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Sony LinkBuds Review: A Hole New Idea

Sony LinkBuds' buds outside of the charging case.

So many truly wireless earbuds simply mimic the Apple AirPods. They don’t bring any new ideas to the table. The Sony LinkBuds feature a wildly unique design and approach to wireless earbuds. Thankfully, the risk paid off.

Here’s What We Like

  • Unique design allows ambient noise and music to co-exist
  • Comfortable fit once you figure it out
  • Excellent touch controls

And What We Don’t

  • The charging case is thick
  • Battery life is only decent

The Sony LinkBuds are part of a subgenre of headphones with what’s called an “open” design. This technique is an alternative to the type with rubber tips that create a seal in your ear. Those are designed to block out ambient noise, while “open” earbuds let it in.

While most “open” earbuds simply don’t create a seal, Sony took the idea very literally. The LinkBuds have an actual opening directly in the middle of the speakers. For certain situations this is ideal, but it’s not for everyone. Let’s find out if it’s for you.

Note: At the time of writing this review, I have been using the Sony LinkBuds for over three weeks as my only headphones. I’ve used them with multiple phones and computers in that time. I purchased the LinkBuds on my own.

Design and Fit

Sony LinkBuds' earbuds held in a person's hand.

The Sony LinkBuds don’t look anything like a “normal” pair of earbuds, that much is obvious. Where you would typically see the speaker housing, there is a literal hole. The LinkBuds are essentially the polar opposite of earbuds like the Apple AirPods Pro.

This unusual design is what allows outside noise to enter your ear. The ring-shaped speaker lines up with your ear canal so there’s nothing blocking outside sound from entering. The other internals are found in the offset spherical housing.

It took me a few days to understand how the LinkBuds are supposed to fit. My first instinct was to put the ring as deep into my ear as I could get it. However, they kept slowly working their way out of my ear.

Sony LinkBuds in a person's ear

The ring should fit gently behind the small bump at the front of the ear and the flexible support arcs tuck behind the folds—Sony has a handy demo video. It should feel like the LinkBuds are sorta floating in your ear. Once I figured that out, they’ve been super secure and I can wear them for hours without getting much soreness in my ears.

Sitting at your desk is one thing, but what about getting active? I’ve used plenty of earbuds that won’t stay in my ears while running. Thankfully, I haven’t had that issue with the LinkBuds. They’re stable in my ear and allow me to hear people around me—more on that later.

There’s definitely more of a learning curve than you may be used to due to the unorthodox design. Sony includes four different sizes of support arcs to help you dial in the fit for your ear shape. Like any earbuds, the LinkBuds may not fit your specific ear shape, but make sure you’re wearing them correctly before deciding they’re not right for you.

Charging Case and Battery Life

Sony LinkBuds' case size compared to the AirPods Pro.
AirPods Pro vs Sony LinkBuds

An important part of every pair of truly wireless earbuds is the charging case. The LinkBuds case is both smaller and bigger than you would expect. The footprint is small, but it’s decently taller than most earbuds cases.

That’s probably my least favorite thing about the Sony LinkBuds. The charging case isn’t comfortable in my pocket—and I don’t wear skinny jeans. It’s not ridiculous, but it’s enough that I will opt to put them in my shirt pocket or backpack if I can.

The main purpose of the case is to charge the earbuds, so let’s talk about battery life. Sony claims the earbuds get 5.5 hours on a single charge with an additional 12 hours from case recharges.  You’re looking at around 17 hours of listening before you need to charge the case again.

Those numbers have been relatively accurate for me in real life. I’ve been getting about three total recharges from the case. That works out to charging the case just about every other day for me. You can certainly find earbuds with better battery life, but the LinkBuds are very compact and light. It’s a trade-off you have to make.

The charging case uses USB-C for charging, no wireless charging here, unfortunately. The case also seems to charge very slowly considering the battery isn’t that big, reaching a peak of 1.5W speeds in our testing.

Sound Quality

Sony LinkBuds earbud vs AirPods Pro bud.
Sealed (AirPods Pro) vs Open Design (LinkBuds).

Let’s talk about sound. Can earbuds with a big hole in the middle of the speakers sound good? They can and they do. I have been pleasantly surprised by the sound quality.

Listening with the LinkBuds is actually a bit of a strange experience. Typically, earbuds either have rubber tips to create a seal or they sit loosely in your ear. With rubber tips and noise cancellation, you only hear the music. Loose-fitting earbuds allow you to hear more around you, but there’s a speaker blocking your ear, so it’s still dampened somewhat.

The hole in the LinkBuds allows you to hear your surroundings very clearly. You might think that would make the music hard to hear, but that’s not the case. The ambient noise and music are able to co-exist without canceling each other out.

Are you going to get the absolute best sound quality out of the LinkBuds? No, that’s not really possible without a good seal. Most wireless earbuds struggle with bass and the open design of the LinkBuds doesn’t make that issue any better. In general, though, I would say the sound quality is above average.

Of course, certain situations are better suited for them than others. The aforementioned running is a perfect activity for the LinkBuds. I can listen to music or podcasts and if someone says “on your left!” I can still hear them perfectly. It’s also nice to not have to choose between listening to music or enjoying the sounds of nature.

Where the open design isn’t great is in places like coffee shops. They have their own music playing, which will interfere with yours. If someone is having a conversation at the next table, you’ll be able to hear every word. That’s what the LinkBuds are designed to do, though. You have to know when to use them.

Touch Controls and Extra Features

Controls are an incredibly important part of using wireless earbuds. They can make or break the entire experience. Thankfully, Sony has equipped the LinkBuds with some of the best controls I’ve used.

Each earbud has a fully customizable double tap and triple tap touch control (using Sony’s Headphone Connect app available on Android and iPhone). They can be used for volume, playback, song skipping, and Google Assistant or Alexa. The controls are independent, so you could have the left earbud for volume and the right for playback.

The LinkBuds also have Spotify Tap integration that’s pretty slick. Say you have the LinkBuds paired to your phone and PC. If you’re listening to Spotify on your PC, the LinkBuds will automatically know to connect to that device when you open the case. Also, if you switch the LinkBuds to your phone while listening, Spotify will automatically switch over to your phone as well.

Sony LinkBuds lifestyle

I haven’t mentioned the best part yet—you don’t actually have to tap the earbuds. You can simply tap the area immediately in front of your ears. This works surprisingly well and is by far the easiest way to control earbuds I’ve found.

As mentioned, the LinkBuds support Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. This is not my first pair of earbuds with Assistant integration, but it’s the first pair that’s been good enough to make me actually use it. The “Hey Google” wake-up is detected about 90% of the time and it’s quick to respond in those times.

Overall, the touch controls and Assistant integration are features that can make a good pair of earbuds great. If you’re constantly annoyed by interaction, you’re not going to want to use them.

Should You Buy the Sony LinkBuds?

Sony LinkBuds case held in a person's hand.

Now it’s time for the big question—should you buy the Sony LinkBuds? Let’s get the price out of the way first. At launch, the LinkBuds cost $180 and they’re available in white and dark gray. For comparison, the Apple AirPods also cost $180.

Wireless earbuds are very subjective. Whether or not you like the LinkBuds is going to depend on your personal use-cases and the shape of your ears. That being said, I think the LinkBuds are a super solid pair of earbuds from Sony.

If you value being able to hear your surroundings while still having good audio quality, the LinkBuds are an excellent choice. You’ll need to fiddle with the fit at first, but you should be able to eventually find the right combination of support arcs and positioning.

The LinkBuds are unusual and that means they’re not for everyone. If you happen to be one of the people that this design appeals to, I think you’ll be hole-y satisfied.

Here’s What We Like

  • Unique design allows ambient noise and music to co-exist
  • Comfortable fit once you figure it out
  • Excellent touch controls

And What We Don’t

  • The charging case is thick
  • Battery life is only decent

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