Sony LinkBuds Review: Best of all worlds
The Sony LinkBuds earbuds aim to offer the best of all worlds with its open-ring design. But does it sound as good as the best from Sony? Find out.
ANC and Transparency! If you are in the market to buy a nice pair of TWS earbuds, chances are that all your shortlisted options will have these mentioned somewhere in the brochure, or on the box. The world now craves for noise cancellation on its earphones and when needed, it allows you to have a brief aural connection with the world. I have tested the Apple AirPods Pro, the Sennheiser Momentum TWS 3, and Sony's own WF-1000XM4, all of which have these excellent noise isolation systems. But they don't feel natural.
Yes, we want isolation from the world but there are some who value staying connected. Those fancy transparency modes are cool but they all sound too artificial, and hog the battery. What if we could wear a pair of earbuds that lets you stay connected to the world while doing its duty. The standard AirPods without silicon eartips sounds obvious but Sony has re-engineered the TWS earbuds as a concept to make staying transparent a natural process. Meet the Sony LinkBuds.
The pair cost Rs. 19,990 and it is unique in the way it looks and works. And yes, there's a hole inside the stuff that makes the sound. Interested?
Sony LinkBuds Design
The Sony LinkBuds earbuds look vastly different from anything I have ever seen. Part of it looks like a conventional TWS earbud and the rest of the half – the part that produces the sound – is simply an open ring. The audio driver is shaped uniquely to allow for a hole while all the technical bits sit inside the pod. Reason? That hole in the driver allows for far better transparency than the conventional systems.
As a result, the LinkBuds earbuds are larger but they fit nicely in the ears – thanks to the fins. These stay inside the whole time and I haven't experienced them falling out. There are touch controls too but they are limited in functions. You get a “Wider Tap” function that lets you tap between the ear and cheeks to control playback or accept calls.
The case is surprisingly smaller for these earbuds and it reminds of the early days of TWS earbuds cases. Kudos to Sony for using recycled plastics and it makes the box quite lightweight as a result. However, it doesn't feel as well built as other premium TWS earbuds cases. You need to press a button for opening the lid, and the earbuds are held in place by a system of POGO pins instead of magnets. It isn't any more secure than the magnetic cases – I dropped it once and the lid opened upon impact. There's a USB-C port for charging but no wireless charging feature.
Sony LinkBuds Audio Performance
The LinkBuds are very un-Sony like in the way they sound. Unlike the WF-1000XM4 earbuds, the LinkBuds have a rather simpler driver arrangement and thanks to hole in the middle, there's no isolation seal happening. Hence, the audio quality isn't as great as it is on the 1000XM4. The soundstage is decently wide but it is tuned to sound as neutral as possible. Hence the mids are strong and the highs are good too. The low-end isn't as satisfying and it lacks the signature Sony bass you expect from these earbuds.
Of course, you can tune the equaliser settings from the Sony Headphones app to get some pronounced bass or treble. That said, the overall audio quality is nowhere near as satisfactory as the 1000XM4. Yes, the transparency effect feels natural – wear or remove it, you don't feel any difference in perception of the ambient world. The downside is that you don't have any kind of isolation, which means this is not a good choice in a coffee shop or anywhere crowded.
Sony LinkBuds Smart Features
To compensate for the lack of any noise cancellation, Sony offers a smart feature that adjusts the volume based on ambient noise. It works wonderfully but the feature isn't gentle on the ears – in a crowded metro train or a marketplace, the volume level goes all the way up. I turned it off after the initial few days.
Then there's also a “Speak to Chat” feature that lowers the volume if it detects your voice, or someone talking to you. You get your usual DSEE toggle, 360 Reality Audio Setup, power management controls, and more. The app has enough functions to play with. I particularly had to tweak the equalizer settings to enhance the bass effect. You also get quick access to the voice assistant on your phone, although it works better with Android devices and Google Assistant; not so well with Siri.
Sony LinkBuds Battery Life
The experimental design of the earbuds has resulted in sub-par battery life on the LinkBuds. For a pair of earbuds that's supposed to be “always on” in your ears, they run out quickly. The earbuds, with a combo of 2 hours of calls and an hour of music continuously, die. The case itself cannot hold much charge and I had to refill it every 2 days. Hence, you have to have a charger handy to keep the case charged up while you use the buds. The case also takes a long time to fill up, which is another irritation.
The Sony LinkBuds is an interesting take on the concept of an “always on” earbuds – ones that stay in your ear all the time and keep you connected to both the online and ambient worlds at the same time. In the right scenarios, the LinkBuds are simply great – you can have your dose of good quality music while being aware of your surroundings. Perfect for use in the gym or your commute hours, where you need to be aware of your surroundings.
Sadly, this is just the first generation and as a result, there are some glaring issues. The battery life is sub-par for a pair of “always-in-your-ear” earbuds. The case isn't built nicely and the lack of a magnetic lid only makes it harder to access when you need the earbuds quickly. Most importantly, the audio performance does not justify the price Sony is asking for the LinkBuds in India. Plus, not every buyer is into the transparency mode – the LinkBuds caters to a niche category of listeners.
Hence, you have to really crave for that connected experience to spend Rs. 20,000 on the Sony LinkBuds. It is comfortable to wear and practical to live with compared to everything else. Those who care for great audio should consider the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds.
- Comfortable to wear
- Nothing like natural transparency
- Lots of smart features
- Sub-par battery life
- Audio quality not great
Audio formatsSBC, AAC