The Sony LinkBuds are unlike any wireless earbuds you’ve ever seen before. My first thought when I saw them was: they’re gimmicky.
Going into this review, I harboured the same assumptions. With a shape I could best describe as an “8” and no actual silicone ear tips to stick in your ear canal, I couldn’t understand how they would be comfortable to wear, let alone offer good sound quality.
Once I put them on, however, I didn’t want to take them out. Here’s why.
Comfort and fit
In terms of comfort, I’d give them a 6/10. The Sony LinkBuds are rather rigid all around, and even the lower half of the “8” design that goes into your ear canal has no give.
This is a bit of a problem for those with smaller ear canals since it means that to wear the LinkBuds, you’d have to all but shove them in.
Accounting for the unusual design, what keeps them further locked in place is a little silicone loop that tucks under the antihelix of your ear.
Again, speaking as a smaller-eared specimen with less-defined antihelixes, I’d recommend the larger loops (they come in sizes XS to XL), which are much easier to tuck in and will actually stay in place. Once they’re in properly, they shouldn’t budge easily.
Tip: If you’re struggling to get them in, a mirror comes in handy.
My personal difficulties in getting the LinkBuds into my ears and making them stay is actually one reason why I chose to keep them in for as long as possible, especially when I was out and about.
It would have been a hassle to fit them back in without a mirror and risk dropping them somewhere. Those who are able to fit most default sizes of various earbuds would likely not have the issues I faced with the LinkBuds.
Despite their size though, I would argue they’re pretty ergonomic because even after wearing them for 3 hours straight, I barely felt the usual earaches I tend to get with in-ear buds.
I’m not exaggerating when I say the LinkBuds don’t play around when it comes to sound quality. They are good. I even had high expectations too, because I’ve always heard praises rained upon Sony’s other wireless earbud models.
The only thing I was slightly disappointed by is the fact that, due to the earbuds’ shape and my own small-ear shortcomings, I felt as though there was a bit of distance between the audio output and my ear canal.
It didn’t take away from the clarity of the LinkBuds’ audio output, but I’d say my audio was missing some depth.
But perhaps that’s a necessary sacrifice for what Sony is trying to achieve with the LinkBuds.
The best of both worlds
In their marketing of the LinkBuds, Sony uses phrases like “connected with your everyday life”, “hear sounds around you transparently”, and “remain in touch with people and places”.
If you’ve not tried the earbuds for yourself, you may be thinking, what the heck do they mean?
Basically, the LinkBuds aim to be those pair of earbuds that you never want—no, need—to take off, because you should be able to get the best of both worlds, for example, your music and the noises of your surroundings (the roadside, café chatter, etc.).
Is that too bold a claim?
My experience with them says no. They actually lived up to and exceeded those expectations, and I put them to the test one morning prior to leaving for a café.
When I’m outside, I prefer to forgo earbuds because I feel more reassured being able to hear everything around me clearly.
With the LinkBuds though, I could both listen to my music while hearing everything else happening around me, which soothed my anxieties.
I technically would have been able to order my food without pausing my music, but I opted to turn on Speak-to-Chat via Sony’s Headphones app, which is a feature that automatically pauses your audio for 5, 15, or 30 seconds when you speak, allowing you to converse.
The LinkBuds will then pick up where you left off after your conversation ends. This was beneficial when I was listening to a podcast while making my order, since I wanted to hear the waitress clearly.
Be warned though, if your audio is loud enough, others would be able to hear it rather clearly too.
Though I originally thought I’d be bothered by being able to hear background noises while listening to my music or watching my shows, I realised I actually didn’t mind much.
That’s not to say I don’t need ANC anymore, but there’s a time and place for it, like, say, in a plane with crying children. For the most part, I think I now prefer the LinkBuds’ blend of the digital and real worlds.
To be clear, the LinkBuds aren’t the first pair of wireless earbuds aiming to integrate sounds from your audio and surroundings; the bean-like Samsung Buds Live were a pair I reviewed in the past that aimed to do the same.
The shape of the LinkBuds accomplishes this task much better though, since the cut-out centre directly lets environmental noise in.
Speak-to-Chat isn’t a uniquely new feature either, as the Samsung Buds Pro had a similar Voice Detect feature that would lower your audio volume and switch to Ambient mode so you can hear the other person clearly. It would then return to ANC after.
One stand-out feature of the LinkBuds is the Wide Area Tap, which allows you to utilise various controls on the earbuds just by tapping your sideburns. Unfortunately, it didn’t always work well, and I preferred tapping the earbuds themselves.
In all, by the end of my review period with the LinkBuds, it’s safe to say that I went from sceptic to convert. I had no complaints about its battery’s lasting power either, which Sony states sits at around 5.5 hours – 17.5 hours (with the charging case).
If you’re someone who likes having the option to choose between ANC and hear-through/transparency modes, especially for calls or focused studying, then these RM849 LinkBuds may not be the best choice.
|Great sound quality||One-size-fits-all nature might not suit smaller ear canals|
|When fitted properly, comfortable to wear for hours on end||Lacks flexibility for those who like switching between ANC and Hearthrough/Transparency modes|
|Seamless integration of digital audio and environmental noise|
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