Shoutout to Sony for creating the most innovative true wireless buds of 2022! The new Sony LinkBuds are not designed for everyone or every purpose, but they 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 plug your ears from reality just to listen to music or podcasts privately. This new open-ear (or “open-ring”) concept makes these buds excellent work-from-home and around-the-house headphones with surprisingly good audio quality.
The most notable quality about Sony’s LinkBuds is their unusual design — they’re likely the weirdest true wireless buds you’ve ever seen. You may be looking at the photos and wondering where’s the rest of it? Where’s the ear tip?
There are basically three components to the LinkBud — There’s a ring, a nub, and an interchangeable silicone ear stabilizer that all sit alongside each other. The “ring” doesn’t go into your ear canal, but the side of the ring is pressed up against it. The nub sits on the outside of your ear as any other earbud would. The ear stabilizer is tucked inside your outer ear.
With some trial-and-error, and swapping out one of the 5 different sized ear stabilizers, you should find they lock into your ear reasonably well. We could achieve enough of a lock for out-and-about movement, but not a secure enough fit for a jog or more intensive movement. That said, the fit is extremely comfortable when you get them correctly placed. Air and sound can freely travel into your ear which makes the fit natural and unrestricted. You can wear these for hours with no ear fatigue.
The charging case is not our favorite part of LinkBuds, but it’s fine. It’s a small but chunky case. The buds and case are actually made of recycled plastic material from automobiles and have a unique look and texture. The case has a button lock so it won’t accidentally pop open.
The buds are easy to insert and remove, but require a firm press to lock them into the case and start the charging. We’d prefer the case to be less chunky and instead wider. We could also do without the button press to open and a firm press to seat the buds. Invest in magnets, Sony! The case is also missing a wireless charging feature, but it at least charges with USB-C.
The battery on the buds lasts for 5.5 hours and the case bumps it up to a respectable 17.5 hours. This is on the lower side for Sony, but still solid. A quick 10-minute charge will get you 90 minutes of charge.
We expected music and sound to also be airy like the fit. We were blown away by the sound and audio quality. It’s hard to describe how strangely natural they sound. The audio quality is as good (and better) than most true wireless buds, but you can still hear your surroundings.
It’s like having music plugged straight into your brain. Without music playing, you can hear just as well as if you weren’t wearing buds. With music playing, you can still hear your keyboard patter and even your fingers touching the keyboard. This may sound annoying, but it actually sounds more natural to be so in-tune with your surroundings.
And get this — there’s virtually no compromise on sound quality. We would have put money on the bass being extra light, but somehow Sony figured out how to deliver the low-ends. The bass won’t bang on 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 tad less targeted or directional than normal in-ear headphones do. Sony even offers a custom equalizer and presets so you can make it sound even better. We’ve been very happy with the flat profile. So overall, they are “airy” like music from a stereo is, but in a much more personal and intimate way.
App and extra features
Sony has always done well with the headphone app and extra features. The thing we care most about is custom audio tuning, and they delivered. The next thing we care about is the ability to configure the touch controls, which you can mostly do.
LinkBuds have an interesting feature called “Wide Area Tap” that allows you to do the touch button commands on the side of your face in front of your ears. You can double-tap and triple tap the buds or your face and access an assortment of controls and features. Each bud supports two commands and Sony allows you to configure each with one of 6 presets. You can skip tracks, access voice assistant, adjust volume, and even access Alexa or play Spotify.
Our next favorite convenience feature is auto-play and auto-pause when you put on the buds or take them off. Sony also has a speak-to-chat feature that pauses music when you start talking — I usually keep this off as a sneeze or cough can pause your music.
Then there’s also adaptive volume control that will bump the volume in loud environments — I found this a bit weird as it raises the volume when you’re talking to someone. Finally, Sony gives you control over the connection type and offers additional optimizations and spatial audio features.
The built-in microphone quality is excellent. In a quieter environment voices are crisp, natural, and clear with virtually no background noise. In loud environments, Sony is still able to isolate your voice and eliminate background noise, but your voice gets a little more robotic. We found the microphone quality to be 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 take off a bud. You can also hear your surroundings in case someone’s trying to get your attention or you want to be physically present.
This awareness functionality is dramatically different from the “ambient aware” feature that most headphones offer. Ambient awareness is a digital recreation and amplification of your surroundings and generally sounds terrible — LinkBuds gives you your surroundings au naturel.
LinkBuds doesn’t offer active noise cancellation, as this defeats their purpose. They’re usable in loud environments and on public transportation, but you may prefer different headphones in these situations.
Sony LinkBuds review verdict
We applaud Sony for bringing these to market and absolutely love this new open-ear concept. LinkBuds still has some 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 in.
The charging case lacks wireless charging and could use a slimmer redesign with magnetic locks. We only have positive things to say about the sound quality, even the bass, but don’t expect these to excel in loud environments.
The controls also aren’t so reliable for us, but we like that you can tap on your face instead of the buds to control your music. Until you go ears-on with LinkBuds it’s hard to appreciate how nice being physically present and aware is while privately listening to music.
Are the Sony LinkBuds worth the money?
The Sony LinkBuds is currently available in black or white for $179.99. This isn’t an awful price for high-quality true wireless buds. It’s also not a bad price considering the premium sound quality and features. The only catch is whether you’ll still need a second pair of buds for the gym or loud commuting.