Sony LinkBuds first experience: full ambient sound, open earphones for AirPods

In 2018, Sony launched an "alternative" full-open headset, the Xperia Ear Duo .

It stands on the opposite side of active noise reduction headphones, omitting the function of noise reduction (whether passive or active), and directly transmits ambient sound into the ear in the most natural way.

In the past four years, the Xperia Ear Duo seems to belong to the carnival of only a few people, and Sony has been slow to launch its sequel. Just when I thought it had become "tears of the times", Sony today released the LinkBuds, an open-ended true wireless headset.

Haven't seen it for many years, it not only changed its name, but also changed its appearance.

Environmental protection first, whether it is packaging or the product itself

Environmental protection is an answer sheet that only competes for the day and night, and the big carbon emitters are working hard.

Commitment to reducing or eliminating carbon footprints has become a common focus of environmental goals for large companies.

Since the WF-1000XM4, Sony has greatly reduced the use of plastics in the packaging of headphone products. This time LinkBuds is no exception, and it is directly marked on the packaging: "No plastic in the packaging".

In its place is Sony's original hybrid material, a paper-like packaging made from renewable materials such as bamboo, sugar cane, and recycled paper.

The interior of the compact packaging box has also been redesigned. The first thing that is introduced to the eye is the headphone box body, which is protected by a paper lining.

In the limited space below, the data cables and up to four sizes of arc brackets are neatly stored, and the instruction manual and warranty card are also hidden at the bottom. Interestingly, the shelf is stored in a small drawer, which is quite ingenious.

Environmental protection is not limited to packaging. The main material of LinkBuds' earphone storage box and cavity is also "environmentally friendly". They are all recycled ABS materials recycled from auto parts. Delicate and durable touch.

The surface of the shell of this material provides a certain friction, so that both the earphone box and the small earphone body can be easily held, making it more convenient and stable to take and wear the earphones.

The box is smaller than small, and the earphones are lighter and lighter

To meet the characteristics of all-weather wear, miniaturization and light weight are the characteristics that LinkBuds first considered at the beginning of the design.

I still remember that the first thing that surprised me about the WF-1000XM4 was that its headphone box was 40% smaller than the previous generation.

The LinkBuds can be said to be better than the blue in this regard, and the volume of the headphone box is further reduced by about 26% compared with the WF-1000XM4. It has become a mini size like eye drops, and it feels a little smaller than the earphone box of AirPods 2 in the hand.

In order to achieve the miniaturization of the headphone box, the Sony R&D team used a flatter shape design than before, placed the shell substrate and the magnetic module on the same plane, and reduced part of the magnetic structure, replacing it with a snap-fastening method , thereby reducing the volume of the headphone box.

It can be seen that there is an open button on the front of the LinkBuds earphone box. After pressing, the buckle will be released, and the top cover will be lifted automatically. In the gap between the lids, an LED status indicator is hidden.

A separate pairing button is placed on the back of the headphone case, as well as a USB-C charging port. Of course, it doesn't support wireless charging.

With an independent pairing button, it means that the LinkBuds pairing method is no longer like the WF-1000XM4, you have to take out the headset and wear it, and then long press the headset side control button to enter the pairing mode. Instead, just open the top cover of the headphone box like AirPods, press and hold the pairing button on the back for a few seconds, and wait for the status light to turn blue and flash.

I hope that Sony will continue to use it in future products.

The headphone body is also fixed in the headphone box by means of snaps, and the bottom is connected by metal contacts.

The volume of the LinkBuds headset is also reduced by half (about 51%) compared to the WF-1000XM4. In order to achieve the goal of small size and light weight, Sony's structural designers directly integrated the headphone shell and the headphone drive unit protective cover, significantly reducing the size of the ring drive unit.

In addition, Sony also directly integrated the flash memory into the V1 processor, using smaller antenna and microphone components than previous models, integrating them all on a small circuit board, and then storing them in a small hemisphere. inside the protective cover.

Thanks to miniaturization, the LinkBuds single-sided headset (including the curved stand) weighs only 4.1g, and the headset box weighs only 34g.

Although small, LinkBuds can still bring 5.5 hours of battery life for a single music playback, plus the built-in 300mAh battery in the charging box, it can also provide an additional 12 hours of battery life for the earphones. Combined, you can listen for about 17.5 hours in total.

Thanks to the low power consumption and small battery, LinkBuds also has a "fast charging" function. Put the earphones in the storage box and charge for 10 minutes, and you can get 90 minutes of listening to songs. If you want to listen to it for a whole day, you still have to wear it a few times and recharge it.

How do you wear the ring-shaped Buds design that resembles "Boulo Mints"?

The LinkBuds headset body is composed of two circular parts, a "ring drive unit" and a "spherical integrated protective cover", arranged in a horizontal "figure of 8". The former is a sound drive unit, and the latter integrates elements such as a battery microphone circuit board. device.

In addition to the metal contacts, a distance sensor is placed on the inside to provide LinkBuds with a suspension function.

There is also a groove around the spherical integrated protective cover to hold the curved bracket at the end of the headset. Considering the different shapes of human ears, Sony provides five sizes of curved brackets. Users can choose the most suitable bracket according to the length of the gap between the earphone and the helix.

To be honest, when I saw LinkBuds for the first time, I immediately thought of the world-famous “POLO” under Nestle, which is the mint with a hole.

But soon I fell into meditation again, how to wear this ring true wireless earphone?

Apparently, Sony has also taken this into consideration, and specially launched an animated video to teach: the circular hole of the annular drive unit corresponds to the ear hole, along the way, place the drive unit between the ear canal and the tragus, and then place the arc support Insert it into the anti-helix to complete the wearing.

Later, it was found that after choosing the appropriate arc support, you can easily master the method of wearing and removing it after a few tries. You don't need to use your eyes to distinguish it, you can accurately and steadily send it to your ears with just hands on.

▲ Look, is it easy to get started?

The two circular parts of the "ring drive unit" and the "spherical integrated protective cover" are not simply arranged and connected, but are connected in a manner similar to stacking and nesting, so that the inside of the earphone fits the ear better, and the center of gravity is also adjusted. Inward, improve wearing stability.

The research and development team of LinkBuds mentioned in the interview that they have been researching the shape of human ears in different countries and regions, and found that many people do not like true wireless earphones with in-ear and stem designs, especially for earrings with studs and clip-on earrings are not user friendly enough.

Therefore, Sony LinkBuds are designed as Buds that do not pick up the ears very much. The specially designed ring drive unit is suitable for the ear shape of most users, and the arc bracket at the end can achieve very stable support.

For my friends who don't like to wear in-ear headphones because of their small ears and other reasons, the LinkBuds' lightness of wearing near zero ear pressure can make them satisfied.

▲ After wearing the Buds, it looks more elegant than the handle design.

In order to make the LinkBuds fit the shape of the ear without squeezing the helix, there is an arc design of the spherical protective cover. The overall rounded style effectively reduces the foreign body sensation when wearing it, and with a weight of only 4.1g, it will not feel cumbersome to wear for a long time. It even makes me forget to wear headphones a lot of the time.

If you wear it properly, the LinkBuds can stick to the auricle at a large tilt angle; even if you shake your head left and right, the headset will not come loose.

Lightweight and miniaturization are achieved, and "all-weather wear" becomes feasible.

Wear it all day, play the BGM of life anytime, anywhere

The so-called "inner and outer world, sound in the ear" means that both music and environmental sounds can be heard at the same time.

For LinkBuds, ambient sound is no longer considered the enemy when listening to music. The ring drive unit that Sony has worked hard to develop is to change the center of the diaphragm into a through hole, so that ambient sound can be directly transmitted to the ear through the headphones.

Such fully open LinkBuds will provide a more natural and nonsensical experience than semi-open AirPods.

Compared with the "ambient sound mode" of noise-cancelling headphones, LinkBuds will give you a feeling of not wearing headphones when not playing music; and when playing music, stereo music seems to pass through the ambient background sound. Follow him slowly.

Wearing LinkBuds and walking on the commute, you can perceive the ambient sound around you as always. When the music in the headphones is played, it is like adding a BGM to the picture in front of you. The stereo music comes with the wind and blows to the ears. Whisper softly.

At this time, music has become the flavoring agent of life, the real world is the main, and the streaming media world is supplemented.

The advantage of the fully open design of LinkBuds is that it allows me to focus more on the affairs at hand, and my mind will not be easily carried away by music. During daily commuting, it is easier to perceive changes in the surrounding environment and ensure the safety of commuting; when riding a bicycle, you can also hear navigation and notification sound prompts through LinkBuds.

Especially when I'm on the subway and waiting for a flight, it's easy to miss broadcast messages with in-ear noise-cancelling headphones (I've been on the subway many times because of this), and I haven't appeared in the few weeks I've been using LinkBuds. This kind of trouble has greatly reduced my anxiety when waiting at the airport.

There are still many life scenarios that open-back headphones can be applied to, and they also have the advantage that in-ear headphones are difficult to match. For example, I like to wear LinkBuds to watch dramas while eating, because I won't hear my chewing sound as easily as wearing AirPods Pro; and when walking and running, wearing LinkBuds won't hear my feet touching each other. Vibration from ground contact.

More importantly, when wearing LinkBuds, communication with others will not have any effect, whether it is online conference/call communication, or offline communication with others, you can switch freely, even if someone calls me in reality. will miss.

Sony has optimized the pickup function of LinkBuds to improve call quality. Specifically, Sony brought "accurate voice pickup technology" with the help of AI machine learning, and then cooperated with the built-in microphone and acceleration sensor components of the headset to optimize the efficiency and quality of vocal pickup, and mix the wearer's vocals with other environmental noise. Filter separation.

When calling with LinkBuds, the other party will only hear your clear voice online , and the ambient noise around you will be filtered out. This may be the only thing LinkBuds has to do with "noise reduction".

In addition to daily phone calls and online meetings, LinkBuds can still provide very clear recording performance in the WeChat voice scene. When I listened to my WeChat voice, I was indeed amazed by the performance of LinkBuds.

So, there seems to be no problem wearing LinkBuds for a whole day.

The miniaturized LinkBuds hide the operation buttons in the fuselage, and directly tap the spherical protective cover to control playback, and support double-click and triple-click operations.

However, considering the convenience of operation, LinkBuds, which do not provide a large-area point control panel, are also equipped with a "wide-area click" function , which uses the built-in motion sensor of LinkBuds to detect the vibration generated by the click in the area in front of the ear and respond accordingly.

That is to say, LinkBuds extends the operation panel to the vicinity of your ear. Users do not need to fully understand the exact position of the earphones. They can control the playback of the earphones by touching the cheek position in front of their ears. Although limited by sensor detection limitations, there are only double-click and triple-click operation methods, but the operation functions of the left and right ears can be customized in the App.

In addition, Sony has also connected to Tencent's Xiaowei intelligent assistant in China; the click operation has also connected to Spotify's OneTap random playback function. Additional services and features are expected to be added in the future.

In terms of intelligence, Sony has prepared the Headphones Connect App for LinkBuds (this article shows the beta version of the App), so LinkBuds also inherits some of the smart functions of the WF-1000XM4. Such as the familiar "smart hands-free" function and the new "adaptive volume control" function.

It's just that for me, the "smart pick-free" function of LinkBuds has the same problem of being too sensitive as the WF-1000XM4. Although the LinkBuds can very sensitively detect the state of my speech to pause the music playback, but sometimes when I swallow saliva or a small dry cough will trigger the pause, so I did not keep this function turned on.

In addition, LinkBuds can also enable the "Adaptive Volume Control (AVC)" function in the App, which can automatically detect the ambient volume, and the music playback volume can increase as the ambient volume increases, and decrease as the ambient volume decreases.

For example, when you are waiting for the bus on a quieter platform, LinkBuds will automatically adjust to a lower volume to play; if you get on a bus in a noisy environment, LinkBuds will automatically increase the volume to play; wait until you get off the bus and then step in In a quieter environment, LinkBuds will adjust to a lower volume to continue playing.

The feedback of AVC automatic adjustment is more sensitive, which should be developed for users who are more focused on music rather than ambient sound, which slightly makes up for the LinkBuds without any noise reduction settings.

Open-back headphones deserve good sound too

Sony put the same V1 processor of the WF-1000XM4 into the LinkBuds, which integrates high-performance digital-to-analog converters and amplifiers, which can achieve higher signal-to-noise ratio and low distortion rate. The DSEE digital sound enhancement engine and equalizer functions are also provided.

Inside the LinkBuds' ring drive unit, Sony has put a newly designed 12mm ring drive unit.

It contains Sony's specially designed high-sensitivity and high-flexibility diaphragm, with a wider amplitude, designed to provide deep low-frequency elasticity; and a high-performance rubidium magnet to achieve clear and bright mid-high frequency sound.

In terms of actual listening, Sony LinkBuds focuses on a more versatile sound. The sense of hearing will be relatively refreshing, and it is easy to feel the prominent processing of the mid-frequency vocals. In this regard, the Sony R&D team also said in a wired interview that the tuning style of LinkBuds focuses on the performance of vocals, in order to restore the naturalness and clarity of the vocal parts.

The low-frequency performance of LinkBuds is quite satisfactory, and the drum beats have a certain strength, but the restoration of elasticity will be relatively digital. However, the low-frequency rendering is not too much, it will not sound boring, and long-term listening will not bring fatigue.

When listening to Wei Lan's "Yi Ge Ge", the first soft female voice sounded very close to the ear canal, the melodious mid-high frequency sound line reached the eardrum, and the drum beat rhythm that sounded after the two lyrics strongly drove the overall atmosphere and filled the remaining ear canal. The air, the swipe of the drum is still clear in the ear. You can clearly distinguish the layering of the vocals in the front and the musical instruments in the back.

It is a pity that when listening deeply in a quiet environment, the mid-frequency is still a bit stiff, the burr is slightly obvious, and the jerky feeling follows, and the details of the high-frequency are relatively rough. Considering that connecting Android players only supports SBC and AAC encoding, it is true that LinkBuds cannot have particularly high expectations in terms of information volume and detail processing.

  • Low Emotional Intelligence: The lack of LDAC results in insufficient audio information.
  • High Emotional Intelligence: The sense of hearing on iPhone and Android devices is consistent.

But to their credit, LinkBuds handles the separation of vocals and background well. The singer's position will not be too front, nor will it blend in with the background.

Although it is an open structure, the thickness and layering of the LinkBuds sound can satisfy me. Generally speaking, if you listen to normal pop music, this kind of performance is believed to be able to meet the needs of the public.

Will open-back headphones for young generation Z become mainstream?

After the WF-1000XM4 has enough product power to compete with the AirPods Pro and other in-ear true wireless noise-cancelling headphones, Sony finally freed up its hands to create LinkBuds to take care of those who don't like in-ear headphones, although there are many of them. Neither have an iPhone.

Now, in addition to the semi-open AirPods, Android users who don't like in-ear headphones also have an excellent option for open-back headphones.

In general, from the product appearance design, to the open listening experience, and the amazing voice performance, LinkBuds has become very eye-catching.

I don’t know if you have noticed that, different from the monotonous use of boring product models in the past, this time Sony really gave the product (series) a name in addition to the product model: “LinkBuds”.

Compared with the stubborn model WF-L900, LinkBuds are easier to remember and read more accurately.

Sony's R&D team told Ai Faner that LinkBuds is a new series for "young people's new lifestyle". This "Link" reflects the new listening value that Sony hopes to establish a new connection through sound, so that young people who are used to being online all the time can master the BGM in their ears and various connections with the outside world in various life scenarios. This is also a product The original intention of development.

So this time Sony tried to launch this new product with a new series name, the purpose is to let everyone clearly recognize that it is different from previous products: this is a new way of listening, and this is also a new category.

This means that, if there is no accident, LinkBuds will have more products available in the future. And it is certain that the new technologies and new functions on LinkBuds will also empower new Sony audio products that will be released one after another.

This time, LinkBuds should not be limited to the carnival of a few people, right? What do you think?

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