Sony finally took the leap and launched their LinkBuds (WF-L900) in India, pricing them at ₹19,990. This is the latest addition to Sony’s line of premium earbuds, including the Sony WF-1000XM4, which retails at the same price. With their unique design and approach towards giving the users a new audio listening and calling experience, they do stand out. But the question is, are they good enough to stand up to the standards set by others in the market? Well, to find that out, we put the earbuds through their paces in our test, and here’s what we found out.
Sony LinkBuds: Build, Design, and Fit
The Sony Linkbuds have anything but a mainstream design, and wearing them is a statement about your openness to adapting to the latest technology trends. The buds come in a plastic-free package, and their aesthetic parts (case and earbuds shell) are made using recycled plastic material. So, Sony earns the brownie points there.
When it comes to the fit of the earbuds, things start getting tricky. They are small and lightweight. However, given their 8-shaped design language, the fit is either a hit or a miss. Even with their silicon loop, which is meant to hold the buds in place, if your ears are small, then these might not fit you. Some of us at the Digit Test Centre cherished the new design and the lightweight feel of the buds, but people with smaller ears could not get it to stay within their ears. So, you should look out for that. If you have relatively big ears, these slide in like a glove.
In terms of the case, Sony trumps most other TWS makers out there. The case is really small and has great pocketability. The branding is subtle, just like on the buds themselves. The case and the buds lack the sturdiness that someone shelling close to 20k of their hard-earned money would want. The overall feel of the case is flimsy, and with no metal bracket support, you could easily break the lid of the case. And, if you like opening your earbuds case with one hand, good luck. You have to press a button in the front to open the case, which makes opening the case a task that you’d need to pay attention to get it right every time.
Sony LinkBuds: Features
What Sony loses out in terms of the design and build of the case and the fit of the buds, it makes up for it in the features department. These earbuds are a great example of how good engineering can help package well-executed features in a small form factor. Apart from the regular inclusions like in-ear detection and others, the two features that stand out the most are – adaptive volume control and wide area tap.
Let’s start with the wide-area tap. Sony LinkBuds come with a technology that Sony calls the Wide Area Tap. What this does is that it extends the touch-sensitive area from the buds over to the region in front of the ears. So, you can tap on your skin to change tracks. How cool is that!? While this may seem like a gimmicky feature at first glance, the actual performance is way above par. Sony has done a great job of implementing this feature. Even on the buds, the touch response is great.
The second on the list is the adaptive volume control which automatically changes the volume levels depending upon the ambient noise. This feature, just like the wide-area tap, outperformed our expectations. The change in volume when we shifted from one place to the other was smooth and accurate enough to ensure that our music/call was audible at all times.
However, the way that these buds are designed, they miss out on what has become a staple in premium earbuds, active noise cancellation. These earbuds lack ANC and often let too much ambient noise in due to the virtue of their design. The adaptive volume control tries to make up for it, but with little success. We cannot complain much here because when deciding to get your hands on these buds, this is what you signed up for. If you take flights often, then you should look elsewhere or get a dedicated pair of headphones with ANC. During your workouts, though, these would work just fine. They have an IPX4 rating, which is nowhere close to what you get with other products in the price range but have to live with.
In terms of the app, these use the Sony Headphones Connect app, which we discussed in our previous reviews and shared our love for. To sum it up in a single line, it has most of what you could ask for, including custom EQ controls, option to modify the touch controls, etc. Basically, it has all the bases covered.
Sony LinkBuds: Performance
The Sony LinkBuds live up to the expectations that we had set, especially considering the price and the fact that they are made by Sony, who know their way around in making good personal audio products. The soundstage is wide, and instrument separation is great on this pair. The cherry on top is Sony’s Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE), which fills in all gaps in the earbuds’ sound quality.
Uncompensated frequency response graph of Sony LinkBuds (Orange)
Every track that we played on these buds sounded like what one would expect when spending so much money on a pair of TWS earbuds. However, the bass response was not that great. The bass sounded muddy and brought down the listening experience in tracks that are laden with bass instruments. The mids and the highs were as we expected them to be. Due to their design, the earbuds could not fit in the coupler of our testing rig, which meant that the bass response was not recorded well in our tests, and the other frequencies too weren’t represented with the accuracy that we’d like.
Now, coming to the microphone performance. The Sony LinkBuds are being marketed by Sony to be targeted toward providing the users with a great calling experience in which microphone performance matters. And again, Sony lives up to the standards that they have set for themselves. The audio coming from the microphones is crisp and could be heard with ease by the person at the other end, during our testing.
Sony LinkBuds: Battery Life
The LinkBuds lasted long during our tests. It took us close to five and half hours at 50 per cent volume to drain the battery of the buds. The case promises to give the buds another 12 hours of juice, which pegs the total battery life at about 17.5 hours in total. So you should get through a couple of days of usage with these. There is no ANC on these buds, which also helps them inch closer to the battery life advertised by Sony. The company is also claiming that with just 10 minutes of charge, you can get a listening time of 90 minutes.
Sony LinkBuds: Verdict
The Sony LinkBuds are unique, which means a lot of things. Firstly, there is no product that you can pit them against. Owning these buds is a unique experience that cannot be matched by the offerings of any other brand. What you earn in terms of style points and unique design and features, you lose out in the form of modern-day essentials like ANC. So, if you are out in the market with a ₹20k budget, and want to try out something new, then go for it. However, if you are looking for anything close to a bang-for-the-buck experience, then stay away from these.