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Sony LinkBuds review: These weird-looking earbuds are good for one thing

By Kenny Yeo - 1 May 2022

Sony LinkBuds review: These weird-looking earbuds serve one good purpose

Note: This review was first published on 11 April 2022.

The LinkBuds have a hole to let you hear your surroundings clearly.

Help, there’s a hole in my earbud

Weird. Odd. Unusual. Strange. These are some of the words my colleagues used to describe Sony’s newest true wireless earbuds. They are called the LinkBuds – because Sony says they “link your online and offline worlds.” The idea is that you can hear your surroundings clearly thanks to that large hole in the middle. Surely, you’ll be aware of your environment but how will it compromise sound quality? That’s what I really want to know.

 

Design

The LinkBuds also come in grey. (Image source: Sony)

The design of the LinkBuds is dominated by that large hole in the middle. It comes in white and grey, and the entire bud actually looks like a ring attached to a small pod. The ring portion houses a specially-designed ring-shaped driver while the pod houses the battery and electronics. In keeping with Sony’s sustainability efforts, the shell of the LinkBuds is made from recycled automotive plastic and has a speckled pattern. The packaging that it comes in is also plastic-free. It also has an IPX4 water resistance rating so it’s splash-proof and sweat-resistant.

The LinkBuds are small and tricky to wear at first.

The LinkBuds are tiny and light. Each earbud weighs just 4g and this helps with wearing comfort. Getting a good fit, however, can be tricky because they require some practice to wear properly. The ring-shaped portion should slide into the concha region. You then tuck the integrated wing tips under the antihelix so the earbuds stay in place. Sony provides five sizes of wingtips: extra small, small, medium, large, and extra-large.

Using the medium wingtips, I was able to get a perfect fit. It was snug enough that it didn’t fall out even when I was running and jumping. And yet at no point did it feel uncomfortable. It felt just right. Some people, however, because of how their ears are shaped, might not be so lucky. Some users have commented that no matter which tip they used and how hard they tried to wear the LinkBuds, they couldn’t get it to fit right and that the earbuds would slowly slip out from their ears. This is going to be a matter of personal experience. So for those considering the LinkBuds, I would urge you to go down to a Sony store to try them on for yourselves.


Like any respectable earbuds, the LinkBuds have an accompanying app – the Sony Headphones app. With the app, you can tune the earbuds’ sound with the equaliser, and manage features such as Speak-to-Chat and touch controls. Similarly, the LinkBuds have touch controls. However, you don’t touch the LinkBuds themselves to interact and control them. Instead, you tap the area on the side of your face just in front of your ears (see video above). It’s unexpectedly effective and I found it much more responsive and accurate than other earbuds where you have to tap on the earbuds themselves.

The charging case is really small.

The charging case is remarkably compact and will easily slip into pockets. It charges via USB-C only – there’s no wireless charging. Sony says the case provides another 12 hours of listening time while the earbuds themselves are good for up to 5.5 hours on a single charge. That sounds just about right as I could get through an entire workday on a single charge with on and off listening.

 

Wearing experience, sound and mic quality

The LinkBuds look weird but the hole allows noise to pass through, enabling the wearer to stay aware of his or her surroundings.

The LinkBuds’ unusual design addresses one important issue for wearers, and that’s the ability to clearly hear their surroundings. I know brands have been trying to address this issue with “ambient sound” modes but they have been largely ineffective. With the lone exception of Apple, every other wireless headphone and earbud sounds unnatural and synthesised. They also seem to emphasise some frequencies over others. Consequently, users don’t know if they can trust what they are hearing. The LinkBuds get around the problem by simply allowing you to hear, with your own ears, what’s going on around you.

This, however, has obvious drawbacks. There’s zero isolation. You hear everything around you all the time, which can make it difficult (or impossible) to enjoy your content to its fullest. Though one suspects the kind of buyer looking at this earbud is more concerned with safety and isn’t overly bothered about getting maximum enjoyment.

The LinkBuds work because it has a special ring-shape driver.

That’s a pity because the LinkBuds actually sound quite decent. One advantage of the LinkBud’s design and its unique 12mm-wide ring-shaped driver is that it sounds big and open. It sounded more like I was listening to small speakers pressed up close to my ear than earbuds. The mids were pleasantly smooth and the treble was well-judged with just about the right amount of bite to sound sparkly without being overly grating. Where the LinkBuds suffer is in the bass. Because there’s of the extremely open nature of its design, the bass sounds flat. Sure, it’s there if you listen out for it but it’s unfulfilling.

Like Sony’s flagship WF-1000XM4 earbuds, the LinkBuds feature the company’s Integrated Processor V1. Here, it’s used to apply its noise reduction algorithm to the LinkBuds’ mics to ensure a noise-free call. Sony says it uses machine learning and samples of over 500 million voices to suppress unwanted ambient noise. And it’s mighty effective. I think it works even better in the LinkBuds than I remember it did in the WF-1000XM4. Even walking by the side of a busy road, my wife commented that my voice was completely intelligible and that the noise from passing vehicles was only a low hum in the background.

 

Conclusion

As unusual as the LinkBuds may be, they do the job well. Wearing them and listening to music feels like you got personal background music being piped into your ears all the time. It’s an odd sensation at first, but one that you get used to and appreciate, especially if you must remain aware of your surroundings. I think the LinkBuds will appeal most to joggers and cyclists. 

The LinkBuds are excellent if you want to wear true wireless earbuds and yet to remain aware of what's happening around you.

 The obvious alternatives are bone conduction headphones, but these mostly have a neckband style design and are therefore not as convenient nor as stylish as the LinkBuds. Where these headphones have a leg-up on the LinkBuds is that they usually offer a more secure fit. While I don’t have a problem with the fit of the LinkBuds, some users do. That will come down to personal experience.

At S$269, some might find the LinkBuds pricey for what they are. They don’t offer any form of isolation nor do they possess any active noise cancellation technology. But that would be missing the point. These earbuds were designed to let you hear your surroundings. And if you want your earbuds to do that, I can’t think of a better one than the LinkBuds.

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8.0
  • Design 8
  • Performance 8
  • Features 7.5
  • Value 7.5
The Good
Let's you hear your surroundings
Compact charging case
Decent battery life
IPX4 water resistance rating
Good mics
The Bad
Zero noise isolation
Fit can be an issue for some
Open design means poor bass response
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