Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 – open ring, hear through, BT earphones (review)

Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 may just about be the strangest earphones (buds) you have ever seen, but there is no denying that they do as promised – almost nothing in your ear and 100% awareness of your surroundings.

But that promise is also its Achilles Heel – the compromises mean

  • A very mid-centric sound signature (good for voice and podcasts but the lack of bass and weak treble means not so good for music)
  • While the open design should mean a more expansive sound stage, the music still appears to come from inside your ears
  • Sound leakage – others can hear what you are listening to
  • Poor hands-free calls with callers commenting on a ‘thin’ and even distorted voice and too much background noise despite Sony’s AI supposedly being able to boost voice and recess background noise
  • No ANC or passive in-ear noise reduction means not really good for commutes or travel
  • Variable fit – Three of five test subjects said it was uncomfortable and not stable in the ear
  • Relatively short battery life – 5.5 hours claim at 50% with most App functions disabled

While this list may seem damming remember that Sony lives up to its promise. Buyers need to know what they are getting.

Sony LinkBuds WF-L900

WebsiteProduct Page and Online help page   
Price$319
FromSony Online and major CE Retailers
ColoursGrey and White
Warranty1-year
Country of OriginMalaysia
CompanySONY is a Japanese multinational conglomerate corporation headquartered in Tokyo, Japan. As a major technology company, it operates as one of the world’s largest consumer and professional electronic products manufacturers, the largest video game console company, and the largest video game publisher.
MoreCyberShack Sony news and reviews

First Impression – Pass but odd

I am all for new and exciting, but these Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 `simply look odd – like an ear-lobe ‘ring’. Its purpose is to use an open driver design that allows you to hear calls, online content and 100% of ambient sounds.

It comes with a small USB-C charge case with magnetic storage for the buds and clip closure.

Fit – 3 out of 5 users did not like them

My ear started to hurt after about 20 min of use as it pushed against the ear pinna. But then I have hay fever and suffer from itchy ears, so these are not for me. Conversely, these are great if you suffer from pulsate tinnitus (hearing your heartbeat when using in-ear canal buds).

We tested on four other guinea pigs (real people), and only two could get a satisfactory fit where the open ring driver sat flat against the concha and the tip fitted under the Cymba concha.

If your ear is the right shape, this will be great for you. If not, Sony is offering 14 Day “Love Them or Your Money Back” Promotion. If not 100% satisfied with your purchase within 14 days, Sony will refund your money. View the full T&C’s and claim process. Offer ends 03 July 2022 – it should be ongoing!

Setup – Sony Headphone Connect app – Exceed

You need the App to set these up and update the firmware. It wants you to create an account and agree to activity tracking to ‘start recording your activities and enjoy your life with your headphones.’ It also encourages you to sign in with a Sony, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, or Google Account. Never, repeat, never, sign in with another account as you open tracking to that account as well. I find that a little creepy.

You can access most of the App’s features if you don’t sign in.

It has Google and Windows fast pair. The App covers

  • Battery percentage of the case and each bud
  • Speak to Chat (recognises your voice and mutes music between 5-15 seconds or not at all
  • EQ with Off (flat), Bright, Excited, Mellow, Relaxed, Vocal, Treble Boost, Bass Boost, Speech, Manual and two custom setups.
  • 360 Reality which includes photographing your ears and may incur in-App purchases
  • Bluetooth – priority on sound quality or battery life
  • DESS to upscale lower quality music
  • Wide Area tap (tap on your skin near the ear instead of the buds)
  • Auto-pause on/off
  • Voice Guide
  • Spotify Tap Quick access

Sound quality – voice and podcasts PASS; music FAIL

Due to the open ring design, it does not have much bass and recessed treble. It is a Mid sound signature (bass recessed, mid boosted, treble recessed) – for clear voice.

While we cannot test the frequency response of in-ear devices, RTINGS has test data (see Raw Frequency response graph), and it confirms our audio prognosis.

Mid is ‘listenable’. It is for voice and podcasts. We found no bass in our test music tracks (no oomph, and bass tends to be muddy – more of a whump than a thump) and poor treble (no sparkle, crisp notes and lacking in directionality).

But then we are purists, and frankly, too many earphones verge on mid or even worst analytical signatures. See How to tell if you have good music (sound signature is the key – guide).

Battery life – Pass

Sony quote 5.5 hours, but that is typically at 50% volume and most App enhancements off. We got 4.15 hours at 75% volume (a comfortable level). The case has 12 hours in it. The case charge time (5V/.5A/2.5W) is just over 3 hours. A 0-100% bud charge is 1.7 hours, and a 10-minute case charge gives about 1.5-hours of use.

Hands-free – Pass

Poor hands-free calls with callers commenting on a ‘thin’ and even distorted voice and too much background noise despite Sony’s AI supposedly being able to boost voice and recess background noise. Still, it is acceptable for indoor use.

It also supports all three voice assistants.

Competition – none but lots

Interestingly my wife uses the Jellybean shaped Samsung Galaxy Buds Live ($249) while walking and at Pilates and the Pod style OPPO Enco Air ($149) for music pleasure because she cannot stand in-ear-canal buds. I thought she would be the ideal candidate, but she found them unsuitable regardless of the XS, S, M and L fittings.

There may be no competitors with the – Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 open driver design. Still, at $319, the price is up there with the better ANC earphones that also offer hugely better music quality and a suitable transparency mode. I would instead use the Sony WF-1000XM4 or Sennheiser Momentum 3 at $389/399 and have one earphone that does the lot.

CyberShack’s view – Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 are OK, not compelling.

It is like Sony LinkBuds are an answer to a problem that most don’t have.

It is not the first time Sony has experimented with open ring designs – its Sony Xperia Duo in November 2018 tanked badly. My words then are relevant now.

If your principal interest is in listening to music, perhaps it would be better to look elsewhere.

These are poor sounding (music), uncomfortable (for some people), and don’t offer any compelling reason to buy over BT/ANC True Wireless buds.

There are dozens of True Wireless buds starting from about half the LinkBud’s price that will sound better. But Sony has invented this new design, and some may find it to their liking.

We will not allocate a formal rating out of 10 because they are for a very niche market.

Pro

  • Interesting, if a strange, new design.
  • If you have the right ears, these should be comfortable
  • Good for pulsatile tinnitus suffers

Con

  • For a very narrow niche market – otherwise, buy ANC Buds
  • Mid sound signature is acceptable for voice but poor for most music genres


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