No other earphones look quite like Sony’s LinkBuds. They’re made up of a little ball attached to a circular bit, with a hole in the centre and then there’s also another doughnut-shaped section meant for balance and fit. There are no stems or protrusions that go into the ear canal. Users will immediately wonder how these are to be worn and their best bet is to follow the instructions from the Sony Headphones app or even take a look online at a YouTube video. A little initial effort to understand how to fit the LinkBuds into one’s ears is important because the fit makes a difference to the sound.
Light airy fit
Compared with other earphones, the LinkBuds are much smaller and lighter. They come in a truly small case, which happens to be made of recycled auto parts. They’re light and easy to carry. It could be just as easy to lose though, which means it’s important to keep track of it. The tiny size of these earbuds and the fact that there are no intrusions into the ear canal make them comfortable to wear for a long time – or until the battery runs out about five hours later. Then they must go in for a quick top-up to give 90 additional minutes or a charge cycle. The case can go through two cycles with the whole package providing about 17 hours.
In the present
There’s a specific use case for which the LinkBuds have been designed. These are definitely not for anyone who wants to be lost in their own world of music or tune out of the world around and listen to podcasts. This product has been designed for those who need to very much stay mentally and physically present while listening to something else at the same time. In other words, these are for auditory multi-tasking, if there is such a thing.
The question comes up on whether listening in and out can as well be achieved with any other earphones. There’s typically a mode that turns off active noise cancellation and focuses on ambient sounds bringing them into a sharp highlight. This transparency mode has been known to be used sometimes to eavesdrop on nearby conversations.
The LinkBuds don’t have noise cancellation, nor do they have an outright transparency mode. The open-ring design and that doughnut-shaped attachment that lets air pass through actually ensures that the wearer is able to listen to everything around in a natural way. In fact, one might say what’s playing inside those earphones is on par with what is ambient. One could use the ambient mode in a cheaper pair of buds, but that will not be as natural as the particular mix offered by the LinkBuds. One could also just use one bud from any other product but again, the sound will be very different and somewhat of a force-fit solution.
While the music sounds nice on the LinkBuds, these are not for anyone who wants full-blooded listening, so the sound is a little receded. You certainly don’t get to hear resonant bass or a lot of detail in the music. If someone comes up to have a conversation, the earphones will kick in the ‘speak to chat’ feature and will pause the music until the talking is done and then resume 15 seconds later. You can even trigger the feature by talking to yourself or sometimes by humming. It can, of course, be turned off altogether. This clever trick appears on several of Sony’s other earphones and headphones. These earphones also use adaptive sound to configure listening in different environments. They support spatial audio and Sony is working with various partners to create augmented reality experiences that use the capabilities of the tech found on the LinkBuds.
A fascinating and innovative feature of the LinkBuds is that it uses a ‘wide area tap’. You can tap just under your ear near the cheekbone to initiate stop and start and call up the virtual assistant. In essence, you are the button. It’s a comfortable and natural action. Controls on earbuds themselves are usually very fiddly and awkward to use and this self-tapping feature is a rather nice solution that one hopes to see in future Sony products.
Innovative, comfortable, and interesting they may be but the LinkBuds are also rather expensive at their asking price of ₹19,990. People who like music while working, going for a run or paying attention to what is around while taking calls may find these unique buds useful, but those looking for solitary music listening should explore other options.