I wouldn’t dare call myself an audio expert, but years of classical vocal lessons as well as having a grandfather who was a music professor, I can definitively say I know what sounds good. Headphones have evolved a bunch, and come in a breadth of price ranges. I thought it would be awesome to review three pairs ranging from $50-$170 for two reasons—It’s unfair to compare a $10 pair of headphones against a $300 pair of Beats, and I simply don’t have the time or organization skills to list the pros and cons properly for you all.
Just to keep it 100 with you, I tested three brands of headphones—Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air 2, Sony’s WF-1000XM3, and TaoTronics’ 79 headphones over a three-month period, where I’ve lazily listened to music, exercised, and answered Zoom call after Zoom call with each. The goal was to see how they connected over Bluetooth, how clear and dynamic the sound was, and how the clear the embedded microphone sounded to others.
Whew, with all that said, let’s get into it.
The cheapest of the three picks, the TaoTronics SoundLiberty 79s are probably the lowest lift in terms of setup. A testament to their ease of use, they didn’t even come with instructions in the box, because they didn’t need them. So yes, I had to connect them to my phone and laptop(s) without any guidance, it was wild. But once I did, I was happy with the overall sound. These headphones won’t give you the audio experience of the WF-1000XM3s, but it still has that bang-for-buck factor, especially when it comes to the treble. If you love R&B as I do, you’ll appreciate how precise Brandy’s runs are in her newest album.
While they excel when it comes to musical audio playback, they do lack the range of comfort. The earbuds themselves were a little big for my lobes, which sucked, so I wound up using them less often. The battery, just like the other three picks, lasts FOREVER. I’m talking about weeks at a time without charging the cases they come in. The case tells you how much power it has left by a three-light indicator on the front, which is cool.
The SoundLiberty 79s are also good for video calls and conferencing. They’re clear, crisp, and most importantly, you can hear what everyone’s saying. I mentioned it earlier, but because I didn’t really have instructions on how to properly connect the headphones to my devices, I had to rely on my millennial tech savvy, so it was a little rough pairing them to my work laptop. Working out with them was OK, but they did slip out while I was doing my last round of squats. All and all, they’re a great budget pick for folks who don’t need all the bells and whistles and just need something that works, overall.
Truly the mid-range of the mid-range picks, Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air 2 headphones are decent. They were the first pair I’ve tried, and overall I do like them. As with all modern earphones these days, they come in a charging case you can power up easily via USB cable. Since my office is on the couch these days, I opted for the side port on the side of my reclining sectional. I really don’t want to hear shit because it works just fine.
The packaging comes with three sizes of plastic ear tips so, if your ears are bigger or smaller than the ones attached out of the box, you can adjust the size. My ears are pretty small, so I swapped them out as soon as I saw the replacements. I will say the extra ear tips really sold me. Having medium-sized plastic in my ear for hours at a time is super uncomfortable—a major reason I always preferred AirPods. They’re made of hard plastic that fits perfectly and comfortably no matter what I’m doing.
Now to get to the part y’all really clicked in here for—the audio clarity.
There are so many things I can say to describe how the sound, but to keep it short, I’d rate them a solid 7 out of 10. When you first connect them to your phone, you are then navigated to install an Anker Soundcore app that actually tailors the sound to your taste. Super high-tech of them, I have to say. I prefer a bunch of bass and treble in my headphones, so I made a selection that did just that. When I was curating my weekly TGIF Playlists, the sound was crisp and clear and didn’t get too tinny when I turned the volume up on a certain Megan Thee Stallion song.
I also used these on the frequent video and conference calls I’ve had to attend since working from home, as well as Google Meet calls and FaceTime with my friends to keep in touch since we’re all still being socially distant. I’ve got compliments saying that the microphone was clear, and I was able to hear them just as well. It’s also convenient to note that the Soundcore Liberty 2's seamlessly connected to each of my laptops and computers, whereas I always have issues swapping devices with my AirPods. Lastly, working out with the Liberty Air 2s was FUN! I mean, working out isn’t fun, per se, but the Anker Liberty Soundcore 2's are the only pair in this review that didn’t fall out my tiny ears while jogging, so they get extra points.
Sony’s WF-1000XM3s are truly out of this world in every way. I was skeptical at first, solely because of their shape and not knowing if they’d fit inside my ears, but that wound up not being a problem. The headphones come in this space-like case with gold trim, so you’ll always be reminded of how much cash you dropped on a pair. My bougie-ass thought it was a good thing, but if you’re more lowkey I think you’ll still appreciate the overall aesthetic.
Connecting them to my phone was easy and painless, but the process of setting them up takes about 20 minutes and was a pain. I’m very impatient and like to tinker with gadgets myself, but Sony is serious about its audio interface so it makes you download an app and take a photo of both of your ears so they can mold the sound based on the shape of your lobes. Talk about bespoke.
All in all, the half-hour I spent really was worth it. The sound was so crisp. The mids were truly mid and the bass was banging. I could hear all the richness in Whitney Houston’s voice when I listened to “I Have Nothing” one time for the one time. The coolest thing about these though is you can control the ambient sound by tapping the left earphone once and activate noise-canceling with two taps. You can also pause and skip songs by tapping on the right headphone.
My co-worker said he loves to use these while running, but I really didn’t like them. One actually almost fell out my ear while I was trying to get a recovery jog in. I don’t know if I didn’t have them in my ear properly, or I was just working up a sweat in the summer heat, but that’s something to be aware of. In fact, none of these I liked while exercising—I almost always attached my AirPods to my older iPhone 8 Plus and went about my day.
The WF-1000XM3s also weren’t great with video calls or even fast phone calls. The microphone itself was clear, but I wasn’t able to hear anyone crisply when having them in my ear, even with the noise-canceling option on. That was pretty disappointing. Especially if you’re dropping this much on a pair of earbuds, you’d want all the bells and whistles. Still, Sony’s noise-canceling buds are an above-average choice for anyone who is seriously into their music and has bigger ears than I do.