AppleInsider is supported by its audience and is eligible to earn an Amazon Associate and Affiliate Partner commission on qualifying purchases. These affiliate partnerships do not influence our editorial content.
Sony has just released new wireless headphones with a donut-shaped hole in the center. Here’s how Sony’s open approach compares to Apple’s Transparency Mode found on AirPods Pro.
Open-back headphones aren’t something new
While Sony’s take here with the LinkBuds may be novel, the idea of headphones that offer situational awareness isn’t.
There are two categories of headphones that you will see most often.
There are “closed” headphones that will seal your ear. This is also called “passive” noise cancellation, as it achieves this noise cancellation by physically blocking the outside world from your ears.
Then you have “open” headphones which are the complete opposite. They don’t seal in your ears. These may be more breathable, but bass response may be lacking without a good seal.
Some open headphones use bone conduction for a similar effect. They don’t go in your ears at all but rather sit behind your ears. Bone conduction headphones will generally have the lowest audio quality of the lot.
There are many reasons why you want to hear your surroundings that are common among users.
Some who work in an office want to make sure they can hear if someone says their name. When you go out on the street, whether it’s a casual walk or a workout, you want to know if someone is yelling at you or honking your horn. And some wearers don’t like to be cut off from the world around them.
LinkBuds, try them
The LinkBuds themselves are tiny headphones. They feel like the first “fresh” version of headphones in a long time.
There are three sections of each ear cup. There’s a little wing that tucks into the ridges of your ear, a bulbous part that houses the driver and battery, and then the doughnut-shaped ring that covers your ear canal.
They are comfortable to wear, which we have no problem with for extended wear. The wing is flat which means it can easily move back and forth but not side to side. This is what allows it to fit comfortably in your ear without falling off.
Sony has an outstanding pedigree in the audio space, and audio quality was better than we expected on these open buds. Prior to port, we thought the audio would take an awful lot of time due to the open design. Fortunately, that was not the case.
You lose bass because there’s no seal, but otherwise the headphones sounded good. They were clear with crisp vocals and volume. The trade-off is that while the bass is lower, it presents a wider soundstage that we tend to prefer.
The microphone quality was also perfect. Sony managed to isolate our voice from background noise during calls.
Sony’s biggest flaw is battery life. The LinkBuds have a 5.5 hour battery life which goes up to 17 combined with the case which is just average. During a phone call, that battery dropped lower, giving only about three hours of use.
Open design versus transparency mode
We were very excited to test the open style of the LinkBuds against the transparency mode found on the AirPods Pro. Both allow external audio to reach your ears, but they do so in fundamentally different ways.
LinkBuds have a hole that allows sound to reach your eardrums. AirPods Pro uses external microphones to detect sound and play it over the internal speakers.
After extensive testing, we almost always preferred the LinkBuds approach. Simply put, LinkBuds allow you to actually listen to what’s around you rather than listening to a speaker. Real life will always sound better than what comes through the speaker.
The AirPods Pro also tended to amplify other noises beyond what they were. Scratches or high-pitched noises were uncomfortable to hear with the AirPods Pro Transparency Mode.
That said, LinkBuds had issues too. For example, while waiting at Starbucks, we couldn’t listen to our audio very well because the store music was playing. We felt like we were fighting the in-store music by turning up the volume.
With AirPods Pro, we have the option of turning off transparency mode or even turning on noise cancellation to better block out those external noises.
In this scenario, both headphones do an excellent job. They’re just different jobs. You can’t have an open-style earbud and still provide noise cancellation.
If ANC and audio quality are most important, you should look at the AirPods Pro or Sony XM4, but if you want more awareness and won’t be using ANC, the LinkBuds are an amazing option.
They sound great, have a unique design, and are way better than any bone conduction headphones we’ve tried.