Sony LinkBuds Review: Better Than The AirPods 3rd Gen?

These new earbuds by Sony surprised almost everybody with its… unique design when it was first announced. I’m not a big fan of open-fit earbuds, but these are actually, really good. Maybe even better than the AirPods 3rd gen? If you need something that will allow you to hear your surroundings while still providing great sound, these are actually, probably the best open-fit design on the market.

So let’s talk design first. The reason why I say I think these are the best open-ear design is because it’s really as open-fit as they come. The part of the earbud that sits near the ear canal is pretty much a doughnut, with a circular ring speaker that has a hole in the middle to let in external sound. That being said though, it’s hard to get a truly secure fit with these earbuds, and it’s my biggest problem with them.

The earbuds came with the medium silicone wings attached and they were just too small. I had to switch out to the XL wings, but then the right ear tip was too big so I had to change out to the L wing on the right ear and then it felt a bit too small so I went back to the XL wing… Yeah, it’s just not a very fun process. If your ear shape and size aren’t compatible with these earbuds, it’s just not going to be easy for you to get them to fit right. In fact, my ears typically start to hurt after around 2 hours of wearing these earbuds, which wasn’t a problem I had with the AirPods 3rd gen at all. So I will say, if you’re planning on buying these, either try them out beforehand or buy them from a store that has a good refund policy, in case your ears hurt after wearing them.

As for the earbuds themselves, they look fine. They’re using a speckled plastic, which does feel okay in the hand and ear. The case is the same colour plastic, although the lid isn’t magnetic, so you’ll have to depress a button to get it to spring open. Surprisingly, the earbuds sit in the case magnetically, but you’ll have to press them into place until you hear a click to get them to charge, so that’s just something to note.

There’s a USB-C port on the rear for charging, but unfortunately, no wireless charging here. The case is pretty compact though and it’ll fit into any pocket just fine.

These use the same Sony Headphones Connect app, which is, well, pretty comprehensive. You get touch controls on these, and there’s even a Wide Area Tap feature that allows you to tap on your face near the earbuds and it’ll register. Pretty nice, especially since the surface area of the earbuds is pretty small and it can be hard to get the taps registered accurately. Speaking of which, I did notice taps being incorrectly registered because I had to keep adjusting the earbuds to sit in my ears, but I reckon this won’t be too big an issue if the earbuds fit you right.

For touch controls, the default is playback control on the right earbud, so two taps for play/pause and triple tap to skip forwards, while the left earbud controls volume, double-tap to raise and triple tap to lower. Personally, I’m not very fond of brands forcing group controls, so it’s a bit of a shame that Sony hasn’t allowed for more granular customisation here.

There’s also adaptive volume control, although I feel like it has the same issue I faced with the Pixel Buds, the volume increase was just too inconsistent. Additionally, there’s speak to chat, which is the feature that allows your earbuds to automatically pause whatever audio is playing when you start speaking, although I never needed this because of the open-fit design. And of course, the Sony EQ feature is here and it’s as comprehensive as always. There’s also DSEE upscaling, which is nice.

Moving on to connectivity, these are running on Bluetooth 5.2 and the range is honestly quite impressive, I managed to get around 10 metres with two walls in between before it cut out completely. Unfortunately, there’s only SBC and AAC on these, although I guess it doesn’t make much sense to put LDAC on open-fit earbuds where details won’t be as easily picked apart. That being said, it would have been nice to have aptX for lower latency. There is support for Sony’s 360 Reality Audio though, so that’s nice, although compatible music tracks are still a bit lacking.

Sony claims 5.5 hours in the earbuds with another 12 hours in the case for a total of 17.5 hours, although, as I mentioned previously, I couldn’t really use these for longer than 2 hours at a go before taking a break. That being said, they did go around a week and a half or so, so you probably won’t need to charge them too often if you’re using them moderately and not at high volumes.

There’s an IPX4 water resistance rating, but there’s really no way I could use these to run or anything because they start wriggling out of my ears whenever I open my mouth or move my jaw, so I don’t trust them to stay in when sweat gets added into the mix.

The microphone quality on these is pretty decent. You still get background noise creeping in, but generally, it’s passable for calls if needed.

As for sound quality, it’s actually surprisingly good. Despite these being open-fit earbuds, there’s a decent amount of bass present. If you don’t think it’s enough though, there’s the option to adjust it via the EQ feature. As for the mids and highs, they’re detailed and very well balanced. I will say that the soundstage greatly benefits from this open-fit design, because the overall sound coming from these earbuds actually feels more like you’re listening to a pair of speakers that’s close by, rather than earbuds. You don’t get that closed-in feeling.

The earbuds sound very typically Sony, with an excellent amount of musicality that makes listening to almost every genre enjoyable. That being said, the downside of open-fit earbuds is still present, of course, with finer, more subtle details being lost if there’s any sort of loud noise going on in the background.

At S$269 or US$179, these aren’t too expensive. In fact, they’re the same price as the Apple AirPods 3rd Gen. But if you want to hear everything going on around you while still enjoying your music, the Sony LinkBuds definitely allows for more ambient sound to enter. They’re just not as comfortable if your ears aren’t the correct size and shape.