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Sony LinkBuds review: A unique pair of wireless earbuds

The Sony LinkBuds wireless earbuds are designed to let the outside world in. But are they up to the mark when it comes to music?

The LinkBuds take a while to get adjusted to, and the fit isn’t for everyone. There are two sections to the design of these pods. There’s the ring (which houses a ring-shaped driver) and the pod (that houses the battery and other electronics). There is a “Wide Area Tap”, wherein you can tap for various controls. (Sony)

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In a world where everyone wants to be an Apple AirPods copycat, a refreshing and unique pair of TWS earbuds is highly appreciated.

Sony and audio go hand-in-hand and it’s no surprise that the LinkBuds are getting a lot of attention. Sony already has the WF-1000XM4 (TWS earbuds) & WH-1000XM5 (over-the-ear headphones) in their arsenal. You may not like Sony’s naming convention but one can’t deny that these are top-of-the-line products. Sony’s latest though, the LinkBuds, are earbuds like you’ve never seen before.

The LinkBuds are designed to let you hear ambient sound. Sony says they “link your online and offline words”.

After using them for about two weeks now, I can clearly see that Sony had a specific target audience in mind when doing some R&D for these earbuds. Maybe those jaywalkers in New York City will benefit from wearing these oddballs.

Weird design, unusual fit that isn’t for everyone

The LinkBuds take a while to get adjusted to, and the fit isn’t for everyone. There are two sections to the design of these pods. There’s the ring (which houses a ring-shaped driver) and the pod (that houses the battery and other electronics). There is a “Wide Area Tap”, wherein you can tap for various controls. The LinkBuds are IPX4 rated, which means that they are splash-proof and sweat-resistant.

At just 4g, These are tiny and light earbuds, and once you get a comfortable fit, they never feel like they’ll fall out. Sony does provide five sizes of wingtips—extra small, small, medium, large and extra-large—for you to choose from.

The thing with the open design is that they lack any bass and the treble is weak, which means that instruments lack much detail.

Unlike most earbuds where you touch a specific part of the earbud for the controls, the LinkBuds are different. You have to tap the area on the side of your face, right next to the ear itself. It took me quite a while to get used to. But once I did, it was pretty effective for the most part. I still find it kind of strange even after two weeks of tapping on the side of my face.

One of the best things about the LinkBuds is that the charging case is incredibly compact. It can fit into any pocket out there and even into your jeans’ coin pocket. It charges via USB-C but these forgo wireless charging. Sony has rated these buds for 5.5 hours on a single charge while the case provides for another 12 hours of listening time. Plenty of battery life to get through an entire day of office and more.

Let me hear the outside world

Thanks to the doughnut-shaped design, you can be fully aware of your surroundings no matter where you are. Even when listening to music, the sound of the cars honking, vendors shouting, and co-workers arguing can be heard with relative ease. One can even have full conversations without having to remove the buds. I tried a couple of calls using the LinkBuds while on a crowded metro ride and my voice came out sounding clear on the other end of the call.

Playing music is where the LinkBuds let me down. The buds struggled with deeper notes and instrument separation wasn’t up to the market. There is a full equaliser, courtesy of the app, and I was able to get a better sound after making certain adjustments. Still, if you’re going for pure music quality, then the LinkBuds aren’t for you. If you’re a fan of thumping bass, then you’re better off staying away from these. These LinkBuds are better for podcasts than for listening to music.

The one downside to the open-shape design is that there is zero isolation. You can hear everything around you at all times. So, if you want an immersive experience, then the LinkBuds are going to be a disappointment. But, as I said above, there is clearly an audience for these out there.

Playing music is where the LinkBuds let me down. The buds struggled with deeper notes and instrument separation wasn’t up to the market.
Playing music is where the LinkBuds let me down. The buds struggled with deeper notes and instrument separation wasn’t up to the market. (Photo by Sahil Bhalla)

Target audience

Prajakta Hebbar, a Pune-based writer, has been using the LinkBuds for over 8 months now. She was used to JBL headphones with active noise cancellation (ANC) and a period of adjustment was in store for her. Eight months later and she doesn’t miss the ANC at all. “No, I don’t miss active noise cancellation as such. One of the things that I have noticed, and I’m sure everybody here will agree, is that it is not safe for a woman to walk the streets of Indian cities wearing headphones. We feel unsafe we feel a little on the edge,” Hebbar says. “But these Sony headphones are perfect for this very reason — it gives you, what I like to think of as, a personal background score, without obliterating sounds from the outside world. It is perfect for music, but podcasts are a little difficult to hear if you are in a very noisy environment.”

I cannot think of a better way of summing up the LinkBuds than Hebbar did. “A personal background score” is exactly what these buds are.

Hebbar does agree that the fit can be an issue though. “I’m used to wearing them now, so it’s not an issue anymore. But you need a little time to get used to them and adjust the little plastic ring things according to your ear size,” Hebbar says. “I usually wear them for meetings and during the day, and unlike normal headphones, you don’t even need to take them off if you are talking to other people, in person.”

Verdict: Are the LinkBuds worth the price tag?

There is no doubt that the Sony LinkBuds are a niche product. They retail for 19,990 (though you can get them for around 15,000 at discount) and they are asking a lot for what they offer.

The LinkBuds are new, unique and a very interesting take on Bluetooth earbuds. They sound decent, are good for voice calls, and provide a waft of safety when you’re out and about on the streets. The fit takes a bit of getting used to, but beyond that, these are pretty comfortable earbuds that you can wear all day.

The target audience is clearly joggers and bicyclists, and they would be most pleased with the LinkBuds. These earbuds were designed to allow you to let the outside world in. If that’s what you want from your earbuds, then there is nothing better than the LinkBuds. Before plonking down your hard-earned cash, just ask yourself if you fit into the “target audience” for these Buds and then go ahead. If you do not fit into that group, then there are plenty alternatives in the market these days.

Sahil Bhalla is a Delhi-based journalist

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