Sony LinkBuds Review: Good Wireless Earbuds with Unique Design

Most of the innovation in truly wireless earbuds doesn’t involve an overall design. Of course, companies have improved battery life and added new features, but the main exterior shape hasn’t shown any improvement so far that would be a radical change. Well, Sony has taken the initiative in this. A few days back, the company announced new true wireless earbuds, so what’s in this most unique set? Let’s see in this Sony Link Buds review.

Sony Link Buds review

This tiny set features a fully open wear style that lets outside noise through its design rather than relying on ambient sound modes. And Sony just hasn’t made something that’s out of your ears. The company has designed a round driver which is completely open like a donut in the middle. As we have seen in the past, always transparent sound creates many sound quality problems. Sony cracked the code, or do the LinkBuds prioritize convenience over sound?

Sony Link Buds Review

Design

This isn’t the first time Sony has tried its hand at the “open style concept.” Back in 2017, the company introduced what would be known as the Xperia Ear Duo. These Sony earbuds wireless models had an open ring that lines the outside of your ear canal, and all the necessary technology was stored in an enclosed case that was on the back of your earlobe. They came out downstairs and looked and felt weird. Since then, Sony has focused on “traditional” true wireless headphones with a component that actually fits into your ear canal with a silicone or foam tip on the end.

The LinkBuds are a huge improvement over the Xperia Ear Duo. True wireless technology has come a long way in the past five years, leading companies like Sony to drastically reduce the overall size of headphones. Here’s an IPX4-rated two-piece design, with a small dome-shaped case that houses most of the components. Attached to it is an open enclosure that houses a ring-shaped speaker. Everything is made of rigid plastic, except for the flexible “support” that helps hold the LinkBuds in place.

Unlike Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Live or Bose’s Sport Open earbuds, the Sony LinkBuds open in the middle of the driver instead of placing a small speaker outside the ear and blocking the channel. Because of this and the chosen material, the LinkBuds aren’t as comfortable as the Galaxy Buds Live, as something actually gets stuck in your eardrums. It doesn’t sit far back like a typical set of headphones. We don’t know how you can protect the driver and soften that area, but a little cushion in there would go a long way. And a little tighter “support” could help keep the LinkBuds a little better.

Features and software

As we saw with the WF-1000XM4 (REVIEW), Sony isn’t afraid to present its true good wireless earbuds packed with technology, and that continues with the LinkBuds. First, the company opted for a one-touch setting for the controls, only you don’t touch the earbud to accomplish the task. You tap right in front of your ear. The forward-facing motion sensor detects vibration as you move, so you can play/pause playback, skip tracks (forward and backward), adjust volume, or call your voice assistant. However, only double and triple tap gestures are included here, so you only have four slots – two on each side – to select the most necessary actions. Luckily, some people may miss the voice assistant here.

Sony Link Buds review

Sony calls this technology Wide Area Tap, and it’s surprisingly reliable when you’re trying to use it for its intended purpose. However, we did notice that the LinkBuds often made us think we clicked something whenever we chewed while listening to music or podcasts. This is probably because the jaw moves outwards when we bite. If this happens to you, you can disable Wide Area Tap entirely, but you’ll have to reach for your phone to control the ringtone, which isn’t a good option.

The company has also brought some great features of the WF-1000XM4, including speak-to-chat. The tool automatically pauses the audio when you start talking, so you don’t have to awkwardly tap when someone comes over for a quick chat. Sony has also slightly improved this feature, allowing you to choose between three pause lengths (5, 15, or 30 seconds) before resuming the LinkBuds playback where you left off. You can now adjust the voice detection sensitivity with Auto, High and Low settings. Plus, there’s also an option called Adaptive Volume Control that can adjust the level, if the sound in your environment gets louder and then comes back when everything is quiet.

As always, the Sony Headphones Connect app has a lot to offer. You’ll see battery levels for individual earbuds and cases at the top of the home screen, along with media and volume controls at the bottom. Click on the Sound tab, and you have the option to enable Speak-to-Chat with sound presets and manual equalizer settings. There’s also the option to repeat 360 Reality audio analysis, which personalizes audio based on pictures of your ears. Lastly, DSEE is an option you can allow automatically. As a reminder, DSEE or Digital Sound Enhancement Engine is Sony’s resolution upscaling technology that attempts to improve compressed audio by restoring the “natural, enhanced sound” when enabled.

The System tab is the next option where you can activate adaptive volume controls, adjust/disable detailed touch, adjust auto power off duration, disable auto-pause when turning off earbuds, and more. One of the Wide Area Tap options will automatically let Spotify continue where you left off. The aptly named Spotify Tap feature can also provide personalized recommendations with an additional tap.

Sound

Sony has designed a 12mm ring-shaped speaker for the LinkBuds. This way the part leading to your ear can be opened in the middle. It also means that there is a significant amount of outside noise coming in all the time. The convenience is the whole point, but don’t expect your murmurs or the roar of the environment from flagship-level audio. LinkBuds certainly lets you tune in to both your location and music or podcasts, but you don’t necessarily get the best of both worlds.

Sony Link Buds review

Overall, the sound is a bit flat and compressed across all genres. The chaotic metal sound from “Radical – Every Time I Die” was muffled, because the booming bass and dynamic details in the instruments are left behind. The Punch Brothers’ bluegrass and other acoustic styles sound pretty good, but hip-hop is a mess. Bass on albums like Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. almost crackles, but does not knock. During our Sony Link Buds review, we noticed that the music actually sounded great if we pushed the earbuds further into our ear canals. The problem is that they don’t live here and it’s very inconvenient. According to Sony’s wearables guidelines on where our earbuds sit on their own, the sound is just… there… for some genres.

LinkBuds supports Sony 360 Reality Audio. In case, you’re unfamiliar, the format is designed to be more impressive, simulating the location of sound sources and instruments “around” the listener. The problem has always been that content is limited and requires a Hi-Fi music subscription from companies like Amazon, Tidal, or Deezer to access it. Like other devices, the 360RA tracks on the LinkBuds are noticeably louder and have more of a presence than similar songs on Apple Music and other services. They sound better to us, but we agree that the open nature of these headphones isn’t exactly suitable for listening to spatial sound. It’s an experience best suited for in-ear headphones or properly equipped speakers.

No ANC here, but it’s not about counteracting the noise. Sony created the LinkBuds for permanent use to connect the “online and offline worlds” – hence the name. There is no attempt to block out the world around you but to enable you to always be present by design. Here, you can counter distractions with volume, but you’ll still be in touch with them even when you’re listening to music or podcasts. So if you’re looking for headphones that help drown out your roar so you can focus or relax, this isn’t it. And again, they’re not meant to be.

When it comes to calls, Sony says “Precise Voice Pickup technology” uses signal processing and noise reduction algorithms to reduce ambient rumble and focus on your speech. A lot of companies make claims about call quality which falls short in the end, but Sony gets the job done. The constant background roar like a noisy machine or TV voice is almost completely cut out. You still feel like you’re on speakerphone to the person on the other end, but at least on your end, the room won’t be as much of a problem.

Battery life

Sony is promising five and a half hours on the LinkBuds and up to 12 hours in terms of charging. During our Sony Link Buds review, we got about six hours of use before plugging in our earbuds, consistently getting about 30 minutes more than advertised. There’s no wireless charging here, but a 10-minute charge will give you 90 minutes of use.

Final line

Sony is not the only company to have tried the Open Fit concept with truly wireless earbuds. Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Live (REVIEW) has an “Open Type” design that covers your ears, but everything’s on the outside. This model is equipped with ANC but does not provide reliable sound blocking because the ear canal is not closed. The sound is also not the best, especially at high volumes. However, you don’t get the added comfort of getting anything stuck in your ear. Always-on Bixby, wireless charging, iOS integration, and customizable controls, and you have a great set of headphones.

Sony has succeeded in largely what it set out to do: it has created a set of true good wireless earbuds that deliver transparent sound by design, rather than relying on a microphone to deliver ambient sound. LinkBuds syncs your music, podcasts, or videos with what’s happening around you. There are certainly benefits to this, whether it’s lessening the jitters at the office or staying safe outside.

Even with all of Sony’s comfortable technology, the earbuds have to be comfortable enough to wear for long periods, and the area around the unique ring-shaped speaker makes it very difficult to fit. Consistent sound quality will also go a long way. At the moment, LinkBuds is an interesting product that could be more attractive with a few improvements. We hope Sony will do the same, as we are really looking forward to version 2.0.

Price and availability

The Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 are now available from various online retailers such as Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk at $178 in White and Gray. If you liked this Sony Link Buds review, then definitely inform us in the comment.

About Ankeet Solanki

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