I have now used the Soundcore Life A3i ANC earbuds for about 3 months in various environments, including on planes and trains, in city traffic, and in coffee shops.
They have a punchy bass and good bass extension. For the price, the A3i sound very good.
Active noise cancelling function and passive noise reduction are also solid, on par with that of the Soundcore Space A40 I reviewed a while ago (comparison below).
For me these earbuds work very well at lowering the volume of a loud city! I enjoy using them.
If you are sensitive to noise and looking for small, inexpensive noise cancelling earbuds to help you out, the Soundcore Life A3i are worth your consideration.
Unlike the Space A40 and many other earbuds though, the A3i have “clicky,” mechanical buttons.
The buttons are responsive and get the job done. Major functions, including volume +/-, ANC, transparency mode, and answering a call are accessible.
I find the buttons a bit too finicky. I can live with them but definitely prefer touch controls.
Depending on the volume, I am getting between 5 and 6 hours playtime with ANC on before the low battery voice alert comes on. The case provides for three re-charges.
The Bluetooth connection is very stable. I haven’t had any major hiccups.
But note, you can only connect these buds to one device at a time.
And, you can’t pull the connection from a device by tapping the A3i Bluetooth entry on a second device. You have to disconnect using the first device or put the buds back into the charging case and long-press the control button to put them into pairing mode.
So, if you want to change fast between your computer and your phone or between two phones, the A3i are not ideal. In that case, the Space A40 are a much better option.
Note: In some countries/retailers, these earbuds are sold under the name Life Dot 3i (#A3982) instead of Life A3i (#A3992). According to this Anker document, the two numbers refer to the same model.
In my tests, the A3i effectively reduced noise across the whole frequency range.
Against everyday noise, they are on par with moderate-strength earplugs (see below) but offer an extra boost in low frequency noise reduction (e.g., against traffic and music bass) thanks to their active noise cancelling function.
If you are looking for earbuds instead of earplugs to help with noise sensitivities while going through your day, these buds are a good budget option.
The red line in the following noise reduction chart indicates the noise reduction I’m getting with the A3i (tested in 1/3rd octave steps using my own ears).
The higher the line at a certain frequency the better the noise reduction.
Now, if you compare the red to the green line (the Space A40 by the same manufacturer), the two are about equal in overall noise reduction effectiveness when fit to my ear.
Depending on the frequency, I am getting between 15 and 25 decibels noise reduction—enough to significantly reduce environmental noise while still allowing awareness of my surroundings.
There is a difference though: The Space A40 sit somewhat less deep in my ear, which makes them a bit more comfortable. I believe their active noise cancelling function is stronger and the A3i compensate with a deeper fit.
Because the A40 achieve equal noise reduction while providing more comfort, I rank them higher. I’d prefer them as my daily drivers.
On the other hand, the A3i are usually quite a bit cheaper and by no means uncomfortable.
In any case, I can go with either model in my ear for many hours.
For more info on the A40, also read the post Soundcore Space A40 Practical Review and Noise Reduction Test.
How do these compare to the most effective ANC earbuds?
The Bose QC earbuds II (black line) are my current reference for noise cancelling earbuds. As you can see, they are substantially more effective at reducing noise than both the A3i and the A40.
Moreover, you can also adjust the ANC strength of the Bose to make them perform pretty much like these two Soundcore models.
So yes, there is quite a difference still, but the the QC earbuds II also cost a multiple.
How do the A3i compare to earplugs?
Note: The following comparison pertains to everyday noise reduction not hearing protection. These earbuds have no noise reduction rating and are not sold as a hearing protector!
Looking at both moderate and high strength plugs helps to understand what you can expect with the A3i in terms of noise reduction.
One of my favorite moderate-strength earplugs are Vibes.
In most everyday situations (e.g., in a noisy city), Vibes reduce the volume of environmental noise just enough for me to feel comfortable.
Here is the chart comparing the A3i (red line) to Vibes (orange line), again for my ears:
Against low frequency noise <=160 Hz, which includes truck rumble and engine noise, the A3i are quite a bit more effective, but overall the noise reduction of Vibes and the A3i is in the same ball park.
3M Push-Ins (blue line) are one of my favorite high-NRR (28) earplugs for day time use. As you can see, they are a lot more effective at blocking noise.
I definitely prefer Push-Ins against loud crying.
On the other hand, they are too effective for walking around a busy city or holding a conversation. They are good if you want to isolate yourself or fend off very loud noise.
The A3i are much closer to Vibes than Push-Ins (or foam earplugs) and hence better when you want to keep in touch with your environment.
Ear tip sizes and fit
The A3i are designed for a deep fit; they are very effective at passively blocking noise as long as they seal your ear properly.
They come with three pairs of silicone ear tips (own measurements): S (11×7 mm), M (12×7.5 mm), and L (13×8 mm).
Unfortunately, even the L-tips are not big enough for my large ear holes; so unsurprisingly, I get no noticeable noise reduction with the stock-tips. I wish they offered more sizes.
Fortunately, this changes when I use third-party tips. And, the charging case provides enough space to accommodate even very large tips.
Currently I am using the A3i with 15 mm oval tips (repurposed from other earbuds), and with these the earbuds work great:
I get a secure, comfortable fit, effective noise reduction and very good sound.
The round SpinFit 360 XL tips also work well for me. The SpinFit 360 are available in multiple sizes; if you have very small ear canals, there are also XS tips.
I was even able to find a set of budget oval third party eartips for the A3i where the L-size fit my ears:
By all means, try the standard tips first, but if none fit your ears, you have options.
How do you know the tips fit?
The A3i are good at reducing noise. With ANC enabled, all external noise should be markedly reduced. If that’s not the case for you, the tips very likely don’t seal your ear properly.
Sound character and quality
The A3i have a fun sound. By default, both bass and treble are boosted. If you want bass, and perhaps a good dose of sub bass, there is a good chance you will like the A3i.
I enjoy listening to these earbuds at a moderate volume.
For me, the default Soundcore Signature preset is too bass-heavy, so I turn it down a notch in the app. I also emphasize the higher mids, otherwise vocals sound a bit thin.
In the Soundcore app, you are getting various presets and also an 8-band custom EQ:
I use the “flat” setting and then modify the preset in the custom EQ. This is how my preferred settings look like:
The EQ settings are stored in the earbuds so they transfer across different devices (including a Windows PC, for which there is no app available).
Even after tweaking, I have not been able to make the A3i sound completely neutral with the Soundcore app. The low bass is always somewhat emphasized and can become a bit much at higher volumes.
Still, I like how these buds sound.
I tested the Life A3i by making real phone calls in a quiet room, as well as against coffee shop noise at different noise levels (from 55 to 85 decibels). For reference, I also compared them directly to the Space A40 (review), which in my experience perform well when making calls.
In a quiet room, as well as moderately noisy coffee shops, the A3i worked just fine.
In a quiet room my voice sounded loud and clear with both the A3i and the A40. (The A40 picked up my voice louder though.)
In a moderately loud coffee shop (up to about 70 dB) the A3i sounded a bit stuffier than the A40 but both models worked well enough. Again the A40 were a bit louder but they also let in slightly more background noise.
In a very loud coffee shop (70 to 85 dB), with the A3i my voice often got cut out, so they didn’t work anymore.
From 70 to 75 decibels, the A40 also struggled at times, but from 80 decibels on, they switched into a different noise suppression mode. In that mode, my voice sounded muffled but I was again clearly understandable.
Overall I rate the A3i as good for making calls. In very loud coffee shops, however, they became unusable.
The A40 do better. Thanks to their “muffle mode,” they remained usable (with some compromises).
You can toggle between three different modes, ANC, transparency, and ANC off by long-pressing the button on either earbud.
I find the transparency mode on the A3i OK for brief conversations, such as when ordering a coffee or talking to a flight attendant on a plane, but I wouldn’t use it for longer conversations.
It cuts out too much treble, and I hear quite a bit of white noise. For comparison, the A40 have a better transparency mode.
What the A3i do very well even in transparency mode is reduce bass noise, including traffic rumble. Compared to ANC off, you are getting to hear more of your environment but without the bass.
This is nice if you are sensitive to low frequency noise and very hard to achieve with passive earplugs.
The case is compact and easily fits in my jeans pocket. Compared to the AirPods Pro’s case it’s a bit longer and about 1.5 times as thick:
The case can be charged via USB-C. Unlike the case of the A40, it does not support wireless charging.
Depending on the volume, I am getting between 5 and 6 hours playtime (ANC enabled) before I have to recharge the earbuds. The case provides for three re-charges.
I like the Life A3i. They are a very solid budget option because of their good sound and ANC.
They significantly reduce environmental noise yet don’t isolate you completely from your surroundings.
In many situations, the A3i are a good alternative to noise sensitivity earplugs. Compared to moderate-strength passive plugs, the ANC function makes it easier to reduce bass noise and low frequency rumble.
Also, the ANC helps quite a bit to reduce walking impact sounds.
On the other hand, even these small earbuds are obviously more visible than most earplugs and they need to be charged.
How do the A3i compare to the Space A40?
The A40 are a more versatile everyday workhorse at a usually somewhat higher price point. If they cost the same, I’d get the Space A40.
Their ANC is equally effective and they allow for two connections at the same time and easy switching between devices. They also have a better transparency mode, touch controls (which I find more ergonomic), more ear tip options, and they suppress noise more effectively during calls. The A40 also sound good, but here the A3i have the edge.