Some people want the best sound money can buy, and they’re willing to deal with tangled cables to achieve that goal. Others crave wireless convenience and are willing to give up a little sound quality to get there.
If you dream of AirPods-esque freedom but don’t have an AirPods-sized wallet, TaoTronics’ new SoundLiberty 53 earbuds are surprisingly good for only $40. (Update: $30 for Thanksgiving week if you use the code WINBH053 at checkout.)
Don’t get me wrong, the SoundLiberty 53 are not on the same level as AirPods for convenience and reliability, nor do they come close to high-end wired, in-ear monitors (or IEMs) in terms of sound quality. But they’re forty dollars (at least, with Amazon’s current $5 coupon), and they have no business being as good as they are for that low a price.
The SoundLiberty 53—which were lent to us by the manufacturer for review—come in an oblong battery case that can hold around five full charges for the earbuds. It’s a tad large—a bit too bulky to fit in my pants pocket without looking like I’m happy to see someone—but I’ve stashed it in my coat pocket without any trouble.
The ‘buds themselves are stick-style, like AirPods, but with a larger body and silicone tips on the end. They provide a great seal, blocking outside noise and providing solid bass thump, but if you’re the kind of person that finds silicone tips uncomfortable, you may not be able to wear them for long periods of time.
Most people, I expect, will find them just as comfortable as any other in-ear headphones. They also boast IPX7 water resistance, which is nice if you plan on sweating all over them during a workout. (I wouldn’t wear them in the pool, though.)
When you pull them out of the case, they automatically turn on and re-connect to the last device they were paired to. (Like many cheaper Bluetooth headphones, it can only pair to one device at a time, which is a bit of a hassle if you have a phone, tablet, and laptop that you want to switch between.) As this happens, a voice speaks “TWS connected” in each ear, and you can start playing music.
Sound quality is...well, it’s pretty good for $40 true wireless earbuds. Which is to say, a lot of the money you’re spending on the SoundLiberty 53 is going toward the circuitry that makes them work, rather than the actual sound. They don’t have the clarity in the mid-range or treble that you’d expect in a nicer pair of earbuds (like, say, my beloved Bose SoundSport Wireless), but they do a good job of bumping up the bass without drowning everything else out Beats-By-Dre style. In other words, the sound signature is fun, but with just a bit of muddiness that audiophiles may thumb their nose at. (But those audiophiles probably weren’t looking at these in the first place.)
The sides of the ‘buds allow for basic touch controls, like tapping once on the right ear to turn the volume up and tapping on the left to turn the volume down. You can tap twice to pause, or three times to skip tracks. This works well enough, though turning the volume up or down quickly is basically impossible (since it’ll register quick taps as a pause or skip). I found myself using my phone for controls more often than the earbuds, at least when my phone was within reach. You can also long-press to invoke Siri, though this didn’t seem to work for Google Assistant on my Android phone (bummer).
If you remove one earbud from your ear, your music will continue playing, though I did run into some skipping and stuttering when trying to put that earbud in my pocket temporarily. If you put it back in the battery case, though, the remaining earbud will enter single mode, allowing you to listen through only one ear reliably. Overall I didn’t have too many connection problems, except with devices that already had finicky Bluetooth to begin with (like my old ThinkPad Chromebook, which has slight troubles with other Bluetooth buds and barely worked at all with the TaoTronics).
TaoTronics advertises 5 hours of battery life on a single charge outside the case, which just about matches my experience. The case charges over microUSB, which is a bit disappointing in 2019 (I would have loved to see USB-C), but hardly surprising at this price point.
Keep in mind that, like most true wireless earbuds, these have a shelf life—once the lithium ion battery degrades after a few years, they’re pretty much done for, and you’ll have to recycle them responsibly (I haven’t cracked them open myself, but I don’t expect they’re easily repairable). To be fair, though, the same is true of AirPods—if you want something a bit more repairable, you’ll have to shell out a bit more for something like the Samsung Galaxy Buds, which use a standard coin-cell battery.
All told, the TaoTronics SoundLiberty 53 are just about the cheapest true wireless earbuds you can get and still be satisfied—which, if you’re on a strict budget, is pretty miraculous. Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Neo are currently the same price (again, with Amazon’s coupon), and have very similar specs—albeit without the touch controls, and in a stick-less form factor.
I enjoyed my time with the TaoTronics quite a bit, and regularly found myself marveling at what you get for the price. If you value the convenience of true wireless earbuds over all else and keep your expectations in check just a little—don’t expect an AirPods-level experience—these are pretty solid earbuds for on-the-go tunes.