“The Soundcore Liberty 4’s addition of a heart rate sensor makes an already great value even better.”
- Very good sound quality
- Tons of customizations
- Killer call quality
- Handy heart rate tracker
- No find my earbuds feature
- May not be secure enough for all workouts
On paper, it’s getting really hard to compare a product like the new $150 Soundcore Liberty 4 to earbuds like the $249 AirPods Pro and still declare Apple’s buds the winner. The same can be saido f Sony’s $280 WF-1000XM4 for that matter. Soundcore has put in nearly every feature you could ask for: noise cancellation, transparency, wireless charging, Bluetooth multipoint, a high-res Bluetooth codec (LDAC), good battery life, and a companion app with tons of personalization options.
And if that isn’t enough, these earbuds also have spatial audio with optional head-tracking, plus built-in sensors for monitoring your heart rate. And they’re still $100 less than Apple’s flagship buds, and $130 less than Sony’s.
All of this makes the Liberty 4 an unbeatable value from a pure features point of view, which means the only question left is this: How do they perform?
Taking inspiration from Apple
For the most part, the answer to that question is very well indeed. For the Liberty 4, Soundcore has kept what has worked in the past (like a compact, wirelessly charging case with a great sliding lid mechanism), but hasn’t been afraid to toss things that weren’t as successful, like its usual touch controls. Instead, it took a page from Apple’s playbook by going with force sensors on the stems of each earbud. You squeeze to click on the small, flat sections, just like on the AirPods Pro. It’s a gesture that’s not quite as fast to perform as a tap, but it’s way more accurate and comes with an audible click sound as confirmation that you did it right.
The Liberty series are among the most comfortable earbuds I’ve ever used.
The controls aren’t the only inspiration that Soundcore has taken from Apple: The buds themselves are much smaller than their predecessors, the Liberty Air 2 Pro, and are now almost the same size and shape as the AirPods Pro.
The Soundcore app continues to offer a huge number of personalization options, including the ability to assign any function you want to each of the six gestures (single, double, and triple-click on each earbud). The only thing missing is a long-squeeze gesture for a total of eight commands, but most people will be fine with picking six. A set of wear sensors lets you automatically pause your tunes when you remove earbuds and it works like a charm.
The combination of the ergonomic shape of the buds themselves and the choice of four size, but it also helps with keeping the earbuds in place. The app also helps with this if you need it, with a fit test that lets you know when you’ve got a good seal. They’re about as secure as the AirPods Pro for me, which means they’ll stay put for moderate activity. But you might want something more robust if you’re going to be pushing yourself. If you do like to work out (more on this in a moment), an improved IPX5 rating will protect the buds from water and sweat better than previous Liberty models.
Sound quality out of the box is very good. But if you don’t love it, Soundcore wins the prize for the most ways to tweak EQ. You can pick from a huge number of presets, you can use the eight-band equalizer to create and save your own custom mix, or you can take advantage of the HearID feature, which uses some clever algorithms to rebalance the sound based on your personal hearing profile.
I used HearID and it significantly improved both clarity and the depth of the soundstage. Overall, the Liberty 4 offer excellent detail through the mids and highs, and a bass response that is well-executed, but conservative to produce a sound signature that is very balanced. Bassheads might find themselves wishing for a bit more oomph, but I found the sound to be really pleasing, especially when you pair the Liberty 4 with an LDAC-capable phone and combine that with a source of 24-bit, lossless music like Apple Music or Amazon Music Unlimited. Not every set of earbuds benefit from the presence of LDAC, but I could hear the improved detail and dynamics when listening in a quiet setting, versus AAC on an iPhone.
Now, about that new spatial audio feature. Here’s the thing, it’s fun, but it’s still mostly a gimmick. Using a setting within the Soundcore app, you can give any audio you’re listening to the spatial treatment, which effectively widens and deepens the soundstage and then repositions some of the instruments to take advantage of that larger virtual stage.
If you enable head-tracking, some of those music elements (usually the vocals or lead guitar) stay put on that stage as you turn your head, enhancing the sense of “being there.”
Unlike Apple’s version, it works with any audio, not just Dolby Atmos or 5.1 surround sound. In fact, it doesn’t appear to know whether you’re listening to these formats or not — everything gets treated the same way. I prefer Apple’s version, but even then, there are only rare instances where I’d choose to use it. If you like it, great — like I said, it’s fun. But definitely do not buy the Liberty 4 just to use it.
The Liberty 4’s other new feature, heart rate monitoring, is arguably way more useful. The Soundcore app can be used to track any kind of activity you want by simply recording your heart rate over a period of time that you choose, or it can guide you through a few predefined walking and running workouts. You can decide if you want audio feedback during your tracked activity — something I turned off as I found the interruptions to my podcasts too long and not something I cared about, although I can see how it might be helpful.
If you spend a lot of time on calls, you’ll get great results using these earbuds.
Alternatively, you can simply choose to have the app monitor your stress levels when you’re not engaged in a workout. It’s all very well laid out in the wellness section of the app, and when I compared the results to those from my Apple Watch 5, the two devices were within 2 to 3 beats per minute of each other. Without a professional heartbeat monitor, I can’t say which is more accurate, but some studies have shown that the ear is a more reliable location than the wrist.
The only downside to the wellness portion of the Soundcore app is that the data isn’t shareable to other fitness apps like Apple Health, which limits what you can do with it.
ANC is just OK
Active noise cancellation (ANC) is a bit of a mixed bag. The Soundcore app uses a version of HearID to tune ANC for your specific ears, but it didn’t work any magic for me. Even at the maximum setting, it seemed to struggle to keep noise at bay. Don’t get me wrong, it still offers a noticeable and welcome relief from unwanted sounds, it’s just not as powerful as the best ANC buds you can buy. Transparency mode, on the other hand, works really well — no complaints there.
Multipoint works flawlessly, letting you switch between two connected devices seamlessly — just keep in mind that enabling the LDAC codec (whether you’re actively using it or not) disables multipoint. It’s also worth noting that if you’re listening to music on a computer and a call comes in on your phone, the connection won’t switch until you answer the call — the incoming call ring will not be audible.
And while we’re on the topic of calling, holy cow, these earbuds are impressive. In loud background conditions, like traffic or construction, the Liberty 4 effortlessly erased those sounds and kept my voice perfectly clear. In quiet settings, it sounds just as good as the built-in mic on my phone. For those who spend a lot of time on calls (both voice and/or video), this is an increasingly important feature, and you’ll get great results using these earbuds.
Bang for your buck
Soundcore says you’ll get nine hours of use from the batteries, with two full charges in the case, but that’s under optimal conditions at 50% volume, without using ANC, transparency, LDAC, spatial audio, or heart rate monitoring. So in the real world, it’s going to be substantially less, but still reasonable. For example, when using LDAC, and ANC, and with volume at 50%, I got about five hours per charge. Had I been using AAC instead (which is what I expect a majority of people will do), I’d have gotten about seven hours. And if you need a little extra juice, a fast charge of 15 minutes will buy you an extra three hours (again, under ideal conditions).
So are the Liberty 4 missing anything? Just one thing that I can think of: There’s no find my earbuds feature as you’ll get with Apple or Jabra. It would be handy, but is it a deal-breaker? Hardly.
It’s always been easy to recommend Soundcore’s wireless earbuds to folks who are looking for maximum bang for their buck, and the Liberty 4 makes it even easier. For $150, I can’t think of any earbuds that offer their unique combination of features. The excellent Jabra Elite 5, come close and are arguably better for people who need a more secure fit, but even the Elite 5 can’t match the Liberty 4’s sound quality or their handy heart rate monitor.