Skip to main content

Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 review: Innovative but ineffective

The Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 bring a 'hole' new meaning to strange, but the design is problematic in many ways

The Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 front and center over a garden backdrop
(Image: © Regan Coule/Future)

Tom's Guide Verdict

The Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 are open-style wireless earbuds that earn more cool points for their fashion than function.

Pros

  • +

    Funky design

  • +

    Sony Headphones Connect app compatible

  • +

    Good call quality

  • +

    Decent sound when listening in silent environments

Cons

  • -

    Zero isolation

  • -

    Low battery life

  • -

    Poor fit and comfort

  • -

    No NFC or wireless charging

Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 specs

Price: $180

Colors: Black or white

Battery life (rated): 5.5 hours (ANC on); 17.5 hours (charging case)

Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2

Water resistance: Yes (IPX4 rated)

Size: 0.9 x 0.5 x 0.3 inches (per bud); 1.7 x 1.1 x 0.9 inches (charging case)

Weight: 0.14 ounces (per bud); 1.2 ounces (charging case)

The Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 headphones are the company's latest true wireless creation, and the open design let's you listen to music and hear what's happening around you simultaneously without blocking your ear canals. Sounds innovative, right? Yes, except that these aren’t the first earbuds of their kind.

Some consider the original AirPods to be the first, while others find the more recent Bose Sport Open Earbuds to be a true representation of the 'open earbuds' sub-category. Sony just took the concept and figured out a more distinctive way to present it.

The LinkBuds WF-L900 use Sony's V1 chip (the same powerful chip as found in its WF-1000XM4 noise-cancelling earbuds) and features include adaptive sound modes, custom EQ, Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) support to improve sound quality on compressed files, and Sony's 360 Reality Audio. Quite how Sony stuffed this much functionality into such a striking, micro-sized package is remarkable and very impressive.

Unfortunately, these buds don’t live up to the hype. Read our full Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 review to find out why.

Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 review: Price and availability

The LinkBuds WF-L900 come in black or white versions and are available to buy at Sony and Best Buy at the $180 MSRP, or for slightly less (at the time of writing) through Amazon. Inside the box there's a charging case, USB cable, operating instructions, reference guide, and five sets of different sized Arc supporters.

For all of the latest wireless earbuds sales, bookmark our best headphones deals page.

Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 review: Design and comfort

  • Futuristic appearance
  • Incredibly small charging case
  • Uncomfortable and unstable fit

This is one of Sony’s most ambitiously designed audio products ever. Each bud has two circles: one is wide enough to house the internals and the other is a thin speaker unit that rests on the concha.

The Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 wireless earbuds displayed on a marble surface

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

The exterior is composed of plastic and aluminum. Build quality is sturdy to take on lots of damage, and the buds come IPX4 sweat and splash resistant. Distinctive details like the silver accents add a touch a flair. I’m also digging the speckled gray version; the buds look like they were dipped in a bowl of cookies and cream ice cream.

The Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 wireless earbuds sitting handsomely in the charging case

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Sony’s charging case is the smallest I’ve seen in the category and resembles an engagement ring box, displaying the buds handsomely when opened. It’s durable, super-portable, and light at just 1.2 ounces. My only concern is the push button on front that pops open the lid. The spring mechanism doesn’t have much recoil to it and could easily break, which, if it does, means you’ll have to pry open this sucker to get to the buds.

Our reviewer wearing the Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 before a jog

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

I figured the tiny design would affect fit, but I didn’t think it would also create comfort issues. The silicone Arcs struggled to stay in place, forcing me to readjust them several times throughout the day. Those with a low pain threshold won’t appreciate the buds applying unwanted pressure to the antihelix and cymba parts of the ear either.

Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 review: Controls and digital assistant

  • Versatile voice functionality
  • Limited input methods

The good news is Sony programmed the LinkBuds WF-L900 with a full suite of media controls. What’s the bad news? You can only perform double and triple-tap commands. There is no single-tap input. On top of that, you can’t assign functions individually. For instance, setting up one bud for Volume Control will automatically assign the multi-tap commands to raise/lower volume. You can’t mix and match. Other functions like the digital assistant let you enable the feature with a double tap and leave triple tap inactive.

Testing the Sony LinkBuds WF-L900's touch controls

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

At least Sony offers different features to control the buds. Auto-pause activates whenever removing the earbuds, Adaptive Volume Control increases sound when detecting loud ambient noise and Speak-to-Chat pauses music when detecting the user’s voice. One-touch Spotify grants instant access to the streaming service. Alexa integration comes to the rescue for hands-free voice control, and Siri, Google Assistant, and Bixby are supported as well. 

Everything works like a charm. The touch panels register input commands well, plus there’s an option in the app to expand the sensor area for greater touch accuracy. Mic intelligence is strong, so you’ll be able to fire up Alexa via wake-word phrase or manually enable your native assistant and execute common tasks without a hitch.

Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 review: Audio quality

  • Customizable sound
  • Open design lets in too much ambient noise
  • Works with Sony wireless TV adapter

Remember that Sony developed these buds with the intention of letting you enjoy quality sound, without blocking out surrounding noises. The results are OK, but there are alternative wireless earbuds that offer strong transparency modes via built-in mics and deliver superior audio.

Busta Rhymes' "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See" playing on the Sony LinkBuds WF-L900

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Sony did everything possible to make the LinkBuds WF-L900’s listening experience worthwhile. That includes throwing proprietary technologies like 360 Reality Audio, DSEE, and the V1 processor into the mix. These are easily the best-sounding open wireless earbuds out there, though that isn’t saying much. You’ll need to be in completely silent settings for music to sound acceptable.

Most Sony earbuds come with a booming bass profile. Not these buds. The heart-pounding lows on Busta Rhymes’ “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” are light taps against the eardrum, while the ferocious bass riff on Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” left much to be desired. Switching the Equalizer settings in the app didn’t emphasize drum and guitar sounds the way I wanted; Bass Boost and Treble Boost increased the bass and low-mids a smidge. 

Cycling through the Sony LinkBuds WF-L900's EQ settings

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

The other settings include Bright, Excited, Manual, Mellow, Relaxed, Speech, Vocal, and two customizable profiles to manually adjust frequencies. You’ll need to play around with them and turn on DSEE to get the best possible sound out of these buds.  

Listening to jazz tracks on the default EQ was drab, but selecting Bright balanced out the lows and increased the highs, giving the double bass and cymbals more substance. All other EQs brought little to the table. Vocal somehow diminished the soulful harmonies on ballads like Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together” and Speech barely enhanced the midrange on movie scores and podcasts.

Our reviewer testing the Sony LinkBuds WF-L900's open-style design

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

DSEE does give lo-fi recordings a boost in clarity and 360 Reality Audio allows you to hear sounds from different angles, but spatial audio is more effective on in-ear and over-ear models. If you’re thinking of using the LinkBuds WF-L900 for at-home entertainment, Sony sells a $60 wireless TV adapter to seamlessly pair these buds or any other compatible Sony Headphones to Bravia XR TVs for Dolby Atmos sound.

Bluetooth codec support is limited to AAC and SBC.

Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 review: Special features and app

  • Customizable user experience
  • Missing some high-end Sony features

Sony Headphones Connect is often reserved for more powerful Sony products, so it’s surprising to see to the LinkBuds WF-L900 join such an exclusive club. I already touched on most of the app’s standout features like 360 Reality Audio, Adaptive Volume Control, control customization, DSEE, EQ, Spotify Tap, and Speak-to-Chat, but let’s check out the rest.

The Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 connected to the Sony Headphones Connect app

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

You get basic stuff like a music player, automatic power off, battery level indicators for each earbud and the charging case, visual guides, and firmware updates. Something else worth mentioning is the ability to prioritize between sound quality or stable connectivity. Sony also gives you the option to power off the buds directly from app.

Notable omissions include active noise cancellation, adjustable ambient sound, LDAC (Sony's own codec for high-quality wireless streams), Quick Attention, and multipoint and NFC connectivity. Although, I can see why these never made the cut as the LinkBuds design can only hold so much firepower.

Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 review: Battery life and charging case

  • Poor playtime per charge
  • Charging case holds very little juice
  • No wireless charging

Popular Sony models like the WF-1000XM4 (8 to 12 hours) and WF-SP800N (9 hours) come with higher playtimes. Unfortunately, a full charge from the LinkBuds only claims 5.5 hours, which was really 5 hours in my tests when factoring in volume and special features. It falls short of the AirPods 3 (6 hours) and sits right next to the AirPods Pro (5 hours with ANC off). Even more disappointing is the charging case claimed capacity of just: 17.5 hours, which is several hours lower than any AirPods charging case, which claims between 24 to 30 hours dependent on the model.

The Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 charging case connected to a portable charger

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

There's no wireless charging, but a 10-minute quick charge can generate 90 minutes of listening time.

Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 review: Call quality and connectivity

  • Very impressive for video and voice calls
  • Bluetooth 5.2
  • 33 feet wireless range

My expectations for call quality on Sony wireless earbuds have often been low; the WF-1000XM3 and WF-1000XM4 were mediocre calling headsets. But the LinkBuds WF-L900 surprised me with their fantastic clarity and rejected external noise better than many top-tier wireless earbuds I've experienced. My wife heard me clearly and Sony’s mics somehow neutralized any commotion and wind that surrounded me during outdoor conversations.

However, the always-open design means you’re still going to hear everything happening around you. The low volume may also cause problems when trying to hold conversations in high-traffic areas.

A video call taken on the Sony LinkBuds WF-L900

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Bluetooth 5.2 oversees wireless duties and is spot-on. Range is standard at about 33 feet before dropout occurs. NFC isn’t available for tap-to-pair connectivity, but Google Fast Pair is for one-touch pairing with Android phones. The charging case has a pairing button on the back to link the buds manually, should Bluetooth ever act up.

Multipoint technology (to pair to two devices simultaneously) is not available.

Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 review: Verdict

The Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 earns cool points for pushing the envelope on form and design in the true wireless space. I’m still in awe of how much technology Sony was able to cram into these buds. The only thing more shocking is call quality, something that has been an Achilles heel for Sony headphones and earbuds. 

The LinkBuds WF-L900 feel more like a pet project that Sony released to the world to get feedback on which design direction their next flagship buds should take. As unique as this product is, the cons are just too crucial. The poor music sound quality and no way to control the level of ambient sound you hear, it feels like the balance is wrong for any sense of enjoyment. The low battery life is also concerning.

Sony deserves credit for thinking outside of the box, but the LinkBuds WF-L900 aren’t for audiophiles or casual consumers who want to hear music effectively. For that, you’re better off spending money on any one of Sony’s several other true wireless models. I recommend the sporty WF- SP800N or editor’s choice WF-1000XM4, both of which deliver excellent ANC, long battery life, and vibrant sound.

Further reading

Want to find the best earbuds for your style or activity? Then take a look at our best wireless earbuds buying guide or find the best Apple AirPods alternatives. Also, find out how Apple's AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro models compare.

A lifestyle journalist with an affinity for consumer products, Alex has over a decade of experience and has worked with popular publications such as Complex, Thrillist, Men’s Health, Gear Patrol, AskMen, and Hoop Magazine. He currently focuses on audio, reviewing the most coveted headphones in the market for both Tom’s Guide and Laptop Magazine.

  • winnerzero
    Have to disagree with this review - I have these new wireless earbuds and they are absolutely perfect for the use case. Working from home and also walking in a busy city centre, these buds are a breath of fresh air in a crowded room. They are effective, sound much better than they have any right to be and also just work. Get them if u like nice things, u won't regret it.
    Reply
  • gabbie
    I too have these and they are amazing. I was worried as I have sensitive ears that have different sized ear canals and have struggled with other earbuds. But these are comfy and fit, using the correct little bit of rubber. They give a perfect balance of sound from the powerful drivers and yet I can hear everything as normal. This is the feature that makes these extremely useful. I can focus on my music or audio book or studies and yet be totally aware of my surroundings. I am Blind so this is so important and there are no other (that I have seen) headphones like this. The nearest I have got is to wear only one bud at a time but this is not a complete solution. I am so happy that a company has thought this through and whilst the isolation that comes from noise cancelling has its purpose I can now boogie and hear the doorbell at the same time. Off course cars etc are far more important to hear than doorbells and that is where these come into their own. Safety and awareness with comfort and functionality. So yeh I disagree with the authors overall conclusion as well.
    Reply
  • lcpheng
    Writer is so wrong I had to register and write a reply. Seriously does he even know what's the main reason behind the design? It's supposed to be open and allow users to hear their surrounding clearly. Writer clearly has no clue whatsoever.
    Reply