Sony WF-L900 LinkBuds REVIEW
These buds are genuinely innovative and provide a solution for those who feel nauseous poking buds in their ear canals. PAT PILCHER explains.
When you thought innovation in the wireless earbud space was dead, along comes Sony who’ve launched the utterly unique LinkBuds. They’re unlike any other wireless earbuds out there. The goal for virtually all earbud makers has been generating good audio as well as active and passive noise isolation. When it comes to noise isolation, Sony has counter-intuitively headed in the other direction and the results are impressive.
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Design-wise, Sony’s LinkBuds (the WF-L900) have a distinctive look. Most buds sport a tip that sticks into your ear canal to direct audio into your noggin which helps to keep unwanted audio out and sound from their driver blasted at your eardrums. The LinkBuds, however… well, they have a doughnut-shaped 12mm driver. Yup, it’s round with a hole in the middle.
The LinkBuds are designed to sit at the entrance to your ear canal. For anyone who dislikes having a silicone tip burrowing its way into their brain via their ear canal, the LinkBuds make for an extremely comfortable alternative. Passive and active noise isolation may be a big marketing point, but many earbud wearers want to hear outside noise for improved situational awareness.
While most earbuds have an ambient mode that pipes in audio from external mics, their ambient audio is often pants. With the LinkBuds, you can hear external noise and music without sacrificing audio quality from your music or the environment. Compared to Sony’s highly regarded WF1000XM4 buds, the LinkBuds are positively petite, being 51 per cent smaller and 44 per cent lighter.
Their design might be striking, but are they comfy? In a nutshell, hell yes! I fell asleep wearing them more than once, which I find impossible to do wearing traditional earbuds. Sony also provides a choice of differently sized silicone rounded wing thingamajigs to help the LinkBuds stay put. With particularly strenuous activities (such as tearing open chip packets, downing pints and so on), the LinkBuds never once fell out. Add in an IPX4 rating (which makes them resistant to sweat and splashes) and compatibility with Google Assistant/Alexa, along with Fast Pairing for Android/Windows, and it isn’t hard to see that they’re a great choice for joggers and gym bunnies.
The DAC, battery and amp are located in a small dome next to the ring-shaped driver, and they’re powered by the same V1 processor found in Sony’s WF-1000XM4 buds. This means that Sony’s DSEE (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) is also present. Another fancy pants feature baked into the LinkBuds is what Sony calls “Clear Call with AI”. It’s a noise-reduction tech that’ll reduce external noise in phone calls. The tech works in concert with twin integrated mics, resulting in surprisingly clear audio for you and your caller, regardless of your environment.
Accessing all of the extra functionality baked into the LinkBuds requires downloading the Sony Headphones Connect app. The latest version comes with equaliser pre-sets (a manual mode is still there). Speak-to-Chat (which pauses music when you talk, resuming it when you stop yapping) is there too. DSEE upscales compressed music formats, adding sparkle to otherwise average-sounding MP3 audio.
Another nifty addition is Adaptive Volume Control. It’ll automatically tweak playback volume levels depending on how much external noise is present. While it is clever, I sometimes found sudden jumps in volume jarring. Perhaps the most innovative feature are the touch controls. While they can be tweaked using the headphone connect app, Sony also added “Wide Area Tap”. It transforms the skin in front of your ear into a control surface. It’s a pretty cool feature and it works well, even if it looked like I was constantly trying to scratch my noggin.
On the audio front, their output is balanced. Mids and highs don’t dominate or compete. That said, their bottom end needed boosting via the Headphone Connect app’s equaliser. Overall, the LinkBud’s audio was pleasing. The ring driver delivers a surprisingly spacious sound. It isn’t so much a case of audio being blasted into your head, but more one of the soundstage unfolding around you.
Live audio packs plenty of energy thanks to the LinkBud’s soundstage, which gives different elements of the audio tons of breathing room. Their audio is so immersive that I forgot I was wearing them when listening to RNZ via TuneIn and tried tweaking the amp’s volume control in my dining room. Like Sony’s well-received WF100XM4 buds, the LinkBuds deliver exceptional musicality. Their audio feels transparent, with nothing sounding shrill or muddy. However, your mileage will vary depending on ambient noise levels.
The LinkBuds ran for just over five hours, and their case supplied an added 12 hours of use. This may not be the 9+ hours of headphone life you’d typically get with high-end buds, but hey… the LinkBuds are super-petite, and a smaller design also means smaller batteries in the buds and charging case. Another spinoff effect is that their charging case size means it doesn’t support wireless charging.
The LinkBuds are a refreshing take on the wireless earbud genre. If you like music when out and about but value greater situational awareness and comfort, the LinkBuds will tick many boxes. Liquid/sweat resistance and flexible pairing make them ideal for runners/fitness fanatics. Add to this spacious audio, and there’s plenty to like.