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In recent years, many models of headphones and earphones have come out that focus on their ability to protect hearing from the sounds of the external environment, the so-called noise canceling. Less common, on the other hand, is to find a pair of earphones that do the opposite, that is, that allow you to hear music and calls without isolating your hearing from everything else. In fact, many do not like the feeling of isolation given by most earphones, especially those with the silicone rubber that adheres to the ear canal, and – even if you shouldn’t – there are many people running, cycling or cycling. scooter in town with earphones and would like to continue doing it more safely.
Among the few earphones with this feature, the LinkBuds Sony have been out for a few weeks, have a very particular design and cost 180 dolars. Among the experts, they are considered Sony’s answer to Third generation AirPods from Apple, which have the same price and the same openness to external noise, and a higher quality alternative to bone conduction headphones. We tried them.
The most controversial thing: the shape
The LinkBuds have a very particular shape, The Verge he called them “the weirdest Sony earphones in years”. They consist of a kind of donut, which is inserted at the entrance to the ear canal, and a more rounded part that is wedged into the outer part of the ear so that the earpiece does not move. Wearing them is not immediate because they must first be inserted well into the duct and then fixed to the auricle, but once they are put on they stay perfectly still in the ear. So that the earphones do not risk falling with every movement, Sony has included in the package five pairs of rubber pads of various sizes, which however do not go into the duct (creating that feeling of empty air that annoys some), but serve to anchor firmly the pot-bellied part to the outer part of the ear.
On The Verge Chris Welch wrote that during his tests the LinkBuds never became uncomfortable, even after several hours of use and Wired wrote that they are a gift for anyone with small ears and consider many earbuds too bulky. In general, the design of the LinkBuds received very positive reviewsbut from our tests we concluded that this is not always the case for everyone and that comfort depends very much on the shape and size of each one’s ears.
For example, one of the people who tried them in the editorial office of the Post – who has very small ears – immediately found them uncomfortable and after a while even painful. In her case the problem is that the earphones are too big to fit well in the ear without pressing on the cartilage. Two other people with larger ears found them very comfortable and kept them on for a while without almost feeling they had them and without them moving. In particular, one of these she says she always has trouble finding earbuds that won’t fall out and she really liked the way the LinkBuds fit into her ear. The only way to understand this is to try them, but in general it is likely that if you don’t have particularly small ears they will suit you.
Do they work?
Unlike other earphones that promise not to isolate from the environment thanks to the “Transparency” mode, which does nothing but amplify external sounds with microphones, the technology of the LinkBuds is simply based on the shape of a donut with a hole, which passes sounds instead of blocking them.
Regarding this aspect – which is the main promise with which the LinkBuds are sold – our tests have given quite satisfactory results. We used them on bicycles (we shouldn’t have, we know) and walking in fairly busy streets, and then in a closed environment to see if with the music on you can still hear the conversations of those in the room. Obviously it also depends on the volume: with music at medium-low volume you can hear almost everything, but by raising it necessarily a bit of isolation is there. Also, if you keep the music loud it is easy for people around you to hear it.
Of course the sound quality is not the best you can find in a pair of earphones, especially in regards to the bass which is heard less than it would be heard with thicker earphones. If you are not an expert audiophile and have no particular demands, however, the sound will be just fine.
A surprising aspect: the controls
One of the most surprising things about the LinkBuds is that to pause or restart the music you just need to tap your finger twice in a row on your face, in the area between the cheek and the ear, at the height of the earphone. Doing the same thing three times moves on to the next song. It looks good in this video Sony promotional. Those who have tried them say that the first few times it seemed a strange gesture to do and that you are quite incredulous when you realize that it works, and also quite well. To put it like Parker Hall Of Wired“They make you feel like a Star Wars character with cybernetic implants under your skin.”
A pleasant surprise: the isolation of the voice
One of the best-reviewed features of the LinkBuds is that they work very well in isolating the wearer’s voice from surrounding noises when making calls, video calls or texting voice messages.
From our tests this was quite evident when we tried to send voice messages alternating LinkBuds to second generation AirPods, first indoors, with little background noise, and then outdoors on a busy street. Indoors and with silence, the voice messages recorded with the two earphones had no particular differences: the voice was very clear. Outdoors, however, the difference was evident: compared to the voice recorded with the AirPods, which was dirtier, as if it had mixed with the other noises, the one recorded with the LinkBuds arrived clear and clean.
To get an idea, you can look this video by Chris Welch, in which he compares the audio recorded by a Shure MV88 condenser microphone (in the first part of the video) with that recorded by the LinkBuds (in the second part): the difference in ambient noise cancellation is quite impressive .
Here’s a sample of how the LinkBuds microphone performs. First clip is recorded on an iPhone with a Shure MV88. Second clip is all LinkBuds audio. They really do a great job at cutting out loud background noise.
(Yes, I chipped my tooth a couple days ago. Be nice.) pic.twitter.com/hChMpRomZb
– Chris Welch (@chriswelch) February 15, 2022
LinkBuds are sold with a compact but thick package of recycled plastic – the same that even the earphones themselves are made in part, which is why the clear ones look dirty. The case contains a rechargeable battery and serves to extend the autonomy of the earphones, which otherwise alone would last just 5 hours and instead thus arrive at about 17.
The headphones work normally with Bluetooth but if you want to customize some settings you need to download the Headphones Connect app. For example to use the “Speak to chat” mode, or “Text voice dictation” in Italian (here a short video guide), which is what you need to make the music stop by itself when you start talking: it works quite well and the people who have tried it have found it to be a very useful function, especially if you use headphones in a work environment.
Also from the app you can set a function that adjusts the volume without the need to use the phone commands and a function that allows you to take advantage of Sony’s “360 reality audio” technology, that is, the one that makes you perceive sound in motion, as coming from different directions. As Welch writes on The Verge, However, this is a function that in one way or another now all earphones have.
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