Sony's newest wireless earbuds, the LinkBuds, are unlike anything else. That's because they have a unique open design — there's literally a little ring-hole that you can see right through — that allows ambient sounds to get in so that the wearer can better hear the outside world. It's like an always-on transparency mode.
I've been playing around with the Sony LinkBuds for the last several days and, for the most part, they work exactly like you'd expect from a pair of Sony wireless earbuds. The sound is surprisingly tight and consistent. They fit nicely thanks to a silicone tip. The built-mics work excellent for calls. And they're packed with features.
Just like many of Sony's existing wireless, the LinkBuds also work with the Headphone Connect app, which allows you to tweak the EQ and turn on various settings. There's "speak to chat," where the LinkBuds automatically pause your music when it detects you're talking. And there's "adaptive volume control, where your music's volume automatically increases if the LinkBuds detect that you're in a noisy environment. These are the same features that are in the Sony WF-1000XM4, which are one of the best all-around wireless earbuds you can buy. (If you don't like these features, you can turn them off via the app.)
One of the coolest things about the LinkBuds is their size: they're one of the smallest wireless earbuds that I've ever used. They fit right inside your ears — there's no hanging out so you don't look weird wearing them — and the charging case, while a little more bulbous, might even be a little smaller than the AirPods case.
Because of their small size and unique fit, Sony gave them a cool way to play, pause, adjust volume and skip or replay tracks. Instead of tapping on the physical earbuds, which are tiny (and would risk disturbing the fit), you instead can double or triple tap on the side of your face. Yes, you tap your skin. Sony decked the LinkBuds out with motion sensors that detect vibrations. You can assign two tap gestures to each of the sides of your face, and they actually work pretty well. (Even if I still perform the analog method of using my iPhone.)
As far as sound quality, the Sony LinkBuds are good-but-not great — which is kind of par for the course considering their open design. They naturally let in outside sounds and thus can't create the same controlled chamber as many other earbuds. And while they're designed for a different purpose than open-back headphones, which are meant for serious music enthusiasts listening in a quiet environment, the LinkBuds do support spatial and immersive sound technologies like Sony 360 Reality Audio (which, to be fair, a good amount of wireless earbuds now do).
At $178, the Sony LinkBuds are expensive but not super expensive; for example, many of the best-of-the-best wireless earbuds on the market cost a good chunk more, like the AirPods Pro ($249), Sony's own WF-1000XM4 ($278) and the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds ($279). That said, Sony has omitted some key features from the LinkBuds that make less premium. There's no active noise-cancellation. The charging case doesn't support wireless charging. There's no multi-device Bluetooth pairing. And, at 5.5-hours per earbud, battery life is average at best.
I like the Sony LinkBuds — I like them a lot. Yet despite having a unique design and a cool fit, there's no getting around the fact that they're designed for a specific type of person: somebody who wants to hear their music while also hearing the world around them. Maybe that's somebody in an office setting, a bike commuter or a student walking to class with friends.
But if you're somebody values top-end audio quality and new-age features (like wireless charging and noise-cancellation), there are plenty of other alternatives. Heck, Sony's own WF-1000XM4 ($278) are basically the best you can get — and they're often discounted.
The Sony LinkBuds are available in either white or black. You can pre-order now, with shipping set for this Thursday (February 17).