A few years ago, everyone and anyone was launching fitness trackers, until no one could keep track. These days, it’s the realm of wireless earbuds and you can find them everywhere, but there are a few kings of that audio hill. Sony has been one of the bigger players, mixing it up with the other players, but facing up against Apple with its iconic AirPods range. With the release of its new Sony LinkBuds, the Japanese tech giant seems to be moving away from the tried and tested WF series, and urging folks away from the beloved AirPods?
The Sony LinkBuds are one of the most unique designs we have seen in years, outside of the original AirPods. At first glance you may think these are a compact earbud that swivels out, to allow physical audio transparency, then can close when you want great sound isolation, but this is not the case. The two-part look is a one-piece design that relies on the ear loop to keep them secure. There is no silicone or foam tip to secure the buds inside your canal, as they only sit inside the outer portion of your ear canal like many standard earbuds.
Due to the top part of the LinkBuds being heavier than the bottom that sits in your canal opening, the fitment and size choice of the rubber hook is crucial, otherwise these will fall out immediately. This is a design we would strongly recommend one tries on before purchasing in case you find them not to your liking. The carrying case they come in is small, lightweight and very pocketable, though this means there’s no wireless charging. The case design and build quality is minimal, and lacks okay, but does feel more budget-like than what the brand has been known for. If you are keen to pick up a set, they come in Charcoal Grey or White, and we recommend the grey as it’s better at hiding dirt or markings that can get on over time.
Sony is all about being as eco-friendly as possible with the LinkBuds packaging, and while we appreciate the effort and consciousness towards sustainability, the presentation is, for lack of a better word, flimsy. The ear loops that you so desperately need to rely on are positioned as such in this thin paper sleeve that once removed, are difficult to put back in, and the sleeve immediately loses its shape, resulting in customers that in almost certainty will lose or misplace a loop or two as they can easily fall out.
There is no quick setup guide for the earbuds, only a QR code to link you to an online video that isn’t the best at explaining how to fit the earbuds securely. It took us multiple attempts to figure it out, and we have had our fair share of earbuds in the Geek Culture office. In addition to the packaging contents, You will get a USB C Cable for charging, but no power brick, but this is more the norm in 2022 so it’s expected.
Performance-wise though, it’s another matter. We have been testing the LinkBuds for the past couple of weeks, and walk away a bit perplexed. We applaud Sony for taking a new approach to the wireless earbud segment, but also wonder if they actually did their due diligence when it comes to real-world testing, especially when it comes to fitment and audio quality.
Connectivity to an iPhone or Android device via bluetooth is fast and relatively simple but does rely on the Sony Headphones app for more settings and firmware updates. Speaking of the latter, the update process is somewhat frustrating. Updates can take up to 60 minutes, yes 60 minutes even over Wi-Fi. The LinkBuds need to be outside of the case to do this which means you will need to either carry the link buds in hand with your phone for an hour, or just take an hour out of your day to update the LinkBuds when needed.
When it comes to audio quality though, that’s where things get muted. The sound is decent with good mids and highs, but due to the design, there is little to no bass. Like the NB10 we reviewed, this is surprising because based on Sony’s track record for excellent audio reproduction in various speakers, headphones, earbuds, this should not be the case. Sony does try to compensate with (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) DSEE, an option with the LinkBuds that helps reduce that compressed sound one gets with video and MP3’s. It does give audio playback a more dynamic sound but unfortunately doesn’t help the lack of bass. Audio performance is average at best but if you just want to hear some music at the gym or on a run they will definitely do the job.
Also, the volume at maximum is quite soft compared to other offerings. Perhaps this is better for ear health but it’s nice to have the option in loud environments. Audio quality in the WF series is definitely superior, so depending on your needs the LinkBuds may or may not be right for you.
Comfort-wise, the Sony LinkBuds are designed to keep in your ears longer with less discomfort compared to other earbuds. In this regard, they succeed, allowing one to wear for more than an hour or more without ear fatigue. Do they outperform the current AirPods in this regard? Not quite but they do come close. Battery life is good, coming in around 5 hours per charge with a 17.5 hours of charging in the case.
One interesting feature is Speak to Chat. This setting that can only be activated in the Sony Headphones app, detects when the user is talking, will automatically pause the audio and will resume 2 seconds after no words are spoken or you can tap two or three times to activate playback. This works quite well and does make conversing easier than other true wireless earbud offerings.
Sadly, the cons tend to outweigh the pros, and while Sony has been known to make some of the best true wireless earbuds in the marketplace, the LinkBuds fall slightly short of the same standard Sony set.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
The Sony LinkBuds are an interesting move from Sony, but one must ask, why? With lesser audio quality, and audio that doesn’t inspire confidence in outdoor activities, these are a difficult set to recommend.
Aesthetics - 8/10
Build Quality - 7/10
Performance - 5/10
Value - 6/10
Geek Satisfaction - 6/10
- Battery life
- IPX4 rated
- Easy to sync iPhone & Android
- Good voice pickup
- Lack of bass
- Transparency design
- Low volume
- Firmware update can take up to 60 mins.