In a day and age when we’re increasingly connected, consuming more music, movies and podcasts than ever, there’s one thing that quickly comes with the wrong equipment: a lack of comfort. It matters little how good a pair of earphones or earbuds sounds, if you get sweaty ears after the first track.
At the same time, you’re often in situations where you actually want to hear the world around you. What if you want to listen to your favourite podcast while taking a long walk in the woods, but still want to take in the sounds of nature? Or you’re walking the dog, and want to communicate, but just need to have the news in the background? Jogging along the main road can also quickly become dangerous if you don’t hear the cars around you. And while many people dream of keeping their colleagues out of trouble with dust-disturbing cordless phones, others have jobs that actually require them to be on the phone.
These are the scenarios Sony is addressing when it launches the LinkBuds WF-L900 open earbuds. While many earbuds offer ambient sound digitally through the microphones, it never sounds as natural as the real thing, and they’ll also get just as tacky over time as other earbuds. Therefore, Sony sees it as time to make a commitment to open earplugs.
Even Sony calls it a brand new concept, even if among others Audeze has had open earplugs for a long time (LCDI3 and LCDI4). But the LinkBuds WF-L900 are the first wireless earplugs I’ve heard of of the open type, and they don’t look like anything else I’ve seen before. With a crumb-shaped 12 mm speaker element and an open hole right into the ear canal.
The vast majority of earbuds fit well right out of the box, with medium ear tips. Therefore, I was a bit surprised not to manage to get any good fit with the WF-L900 to begin with. In fact, there are no ear tips at all, so to get the ring to stay in your ear, you depend on the wing fitting the inner edge of the ear perfectly. I had to find bigger wings in the ace, but then the plugs fit well too.
The point of open earbuds is to allow the ear to breathe, so that you maintain comfort throughout a day’s use. You should never really have to take the earbuds out, so it’s important that the quality of mobile calls and digital meetings is good. So the built-in microphones must both pick up the voice clearly, but also suppress background noise.
The Sony plugs have built-in intelligent noise cancellation for conversations, which should be particularly effective at separating your voice from background noise, and the LinkBuds WF-L900 does a very good job here. I would say my voice comes through clearer than with both the WF-1000XM4, and also the WH-1000XM4 clocks. In other words, these are among Sony’s best models for pure call quality, and can be used in the vast majority of situations.
Battery life is another important factor. It’s rated at a respectable – but by no means revolting – 5.5 hours from the earplugs, and an extra 12 hours from the charging case. What is quite impressive, however, is that Sony has achieved this with a very small form factor. The plugs are in fact much smaller than other earbuds, and at 4.1 grams per plug, is just half the weight of the WF-1000XM4. The charging case is also knuckle-light, and you’ll barely notice it in your pocket.
The Sony plugs can be controlled by tapping the plugs, but you don’t need to actually hit them. Tapping the front of your ear in close proximity to the plugs will still register. Unfortunately, it will also make it easier to perform unintentional operations. For example, if you touch an earpiece in the middle of a mobile call, you risk hanging up. It happened to yours truly a couple of times.
If you want to control the plugs by voice instead, you can. Android users use Google Assistant, but Sony will no longer link to the Google Assistant app in iOS. Relax, you’re just using Siri.
No matter how comfortable the earbuds are, they will quickly be relegated to the drawer if they do not sound good. And the Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 delivers in the important voice register. The midrange and treble is so open, distinct and detailed that both music and speech get wings. Voices sound effortless, without any heavy humps anywhere that mask for other tone ranges. Well, apart from the fact that they amplify the presence range around 3 kHz a bit too much, to draw out the vocals extra. But it is experienced better than one would think. Unfortunately, the equaliser in the app doesn’t have exactly this frequency to adjust to, but 2.5 kHz can be pulled down a bit.
To the extent you can talk about soundstage with earbuds or headphones, the WF-L900 has a good slice of this. The sound stage extends well to the sides, and it feels as if the vocalists are positioned right in front of my head. I must say the Sony plugs are among the better I’ve heard in this discipline. And if you find good 360 Audio recordings in Tidal or Deezer, the plugs start with ok three-dimensional sound. It never feels quite authentic, but can be cool in a few situations.
The weakness of the LinkBuds WF-L900 lies primarily in the bass register. Tonally, the bass is good, and no notes stand out undesirably compared to others. But there’s simply too little of it.
The music from Billie Eilish has a lot of deep bass in the mix, but this doesn’t come through with the Sony props. It gets too thin. The same goes for all music, even the double basses in classical music are too tame. Again, you have to enter and set the EQ in the app. The only way to get the setting below 400 Hz is with the function called Clear Bass. This seems to raise or lower the bass below 100 Hz, and I actually pull this all the way up to +10! Still, it’s not real deep bass to speak of, but it’s far better than doing nothing.
As designed for podcasters
For my part, the bass gets so tame, that I probably don’t feel music should be at the top of the menu here. However, the WF-L900 is excellent at speech, and they are thus as created for listening to podcasts and news. The truth is that podcasts are a wildly growing concept, that very many listens to. In contrast to TV, podcasts can be consumed while doing other things: cooking, exercising and the like. Similar to music, but with a greater take-up of knowledge.
It should be said that podcasts work just fine with a pair of pretty dinky earplugs too, but they won’t be as comfortable as the Sony ones. One important aspect, if you’re going to wear them all day.
Sony LinkBuds WF-L900: Conclusion
The Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 are a very special pair of earplugs. They are namely of the open type, which lets sound from the surroundings right into the ear, along with the music or podcast. In direct contrast to earbuds with active noise cancellation! It may seem backward, but it is actually legitimate, as you quite often find yourself in situations where you want to let the environment in. And by being open, they give the ear canals circulation, so you don’t get clammy. Great if you have to wear the plugs for hours on end. Just not during the flight, then you need something with dust insulation!
The sound is clear and open, as if made for podcasts! The call quality is also excellent. But the music lacks bass, and it is limited what you get done in the app. Although there are a lot of presets, none really provide enough bass.
If you can live with this, the WF-L900 may be the perfect choice for you.