For some time now, the wireless earbud market has grown toward the bursting point, with all sorts of options for active noise canceling buds with wireless charging, long battery life, solid waterproofing and other features for prices between $75 and $150.
But if you’re sick and tired of paying less for more, Sony has something new for you. You can pay $178 for earbuds without ANC or wireless charging, plus pedestrian battery life and minimal waterproofing. Meet the all-new Sony LinkBuds Truly Wireless Earbuds!
What do you get for that price? Sony’s reputation, plus an interesting new compact, lightweight, open-style design that might work great for at least some people.
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Sony LinkBuds’ open-style design
Hear what’s going on around you
I refer to “Sony’s reputation” for good reason. This is a company that makes great audio products, including two earphones often cited as the best of their kind. Those are the Sony WF-1000XM4 true wireless earbuds and the Sony WH-1000XM4 over-ear headphones, both with ANC and a host of other features.
When the company comes out with something new, people rightly take notice.
Sony’s new true wireless LinkBuds offer an unusual, open-style design. The company referred to the hole through each bud as an open-ring design that lets you be more aware of ambient audio. You can see right through the driver.
And speaking of drivers, now you’ll be able to hear that bus bearing down on you.
But seriously, the hole lets in some ambient sound along with the buds’ high-quality audio. Presumably, that works somewhat like open-back, over-ear headphones, which tend to offer a bigger “soundstage” than closed-back cans while not containing their own sound or blocking outside sound as much.
Note also that the LinkBuds use the same V1 chip as the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds, but they lack the pricey buds’ LDAC codec support.
And if the shoe fits …
So what does the unusual, open-back design mean for LinkBuds’ fit, the second-most important quality an earbud has after sound?
Instead of going with the commonly seen silicone eartip designs that fit like earplugs, Sony opened things up. And the company coated the LinkBuds in a soft silicone material with a supporter arc, or wing, to grab some purchase in the ear (with a choice of arc sizes in the box). But there are no stems and no loop that goes around your ear.
Looking at the new buds on their own, it’s a little hard to see how they’d stay in, much less fit. But if you look at Sony’s images showing ears, you can see how the small, compact buds might work well for those who don’t like the earplug style. And at the same time, they might be a little more secure than earbuds designed to dangle, like AirPods.
But fit is highly subjective, so you’ll have to see for yourself.
Strange new earbuds with both strange and so-so features
The open design and its allowance for outside noise may contribute directly to Sony’s omission of ANC in the buds. The open design would probably require quite powerful ANC to make a difference, and Sony elected to keep things simple.
Thanks in part to the silicone coating, the buds offer IPX4 splash- and sweat-resistance. Some drizzle’s fine, but don’t drop them in the water.
To control playback, you can use tap controls or the onboard Alexa voice support. Interestingly, you actually tap your own skin just in front of your ear, rather than the buds themselves. Sony calls it “wide area tap.” You can turn on that feature and tweak other controls with Sony’s app.
Sony LinkBuds deliver 5.5 hours of playback on a single charge, with the charging case adding an additional 12 hours of usage (those are not high numbers, merely adequate ones). After those 17.5 or so hours, you need to plug in the case via the USB-C port, because the case doesn’t support wireless (Qi) charging.
For those who champion an environmentally friendly approach, Sony delivers. The LinkBuds are made of recycled materials and delivered in plastic-free packaging.
So would you pay $178 for the LinkBuds? Let us know in the comments, below.
Available for preorder
Available now for preorder on Amazon, the new Sony LinkBuds cost $178 and come in gray or white colors. You can also preorder for $179.99 on Sony’s website. Shipping starts February 17, Sony said. At least they’re about $100 less than the flagship ANC-enabled XM4 Sony earbuds…
Where to preorder: Amazon