ANC at a Tempting Price


Anker is a powerhouse of a brand with fingers in all kinds of pies, from portable chargers to cables and even audio products using its Soundcore moniker. The latest in the company’s entry-level offering is the Soundcore Life A2 NC, featuring 11mm drivers for powerful bass, 37 hours of battery life and, most notably, Active Noise Cancellation, a feature not often seen in sub £80/$80 true wireless earbuds.

The question is, has Anker bitten off more than it can chew, or has it delivered on its claims? After spending some time listening to tunes with the Life A2 NC buds, I can safely say it’s the latter.

Design and features

Wireless earbuds come in all shapes and sizes, from the toothbrush-esque AirPods to the bullet-shaped Cambridge Audio Melomania 1s, as manufacturers search for the best way to keep the buds securely in your ears.

Anker has gone down the route of the earwing, offering three sets of swappable earwings and five sets of eartips with the lightweight Life A2 NCs to help keep the buds securely in your ears – an aim that has largely been achieved without that ‘full ear’ feeling you tend to get from bulkier buds. That means they’re comfortable to wear over longer listening periods, and thanks to IPX5 water resistance, they’re perfect for listening to tunes or a podcast while you work out.

When the buds aren’t in use, they’re stored in a circular charging case. Made from plastic, it doesn’t have the ‘wow’ factor of some cases but it’ll get the job done, complete with a satisfying snap-shut lid and LED lighting to let give you a heads up on charging status and connectivity too. It can be a bit of a fiddly process getting the buds in and out of the case, but it’s not too much of a bugbear.  

Elsewhere, there’s a small button on the bottom of the case used to enable pairing mode to connect the buds to other devices, and there’s a USB-C port on the rear for charging.

Like most true wireless earbuds available in 2021, the Life A2 NC earbuds feature touch controls, allowing you to control music playback and toggle ANC on and off by default, with double-tap and tap-and-hold controls available, although there isn’t support for single-tap functionality. The controls are customisable via the Soundcore app for iOS and Android, providing quick access to, say, your virtual assistant with a double-tap.

You do have to tap harder than some touch-based alternatives, likely relying in part on a gyroscope to detect the taps, but it’s handy enough to quickly pause your music or answer a call. The touch controls are more important than some alternatives, however, due to the lack of auto-pause technology, meaning your music will continue to play if you remove an earbud.

When it comes to connectivity, you’ll find Bluetooth 5.0 with support for AAC and SMB codecs, although there is an omission in the form of the popular aptX format for Android users.

Performance

The Soundcore Life A2 NC buds sport 11mm bio-cellulose drivers with, according to Anker, great tensile strength, but what does that mean to the everyday user?

Simply put, the bass on offer from the Life A2 NCs is exquisite. It was a genuine shock hearing the powerful bass on offer from the in-ear buds, which usually struggle to generate enough oomph to have a meaningful impact on the listening experience. The bass is booming, immersive and punchy, so much so that I was genuinely excited to go and listen to some of my favourite bass-heavy tracks like Billie Eilish’s Bury a Friend, which the Life A2 NCs handle very well.

That’s not to say that the bass overpowers the mids and highs; vocals are still clear and the high end is pleasantly crisp. There’s not quite the same level of clarity on offer from high-end alternatives, but it’s nonetheless impressive audio performance for such a small, cheap pair of wireless earbuds.

If you’re a fan of Hip-Hop, Dubstep or anything else with a focus on bass, you’ll be very happy with the new Soundcore buds.

If you like a more balanced approach, the good news is that there are 22 presets to choose from via the Soundcore app, and for the more experienced, there’s also a custom EQ available to further personalise audio output to your taste.

Of course, audio quality is only half the story when it comes to the Life A2 NC wireless earbuds: there’s also Active Noise Cancellation on offer, and it’s pretty decent.

There’s a noticeable quietening of the environment when you first activate it, and there are three types of active noise cancellation available to target different frequencies in different environments, although like most buds, it’s mainly targeted at low- to mid-range tones. It’s still quite impressive when you consider the entry-level nature of the buds, however.

The generic Outdoor profile aims to block ambient noises in quieter outdoor environments while a dedicated Transport mode aims at cancelling low-end frequencies like the hum of a car engine and passing traffic, and an Indoor mode specifically targets mid-range frequencies like voices to quieten those busy indoor spaces – whenever they become a thing again, anyway.

All have some impact on overall sound leakage from exterior sources, the only real inconvenience is that you have to use the app to switch between them – there’s no way for the buds to analyse incoming sound and adjust the profile on-the-fly. But at an impressive price compared to most rivals which cost well over £100/$100, it’s certainly not a dealbreaker.

There’s also a transparency mode, making use of the six exterior microphones to essentially do the opposite of ANC – funnel in exterior sound – to make you more aware of your surroundings and allow you to have conversations without the need to remove the earbuds.

Those microphones are also great at picking up your voice during calls, with no complaints from the other end of the line during any of my FaceTime calls or meetings.

Battery life

The Life A2 NC buds excel in the battery department, lasting around 7 hours per charge as standard and 5 hours with ANC enabled in my experience, and the charging case houses an additional 30 hours of charge too. For reference, that’s almost double the offering of the similarly priced Huawei Freebuds 3i at a measly 2–3-hour playtime with ANC enabled and an additional 11 hours in the case.

In fact, the battery performance with ANC enabled is on a par with what’s on offer from the £249/$249 ANC-enabled AirPods Pro, and Anker’s option has an extra 6 hours in the case, outshining some of the most popular wireless earbuds out right now. 

That’s more than enough to get you through a few days of casual listening without having to charge the case, and even when it does come to topping up the case, it’ll only take around two hours to go from flat to full. There’s also fast-charge tech that’ll give the buds around an hour and a half’s charge from just 10 minutes in the case.  

Pricing

Despite the impressive ANC and competitive battery life on offer, Anker’s Soundcore Life A2 NC buds are entry-level buds that start at just £79.99/$79.99 from Amazon in the UK and Anker in the US.

That makes Anker’s buds £10 cheaper than the competing ANC-enabled Huawei Freebuds 3i with better battery life and, arguably, a better design too. It’s rare to get such a great-sounding set of buds at such a cheap price, making the Life A2 NC buds hard to beat in the sub-£100/$100 wireless earbud market.

For other budget options, take a look at the best cheap true wireless earbuds, and for the crème de la crème, we’ve got the best true wireless earbuds.

Verdict

If you’re looking for a cheap, yet capable, pair of wireless earbuds then the Anker Soundcore Life A2 NC buds tick pretty much every box. There’s powerful, present bass that doesn’t overpower vocals, ANC with three presets tailored to different environments and a well-designed companion app that allows you to change the EQ, touch controls and even the ANC mode on-the-fly. The battery life is almost double that of the competing Huawei Freebuds 3i, and is on a par with Apple’s premium AirPods Pro.

Frankly, you’ll struggle to find a pair of budget wireless earbuds with as well-rounded an offering as with the Life A2 NC buds.

Specs
Anker Soundcore Life A2 NC: Specs

Hybrid Active Noise Cancellation

Transparency mode

11mm drivers

Frequency: 20Hz – 20kHz

22 EQ presets & custom EQ

6-mic array for calls

IPX5 water resistance

7 hours of battery life, additional 30 in the case

10-minutes of charge provides 1.5 hours of use

USB-C port

Bluetooth 5.0

5x Eartips and 3x Earwings in the box

Soundcore companion app for iOS and Android

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