2022 – Sony LinkBuds review: New earphones let the outside world in | Sony

sSonyal Audio has taken a strange turn with Sony’s latest attempt to reinvent the earphone. The single ring shaped speaker with a hole in the middle allows you to listen to music without shutting down the whole world.

The LinkBuds are the first in a new range of headphones from Sony that allow you to listen to music while also paying attention to what’s going on around you. They cost £149 ($179/AU$319) and compete with earbuds like Apple’s standard AirPods and Google’s Pixel Buds.

Contrary to the tradition of what earbuds should look like, they lack any form of tips, silicone or otherwise, and look like a mint polo clinging to a new empire. The ring main body is positioned inside your conch, while the ring earpiece is positioned outside your ear canal for an open fit.

On the back of the earpiece there is a presence sensor, charging connections and speaker grille. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Weighing just 4.1 grams each, they are held in place by silicone wings, in one of five available sizes, which fold under the folds at the top of the clamshell. It is a unique and unobtrusive occasion that takes some getting used to. It was instantly comfortable in my right ear, but had to be adjusted to fit my smaller left ear.

Once in place, you can clearly hear the world around you through the hole in the center of the speaker so you can listen to music on the street, in the park or in the office. You can easily have full conversations without having to take it out and you can hear your own voice to prevent inadvertent shouting during calls. My voice also sounded clear and natural on the other end of the calls.

The music has good instrument separation, balance and detail in the highs, highs, and mids, with a full equalizer to adapt to your sound preferences. However, the round tweeter struggles to produce lower tones, which means that some tracks sound a bit hollow, making them better suited to pop, rock, and songs that don’t rely on booming bass.

They are discreet when you keep the volume low, but turn them on so you don’t hear them talking softly and they can hear your music.

Determine

  • Water Resistant: IPX4 (sweat)

  • Delivery: Bluetooth 5.2, SBC, AAC

  • Battery life: 5.5 hours / 2.5 hours talk up to 17.5 hours with case

  • Weight stoppers: 4.1 grams

  • Driver size: 12mm ring

  • Charging case weight: 34 grams

  • Chassis dimensions: 41.4 x 48.5 x 30.9 mm

  • Shipping box: USB-C . port

Connectivity, controls, battery

The Sony Headphones Connect app on Android and iPhone handles settings, updates, and customization of extras like one-click access to Spotify or Microsoft’s augmented reality audio service, Soundscape. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The earbuds last up to 5.5 hours of music playback and slip into a small, portable case that can store an additional 12 hours of battery charge for a total of 17.5 hours. When the battery is low, a 10-minute charge provides up to 90 minutes of playback.

However, the speakers also support Bluetooth 5.2 standard and universal audio formats SBC and AAC Quick pair with Android and Quick pair with Windows PC. You can only connect to one device at a time, but you can switch between them seamlessly. The connection to various phones, tablets and watches was very solid.

LinkBud single ear headphone.
The design and fit of LinkBuds is unlike anything else. Clicking the skin patch between the ear and sideburns activates the onboard controls. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

LinkBuds have customizable controls for playback, volume, and other options that you can tap two or three times on the earbud, or even just the side of your head to achieve the same effect. Each earbud may have different controls that work well enough, but the options are a bit restricted compared to the top-tier competitors.

The music pauses when you take out the earphone and starts again when you put it back on. There is also an automatic volume adjustment option that raises or lowers the music depending on how much noise is around you.

Sustainability

The profile of the LinkBud earpiece shows the right side of the rubber mounting wing.
The rubber mount wing easily pulls away from the top of the earpiece to swap in a different size, five of which are included in the box. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Sony does not state the expected life of the batteries in the earbuds or the case. Batteries in similar products typically last more than 500 full charge cycles at least 80% of their original capacity. LinkBuds cannot be repaired and the battery cannot be replaced, which ultimately makes them disposable.

The ear pads and case are made of recycled plastic. The company does not publish environmental impact reports for the headphones. It publishes annual sustainability reports and its roadmap to 2050 without any impact on the environment.

price

Sony LinkBuds cost £149 ($179/$319) and come in white or gray.

For comparison, the Apple AirPods 3 cost £169, the Google Pixel Buds A series cost £100, and Microsoft Surface Earbuds cost £199.

Rule

LinkBuds is an interesting new idea in the world of Bluetooth earbuds, an idea with a new physical design that ensures that the outside world is fully perceived while the music is playing.

It lacks some bass but sounds good otherwise, especially in quieter environments, which makes it perfect for the office or the like. Voice calls are also great. The fit is a little weird at first, but it should be fine for those who don’t like having earphones inserted into their ear canals.

They’re great for running and other activities that require awareness of your surroundings, but those who wear earplugs to prevent distractions should look elsewhere. However, the battery is not replaceable, which ultimately makes it disposable and loses a star.

Sure, they won’t please everyone, but those looking for a good, decent alternative to Apple’s AirPods finally have a competitive option in the more interesting Sony LinkBuds.

Advantages: Open fit, decent sound, decent battery, great case, good connection, great connection quality, sweat-resistant, good application,

Negatives: No noise isolation at all, no noise cancellation, limited control options, can only be connected to one device at a time, non-repairable, expensive.

The two-finger Sony LinkBud reveals the hole in the center of the speaker.
It feels weird in the hand, but its low-profile design means that it won’t protrude once it’s properly inserted into your ear. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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