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These $99 Anker earbuds last longer than your AirPods


Pros

  • Well-priced, especially for wireless ANC earbuds
  • Great battery life with 10 hours of play time
  • Noise cancellation is effective
  • Impressive microphone quality

Cons

  • Not ideal for running or high-impact exercise
  • Touchpad can be under-sensitive
  • Build quality can feel cheap

Less noise, longer listening. That is Anker Soundcore’s promise with its newly released noise-canceling wireless earbuds. At only $99, the Space A40 earbuds are less expensive and boast longer battery life than market favorites from Apple, Sony, and the rest.

For the past week, I’ve put these wireless earbuds to the test. Since then, I haven’t had to charge them once, even after a series of office commutes, intensive workouts, and catch-up phone calls. Coming from the Apple AirPods Prothe improved endurance is astonishing. But how well do the earbuds fare in general? Let’s take a deep dive.

Specifications

Microphones

1 internal, 1 external

Connectivity

Bluetooth 5.2 with 10mm range

Battery life with ANC on

8 hours of runtime with 40-hour charging case at 60% volume

Battery life with ANC off

10 hours of runtime with 50-hour charging case at 60% volume

Colors

Black, White, and Navy Blue

Frequency range

20Hz

Water and sweat resistance

IPX4

Price

$99


Design and fit

First, let’s talk about the case that houses the Space A40 earbuds. It’s sleek and lightweight and easily fits into both my back pocket and my backpack’s front pocket. Opening like a clamshell, the headphones lie flat against the case and snap in magnetically — preventing them from easily falling out. Perhaps it’s the lightness or the plastic build, but the Soundcore’s case feels less bulky than the one for my AirPods.

The earbuds themselves, resembling pebbles, have an ergonomic fit so they don’t press as hard in your ears as they lie on the sides. As someone who struggles to find earbuds that are comfortable to wear for hours on end, I was just as impressed with the variety of ear tips and cushions that came with the Space A40. I opted for extra-small, which fit decently but could be smaller.

Hand holding earbuds in case

The case is lightweight and easily fits in even smaller shorts pockets without hitting against your leg.

Christina Darby/ZDNET

Now, here is where my qualms with these earbuds lie. First, I will admit that I have very small ears and usually struggle with side-angled earbuds that don’t have wings or hooks to keep them equipped. And, secondly, I sweat, especially when I work out.

On several occasions, I felt the Space A40 earbuds slipping out and I would frantically tap them back into my ears — which is a gesture control trigger that would end the phone call or suddenly pause my music. Fortunately, this only occurred while I was walking or exercising (more on this shortly). When I was seated, the earbuds sat nice and snug.

Running while wearing the Space A40 was no better. Between the sweat and the more intense movement, the earbuds were constantly falling out just 0.8 of a mile into my usual 3-mile run. I also found them constantly falling out while doing my usual HIIT workout, which includes burpees and push-ups.

My experience with more weight-oriented training was better though, as there’s not as much impact (or sweat) involved. If you, too, have small ears or a sweating issue, maybe reserve these earbuds for light cardio or smaller movements rather than for HIIT workouts and running.

Sound quality and noise cancellation

You may, like me, be a little skeptical and wondering if these $99 earbuds are truly as good as Soundcore makes them out to be. Well, Soundcore touts a noise cancellation level that can block out 98% sound, and I’m 99% sure its advertising is accurate.

While I can still hear the faint sounds of myself typing away at my keyboard at around a 25% volume level, I can’t hear the conversations taking place around me in the office. There’s only a slight difference in noise dampening compared with using the AirPods Pro, which is very impressive for earbuds that cost much less. The sound is not at all muffled and while the bass isn’t as powerful as I’d like, it is present and clear.

To activate the active noise cancellation (ANC) mode, you can press and hold either side of the earbuds for about 3 seconds and then release. There’s a “bloop” sound that confirms the feature activation and a whisper of soft white noise will fill the buds even if you don’t play any audio.

Soundcore earbuds and case

Christina Darby/ZDNet

As for the non-ANC sound, it stacks up closely with more expensive earbuds that I’ve tried before. And unlike other earbuds and headphones in its price range, the sound doesn’t project outward so much so that your desk neighbor also feels like they’re listening to your favorite song on repeat. From my personal testing (sorry, Sabrina), your desk neighbor can only hear your music if the volume is all the way up and you’re less than 5 feet away.

The earbuds also feature an automatic adaptive mode, so they will adapt according to your surroundings and turn ANC on and off accordingly. Living in Manhattan, I found this feature to be useful while walking to and from work as the earbuds muffled car honks, sirens, and city sidewalk chatter. If you want to be more aware of your surroundings, you can just press on either earbud for 3 to 5 seconds and the earbuds will switch to ambient mode. You can also manually switch by using the Soundcore app.

More: Anker 757 Powerhouse first look: Is this the perfect power station?

Playing features

With Bluetooth, setting the earbuds up is quite simple. Just make sure your phone (or other audio source) has Bluetooth on and is discoverable by checking your settings. Press the button on the back of the case for about 3 seconds and the earbuds will connect to your device.

Soundcore Bluetoooth connected

Christina Darby/ZDNET

Unlike the AirPods or AirPods Pro, the Soundcore Space A40 earbuds don’t make a sound to indicate the connection’s been made, so check your phone to see its “connected” Bluetooth indicator before you start blasting music.

To pause and play without having to touch your phone, double-tap the right earbud. I will say that there is a slight lag and the sound takes about 2 seconds to fully stop.

To skip, double-tap the left earbud. There is also a few seconds of lag before you can fully skip to the next song.

If you download the Soundcore appyou can also customize the controls. I personally did not customize the controls because they worked well enough for me already.

While there is a lag, the earbuds are sensitive — something I found out the hard way during phone calls. If you adjust the earbud in your ear while using them to talk on the phone, you could accidentally end the call, especially if you touch the right earbud for too long.

One thing I had to get used to with these earbuds was that, unlike AirPods, they do not have an automatic stop when one earbud falls out or you take just one out of your ear. To get the audio to completely stop, you either have to tap the right bud twice or hit pause on your device. Otherwise, the audio will keep playing whether they’re in your ears or not.

Microphone quality

Something that often gets neglected in reviews of earbuds is the microphone quality. As I use my earbuds a lot for hands-free phone calls, this was an important factor for me to test out. The results left me pleasantly surprised — the quality was impressive.

Usually, my mom complains that she can hear the sounds of NYC better than my voice when I call her on my walk home, but when I called her using the Space A40s, she commented — without knowing I had changed earbuds — that the city “sounded quieter” that day and my voice was much clearer. I felt that I could hear her better as well.

As I mentioned before, my only issue with using these earbuds for phone calls was accidentally double-tapping and hanging up too early when I merely wanted to adjust their position.

Soundcore earbuds in the case- lifestyle image

These are the Soundcore SpaceA40 earbuds in Black I tested out.

Christina Darby/ZDNet

Battery life and charging

I’ve been using these earbuds since last Thursday and have not charged them once since the initial charge. The case is still at full battery. With 50 hours of charge in the case, I have gotten every hour of runtime advertised.

The case also makes it so you don’t have to guess how much battery you have — you can tell by the three display lights at the bottom of the case upon opening. Three lights indicate 70% battery or more, two indicate 30% to 70%, and one indicates 5% to 30%. That lighting feature made it easy for me to see if I needed to pack a charger in my work bag or not.

Soundcore Space A40 charging case

At your convenience, the Space A40 can charge wirelessly.

Image: Anker Soundcore

To charge the earbuds themselves, simply place them back in the case after use, prop the case atop a wireless charger, or use the included USB-C cable to pump out 15W of power.

Roundup: Anker’s GANPrime power products: Safe, fast, sustainable charging

Bottom line

Despite the issues I encountered when wearing them running, I still think these are quality earbuds — especially given their price. Whether you use them as a backup for your AirPods, AirPods Pro, or Galaxy Buds 2 or as your primary headphones, you will get less sound for longer and at a lower price. They’re perfect for commuting, hands-free phone calls, and leisurely exercise — just maybe not intense cardio. So, if you’re looking for an “office-to-gym-or-trail” kind of earbud, these may not be your go-to. If you’re in the market for a solid pair of earbuds for your morning commute, I would highly recommend these.

Alternatives to consider

Similar in price, the $99 Google Pixel Buds A earbuds are just as competent as the Soundcore and are currently on sale for $69. The earbuds come in a small, easy-to-transport case, are sweat- and water-resistant, and support USB-C fast-charging. While they do have adaptive sound and transparency modes, the Pixel Buds do not have noise cancellation.

The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 support active noise-canceling and also feature ambient sound. With strong audio quality, tap controls to control volume and sound features, a reliable microphone, and an ergonomic fit, these earbuds look and function similarly to the Space A40s.

Sony’s LinkBuds S noise-canceling earbuds, which are on sale right now at Target for $149.99feature true wireless connectivity, a built-in microphone, and a sleek matte-treated case. These water-resistant earbuds have great bass quality and better sound performance. If you want to splurge a little more, then these may be your best bet.



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