Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 Bluetooth 5.2 IPX4 Open-Air

regancipher

100+ Head-Fier
The feature-rich Sony donuts finally crack the semi-in-ear conundrum...but could've been even better
Pros: Immersive sound with good depth, great ergonomics, lots of excellent features, good call quality, sustainable design
Cons: Weak battery life with all features turned on, only IPX4, no multipoint, no wireless charging, no hi-res codec support
RC066

How I review:
(See Previous Reviews)
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Model: Sony WF-L900 LinkBuds
Price: £149.99
Website: Sony
Review Reference: RC066

Manufacturer Specification:
  • Brand: Sony
  • Model: WF-L900
  • Driver: 12mm Neodymium Ring Driver
  • Chipset: Sony V1
  • ANC: No
  • Volume Control: Yes, via the app
  • Codecs: AAC, SBC
  • Earbud Weight: 3.94g
  • Gross Case & Buds Weight: 40g
  • Case Dimensions: 45mm width, 38mm depth, 28mm height
  • Full Charge Time: 120 minutes
  • Quick Charge: Yes, 10min gives 90min playtime
  • Wireless Charging: No
  • Input: 5v 500mA
  • Single Use Playtime: Up to 5.5 hours
  • Playtime with Charge Case: Up to 17.5 hours
  • App Support: Yes
  • Bluetooth Range: 10m advertised
  • Bluetooth: Bluetooth® 5.2
  • Bluetooth Protocols: HFP 1.7/ A2DP 1.3/ AVRCP 1.5
  • Water Resistance: IPX4
  • Firmware Tested: 1.0.3 & 1.0.4
Includes:

1 x Pair Wireless Earbuds
1 x USB Type-C Charge Case
1 x USB Type-C Charge Cable
2 x Basic User Document in many languages
1 x Free 360 Reality Audio Trial Card
1 x Warranty Card

Real Life Experience

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Welcome to one I've been truly excited about, the Sony WF-L900, aka the LinkBuds. Having been glued to the Beans for the last 12 months, would the Donuts displace them as my exercise bud of choice? I think that was the idea for Sony - try to find a new heir to the thrown for food-inspired designed open-air earbuds that go against the grain of Active Noise Cancellation and tight seals and appeal to those who like an experience that combines good audio with the ability to remain aware of ones surroundings. However, when their design was revealed, it raised more than a few eyebrows - would this unique design be a piece of engineering genius or a catastrophic flop? Read on for more....

Unboxing - 7/10



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If you've seen reviews from prominent YouTuber's who do this stuff for a living with augmented reality unboxings, be prepared to be disappointed. For the average consumer that isn't a brand shill, this is a pretty lame affair. After about 15 minutes of getting through the Alexa-style layered box, eventually you reach the case, a wide selection of wing tips, several manuals that aren't manuals (they just basically contain a load of mandatory text in about 30 different languages), a voucher to sign up for 360 Reality Audio and a warranty card. Really, it isn't much different to Huawei or Jabra, and lacks the effort that someone like Edifier put in for the NeoBuds Pro. The saving grace is that it is completely sustainable with no plastic used...although truth be told, most unboxings are these days anyway.

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As I will go on to discuss, fit is really important with the LinkBuds. Getting the positioning right is pivotal to maximising the experience. If you wear a wing that is too small, the earbud will wear loose, which is not what you want. Too large, as was the case for me first time, and you will experience not only a lot of pressure against your antihelix, but you'll also feel pain around your ear canal too. Fortunately, this is where Sony massively outdid Samsung, who offered little in the way of customisation for their Buds Live. Sony provide five different sizes, and this pretty much ensures their market is not limited to the odd person who somehow managed to have exactly the right ears for the design.

Despite the fanfare, there is little in the way of willy-waving from Sony on the box. They advertise Alexa and OK-Google support on the back....and that's about it. Undertstated and pretty underwhelming.

The Case - 7/10

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The box is not the only fully sustainable part of the release - the case is the first release by Sony to be made fully from recycled materials - Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene to be precise. The result is a tiny, semi-matte eggshell-style look (available currently in off-white or pebble grey) that is a little reminiscent in look of the old Whizzer E3, and more recently, the QCY T16. This kind of design is very appealing in a world of matte and gloss, and the speckled look may have you trying to clean them at first, such is the rarity of this style appearance.

There is a reset button on the back, which you hold for around 7 seconds to pair, as well as a USB-C charge socket for charging. The case does support quick pair with certain devices - on Android, I had no hassles, it just flashed up with a message over what I had to do the moment I opened the case. On Windows on my locked-down work laptop, less so. The Sony logo takes centre-stage in screen-printed off-white on the lid.

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The button just below the dimmed LED in the picture above releases the case, and the buds rest face down in a kinda-natural position. As I discovered to my cost, you have to shimmy them a little to ensure they make contact, and you'll hear a little click when they do. There is a friction-hold to the hinge, although it leaves them a little finely-poised - breath too closely and the case may topple over!

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The LED at the front gives guidance over how much battery remains, using a familiar red-amber-green denotation. The battery percentage is also visible not only in the Sony app, but also in Android 12 itself. Click 'Bluetooth Settings' and you get a tiny image of the buds and also the case, with their respective battery percentages. This is very convenient a nice touch that definitely gives you the premium feel in the user experience. (I think this is part of the Google Fast Pair feature alluded to in the paraphernalia)

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I didn't get beyond the first sentence before comparing them to the you-know-what made by you-know-who, and it is natural to make that comparison given the innovative designs. The cases feel quite similar, with both sets being placed face-down. One major difference is in the texture - the Buds Live case feels very glossy and premium, whereas the LinkBuds case can feel somewhat lightweight and cheap by comparison.

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The LinkBuds case is very small - just 4.5 wide by just over 3.5cm in depth and only 2.8cm tall, but the rounded edges make it feel smaller, and it is very portable - whilst it isn't ideal for trouser pockets due to the square-ish shape, it's nearly 15g lighter than the case of the Buds Live, and consequently if you can find a place to put it, you won't feel like it's there. Out for a jog it rested well in my rear shorts zip up pocket, and it didn't weigh me down as I pounded the tarmac.

Ergonomics - 8.5/10

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Getting the ergonomics right with the LinkBuds was never going to be easy, but Sony have managed to pull it off, thanks to their wide array of accessories designed to fill ears of all different shapes of sizes without the invasiveness of silicone wingtips. I've seen many videos of users pushing the donut a little further down than I have in the above picture, and certainly when I'm outdoors I do tilt them back a little in order to bring the driver closer to my ear canal, but they're comfy regardless of where you push them, as long as the round bit is resting against the cartilage on the inside of your pinna.

Regardless of position, they achieve their goal of comfort, stability and negate the need for constant re-adjustments whilst out exercising due to their customisable fit. It can take a little while to get this right - so don't give up and be sure to try lots of tip combinations. At first, I couldn't understand why what I thought the perfect fit would be spoiled by smiling - eventually flipping down to the lower sized wingtip sorted the problem, and as such I found them very comfortable for prolonged use in all sorts of environments.

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From the front, there is a small amount of protrusion as you would expect due to the bulbous shape. This is one area I'd have liked to have seen improved and flattened a little. It rules them out for side-sleeping for those with shallow-conchas like me, and means they aren't quite as subtle-looking as they could be.

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As has been mentioned many times, the LinkBuds adopt a donut-style ring driver, which sits in the bottom part of your ear aside your ear canal, and this positioning maximises the route to your ear canal without that invasive seal synonymous with in-ear designs. It does a pretty good job of ensuring that volume, certainly indoors, is more than adequate and balances well with being aware of your surroundings. On Android 12 on the OnePlus 8T running Project Zephyrus, they come through much louder than many others I've tested recently, including OnePlus' own Buds Pro.

Outdoors, it's no slouch either, although you will probably find yourself topping out at close to maximum volume if you decide to go out running during a storm, as I did last night.

The exterior also has an ambient mic module in order to improve call quality, which it does a remarkable job of, and whilst the touch control area may seem small - don't fear, you can actually touch your skin instead. Yep, you read it correctly, you can touch your skin to control your earbuds!

The driver is 12mm and the ring diameter is around 16mm.

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The inside shows little has been done to make them comfy on the bit that touches your skin. There's a wear detection module just below the L (or R, respectively) that not only pauses when you remove them, but also works in conjunction with the mics to understand when you're talking and pauses the sound as a result. Not great if you break out into verse, but thankfully this can be toggled on and off in the Sony app. The battery connectors will directly touch your skin, so be aware if you suffer from allergies. One final point of note here is that the wings have a little gap in them to ensure they are fitted in the right place - make sure you spot this when fitting them, otherwise the wing could slip off.

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Again, when compared to the Buds Live it is a variation on a theme. Both are shaped with the same general direction in mind, just with a slightly different brief.

Overall, I find the Buds Live easier to just plonk in your ear and feel comfier for all day use, provided you're quite still. The Sony are definitely more secure and give a similar level of comfort provided you are prepared to spend the time to adjust though. I found the Buds Live always felt like they might fall out, even though they never did, even when jogging. Last night I did 5km at good pace in a storm, and the only thing that nearly blew away was my hat, however over time the wings have loosened, and this is something to bear in mind.

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The buds are very lightweight at less than 4g, and are IPX4 water resistant, which is a little disappointing although not altogether surprising given their functions.

Audio Quality - 8/10 (for the price paid), 8/10 (raw score)

In their marketing material, Sony talk about balanced, high quality sound with a clear mid-range. There are no superlatives, no window-dressing. This understated approach appeals to me, because this is exactly what the LinkBuds deliver.

I've read reviews ranging from 'no bass' to 'too bassy', and this is 100% down to fit - the lower you position the LinkBuds, the more prominent the bass response will be. However for most users, you will sense a natural drop-off way before the sub-bass rumbles of releases like the Edifier NeoBuds Pro or SoundPEATS H1 throb through your soul, and in all honesty, for this type of earbud, that's exactly what I want.

One of my complaints with the 1More Comfobuds 2, another similar-ilk semi-in-ear bud, was their attempts to fool the ears into thinking there's a solid bass response through what essentially constitutes auditory masking. On that model, the bass is inflated due to the positioning of the driver, but if you adjust and push into your ear canal, the sound is muddy, and thus when you try to E.Q. them to provide clarity when they're in their normal resting position, they can't achieve it because of the way the drivers have been tuned.

The LinkBuds simply don't have this problem. Bassy tracks like Koala by Oliver Heldens have some depth - but the kind of depth similar to being very near the back at a festival - the response is fast, accurate and undistorted. Moreover, when orchestral elements and vocals come through, they don't screech - there is a mid-bass uplift, but the trebles are notched sufficiently that, well, it sounds nicely balanced.

The soundstage is not quite as wide as the Samsung Buds Live - it somehow combines intimacy with airiness, as evidenced by 'Award Tour' by A Tribe Called Quest on Tidal Masters. It sounds like you're in an underground studio - the drums humming rather than slamming through the middle, and the vocals bouncing around the outside. Seal's 'Crazy', which pans all elements around to atmospheric effect, retains the essence of the arrangement, but lacks a little of the dynamism of the bass guitars that comes through on hybrid driver leaders like the Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro and more notably the SoundPEATS H2.

What they lack in overall detail they make up for with precision, and what they lack in dynamism they make up for with depth. It is a different, but still beautiful sound, that could of course be improved, but I think that's a perpetual battle with Bluetooth TWS.

The buds use the same V1 Processor as the WF-1000XM4 and feature DSEE Digital Sound Enhancement, which is kinda like i-frames in compressed video - i.e., it tries to restore those frequencies lost by compression, and 360 Reality Audio does improve the sound further, although there are some limitations in terms of which providers support it.

Call Quality - Indoors - 8/10, Outdoors - 9/10

Sony do champion their call quality in the marketing material, and it's not without merit. Their 'Clear Call' is undoubtedly a nod and a wink to Elevoc, as they promote their 'noise reduction algorithm designed to reduce interference and ambient sound' - and it does a remarkable job, nullifying background sounds to the point I had to re-record it several times to make sure I wasn't covering a mic or something!

Even during close on 30mph winds the worst that happened was a small crackle and my voice cutting out. No wind came through during the call. The LinkBuds are perfect for the blustery weather conditions we have in the UK right now.

Indoors, however, it doesn't quite hit similar highs. Sure, you sound coherent enough, but it lacks a bit of cleanness and your voice, like with the Edifier NeoBuds Pro, sounds a tad soft and lacking pronunciation - podcast quality it definitely ain't, but it will see you through Zoom calls and cell calls without any problems. Well, other than draining the hell out of the battery!

The LinkBuds were my star performer on my recent 2022 updated call quality test:



Connectivity, Controls and Other Features - 8.5/10

Bizarrely, considering the list of features it does have, I could probably list a similar amount of 'would likes' that the Linkbuds lack. The absence of wireless charging is a minor annoyance that is mitigated by the natural position of the usb slot at the rear. The lack of hi-res codecs is disappointing given we are now in the second wave of LDAC/LHDC supporting releases, and the absence of multipoint is not only disappointing given it is appearing in releases from comparatively mid-range vendors such as OnePlus, but it is also a real pain in the ass to pair with new devices. The button is tiny and it is in an awkward place. If you're lucky enough to get a 'Fast Pair' pop-up, like I was on Android 12, then lucky you, because if you don't, it can take a while to re-pair.

By the same token, the LinkBuds have some really cool features. Wide Area Touch means you can tap your skin to initiate controls - and it really works - although the limitations in control customisation are pretty annoying. You can customise double and triple tap, but that's about it, and you can't, for example, have double tap left reducing volume, and double tap right increasing it - a function has to map to the same ear, so instead you're triple tapping left to increase volume and doing your call functions with your right ear. Not especially great and hopefully this can be opened up with future firmware releases.

Naturally there is no ANC, and whilst there is no 'spatial sound' as such, they support 360 Reality Audio (although you need a subscription and a provider that supports it, such as Amazon Music, Deezer or Tidal) and through integration with Microsoft Soundscape, specific sounds are accentuated and combined with the compass and built-in accelerometer to guide you towards intended sounds in an intuitive way.



Like their XM4, they feature 'Spotify Tap', which picks up from where you left off on previous devices, and a simple tap then changes it up. Again, great if you like Spotify (I don't!). They also feature support for OK Google and Alexa, allowing you to listen to or interact with your emails, join Microsoft Teams calls, etc.

Like many other releases, they feature Adaptive Volume control, which works quite well - it was as subtle as my Tesla Model 3 was, which is probably the best compliment I could give it.

The Sony Connect app has some nice touches, and I'll update with screenshots in due course. Aside from denoting battery and codec being used on the main page, you can toggle 'Speak to Chat' - another feature that will interrupt your music when you start talking (or, rather inconveniently, start singing along to whatever you're listening to - well, inconveniently for you anyway!). Here is where you set up 360 Reality, where you take a video of both ears and it adjusts accordingly, toggle DSEE and can prioritise either Sound Quality or Connection Strength. There's also an EQ (5 band) and the ability to increase or decrease 'Clear Bass'. The 'System' tab allows you to toggle the Adaptive Volume I mentioned previously, customise those limited touch controls, toggle Wide Area Tap and also toggle both auto-power-off and auto-pause. These features are quite handy, as voice calls in particular rinse your battery hard. This tab also allows for automatic firmware download (which takes a hell of a long time to update) and toggling notification and voice guide, as well as selecting from around 15 preset languages.

The 'Services' tab explains the different features, and is where you set up and initialise Spotify Tap.

Activity tells you how long you've used your buds for, and in the style of Audible or TripAdvisor, you get badges when you reach certain milestones. 'Information' is like a mini-inbox, telling you about new service releases and giving occasional tips for better usage experience.

For all of the things Sony could have added but didn't, they did a pretty good job of still creating enough buzz about the release that they are tangibly better than something like the Buds Live. Sure, many of the features will be useless for many users like me who just want to get on and listen to music, but at the same time, for others they won't - and Sony have catered to many types of user, both in their thoughtful accessory inclusion and wide array of features.

Incidentally, I've read many accounts of weak connectivity, but the only issue I had was with Microsoft Teams occasionally cutting out - and that's probably down to work skimping on a laptop with only 16gb RAM and Teams suddenly becoming more resource-hungry than cryptomining.

Battery Life - 6/10

On paper, 5.5 hours is pretty good, and with all features turned off and in an indoor environment, you won't get far short of 5 hours. However, when you start turning on features such as DSEE and Wide Area Tap, and then take a few calls, don't be surprised to drop as low as three hours, as was the case for me today.

Videoconferencing calls in particular seem to really hammer the LinkBuds. 12 extra hours from the case is rather paltry by today's standards, and whilst 10 min of charge in the case gives 90 min extra juice, I charged the case for around an hour during lunchtime, and got comparatively little extra power from that. With no wireless charging either, battery is definitely an achilles heel of the LinkBuds. To end on a positive, though, the app does tell you when you've dropped to below 30%, so you can at least put into place contingency plans quickly.

Summary

For the most part, I tend to be disappointed by Sony products. The XM3 sounded great but fit horribly, and the XM4 were OK but again awkward fitting and very overpriced.

The LinkBuds are similarly expensive for what they are, but they are the first Sony release that genuinely offer something that innovates, filling a gap in the market for those who don't fancy the invasiveness of silicone tips, and appreciate the same earbud for exercise at the one they use on calls in the office. You could argue Samsung tried it first, but did so tentatively, without the 'all in' approach that Sony have tried here. And for the most part, they've given me, at least, everything I would want and more.

The problem with the Buds Live - their limited field of suitable ears - is negated by Sony's wide array of accessories. They've catered for users of all generations by including features that appeal to a wide demographic, and whilst the app is useful, you don't need it - so you could give these to your parents and they could be up and running without a long tutorial on what to click and what not to click!

Battery life is disappointing, especially when used for calls, so don't buy for long Zoom or Teams sessions, but if you're looking for good exercise buds that don't thud, don't feel invasive, and can double-up as excellent outdoor call companions, whilst still providing very good, balanced sound, the LinkBuds are your answer.

Price Weighted Score: 87%
Raw Score: 89%
Last edited:
Juns
Juns
Great review. I personally think it needs more battery life too.
Amarphael
Amarphael
Thanks for the very detailed review, Great job! One questons though and excuse me if you already addressed it: Is it possible to control the volume of every earpiece separately?
jb2unique
jb2unique
Great very detailed review. Hope they fit my ears for what I want to use them for. Cheers!
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