Sony LinkBuds review: Rethinking earphones

We don’t appreciate nature enough, or the power of going natural. At a time when active noise cancellation promises to cut out natural noise so that you can listen to your music and calls in peace, Sony takes a radical approach with its innovative LinkBuds wireless earphones. This unique open-ear design offers sound at its natural best while keeping you well in the context of your environment.

The design of the LinkBuds is unique in more ways than one. For instance, the earphones don’t have any buds with silicone tips to push into your ear canal. Instead, there is a ring where the buds would usually be and silicone fins at the edge to hold them in place. I wasn’t sure this would be good enough to keep the LinkBuds locked in if I’m running or even walking.

Sony LinkBuds review The earphones don’t have any buds with silicone tips to push into your ear canal. (Image credit: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

On a quick trip to New York this week, I thought the best place to test the LinkBuds would be during a morning walk to Central Park. The 40-minute walk to the park in the New York sun made it clear these buds won’t budge easily. And given the heat, the sweat resistance, of the earphones came into play as well. These are also the smallest buds I have used and so light that you forget soon after that you are wearing anything.

The face of these buds does not have any touch sensitivity. Instead, you tap in front of your ears to pause a song or call. That’s really new and works well too. A double tap pauses the song, while a triple tap lets you switch to the next song. But gestures don’t let you adjust the volume. However, you won’t have to do this, as the LinkBuds offer adaptive volume that adjusts itself based on your surroundings. And this feature works quite well as I found out at an airport lounge where it automatically boosted up to keep the noise at bay and let me enjoy my Rabindra Sangeet. The other good feature is the talk-to-pause option, which needs to be activated from the Sony Headphones app.

Sony LinkBuds review The 40-minute walk to the park in the New York sun made it clear these buds won’t budge easily. (Image credit: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

But with all this innovation it is the audio quality that stands out in the end. I’m so used to noise cancellation now that I wasn’t expecting much in terms of clarity. But the LinkBuds were mind-blowing, despite the chatter of kids playing nearby and the drone of New York that permeates the thick foliage of the park. Listening to The Other Rhythm, I was surprised how I could enjoy the surround sound and Shankar Mahadevan’s playback switching from left to right despite where I was. When there was silence otherwise, the audio quality was as good as any top-of-the-line earphones, rich and layered. You wouldn’t guess that it was coming from pill-sized earphones that don’t even show outside your ears.

I could hear the choppers fly over me while the playlist ticked over Innum Konjam Neram, one of my favorite AR Rahman compositions. The song is primarily vocal-led which was truly enjoyable along with the drums that carry the song all along. But when the chopper chose this time to fly a bit lower I realized my volume was at max and I was testing the limits of these earphones.

Back in the room, switching to the same Biswaguru playlist, the experience was more akin to listening to some over-the-ear headphones. The audio is both natural and versatile, but also devoid of the extra bass Sony packs in most of its earphones. The open ear design sure offers a very different audio profile that is not usually heard in in-ear models. And I mean that in a very positive way. This could be the start of something big, a movement to go open ear, in-ear, and more natural.

The natural sound profile means the call quality is also more natural and you don’t get the tinny audio like in most ANC earphones.

Sony LinkBuds review Sony LinkBuds in their charging case. (Image credit: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

The earphones being small can’t store a lot of juice. So on a full charge, you get over 17 hours of playback with 90 minutes of juice more in the tiny charging case. But you can juice back up in just 10 minutes which is really good.

The Sony LinkBuds have the potential to become the daily use earphones for all those who don’t particularly love the vacuum of ANC earphones and love the natural playback of open earphones. The only issue is that you do feel a bit shouted down when you are in noisy surroundings and should keep this in mind if most of your time is spent in such spaces. I would recommend this more for those who love to lounge at home with their favorite music. The Sony LinkBuds are a new take on earphones with the potential to trigger a new range of devices.

The buds are available at an introductory offer of Rs 12,990

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