The Anker Soundcore Life A2 NC comes during a hot streak for its maker. Anker has launched several pairs of true wireless earbuds recently, including the flagship Liberty Air 2 Pro, and with the Life A2 NC it's taking on active noise cancellation (ANC) at an even lower price.
Battery life (rated): 7 hours with ANC, 35 hours (with charging case)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
Processor: Not stated
Size: 0.6 x 1.3 x 1 inches (per bud); 2.2 x 2.2 x 1.1 inches (charging case)
Weight: 0.2 ounces (per bud); 1.4 ounces (charging case)
The reason why you haven’t heard much about it is because Anker has treated the $79 Life A2 NC like a stealth release. Well, it showed up on our radar, and we got a chance to test these budget buds to determine whether they’re worthy of inclusion in our best cheap wireless earbuds and best noise-cancelling headphones lists. And after completing our Anker Soundcore Life A2 NC review, we have an answer: No.
The Life A2 NC manages to blend monstrous bass and stable connectivity into a sleek design, while granting access to some features via the Soundcore app that you won’t find on other wireless earbuds under $100. Unfortunately, this pair of buds does not have the noise-neutralizing capabilities of its more expensive cousin, nor that of quality models in their price class. Other issues like mediocre battery life and unreliable controls don’t help its case either.
Anker Soundcore Life A2 NC review: Price and availability
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By comparison, this is far more affordable than the $250 AirPods Pro and sub-luxury models like the $199 Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro. It’s also $50 less than the Liberty Air 2 Pro, which is currently listed at $129.
Anker Soundcore Life A2 NC review: Design and comfort
Design-wise, the Life A2 NC is a scaled-down version of the Liberty 2 Pro (opens in new tab), from the shape to the size of the touch panels. The black/dark silver colorway and matte finish stay on theme with Anker’s previous releases and gives these cheap buds a surprisingly luxe appearance. IPX5 protection provides sweat and water resistance as well.
As chic as the buds themselves look, I wouldn’t say the same for the charging case. Many will find its compact and lightweight feel convenient for commuting. The pebble-shaped design is also distinctive. Positives aside, I’m not sold on the craftsmanship, which as the price suggests, isn’t of the highest quality.
The plastic build is a scuff-and-scratch magnet, and the lid is very flimsy. Another issue is the protective flap that covers the USB-C port: it's poorly designed and will always get in the way when trying to connect the charging cable.
Anker bundled the Life A2 NC with a variety of ear tips and fins for optimal fit, which it achieves at the highest level. The tips create a tight seal that keeps the buds stabilized on the ear when moving around, while the fins rest snugly on the concha, not applying unwanted pressure to the ear. I also like how the angled sound port smoothly inserted into my ear canal.
Even at 0.4 ounces, the Life A2 NC feels lighter than most ANC true wireless models with similar shapes. The Sony WF-1000XM3 (0.3 ounces) and Liberty 2 Pro (0.3 ounces) come to mind. I wore the buds for several hours throughout the day, usually 2 hours straight before fatigue set in.
Anker Soundcore Life A2 NC review: Touch controls and digital assistant
The Life A2 NC comes with touch controls, though they only work half the time and are limited to double-tap and hold gestures. You will spend some time figuring out what commands you want to assign to each bud. On-ear detection is missing too, meaning you won’t be able to automatically pause music when taking off the buds. At least you get a full set of controls to select from, including playback, call management, voice assistant, listening modes, and volume.
If only the touch panels responded accurately; I had to repeat double-taps a few times before they registered intended commands. The hold gesture worked better, but suffered from lag, taking 1-2 seconds to either cycle through the listening modes or enable the digital assistant.
Speaking of which, Siri and Google Assistant are accessible on the Life A2 NC and operate fairly well. Anker’s mic array does a standout job with speech recognition, grabbing every word for both Apple and Google’s AI bots to fully comprehend. Aside from the activation delay, my verbal inquiries were met with speedy results. But be wary when enabling the feature, as the beep noise that signals you to speak is uncomfortably loud, no matter the set volume.
Anker Soundcore Life A2 NC review: Active noise cancellation
Knowing how well ANC performed on the Liberty Air 2 Pro, I figured the Life A2 NC had some potential of being decent. Simply put, I was underwhelmed by its noise neutralization, which contrary to what Anker claims, does not “eliminate up to 90% of noise from your environment.” It’s more like 50%, with a majority of external sounds creeping their way onto the soundstage.
There are three different ANC modes to choose from: Transport, Indoor, and Outdoor. Each of these are engineered to deal with ambient noise at different levels, but none leave a lasting impression. In fact, I thought the modes were improperly assigned, as the description on one applied best to another. Transport was the most serviceable, and though it didn’t do the best job of muting low-end frequencies, it worked better than Outdoors to quiet city noises. Outdoors did the job of Indoors, but it wasn’t effective because I could still hear my family talking in low voices around my newborn. Indoors was useless.
Ambient Sound didn’t impress either, as its two modes (Fully Transparent, Vocal) performed similarly, and neither well. Listening to music at mid-level volume, I could barely hear my wife calling out for assistance, nor could I communicate with her face-to-face without having to pause playback. I’m not sure why the mics could recognize my vocals so well, yet struggle to pick up external noises.
Anker Soundcore Life A2 NC review: Audio quality
The Life A2 NC is not the most sonically balanced model in Anker’s current true wireless lineup. However, its low end will outperform most of the competition in the under-$100 category. Don’t expect stellar mid- and high-ranges out of these buds, but you can personalize audio to your liking by toying around with the different EQs in the companion app (more on that in the next section).
Anker’s 11mm bio-composite driver ramps up the bass levels to deliver boom-filled sonics that are most enjoyable with contemporary music genres. Bangers like NaS’ “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” knocked ridiculously hard with the hammering drums and pounding synths leading the way; head-nodding mode was initiated right from the start of the track. Clarity did take a hit, as the rapper’s vocals weren’t as crisp as I would have liked, but I could hear every verse well enough to recite along. The Liberty Air 2 Pro not only clears up his raspy rhymes, but reproduces signature elements like the “Human Nature” string sample much better so that you can actually hear it.
I experienced much of the same when rocking out to Green Day’s “Revolution Radio.” The screeching guitar riffs and clashing hi-hats were surprisingly clear and dominated the soundscape. At the same time, Billy Joe Armstrong’s vocals, which already had an angsty distorted effect to them, were veiled behind the instruments.
Reproduction took a nose dive on melodic tunes like Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” The tune was practically inaudible. I noticed the soundstage overemphasized background static more than Holiday’s soulful singing. There was also some hissing that occurred when listening to certain records; Method Man & Redman’s “A-YO” was a prime example.
Anker Soundcore Life A2 NC review: App and special features
This is one of the few cheap Anker models to support the Soundcore app. You won’t gain access to all of the features found on some of the brand’s premium offerings, but there are still some that enhance the user experience.
Let’s start with the EQ, which has a customizable setting to create your own audio profile, along with 22 presets engineered for specific content and music genres. The majority of these are worth checking out, especially since the default EQ (Soundcore Signature) is sonically off on these buds. Bass Booster and Hip-Hop come in handy for hip-hop records, and I recommend using Spoken Word or Podcast for commentary clips or movies.
There are toggles for Ambient Sound and control customization, along with battery level indicators for each earbud. Hitting the ellipsis on the top right reveals a handful of extras, including firmware updates, a toggle for Touch Tone, and an Auto Power Off setting to put the buds in sleep mode when inactive. The LÜM music service is available on the home screen as well, if you’re someone who loves discovering independent artists and music.
There are two other major features missing on the Life A2 NC: HearID and Tip Fit Test. It’s typical for Anker to reserve HearID for their more expensive earbuds, but I’m not sure why Tip Fit Test isn’t available, especially when the company went the extra mile to stock these buds with numerous pairs of ear tips in different sizes.
Something else completely missing from the app is Find My Buds. Hopefully, this is something Anker considers adding in a future update, if it doesn't add Google Find My Device (opens in new tab) support as an alternative.
Anker Soundcore Life A2 NC review: Battery life and charging case
Anker rates battery life at 7 hours, though the company doesn’t state whether this applies to having ANC on or off. A rep confirmed it was the latter. You get 4.5 hours when factoring in listening modes and high volume. This is fine for 3 days of moderate listening (1.5 hours daily). Still, to see any pair of buds, let alone noise-cancelling buds, share the same battery life as the AirPods Pro (also 4.5 hours) is always disappointing.
The charging case holds up to 35 hours when fully charged, equating to about six additional charges. It’s also higher than the AirPods Pro (24 hours) and the Liberty Air 2 Pro (26 hours). Bear in mind that the Life A2 NC’s case doesn’t support wireless charging, and has slightly weaker fast charging: a 10-minute charge gets you 1.5 hours of use, whereas the Liberty Air 2 Pro’s case gets you double that playtime on a 15-minute charge.
Anker Soundcore Life A2 NC review: Call quality and connectivity
The Life A2 NC is decent for phone calls and video conferencing. I was shocked by how loud and crisp my wife sounded. She thought my voice was fairly clear, but a little tinny at times. A few clients felt the same during Skype sessions. Using the buds outside didn’t do me any favors, as my friends complained about muffling and background noise overriding my voice. The mics also demonstrated poor wind resistance.
Connectivity is arguably the Life A2 NC’s strongest hallmark. The initial pairing process was a breeze and re-pairing to known devices was instantaneous. And if Bluetooth ever acts up, there's always a button at the bottom of the charging case to manually enable pairing mode.
Range is estimated at 35 feet, which allowed me to move freely around the left wing of the house minus any dropout. You can also use the left or right bud individually without worrying about connection issues. Multipoint technology is missing from the spec sheet, though.
Anker Soundcore Life A2 NC review: Verdict
As a standard pair of cheap wireless earbuds, the Anker Soundcore Life A2 NC just about gets the job done. Strong bass, along with several presets for sound customization and spot-on connectivity to reliably pair to devices on all platforms are what come with the purchase. That’s about it.
But does the Life A2 make for a great AirPods Pro alternative, or even a compelling pair of inexpensive ANC buds in general? That would be a hard no. Sure, the price makes these buds enticing, but for a tiny bit extra you can get better noise cancellation and longer battery life from the $99 JLab Epic Air Sport ANC.
And, if you can go without ANC, the the $59 Soundcore Life A1 seems to offer similar performance and it's own set of perks — including IPX7 waterproofing and wireless charging.
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