Sony has introduced an interesting take on the modern earbud that places an emphasis on ambient noise and does so in a way Sony promises won't compromise the quality of the listening experience. The newly unveiled LinkBuds feature a unique ring-shaped design with a purpose-built circular driver for high-quality sound, and an opening in the centre for surrounding sounds to pass right on through.
At one end of the personal audio gear spectrum, you have companies leaving no stone unturned to completely drown out surrounding noise, including Sony themselves. But the flip side of this technology is the so-called ambient sound mode capability, which is designed to allow some degree of surrounding noise to filter through the user's ears.
This might be handy when moving through a busy environment, or when you're travelling on a train and don't want to miss the announcement for your next stop. It is these kinds of applications that Sony has in mind with the design of the LinkBuds, which it says connect the online and offline worlds in a way that "you never have to switch off."
It's a fine line to walk, but Sony is pushing ahead with small and ergonomic earbuds that weigh a total of around four grams (0.14 oz). Where many earbuds rely on soft tips to remain securely in your ears, the LinkBuds use a figure-eight-style design that pairs the open ring with a secondary bulb intended to fit snugly within the concha of the ear.
Sound is delivered through a purpose-built 12-mm ring drive unit and Sony says the voice signal processing is built on data from more than 500 million voice samples, with the resulting noise reduction algorithm blocking out ambient sounds to extract the user's voice.
Sony is also promising 5.5 hours of use on each charge for the LinkBuds, with an additional 12 hours offered through the compact charging case. Meanwhile, a quick 10-minute charge will offer up to 90 minutes of playback time. Another interesting feature is what's called Wide Area Tap, which allows users to tap their ears (rather than the buds themselves), to control the playback.
We're guessing this mixing of online and offline realities won't be for everyone, particularly those that at least like the option of "switching off." But if you're a jogger or cyclist regularly travelling through busy areas, or otherwise like to stay in tune with the surrounding environment as you go about your day, the LinkBuds may well be an enticing proposition.