Sony LinkBuds review: We love this extremely weird unit
The Sony LinkBuds are so weird and I love that they exist. But do true wireless earbuds with a literal hole in them actually deliver good sound?
- Weird but comfortable design
- Very cool controls
- Extremely compact case
- Great if you don’t like noise isolating buds
- No wireless charging
- Not the best bass
- Distortion at higher volumes
Nothing delights me more as a tech reviewer than when a company does something weird. In a sea of similar designs and black & white form factors, it's fun to see something different. And that's certainly being delivered by the Sony LinkBuds.
These true wireless earbuds are tiny and have a literal hole in them. It's so strange and I love that they exist. But are they actually any good?
Design: They're tiny!
The design of the Sony LinkBuds is unlike anything I've seen before in true wireless buds. Not only are they super tiny, they have an actual hole in them.
This results in 2 things. Firstly, the entire bud nestles into your ear. Unlike true wireless buds in the market, they don't protrude from your ear.
And the hole means they are open to environmental noise, which is a huge point of difference. Most wireless earbuds we see in market right now are pushing hard into active noise-cancellation, or at least dampening.
The LinkBuds strive to do the exact opposite, which is excellent news for anyone who wants to be more aware of their surroundings.
I also found the smaller size and form factor to make for comfortable listening sessions. My only real problem with the flagship Sony XM4s earbuds are the comfort levels. I can't wear them for hours on end without my ears aching.
Thankfully, I found the cheaper Sony C500 buds to be a huge improvement. And the Sony LinkBuds are, too.
They were also surprisingly secure in the ear despite the small size. I was shocked, honestly, because actually getting them in my ear the first few times was quite fiddly.
Much like the original Powerbeats Pro earbuds, it took me a while to figure out how the LinkBuds were supposed to sit in the ear. I was left feeling very stupid. But we got there eventually and now the process is seamless. And secure. Whether I was chilling out at home, on a long walk or working out at the gym – they stayed firmly in place.
In fact, the left bud in particular seemed to disappear entirely. No really, I couldn't feel it in my ear. This resulted in panicking a few times, thinking they must have fallen out on the street. Nope, they were just ultra comfy.
While we're on size, the charging case is also teeny tiny. And considering the mammoth earbud cases we've seen over the last few years – this is great news. It's nice to be able to slide them even into jean pockets designed for Not Men.
Sony LinkBuds review: The best part of its performance are the extremely cool controls
Setting up the LinkBuds was simple via the Sony Connect app – it was done in less than a minute. Like with other Sony products, you then have the option to customise it further.
This includes the ability to set up Sony's 360 Reality Audio. This is where you take photos of your ears so the app can customise the audio experience for you. However, considering this isn't Sony's best audio offering (we'll get to that) I didn't see a great deal of point in this.
Plus, it's only useful if you subscribe to services that actually utilise 360 Reality Audio, like Tidal, Amazon Music HD or Deezer. And if you are, you're probably looking for higher quality audio than what the LinkBuds are capable of.
But there are more useful features, in my opinion. The first is speak-to-chat, which will automatically pause your music when you remove the buds. I always enjoy this feature in true wireless earbuds both for the convenience and battery saving functionality.
The other great one is the adaptive volume control which adjusts the volume to the environmental noise around you. So it would perhaps turn itself down while you're at the office, but boost when you go out onto a noisy street.
The coolest feature by far is the controls. No, really.
While most true wireless earbuds allow you to control your music by tapping on them, this is a little trickier with the Sony LinkBuds. They're small kings, after all.
As a solution, Sony introduced a feature called Wide Area Tap. This lets you tap in front of your ears to pause, play and skip your content instead... and the buds will register it.
It's absolutely wild stuff and worked really well in my experience, so long as you were relatively firm. There was occasional misses, but not more so than what I've found with regular earbud tapping in most other competitors. It was very fun to use and made me actually utilise the tap function more – generally I just use my phone.
Sony LinkBuds review: Not the best audio performance but great if you want to hear what's going on around you
Sony offers some of the best sound performance in the earbud market. You won't get the same quality in the LinkBuds as the WF-1000XM4s, but it's still evident that thought and care has been put into them.
The sound is much better than what I expected from earbuds with a big ol' hole in them. The mids and highs in particular do quite well.
In Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic by The Police, the piano and guitars remain distinct from Sting's crooning with little to no dampening or blending.
Similarly, Dua Lipa's vocals in Good in Bed come through brightly on her high breathy notes, but remain clear as she drops down to her chest voice. And both are supported by the distorted piano, bass and drums sitting firmly in the mids. Again, they come through in their own right quite well on the LinkBuds.
But the buds do suffer quite a bit when it comes to the bass. It's simply not as punchy as its closed-bud counterparts, which was really evident in bass-heavy tracks like Make Me Feel by Janelle Monae and Redbone by Childish Gambino.
The audio quality is also impacted heavily by your environment due to their open nature. Listening in the quiet of your own house is entirely different to being out the street where they do suffer.
Whenever I used them on a busy street I had to turn the volume up to still hear them clearly – especially if a truck drove past. This is turn resulted in distortion on any track I was listening to due to the high volume.
But while the Sony LinkBuds don't offer best in class audio, I think that's okay. If you want exquisite quality, you want to look at the XM4s instead.
But if you want something that works just fine for the gym, office and commuting, these do the job. Plus, if you're someone who doesn't want noise-cancellation, they're perfect for environmental awareness.
Sony LinkBuds review: Impressive quick charge but otherwise the battery is just okay
The battery life on the Sony LinkBuds is fine but far from best in class. Sony says you should get around 5.5 hours of playback and then an additional 12 hours from the charging case.
I personally found this to be pretty accurate. There were less variables with the LinkBuds than some other competitors as it doesn't have active noise-cancellation (ANC) or any kind of sound isolation – which tends to be a bit of a juice sucker.
For some perspective, there are cheaper (and still excellent) buds that squeeze a bit more life out of them.
Sony's own mod-range WF-C500 earbuds (RRP $128) get 10 hours of playback. Meanwhile the $199 Sennheiser CX Plus get 9. But to be fair, they both have more traditional designs that can fit a larger battery in, compared to the LinkBud's petite form factor.
Sadly you also won't find wireless charging here. This isn't something I use a lot, but it would be a nice inclusion considering the $319 price tag. So if that's something that's important to you, it's perhaps worth thinking about.
However, it does offer impressive quick charge via its USB-C port. 10 minutes of charge will get you 90 minutes of juice, which is 30 minutes more than Sony's flagship WF-1000XM4 true wireless earbuds. That's sexy because those things are best in class and at the top of our best wireless earbuds list. But again, it's worth remembering that the LinkBuds battery is probably a touch smaller and therefore quicker to top up.
Should you buy it?
- Buy it if you aren’t a fan of noise-cancelling earbuds.
- Don't buy it if you like noise reduction or want something a bit cheaper.
With so many true wireless earbuds starting to replicate one another, it's very cool to see Sony try something different here.
With the Sony LinkBuds you're getting some high quality hardware that dares to be different, offers a good solution for those who don't want noise-cancellation and still has a decent enough audio and battery life.
Plus, those controls really are sick.
But that being said, they're still over $300, which is an awkward spot to be sitting in. The competition is getting tough out there and you can get excellent true wireless earbuds for less from Jabra, Skullcandy and even from Sony itself.
Alternatively you can spend a bit more and get the top-of-the-line Sony WF-1000XM4s or Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 at a decent price on sale. And don't forget the Momentum True Wireless 3 is also out now.
So, it's a tough call. But if you like the Sony ecosystem and want something a little cheaper but still unique, they're a good bet.
Sony LinkBuds review: Pricing and availability
The Sony LinkBuds have an RRP of $319.
How we test
The author tested the Sony LinkBuds extensively over several weeks.
The buds were tested against similar-priced wireless headphones as well as high-end offerings.
Sony provided the LinkBuds for the purposes of this review. The author has been testing and reviewing headphones for over 5 years and has won best reviewer in the 2021 IT Journalism Awards.