While Anker Innovations is not a brand as familiar as some of the other big audio brands, the Chinese company has been producing solid additions to the electronics landscape for a decade. I’ve reviewed the Anker Soundcore in-ear headphones and found they punch well beyond their weight class, and I learned quickly they could make portable music playback sound terrific. My experience with Soundcore is just one of the reasons why I was intrigued to take a look at one of their latest projects, the Bluetooth smart glasses called Soundcore Frames.
Soundcore Frames are a pair of fashionable shades that are also wireless wearables. You can wear them just like any other pair of eyewear, but this eyewear streams your playlists, lets you switch up songs or adjust volume, and gives you an easy way to take calls without needing to look at your phone or wear a pair of headphones.
Specifications of Soundcore Frames
- 25mm x 8mm and 8mm drivers for rich audio
- Bluetooth 5.2 offers a smooth connection to your phone
- Lithium polymer battery gives you 5 hours of playtime on a single charge and recharges in 1 hour
- IPX4 moisture resistance so you’re safe from rain and splashes
- Interchangeable frames with polarized lenses
How Anker Soundcore Frames work
The Anker Soundcore Frames are essentially a system whereby the arms that contain the electronics easily connect to a wide range of frames. Feel like switching between sunglasses and indoor clear lenses? Quickly pop the arms from the sides and you’ve got a new look in seconds.
Unlike bone conduction models that literally rattle your skull to produce sound, thus avoiding any “leakage” of audio to those in proximity, each Soundcore Frame arm actually includes two tiny speakers that provide audio to each ear.
Connection to Bluetooth was quick and painless, and by using the Soundcore App you can dial in specific attributes to tweak the sound, update firmware and configure gestures to control your connected device. While there’s a graphic equalizer that lets you mess with different frequency levels, the most radical change to sound only adjustable via the app is found with the “OpenSurround” option. Select a number from 1 to 7, and the behind-the-ear second speaker’s volume is adjusted separately from the main driver, thus making the music feel more like it’s filling the room.
Unboxing Soundcore Frames
It’s clear that much of the draw of the Soundcore Frames is the notion of the “experience” of owning a pair, and that sense of wonder begins right from the start. An attractive outer box with graphic details unfolds to show two nestled inner containers. The first includes the arms which provide the electronic foundation for the unit, while another separate compartment is the default pair of glasses.
With black rims and dark, polarised tint, they marry up to the arms via a proprietary locking mechanism that feels entirely secure, yet allows you to remove the front portion whenever you wish for a new look.
How Soundcore Frames fit and how they sound
I’ve Laser eye surgery, so I’ve used glass polarized sunglasses for many years. I’ve found only the most premium of acrylic plastic is as optically satisfying as the more robust material. While these shades don’t live up to super-premium models, they’re still decent enough for most people’s use, and with the ability to choose from a wide range of styles and options I’m sure you’ll find one that will be your favourite.
As glasses, Soundcore Frames are perfectly acceptable, with the polarized sunglass frames providing decent protection on bright days. On the sound department, it certainly comes down to what your expectations are for such a wearable product.
Despite what appears to be a way of alleviating the need for a decent pair of in-ear or circumaural headphones, if you were to compare them directly, the Soundcore frames don’t produce the same level of audio has headphones. Even with the novelty of OpenSurround which does a nice job of widening the soundstage, the music is still tinny and thin, with bass distorted and the highs a bit brittle and uninvolving.
The other thing to keep in mind is that they’re essentially open to the air, so if you’re walking around listening your neighbours will be able to hear everything you can. That makes them a bit impractical during a commute or in a quiet setting.
Real life use of the Soundcore Frames
Still, for listening to podcasts on the beach, or simply taking a walk and making a quick phone call, the Soundcore frames are pretty great. By freeing your ears from being covered it makes the experience of listening to music outdoors not only safer but surprisingly freeing. It feels as though we’re getting ever closer to the feeling that the electronics we use to watch or listen are more fully integrated into the rest of our lives, just as for many the wearing of a smartwatch has supplanted the typical timepiece with a virtual digital connected assistant.
Phone calls, for those that still make them, also work well with Soundcore Frames, and I found them significantly better than some of the other Bluetooth wireless products I use on a much more regular basis. Additionally, you can use voice commands to control your device. Combined with the gestures that are tweakable, you can really make the Soundcore Frames feel directly connected to the device you leave in your pocket.
Charging is done by a proprietary (and slightly finicky) USB A cable, with two magnet bullet-like connectors attaching to the charging ports on each arm. The benefit is that after their 5 hours of use they can be fully recharged within an hour, but a wireless charging solution (or even solar recharge!) would of course be preferred. We may yet get to see those options in future models as the technology improves.
Are Soundcore Frames a solution in search of a problem?
The Soundcore Frames may not provide the best possible headphone experience, nor are they the best sunglasses one can buy, but as a combined solution they’re pretty darned cool. I found while listening to audiobooks or podcasts the fidelity was perfectly acceptable and clear, and even for occasional music listening the convenience and comfort were a delight.
The question remains whether the process of jamming playback devices into the arms of a pair of sunglasses is too much of a compromise, where you’re going to get far more out of a pair of old “analogue” shades and the headphone of your choice.
Yet having your ears free feels liberating, and with many in-ear headphone models now allowing for a “transparency mode” where ambient sound can be mixed in or fully engaged when the music stops, the advantage here seems mixed at best. There’s also a slight challenge for those needing prescription lenses, of course, though the Soundcore Frames do allow solutions there as well. Finally, there’s the issue of sound leakage, and you’ll never know if your audio is annoying nearby listeners.
Final thoughts on Soundcore Frames
The Soundcore Frames feel very futuristic, and the novelty of having electronic glasses shouldn’t be underestimated. For non-critical sound listening they do the trick, and for those engaged in exercise or laying about and simply wishing to zone out outdoors with some background tunes, Soundcore Frames are positively ideal. The construction of the frames is robust, the glasses fashionable and fun, and I love how easy they are to customize.
As long as you go in with eyes wide open to the strengths of this device I think you’ll get a lot out of them, and their convenience and simplicity may in fact mean they become your dominant choice for audio playback. While comparisons to dedicated devices showcase the Frames’ limitations, this shouldn’t dissuade you from giving these a chance.
This is a relatively new sector for wearable electronics, and we’re sure to see an explosion of new and exciting ideas as things continue to improve. I applaud Anker for their foray into this field, and while they may not live up to dreams of being able to drop headphones in favour of hi-fi glasses, that near science-fiction reality has never been closer to our reach.
You can find Soundcore Frames on Best Buy right now.