Most headphone and earbud manufacturers focus on sound control, isolation, and active noise cancellation. Not the Sony LinkBuds though, which don’t even feature ANC. Rather, the Sony LinkBuds have a hole right in the middle to let you listen to music while still be able to hear the world around you.
They’re weird but packed with a lot of great features and might be sign of earbuds to come.
Recycled Parts, Updated Design
Right out of the box you’ll notice Sony have opted for a recycled paper box (like their WF1000XM4) to reduce plastic use and the plastic that is used in the LinkBuds case itself is made up of recycled materials. The result is a 95% reduction in plastic packaging and a smooth matte case that is very small. Measuring 41.4 x 48.5 x 30.9 millimeters and weighing on 34 grams, the USB-C charged LinkBuds case adds 12 hours of battery life. That’s on top of the 5.5 hours of battery life of the LinkBuds themselves, which isn’t great, but the smaller size means less space for batteries on par with Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Pro. (And no wireless charging either.) Also, enabling some of the more advanced features like the Digital Sound Enhancement Engine, may get you less battery life.
Coming in two colors, a textured white or a darker grey, the real story of the LinkBuds is their physical shape. There’s a rounded hole over your ear canal, leaving it exposed, while the battery and V1 Integrated Processor sits above that. The result is a very comfortable fit (these are very light earbuds) but having your ear canal open is much less restricting. Not only can you hear sounds around you but you also don’t feel like you’re in a warm sound booth either and these earbuds actually stay in your ears.
To get the most out of the Linkbuds you’ll want to download the free Sony Headphones app but even out of the box they sound crisp – pretty impressive for earbuds that don’t cover your ears. They tones really excel in the higher pitches and trebles but the bass sounds muffled. You can use the Headphones app to select one of a few different sound profiles or save your own custom EQ preferences as well.
Most earbuds focus on noise cancelling whereas the LinkBuds are designed for optimal transparency mode. That’s useful for when you’re jogging outdoors, they are IPX4 sweat proof, or when you’re walking around a city. Sony have also included features like speak to chat which turns off what you’re listening to automatically when you start speaking.
The microphone for calls is decent – it does tend to have a somewhat hollow sound a lot of earbuds do but the person on the other end of your phone call or virtual meeting should be able to hear you fine even if there’s moderate background noise on your end.
Sony have really leaned in to the software customization of the LinkBuds. Using the spatial sound feature, moving your head up and down then left and right, the LinkBuds will adjust their sound based on how you specifically wear them. Another feature found on other Sony earbuds is ear analysis where the headphones app uses your phones camera to optimize the sound quality based on the specific shape of your ears.
Another elegant design choice that cuts down on the size of the LinkBuds is that they don’t have any onboard buttons, rather you double tap the side of your head for adjustable functions like pause/play or volume up and down. And it works pretty well, even if you’re chewing gum, even if it does feel a bit weird to tap the side of your head to skip ahead a song.
There are some quarks like the case hinge feels a bit flimsy at certain angles and the headphones app can’t show you the case battery life unless you take the earbuds in and out but those are mainly minor complaints and one that can be fixed with a software update. These might not be the best earbuds if you fly frequently – check out the Bose QuietComfort – but for daily use around town where hearing your surroundings is useful, the LinkBuds might be weird looking but could be a good fit.