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Sony’s new LinkBuds bridge unique design with open-world listening

Sony has announced a new pair of headphones, and no, they’re not the WH-1000XM5.

They are, instead, a rather novel pair of true wireless earbuds called LinkBuds. Sporting a ‘unique’ ring design, the LinkBuds allow you to listen to your music and podcasts while also being aware of what’s around you.

That design is not unlike Apple’s AirPods or Urbanista’s Lisbon headphones, so we’re not calling these headphones a step into uncharted waters. But considering it’s Sony, we’re willing to bet they’ll boast better audio and they do sport some interesting features.

Sony LinkBuds in open charging case

Weighing only 4g each, the overall shape of the earbuds has been crafted with the use of ear shape data that Sony has collated since it introduced the world’s first in-ear headphones all the way back in 1982. The weight and shape, Sony says, will help contribute to a fit that you “barely notice”. They’re also made from recycled plastic materials and feature plastic-free packaging, as Sony continue to push their green credentials in the wake of the WF-1000XM4’s launch in 2021.

You can tap on the earbuds to control playback and engage with a voice assistant, or with the Wide Area Tap function you don’t even have to tap on the earbuds themselves to interact with them. Double or triple tap the area in front of either of your ears and you can start and stop playback as you like. It feels weird at first but genuinely works.

Sony LinkBuds fitting in the ear canal

Other features include Speak-to-Chat, which automatically pauses audio when you start speaking to someone, restarting playback once the conversation is finished. Alexa and Google voice assistants can be activated though “OK Google” or “Alexa” wake words, especially useful if you have your hands full.

More convenience arrives in Google’s Fast Pair and Microsoft’s Swift Pair by quickly connecting to Android and compatible Windows devices, while a couple of taps is all that’s needed to resume your favourite playlist via the Spotify Tap function.

Rated at IPX4 for water resistance and featuring 5.5 hours of battery (another 12 from the charging case), a 10-minute fast charge reaps another 90 minutes of playback. Sony’s immersive 360 Reality Audio is onboard for conveying music in a three-dimensional space, and another intriguing feature is support for Microsoft’s Soundscape, a piece of tech that enables users to hear “audio beacons and callouts of buildings or intersections” to build up awareness of what’s around you.

So if you’re working from home, playing games or listening to your favourite music, the Sony LinkBuds aim to be right in your ears playing that audio. They’re available this month (February 2022) in grey and white finishes, and the RRP is cheaper than the AirPods 3 at £150 / €180. We’ve spent a little bit of time with them already so look out for our review in the coming weeks.

Innovation, evolution or more of the same?

Sony’s LinkBuds aren’t necessarily a true wireless pair that do anything different from previous earbuds. There are plenty of models that seek to let sound in as well as let you listen to your music, but perhaps no other brand as put as much emphasis on hearing what’s around you. The ring driver design is a genuinely unique and from the small amount of testing the audio is impressively natural sounding. They pack in plenty of convenient and intriguing features (such as the Microsoft Soundscape) and considering the number of people who don’t like the typical earphone design, these might be a godsend. They’re an intriguing pair of earbuds, and I’m interested in seeing how they handle busier, noisier environments.

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