Ameya DalviSep 12, 2022 18:05:12 IST
– Unique design and good build
– Can be aware of your surroundings even while wearing the earbuds
– Impressive vocal clarity and soundstage
– Good call quality
– Wide Area Tap is too cool
– Wear detection sensors, IPX4 water resistant
– Low on bass
– Average battery backup
– No high-end codec support
Price: Rs 14,990
Reading the product manual is a good thing, but I don’t remember considering reading one just to figure out how to wear a particular earphone correctly. Sony has been challenging established wearable audio designs this year, and the LinkBuds are the latest in that endeavour. Other than a unique design, these TWS earbuds have some cool features too. But can they deliver the one thing that matters most – great sound quality? Let’s figure it out.
Sony LinkBuds WF-L900: Design and Comfort (7/10)
The Sony LinkBuds have a highly unusual design for the buds that Sony calls Open Ring. I can best describe them as 8-shaped. The design philosophy behind this product is to stay connected with your surroundings and the people around you even with these buds in your ear, and the design reflects that to an extent. Unlike most TWS earphones, there is nothing here that enters the ear canals – no silicone or foam tips, nor hard shells. The buds sit just outside, and there’s a hole right at the centre to let the ambient noise and voices through.
The fit is quite snug and doesn’t cause any discomfort after you figure out how to wear it right. However, you do notice their presence in the earlobe, something not everybody who tried these buds were happy with. But the majority voted in favour of the LinkBuds in the comfort and fit department. A soft silicone fin helps in keeping the buds in place even during jogs and workouts, and they never popped out unintentionally even once. You get 5 pairs of fins (if I may call them that) in the bundle for different-sized ears. Choose one that makes you feel most comfortable.
We got the white variant of the LinkBuds for review and it looks good in the smooth matte finish. The same finish extends to its compact charging case. It is made of recycled plastic material and the build quality is quite solid. It has a button at the front to open the lid along with a charge indicator LED, and a USB-C charging port is placed at the back with a pairing/reset button. While there are magnets that hold the buds in place in the case, you still need to apply some force till you hear a click to lock them in and get them to charge.
Sony LinkBuds WF-L900: Features and Specifications (7/10)
The Sony LinkBuds are not high on features like active noise cancellation (ANC) or advanced codec support, but there is one that stands out – the controls. Though these buds have touch controls, Sony likes to call it Wide Area Tap for a reason. Unlike most touch-enabled earbuds where you need to tap in the designated touch zones, one doesn’t need to touch the LinkBuds at all to register the taps. You can actually tap on your ear or just below to execute the function assigned to that gesture. This is extremely cool and works flawlessly.
The functions can be reconfigured using Sony’s Headphones Connect app. But a long pending issue about limited functionality still remains. The app lets you assign functions for double tap and triple tap gestures, however, the options are available in sets, and one cannot choose individual functions for each gesture. For instance, if you select Playback controls for the left earbud, double touch will be assigned to Play/Pause function and triple tap for the next track. Similarly, if you choose the Select Song option for the right bud, you can use double tap for the next track and triple tap for the previous track.
Volume control is also available along with a few other options but you can only choose a set each for the left and the right ear. Given that these earbuds do not support a single tap gesture, you get limited control over the buds and need to go back to the source device to execute the rest. About time Sony takes a more granular approach to configuring controls. Other than that, the buds have wear detection sensors to pause the audio automatically when you remove a bud from the ear and resume when you wear it back.
These earphones are Bluetooth 5.2 compliant but the codec support is limited to AAC and SBC. For a premium product, Sony could have at least opted for LDAC support here. The LinkBuds are IPX4 sweat resistant and can be worn during workouts. The wireless range is good, with the buds maintaining a strong connection up to 10 metres with a clear line of sight, and more than half of that with a concrete wall in between.
Sony LinkBuds WF-L900: Performance (7/10)
Before we head to the sound quality, let’s understand the purpose of the LinkBuds. It is not just about enjoying your audio but also being aware of your surroundings and converse with people around you without removing the buds from the ear. Think of it as a natural transparency mode that you get in earphones with ANC. Now you know why there’s a hole right at the centre of each earpiece. While in theory this is great, it requires a fine balancing act.
For starters, you have to let go of any passive noise isolation or a good seal in the ear canals that we are accustomed to. That directly impacts the bass. While it isn’t non-existent, it is noticeably low. And it’s not just the bass-heads who would find it inadequate, even we could have used a bit more thump, especially the sub-bass. Where the LinkBuds lack in bass, the specially designed 12 mm ring drivers make up for that in other frequency ranges.
The mids are reproduced very well with excellent vocal clarity and sharp instrument sounds. The highs have ample sparkle and are well-tempered without sounding sibilant. However, the overall sound signature may feel a tad bright due to insufficient bass, especially when outdoors. The output is quite pleasant when indoors with reasonable warmth. There is good detail in the audio and the soundstage is fairly broad lending a nice sense of space to the overall output.
The buds get loud enough at 50 to 60% volume. The latency is fairly low and watching videos wearing these Sony earphones was a good experience. There was no noticeable lag between video and audio when streaming content from OTT platforms. Though you miss the extra thump in action sequences, the dialogue clarity is generally very good.
Sony LinkBuds WF-L900: Call quality (8/10)
The call quality of these earbuds is impressive. The voice sounds natural and both parties on the call were clearly audible to each other irrespective of whether I was indoors or outdoors. The ambient noise as well as wind noise are kept well in check. Though it’s not eliminated 100%, I didn’t have people on call complaining about it or lack of clarity. Sony claims that the noise-reduction algorithm was developed with the use of AI and ML and over half a billion voice samples to extract the voice clearly in different environments. Seems to be working.
Sony LinkBuds WF-L900: Battery life (6.5/10)
Strangely, the battery backup on the LinkBuds is not so great. It’s not dismal, but given that there are no battery-consuming features like ANC here, I was expecting better. Possibly the ring drivers draw more power. The company states modest figures of 5.5 hours for the earbuds and 17.5 hours for the buds and case combined. In our tests, the earbuds lasted a little over 4 and a half hours at 50-60% loudness, and with the charging case, the overall battery backup was a shade under 14 hours.
Somewhere close to 20 hours would have been par for the course in this day and age. The case takes about two hours to charge fully with a standard USB-C charger. These buds do support fast charging , wherein 10 minutes of charge can give you close to 90 minutes of playtime on this product, which is handy. You also get a notification from the companion app when the battery level of the case drops below 30%.
Sony LinkBuds WF-L900: Price and verdict
The Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 TWS earphones are priced at Rs 14,990 with a one-year warranty. I know Sony is trying something new and may have invested heavily in research, but the price feels steep for a product that I would term as work in progress. The thought behind it is sensible and does address a need gap, but if people are expected to shell out that kind of money, they are bound to expect more — better audio quality, better battery backup and advanced codec support.
One obvious question you may have in your mind is how do the LinkBuds compare to the Sony WF-1000XM4 TWS buds. Simple answer – not even close. These are two completely different products catering to different needs. In some ways, they target opposite use cases. If you want arguably the best sound quality and ANC under Rs 20,000, and cut off the world around you, the 1000XM4 is a clear winner. If you want to stay connected with your surroundings and try something different when it comes to design and style, then you may consider the LinkBuds.
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