tempted to say no. If you need to add EQ to a headphone to get it to sound good, then it isn’t a good headphone. The problem with adding a DSP, is that you are having to eliminate some sounds that the headphones can reproduce faithfully. Yes, they may sound better (and this roll off may even be your preference), but it is not accurate. For most people, this isn’t much of a consideration. Around here, it is. We want to hear all of the sounds. A headphone that has to be EQ’ed to cover up its deficiencies isn’t something we’d recommend.
The Soundcore Liberty 4 earbuds are the most technologically advanced headphones I’ve ever tested. They have just about every feature you can think of (and some you wouldn’t). The one downside is that the treble quality was not great. Since you can adjust the EQ to compensate, maybe that won’t deter you from buying them. With a long battery life, convincing spatial audio, low lag, wellness features, and much more, there is a lot to like with the Liberty 4 earphones. At $150 retail (and often on sale), the price is certainly impressive.
If you are looking for a headphone that has tons of functionality AND the ability to be EQ’ed to your preference, then the Liberty 4 earbuds are a fine choice. All those DSPs may be a crutch, but they work. So, what is more important to you? The features or being able to run the earphones with no EQ? That’s the question you have to answer when considering the Soundcore Liberty 4 headphones.