If you can't afford Apple's AirPods Pro 2 or are an Android user, the $150 Soundcore Liberty 4 may be an excellent alternative.

Anker doesn’t exactly make make high-end earbuds, but its Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro ($170) headphones are positioned to be premium true-wireless earbuds that don’t cost as much other premium earbuds. Now Anker is moving away from the bulkier design of those buds and releasing the new Liberty 4 with an AirPods-like pipe design and a built-in heart-rate sensor. They’re due to ship in October in black or white for $150 and have a strong feature set, including a spatial audio mode with head tracking, multipoint Bluetooth pairing, up to 9 hours of battery life, wireless charging and support for Sony’s LDAC audio codec that can offer sound improvements if you have the right set up.

I’ve been playing around with an early review unit of the Soundcore Liberty 4 buds for a couple of days and have been generally impressed, though I couldn’t get LDAC streaming to work on a couple of Android smartphones that support LDAC so I can’t say I got the optimal listening experience. Also, the Soundcore app I was using was in beta.

While their sound isn’t quite up to the level of higher-end buds like Apple’s AirPods Pro 2 and the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 that cost $250 or $100 more (they just lack a bit a of overall clarity, accuracy and bass definition), but most people people will think they sound quite good — they play plenty loud and strong bass — and you can tweak their sound profile in the app or create a personal HearID Sound profile but running a test in the app (it’s also for noise canceling).   

The Soundcore Liberty 4 light up in their case, which features wireless charging. David Carnoy/CNET

The adaptive noise canceling is solid — again, a step below what AirPods Pro 2 offer but not that far behind and it did a good job muffling sound when I rode the New York City subway. I’m still testing the spatial audio feature but my initial impressions are that it falls short of Apple’s Spatial Audio (the effect doesn’t feel as pronounced). There are two spatial audio modes: one for movies, the other for music. And you can choose between fixed and head-tracking like you can with an AirPods that support Spatial Audio.

The Liberty 4 have a form of pinch controls like AirPods Pro. They seem to work fairly well in my limited testing and you can customize them. That said, I do think the AirPods Pro 2’s pinch controls with their new swipe gesture for volume adjustment are superior.

I did a few voice calls and callers said I sounded pretty good although there was more background noise than what they heard with the AirPods Pro 2.

As for the heart-rate monitor, I only did some limited testing, jogging around the block a couple of times. There’s a bit of delay (it takes a few seconds for the app to register your heart rate is indeed rising or falling), but some people may find it a useful feature and the new Soundcore app will track your activity.    

I’ll have a full review before they ship but my quick take is that these seem like a fairly blatant and successful attempt at making a more affordable version of the AirPods Pro 2. They’re not as good as the AirPods Pro 2, falling just a tad short in almost every area except battery life and the health features. But they’re still very likable earbuds that are a legitimate upgrade over the Liberty Pro 3 buds. And if they see some discounts that put them more in the $120-$130 range, they’ll be a very good value this holiday season.

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