(Pocket-lint) - The wireless headphones revolution is well and truly underway. And while everyone seems to wax lyrical about Apple AirPods, other makers are delivering far more in terms of sound quality and features. The Libratone Track Air+ is one such fine example: a true wireless in-ear set of headphones that come with active noise-cancellation (ANC) for a very fair price indeed.
Having sampled these wireless in-ears at the European launch event in Berlin back in July - where we said the ANC was smart and highly effective - we've since been using these affordable noise-cancelling buds while on our travels, including long-haul flights, in over-loud stadiums (that was a music-free ear-saver), and on public transport, to get a sense of how they function in real-world environments.
Here's why we think, irrelevant whether or not you know the Libratone brand, that these wireless in-ears could be the ultimate choice - whether you're looking for a pair to wear when being active or just a casual pair for commuting.
Design & Features
- Weight: 5.6g per earbud
- Available in black or white
- 6 hour battery life per charge
- IPX4 sweat- and splash-resistance
- Smart Wear detection, auto pause/play
- Customisable left/right double tap controls
- Charging case holds 3x charges (24hrs total)
The Track Air+ come in a little case, which each earbud clips into magnetically - and with ease, unlike some competitors - where they can recharge when not in use. The case is said to deliver three full charges on top of the up-to-six-hours of use from the buds themselves. It's not a super fancy case, but the magnets hold the buds firm and the small scale is very practical.
The buds will need to be in the case to pair through the Libratone app. We did so using an Android phone with relative ease via Bluetooth - just ensure you give the left permission to talk to the right, via the little confirmation tick box (which we failed to do first time, oops) and that then creates a solid connection over Bluetooth (here in its 5.0 iteration).
The signal is really strong. We've walked around 20 metres away from the phone source and it's had no impact, with no drop-outs, while walking around with phone in pocket has remained just as airtight when it comes to signal quality. That can change in environments where other signals are bouncing around, however, such as when we were in China at a stadium and the right ear in particular struggled to deliver a strong signal - but that's about the only time we've encountered such an issue here.
The 'Track' name isn't without purpose either: the Air+ offer IPX4 protection, which gives sweat- and splash-resistance, making these wireless in-ears ideal for, you guessed it, running on the track. Or, you know, around the park, down the road, or whatever other sweat-inducing activity you wish to perform. That's something very few other wireless in-ears offer - the Sony WF-1000XM3 lacks it, for example, yet still cost almost 40 per cent more.
Having now worn the Track Air+ for a fairly considerable period of time we don't think these in-ears are only for exercise sessions. Given each bud weighs just 5.6g and feels lightweight when fitted, yet reassuringly snug to ensure they won't fall out, it's exactly what many people will be looking for when, say, commuting.
In the box an additional three pairs of tips come included, in order to fit different ear types more accurately and deliver the best sound possible. The Libratone app will, in the future, also have a system which allows for an in-ear signal to give feedback to deduce whether you have the correct tips fitted - and then advise if it thinks a smaller set would make better sense. This isn't up and running just yet, but we think it's a great idea.
While the Libratone app or associated source - be that Google Play Music, Spotify, Tidal, or so on - offers on-device controls, the Air+ earbuds also include customisable double-tap controls. It's possible to pause/play, skip track, adjust ANC mode, or launch a voice assistant (Google Assistant and Alexa came up on our prompt on Android; Siri is also available for iPhone users). Better still, it's possible to assign different functions to left and right, which is really handy.
As we've said of some other earbuds, pressing a touch-control button and feeling the buds press into your ears isn't necessarily the most comfortable, but as the double-tap mechanism is activated fairly gently it's not uncomfortable, bar a little bassy resonance that you'll get from such contact. Indeed, we've found that 'baked-in' feeling a little strange during wear - when there are silent periods, for example, it's like you can hear every motion that your jaw makes.
Sound Quality & ANC
- Smart active noise-cancelling (ANC): Manual, Automatic, Ambient
- Fast charging: 5/7.5/40W recharge
- Qualcomm QCC5121 chipset
- Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity
- aptX high quality audio
Of course the main reason to buy any in-ear product is for the overall sound quality. While some of Libratone's lower-price headphones don't quite cut the mustard in this regard, the Track Air+ genuinely sound phenomenal for this price point. With the tight fit the isolation is strong, the bass kicks harder than we've been getting from recent over-ears cans without the mids or highs getting lost.
There are even sound profiles available in the app, should you wish to move out of neutral to either bass or treble enhancement. That's a great touch, although some more customisable equalisation could be useful. But in the sense of keeping things simple, it's easy to select between these three profiles without getting lost down a rabbit hole of overcomplexity.
The other area where the Air+ deliver in droves is with the active noise-cancelling technology. This is a rare feature on wireless in-ears, so it's not only a surprise to see it available on a pair at this price point, it's even more surprising just how able this technology performs.
ANC functions by using microphones to counter surrounding noise, which helps disguise surrounding and bothersome sounds. It's especially good for reducing hiss and hum - the kind of annoying sounds you'll hear on planes, trains and such like - which we've found to be spot-on for long-haul flights. That said, for the sake of comfort, we've been reverting to our over-ear Bose NC 700 headphones because, well, we find extensive wear of in-ears to be less comfortable for us.
The ANC comes in three modes: Manual, where you can set how strong the cancellation is (from 0 to 30); Smart, where the system sets the cancellation in real-time based on your active surroundings; and Ambient, which acts as a pass-through to hear a lot of what's around you - handy when out on an activity and ensuring you can hear enough (it actually enables you to hear more than if you leave the headphones in your ears switched off, which we did one time to cut out some poorly placed speakers in a stadium that were cutting our eardrums).
Why would you want a noise-cancelling system to set its own level? Well, if ANC is engaged to its maximum setting it can feel like sitting in a vacuum. That can be amazing when desired, such as on a plane, but sometimes it can feel like too much. The smart system adapts really well, without interruption, and as there are nuanced levels you won't notice any "jumps" from one degree to another as it adjusts.
So the sound quality is powerful for this price point, the fit is snug, while the active noise cancellation is superb. Is there anything these in-ears do wrong? Well, we've found the left and right earbuds drain battery levels at significantly different rates, which is a bit irksome, but pop them back in the case and it'll set things right. The total of 18 hours use from those three case-based recharges is plenty and it's then easy to charge the case via USB-C too.
In a world where Apple's so-so AirPods seem to get all the attention, or far pricier Sony and Sennheiser products receive some of the loudest shout-outs, Libratone has done its utmost here to stand out from the crowd. And the Track Air+ is a massive success.
The price alone will be a massive lure given all the features on offer. But that's not the sole reason to buy: as in-ear headphones go, the Track Air+ product sounds truly exceptional, is comfortable to wear, offers sweat-proof build for those active sessions, and a noise-cancellation system that's genuinely smart.
This article was first published as a preview in July 2019 and has been updated to reflect its full real-world-tested review status.
Sony does offer exceptional noise-cancelling tech, along with a nicer looking charging case. But with a price that's 40 per cent more than the Libratone and no sweat-resistance, you're paying a lot more for, well, less.