Sony LinkBuds Review
At the end of the line
Sony LinkBuds offer a unique open-ear design that keeps you connected to your surroundings while delivering high-quality sound. Notable catches are that you don’t always want to hear your surroundings, and the unusual fit is comfortable but not the most secure.
- Design allows you to naturally hear your surroundings
- IPX-4 water resistant
- No earwax and grime buildup
- Superior sound quality with good bass
- Many app features
- Custom equalizer
- Auto play/pause
- Not the most secure fit
- No wireless charging
- No magnetic lock, buds must be snapped into the chunky case
- Touch controls aren’t very reliable, not completely customizable
- You may want another pair of headphones for noisy environments
Kudos to Sony for creating the most innovative true wireless headphones of 2022! The new Sony LinkBuds aren’t designed for everyone or for every purpose, but they do fill an important gap in the headphone market. Read on for our in-depth Sony LinkBuds review.
Unlike typical noise-canceling headphones, LinkBuds are designed to keep you in touch with your surroundings, allowing you to be present. You no longer need to cover your ears with reality just to listen to music or podcasts in private. This new open-ear (or “open-ring”) design makes these headphones great headphones for work from home and around the house with surprisingly good audio quality.
The most notable quality of Sony’s LinkBuds is their unusual design – they’re probably the weirdest true wireless buds you’ve ever seen. You may be looking at the pictures and wondering where is the rest? Where’s the ear tip?
There are basically three components to the LinkBud – There’s a ring, a knot, and an interchangeable silicone ear stabilizer that all sit next to each other. The “ring” does not go into your ear canal, but the side of the ring is pressed against it. The node sits on the outside of your ear like any other earphone would. The ear stabilizer is nestled inside your outer ear.
After some trial and error and replacing one of the 5 different sized ear stabilizers, you should find that they lock into your ear reasonably well. We might get enough lockdown for back and forth movements, but not a secure enough fit for jogging or more intensive movement. That said, the fit is extremely comfortable when you put them on correctly. Air and sound can flow freely through your ear, making the fit natural and unrestricted. You can wear them for hours without hearing fatigue.
The charging case isn’t our favorite part of LinkBuds, but it is fine. It’s a small but big deal. The buds and housing are actually made from recycled plastic materials from automobiles and have a unique look and feel. The case has a button lock so it won’t open accidentally.
The buds are easy to insert and remove, but require firm pressure to lock them into the case and start charging. We would prefer the case to be less chunky and rather wider. We could also do without button pressure to open and firm pressure to seat the buds. Invest in magnets, Sony! The case also lacks a wireless charging feature, but it charges at least with USB-C.
The buds battery lasts 5.5 hours and the case bumps it up to a respectable 17.5 hours. It’s on the lower side for Sony, but still solid. A 10 minute quick charge will give you 90 minutes of charge.
We expected the music and sound to be equally airy like the cut. We were blown away by the sound and audio quality. It’s hard to describe how eerily natural they sound. Audio quality is as good (and better) than most true wireless headphones, but you can still hear your surroundings.
It’s like having music plugged right into your brain. Without music, you hear as well as if you weren’t wearing headphones. With music playing, you can still hear your keyboard crackling and even your fingers touching the keyboard. It might sound boring, but it actually feels more natural to be in tune with your surroundings.
And get this – there’s virtually no compromise in sound quality. We would have put money on the bass to be lighter, but somehow Sony figured out how to deliver the low end. The bass won’t thump your skull, but it’s low enough and punchy enough to complement your music in a way that many headphones can’t.
The overall sound profile is very clear, defined and balanced. It’s also very lively and sounds a bit less focused or directional than normal in-ear headphones. Sony even offers a custom equalizer and presets so you can make it sound even better. We are very happy with the flat profile. So overall they are “airy” like music from a stereo, but in a much more personal and intimate way.
Application and additional features
Sony has always done well with the headphones app and additional features. What matters most to us is custom audio tuning, and they have it. The next thing we’re interested in is the ability to configure touch controls, which you can do most of the time.
The LinkBuds have a cool feature called “Wide Area Tap” which allows you to perform touch controls on the side of your face in front of your ears. You can double and triple tap the buttons or your face and access an assortment of controls and features. Each bud supports two commands and Sony lets you configure each with one of 6 presets. You can skip tracks, access the voice assistant, adjust the volume, and even access Alexa or play Spotify.
Our next favorite convenience feature is auto-play and auto-pause when you put the headphones on or take them off. Sony also has a talkback feature that pauses the music when you start talking – I usually keep it off as a sneeze or cough can pause your music.
Then there’s also an adaptive volume control which will increase the volume in noisy environments – I found this a bit odd as it increases the volume when talking to someone. Finally, Sony gives you control over the type of connection and offers additional optimizations and spatial audio features.
The quality of the built-in microphone is excellent. In a quieter environment, voices sound crisp, natural and clear with virtually no background noise. In noisy environments, Sony is still able to isolate your voice and eliminate background noise, but your voice becomes a bit more robotic. We found the microphone quality well above average.
The beauty (and purpose) of these headphones is that you can easily talk to someone without having to pause your music or pull out a bud. You can also hear your surroundings in case someone is trying to get your attention or if you want to be physically present.
This awareness feature is radically different from the “environmental awareness” feature offered by most headsets. Ambient awareness is a digital recreation and amplification of your surroundings and generally sounds terrible – LinkBuds gives you your surroundings the natural way.
LinkBuds don’t offer active noise cancellation, as that defeats their purpose. They are usable in noisy environments and on public transport, but you may prefer different headphones in these situations.
Sony LinkBuds Review Verdict
We applaud Sony for bringing them to market and love this new open-ear concept. LinkBuds still has a few quirks that might make you want to wait for a second generation. The fit is the biggest and weirdest unknown – they’re extremely comfortable if you can get them to stay.
The charging case lacks wireless charging and could use a slimmer redesign with magnetic locks. We have nothing but good things to say about the sound quality, even the bass, but don’t expect them to excel in noisy environments.
The controls aren’t that reliable for us either, but we like that you can press your face instead of the buds to control your music. Until you’ve tuned in with LinkBuds, it’s hard to appreciate how great it feels to be physically present and aware while listening to music in private.
Are Sony LinkBuds Worth It?
The Sony LinkBuds are currently available in black or white for $179.99. It’s not an exorbitant price for high quality true wireless buds. It’s also not a bad price considering the sound quality and high-end features. The only issue is whether you’ll still need a second pair of headphones for the gym or loud commutes.