Sony recently launched its new LinkBuds, a pair of unique true wireless earbuds that offer a more novel take on your everyday listening. Sporting figure eight designs, these buds have a distinctive ring-shaped driver that allows allows you to still hear ambient audio. Giving Apple’s best-in-class Transparency mode a run for its money, we go hands-on with Sony’s latest to see if they’re worth the $178 price tag.
Hands-on with the new Sony LinkBuds
Sony has long been one of the more popular options out there in the earbuds space for those who don’t want to be locked into an ecosystem from the likes of Apple, Google, or Samsung. While its XM4 ANC series are currently the cream of the crop to that end right now, the new Sony LinkBuds enter at the $178 price point and apply that same platform-agnosticity to the opposite end of active noise cancellation spectrum.
Other earbuds out there are designed to filter out ambient audio in your surrounds with an optional transparency mode to toggle on when you need to actually hear something. On the flip side, the Sony LinkBuds are designed for those who always want to be hearing what is going on around them while still listening to music or podcasts.
The center of that experience falls to the unique shape of the Sony earbuds. Differing from the true wireless buds you’ll find with elongated stems that house microphones and batteries, the LinkBuds have an interesting figure eight design. The upper part of each earbud is where all of the tech sits, with the lower section sporting an all-new donut-shaped driver.
This lets sound freely pass through into your ear while still serenading you. It’s about as close as you can get to open-back true wireless earbuds, and delivers a hardware approach to the popular Transparency modes pioneered by Apple and the like.
As far as other features go, you’re looking at a respectable 5.5 hours of playback per charge. That jumps up to another 12 with the USB-C charging case, as well. On top of being IPX4 splash- and sweat-resistance, Sony rounds out the package with tap controls that let you adjust playback by double tapping the space right in front of your ear.
Sony was nice enough to send over a pair of the new LinkBuds shortly after launch, and I have been testing them out since. Given that I primarily listen to a lot of music here at my home office, I was lucky enough to also get a chance to put these to the test in NYC’s crowded streets, subways, and all.
Right off the bat, I was pretty impressed by the packaging that Sony provides for the LinkBuds. Much like earbuds themselves which are made with recycled materials, the box is plastic-free. Out of that box, it’s worth noting just how tiny the charging case here actually is. They are much smaller than AirPods Pro or any other buds in my collection, which translates over to the actual in-ear modules.
How do the Sony LinkBuds sound?
Sound-wise, the Sony LinkBuds are alright. These aren’t going to win any awards for being the best-sounding buds on the market, but certainly get the job done. I would definitely say they’re a little light on bass and aren’t as well-balanced as some other options out there, but sound just fine. It’s also worth noting that the LinkBuds aren’t the loudest options on the market, though I never had any issues hearing music over the hustle and bustle of those around me.
How do the Sony LinkBuds fit?
Despite being so small, the unique figure eight design employed by the Sony LinkBuds isn’t going to be for everyone. Included are some swappable silicone ring tips to place on the top for staying put in your ear, but I found getting the right fit to bit a bit finicky. Once that learning curve was traversed, I figured out just how these are supposed to rest in my ears and from there haven’t had issues. But it’s worth noting that just like how these shake things up in terms of form and function, the actual wear is going to be a bit different, too.
By far the Sony LinkBuds’ biggest strength is in the ambient audio passthrough and that always-on hardware Transparency mode. It really delivers exactly what the company says it will, and honestly goes above what I had expected. This is one of those you won’t believe it untill you hear it experiences that Sony has nailed. It’s easily the best ambient sound feature I’ve ever used, and that’s even including the stellar AirPods Pro/Max take on the matter. The open hardware angle really does make a difference and allows the LinkBuds to be the best out there.
Are they worth it?
In a world where there is more competition in the true wireless earbuds space than you can imagine, the Sony LinkBuds somehow manage to still offer a unique take. That being said, the novelty can only take these buds so far. I am a big fan of what they do well, but find myself in the camp that I am sure most others will be in. These are just a bit too niche for my everyday listening habits to use as daily drivers, or recommend to anyone else for that same cause – especially at $178.
Though if a majority of your listening is done while out and about, namely taking public transportation or hitting the streets on foot or an EV, the Sony LinkBuds really do shine. I think the best way to tell if you’re going to like these is whether you spend a considerable amount of time with an existing pair of earbuds’ Transparency mode feature turned on. If that’s you, Sony’s latest are going to deliver an even better experience. Otherwise, there are better options for all-around use to consider instead.