The Sony LinkBuds are the weirdest wireless earbuds I’ve ever tested, and I’m in love

a woman wearing the sony linkbuds while working out
(Image credit: Sony )

True wireless earbuds haven’t been around for that long (relatively speaking, anyway), but they quickly evolved into two main form factors: stem earbuds like the Apple AirPods, and rounded stemless designs that fit snugly into your ear. 

You might think that’s about as much variety as we need when it comes to earbud design, but Sony has just shaken things up with the launch of its latest wireless earbuds. The Sony LinkBuds are the world’s first open-ring in-ear headphones, a design that leaves your ear canal totally free to hear your environment while you enjoy your music. They’re also Sony’s smallest earbuds to date.

Open up the Sony LinkBuds’ tiny charging case and you’re presented with a pair of shiny rings attached to bulbous housings – quite unlike any true wireless earbuds I’ve seen before. With no eartips to place in your ear canal, getting them to fit is an experience in itself; helpfully, Sony provided me with an instructional video. 

With no seal against your ear canal, you might think that the LinkBuds would sound tinny, or lacking in bass response; usually, in-ear headphones are positioned so that the driver sits close to your eardrum, giving the effect of powerful bass frequencies.

Instead, the LinkBuds’ 12mm drivers encircle your ear canals – but that doesn’t mean they sound any less powerful than some of the best true wireless earbuds you can buy today. Sure, they aren’t as bassy as models like the NuraTrue, but the LinkBuds sound rich, detailed, and well balanced. 

I’ll always prefer the immersive sound of a pair of over-ear headphones (my pair of choice are the Sony WH-1000XM4), but listening to the lush three-part harmonies of The Beatles’ dreamy motown-style bop This Boy was as lovely as I’d hoped. 

The benefit of the open-ring design is that you can still hear what’s going on around you as you listen to music, which is incredibly useful if you work in an office and need to be available for quick conversations, or when you’re cycling and need to be aware of your environment.

Sony takes this principle one step further as well, by including its Speak-to-Chat feature, which pauses your music when the earbuds detect your voice.

Head-tapping fun

the sony linkbuds with their charging case

(Image credit: Sony)

The unique design of the Sony LinkBuds is complemented by some rather ingenious controls. As on many other true wireless earbuds, you can tap the housings to control your music playback – although as the LinkBuds are so small, it can be tricky to tap them accurately enough to get the response you want. 

To get around this, Sony has implemented a feature called Wide Area Tap, which allows you to double or triple-tap the area in front of your ears to control the earbuds. That’s right – you need only tap your face to pause/play your music or skip to the next track.

I can’t get enough of this feature. I’ve tried earbuds in the past that make use of gesture controls – the TicPods Pro 2 allow you to accept calls by nodding your head and reject them by shaking it – but none have got it right until now. 

Tapping your temples is such a subtle, easy gesture, and the sensors on the LinkBuds have no problem registering the difference between two taps to pause/play my music and three taps to skip to the next track. It’s the kind of feature I can see being adopted by true wireless buds manufacturers across the board – and I wouldn’t be surprised if the rumored AirPods Pro 2 came with similar capabilities. 

 All good things must come to an end 

It’s safe to say that I’ve fallen in love with the Sony LinkBuds. But, like many love stories, the ending is bittersweet. 

For all of the positive things I have to say about the LinkBuds, there’s no getting around the fact that they just don’t fit comfortably in my ears. It’s a problem I’ve always had with earbuds that require you to shove the housings into the concha of the ears, and it means I find the LinkBuds too painful to wear for long periods of time. 

Removing the LinkBuds after wearing them makes me physically wince. My ears ache as much as my heart – but I can’t really blame Sony for the fact that my uniquely small ears can’t handle the smallest earbuds it’s ever made.

So, while I can’t continue my relationship with the LinkBuds for much longer, lest my ears actually fall off – although I’ll tough it out for long enough to file my full review – I bear no ill will towards their makers. 

In other words, Sony, it’s not you – it’s me. 

Olivia Tambini

Olivia was previously TechRadar's Senior Editor - Home Entertainment, covering everything from headphones to TVs. Based in London, she's a popular music graduate who worked in the music industry before finding her calling in journalism. She's previously been interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live on the subject of multi-room audio, chaired panel discussions on diversity in music festival lineups, and her bylines include T3, Stereoboard, What to Watch, Top Ten Reviews, Creative Bloq, and Croco Magazine. Olivia now has a career in PR.