Given how quickly TWS in-ears have been commoditized, it’s no surprise that a tech leader such as Sony took it upon itself to rethink things. Enter the LinkBuds, Sony’s attempt at offering “something different” if you’re jaded by the hundreds of clone options that are available. Designed to keep you aware of your surroundings throughout the day, these uniquely designed in-ears are a ground-up design that is as radical as it looks.
Sony Linkbuds Review
Sony has engineered a micro speaker with a ring shape that is hollow in the centre and this is the part that rests just outside your ear canal. The idea is to let the ambient sound pass through this opening, giving you spatial awareness for a “never off” listening experience. You can keep wearing the LinkBuds all day, without the need to take them off whilst having a conversation with someone. Alternatively, you could even just go about your workday and take calls without having to fumble putting your earpieces on and off. Either way, the LinkBuds were conceived for the WFH era, where work blends into life seamlessly and Sony thinks your TWS in-ears should reflect this new world order.
What’s crucial here is how well you learn to wear the LinkBuds. While the 12mm speaker ring rests just outside your ear canal, the dome-shaped main body houses the battery, SoC, sensors and charging points, and finally, the all-important fitting supporters. These silicone rings are supposed to be wedged between the main body of the LinkBuds and the cartilage of your upper ear, holding them in place. Bear in mind that you might have to use different-sized supporters for the left and right ears and that’s perfectly normal. The idea is to get a secure fit without being intrusive for extended wearability. All of this weighs less than 4gms and if you get it right, really does feel like wearing almost nothing in your ears.
Sony has had to rethink controls on a device this miniature, so the Wide Area Tap allows you to double and triple tap not just directly on the earpieces themselves, but even the general area around your sideburns and upper cheeks! It’s the kind of tech that you approach with reluctance and wonder, in equal measure. In reality, it’s a technique that works well only with practice and knowing exactly what region of your face responds to the taps…so approach with tempered expectations.
All of this research and development wouldn’t mean much if the LinkBuds didn’t sound good. Well, the answer isn’t very simple. Designed primarily for phone calls, video meetings, and casual listening, in that order, the LinkBuds do just fine for their intended purpose. Call quality is great without being sibilant or chesty, aided by the Sony Headphone Connect app that allows you to tailor EQ and ClearBass settings. For movies too, the LinkBuds manage to conjure up a wide and spacious sound that makes for an enjoyable experience as long as you’re indoors in a relatively quiet environment.
Music lovers might have to make micro adjustments to the fit of each LinkBud to maximize bass performance because that is its one Achilles Heel. While vocals and instruments are presented with good detail and sufficient resolution, it’s not something you would call “audiophile” and the weak bass suffers further if you’re outdoors in a noisy environment. But that would be missing the point of the LinkBuds, wouldn’t it?
As an all-day in-ear device, I’d urge you to try them on at a retail outlet (or a friend who works at Stuff) before investing in this slice of the future. Chances are that after a few minutes, your particular ears may want to spit the LinkBuds out, regardless of what the engineers in Tokyo planned for it. Personally, I found them to be extremely comfortable for the first few minutes but the more you go about your daily activities like eating, talking, yawning…the LinkBuds made their presence felt in my ears. Eventually, I had to give my ears a rest and pull them out every now and then, defeating their purpose. This, after trying on every included size of the supporter rings, further cementing my belief that my ears are just not made for TWS. But, this could be different for you, depending on the shape of your ears and your tolerance to a foreign object.
Battery life is surprisingly impressive for a device this tiny though. Sony claims 5.5 hours of playback from the pair and another 12 hours from the charging box, which interestingly is made from recycled automotive parts. So are the LinkBuds themselves actually, getting you brownie points from vegans and tree huggers. In a rush? Spend 10 minutes close to a charging port and you can get another 90 minutes of run time, making this more or less an all-day warrior.
Sony has even thrown in IPX4 certification, voice assistant support all three platforms, its speak-to-chat feature that automatically pauses the music when you start speaking to someone and BT 5.2 with fast pairing. What it does misses out on is multipoint pairing and wireless charging, which for a case this tiny would’ve made perfect sense to be reverse charged from a compatible phone.
Seldom does a first-gen product get it right and the LinkBuds are the first in a range of many, Sony hints. Cutting it some slack, the “anti-ANC” LinkBuds do make an attractive case for indoor use, especially if you happen to work in a co-working space where phone calls intertwine with actual conversations. They get the job done with music but it’s during calls that they truly shine with their natural tonality and spacious presentation. Still, at their asking price, it’s hard to consider them more than an interesting experiment or if you want some bragging rights.
Typical Sony innovation that shows a lot of promise but you can’t help but believe that the second generation will be fully baked.
|Frequency Response:||20Hz - 20kHz|
|Voice assistant:||Google, Alexa, Siri|