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Sony Linkbuds WF-L900
Retail price: $178.00$178.00 at Amazon
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Sony Linkbuds WF-L900
It’s hard to decide what the most surprising thing is about the Sony Linkbuds. Is it the donut-shaped design, or the fact that Sony is releasing buds with a name that doesn’t quite read like an auto-generated password? Perhaps it’s just that yet another company is angling for the unsealed true wireless earbud market. Regardless, the Linkbuds are one of the most unique consumer audio products we’ve seen for some time.
But does uniqueness mean anything worthwhile?
Who are they for?
- Anyone who really doesn’t want to miss anything going on around them, but can’t be bothered to take their earbuds out will see the appeal here.
- Music listeners who hate the feeling of a sealed ear and don’t mind missing out on some sound quality won’t have to deal with the suction of silicone ear tips.
What are the Sony Linkbuds like?
It’s surprising how normal the Sony Linkbuds feel, given how strangely they’re designed compared to other true wireless earbuds. This is a pretty different approach than options like the Sony WF-1000XM4 that seal the ear canal using foam or silicone ear tips, or the ubiquitous Apple AirPods, which don’t seal, but still have a hard tip to jam into your ear. The Sony Linkbuds feature ring-shaped tips that nestle into the curves of your ear, and while getting the right fit takes some trial and error, they’re pretty comfortable.
The Sony Linkbuds are strange to look at, but they're pretty comfortable.
The Sony Linkbuds are made of plastic, and they’re very light as a result, with each bud weighing only 4g. Since the ringed ear tips are permanent, Sony includes five sizes of detachable silicone ear fins to make sure the earbuds stay secure in your ear.
Actually using the earbuds is pretty normal. The earbuds have touch-sensitive sides and simple controls like tapping twice to pause or play media, or three times to skip a track. Without the Sony Headphones connect app, you can’t do much else — more on that in the next section.
The Linkbuds also feature support for a new control method called Wide Area Tap, which is the same as the on-ear tap control, but you tap the space in front of your ear. You can basically lightly slap your own face to control your music.
Read more: Bluetooth codecs explained
The Sony Linkbuds connect to your device using Bluetooth 5.2, and they support the AAC codec as well as the default SBC. There’s no reliable high-quality Bluetooth codec for Android users, though SBC is very stable. There’s no Bluetooth multipoint, but you can at least listen in mono with the right earbud.
Should you download the Sony Headphones Connect app?
The Sony Headphones Connect app is a must-have if you want to get the most out of your Linkbuds. The experience here is pretty much the same as with products like the Sony WH-1000XM4 or WF-1000XM4. It brings access to an equalizer and firmware updates, and the Sony 360 Reality Audio feature.
The app also brings some customization options for the on-ear controls. You can set each earbud to an individual control profile, gaining volume control, the ability to go back a track, activate your voice assistant, or access Spotify. You can also toggle features like adaptive volume control and the wide area tap feature in the app.
The adaptive volume control option automatically adjusts the volume of your earbuds based on how much sound the microphones pick up. It works, but it’s disorienting. There’s no option to customize sensitivity; it’s either on or off, so even if you’re in a quiet environment, the Linkbuds constantly adjust playback volume.
How long does the battery last in the Sony Linkbuds?
In SoundGuys’ standardized battery testing at a consistent output of real music peaking at 75dB(SPL), the Sony Linkbuds lasted five hours, 41 minutes on a single charge, which is pretty standard for true wireless earbuds. According to Sony, the charging case offers another 12 hours of listening time on top of that. The charging case doesn’t support wireless charging, but the case does support fast charging via USB-C. Plugging the case in for 10 minutes will get you 90 minutes of listening time.
Do the Sony Linkbuds block out noise?
The Sony Linkbuds bring next to nothing in the isolation department, which makes sense — there’s literally a hole in each earbud. Sony isn’t trying to add noise-cancelling to an unsealed earbud as Samsung did with the Galaxy Buds Live. Instead, Sony is focusing on the upsides of being able to hear your surroundings. These are designed for the teen that walks around with one AirPod in, or the person walking alone at night that wants to keep their wits about them.
Runners may also like the absence of isolation, especially given their IPX4 rating. Whether they’re secure enough to handle a jog will depend on the individual.
These are designed for the teen that walks around with one AirPod in or the person walking alone at night that wants to keep their wits about them.
Isolation performance like this means auditory masking is a constant struggle with the Sony Linkbuds. If a car drives by while you’re walking on the sidewalk, or an announcement blares at the grocery store, you will lose out on the low-end sounds you’d be hearing in your music. This all means you’ll probably feel an urge to crank the volume too high sometimes. Doing this puts you at greater risk of noise-induced hearing loss, so please don’t do this.
How do the Sony Linkbuds sound?
The Sony Linkbuds (cyan line) have a sound profile that deviates pretty dramatically from SoundGuys’ house curve (pink line). While the chart above looks pretty dire, you may find that the listening experience isn’t quite so bad. The significant under-emphasis in the bass range is definite and noticeable, but indoors it can sound alright. Outside, all bets are off.
At home or in another quiet environment, the bass riff that introduced the AFI classic Miss Murder initially comes through loud and clear. As the rest of the instruments build, it’s considerably harder to hear, but doesn’t drop off completely. This is to be expected with a frequency response chart like the one above.
Indoors they can sound alright. Outside, all bets are off.
Songs with a less bassy sound, like Shakedown Street by the Unknown Mortal Orchestra, come through nicely. Guitar strumming and hi-hats sound clear, and higher-pitched vocals aren’t overshadowed by any instrument. Even the bass part sounds nice. But this is all based on a quiet, indoor setting. If you’re out and about, nothing you listen to will sound all that great.
How is the microphone in the Sony Linkbuds?
The Sony Linkbuds microphone sounds better than most embedded true wireless earbud microphones. It’s not recording quality, and struggles a bit with rejecting external noise, but it’s good enough for long and short phone calls or video meetings.
Sony Linkbuds microphone demo (Ideal):
Sony Linkbuds microphone demo (Office):
Sony Linkbuds WF-L900 review: The verdict
If you absolutely need a pair of true wireless earbuds that lets you keep tabs on your surroundings to the utmost degree at all times, you should consider the Sony Linkbuds. If you don’t feel strongly about that, you should look elsewhere.
The Linkbuds could’ve been a trainwreck of a product, but they aren’t. They’re quite comfortable, and secure if you get the right fit. The sound quality is tricky, since bass doesn’t sound great, but it’s okay in the right environment. This is a specialized product, and if they fit your needs, they could be really nice. However, most specialized audio products, like workout earbuds or gaming headsets, are much more broadly usable than the Sony Linkbuds.
Basically, don’t get this if you want normal earbuds. Plenty of true wireless products have transparency modes, and they’re going to sound a lot better than these. Get these if staying aware of your surroundings is your number one priority, but don’t get them if it’s not.
What are some alternatives to the Sony Linkbuds?
If you’re dead-set on an unsealed fit, and you’re an iOS user, you might want to consider the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) ($179). This generation of AirPods have a lot of the same issues as their predecessors, like terrible isolation, terrible Android user experience, and so on. However, they also have additional bass speakers which seriously improve bass response. The AirPods (3rd generation) sound considerably better than the Linkbuds, and they’re the same price.
Related: The best AirPods alternatives
If having an unsealed fit isn’t important to you, there are a ton of good options, but here are a few. If you want great workout earbuds, the Jabra Elite 7 Active ($179) could be the ones for you. They sound great, have a feature-packed app, have active noise-cancelling, and a transparency mode for when you do want to hear your surroundings. They’re coasted in a grippy, rubberized material that keeps them securely nestled into your ear.
If you want great audio, things get more expensive, but you can find great options like the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro ($199) or the Apple AirPods Pro ($249) for under $200 pretty often. If you don’t mind spending more, the Sony WF-1000XM4 ($279) feature best-in-class noise-cancelling, support for the LDAC audio codec, and all the same great software features as the Linkbuds.