Sony LinkBuds vs. AirPods 3: Which open wireless earbuds are best?

Sony LinkBuds vs. AirPods 3: Which open wireless earbuds are best?

Open wireless earbuds are not a new concept. The AirPods practically created the category, while also reinventing the true wireless experience. Every new iteration has brought significantly better performance to the series, and the AirPods 3 is no exception. Notable improvements include an adaptive EQ, Force Touch sensors, longer battery life, and Spatial Audio support.

Several open-ear rivals have entered the market looking to steal the AirPods shine and either failed or came and went with little fanfare, much like the Bose Open Sport Earbuds. Sony now steps into the ring with the LinkBuds, which has captured the eyes of every critic, consumer, and tech publication out there. To see a device this small harness the power of Sony’s V1 processor, Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) technology, and 360 Reality Audio is astounding.

Same category, similar features, which are the better open wireless earbuds? Our breakdown of the LinkBuds versus AirPods 3 has all the answers.

Sony LinkBuds vs. AirPods 3: Price

Both models share the same MSRP: $179. The LinkBuds comes in two colors (Black and White), whereas the AirPods 3 remains limited to one (White).

Apple is just scratching the surface with their current earbuds lineup, and the addition of new features with every other iOS update increases the AirPods 3’s value. The LinkBuds spec sheet is impressive, but certain omissions do not justify its price point.

Be sure to bookmark our headphone deals page for the latest sales.

Winner: AirPods 3

Sony LinkBuds vs. AirPods 3: Specs compared

Sony LinkBuds WF-L900AirPods 3
Wireless charging caseNoYes (included)
Size and weight0.9 x 0.5 x 0.3 inches, 0.14 ounces1.21 x 0.72 x 0.76 inches, 0.15 ounces
Battery life5.5 hours (ANC on); 17.5 hours (charging case)6 hours, 30 hours (with charging case)
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.2Bluetooth 5.0
Special features360 Reality Audio, Adaptive Volume Control, Alexa integration, customizable EQ, Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE), Spotify Tap, Speak-to-chat functionality, Sony wireless transmitter compatibilityAdaptive EQ, Spatial Audio, automatic switching, audio sharing, announced messages with Siri, Enhanced Find My, “Hey Siri” voice-activated assistance, Live Listen, Lost Mode, MagSafe charging case

Sony LinkBuds vs. AirPods 3: Design

The LinkBuds are a masterpiece of portable audio craftsmanship. Each bud has two circles, one that houses the internals and the other a thin speaker unit. Again, to see micro-earbuds boast powerful circuitry, touch controls, and IPX4 sweat/water resistance is fascinating. The only thing more attractive than the buds is the tiny charging case; it is the smallest and most portable case out there.

These buds sit right on the concha and feel a bit uncomfortable when worn for long stretches. Five sets of Arc supporters come in the box for optimal fit, though lots of movement loosens their grip, meaning you’ll have to adjust them from time to time.

Apple chose not to overhaul the AirPods design, but they did perform minor tweaks to it. The mic grille on top and IPX4 certification carry over from the AirPods Pro, while the frame shrinks 33 percent from the AirPods 2. Apple also made the charging case smaller than the AirPods Pro’s case. Not the most exhilarating upgrades, but small details that embellish the AirPods 3’s overall look and feel.

Sony LinkBuds vs. AirPods 3: Which open wireless earbuds are best?

Regular AirPods have never provided proper on-ear stability and the third-gen version isn’t any different. The contoured sound port has expanded to rest gently on the ear and nestle the canal, but the lack of tips keeps the AirPods 3 from remaining in place.

Winner: Sony LinkBuds

Sony LinkBuds vs. AirPods 3: Controls

If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it, and that’s exactly what Apple said when engineering the AirPods 3’s control scheme. The combination of “Hey Siri” voice functionality and reliable Force Touch sensors is unbeatable, delivering precise results, no matter which method you choose. New skin-detect sensors were installed for auto-pause/play and can accurately discern whether the buds are in your ears.

Sony put serious effort into making the LinkBuds as user-friendly as some of the brand’s past releases. The small touch sensors on the front are responsive to multi-tap gestures and can be expanded for greater touch accuracy via the companion app. Auto-pause activates whenever removing the buds. However, it is Sony’s voice features that garner the spotlight. Adaptive Volume Control will increase sound when detecting loud ambient noise and Speak-to-Chat pauses music when it detects the user’s voice. The intelligible mics also make using Alexa integration and other digital assistants like Siri, Google Assistant, and Bixby a breeze.

Sony gets credit for trying, but Apple continues to show why they’re a functional force of nature.

Winner: AirPods 3

Sony LinkBuds vs. AirPods 3: Audio Quality

Sony is a sonic beast that rarely drops the ball with audio quality. The LinkBuds give music a crisp, fine-tuned presence customizable in the companion app. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to appreciate since the open design lets in too much ambient noise. Customizing the EQ or selecting from several presets won’t fix the problem. DSEE can raise clarity on lo-fi recordings and 360 Reality Audio makes music more immersive. You have to listen to content in completely silent settings, and even then, the buds lack the rich and punchy bass associated with most Sony headphones and earbuds

The AirPods 3 isn’t an audiophile-grade pair of earbuds either, but at least it makes listening to music in public spaces practical and tolerable. Apple’s proprietary adaptive EQ adjusts frequencies in real-time for a well-balanced mix of lows, mids, and highs. Sound can be tweaked through the iOS settings, where over 20 different EQs can be selected. You can share audio with other AirPods or compatible Beats models. 360-degree sound (aka Spatial Audio) is also more rewarding on the AirPods, as the AirPods 3’s dynamic head tracking adjusts sound effects and vocals accordingly to your head positioning.

Winner: AirPods 3

Sony LinkBuds vs. AirPods 3: App and special features

Being interconnected with Apple’s dynamic ecosystem grants access to many software perks and the AirPods 3 take full advantage. We already touched on hallmarks like audio sharing, “Hey Siri,” and Spatial Audio. Other goodies include automatic switching, Enhanced Find My to track lost buds within close distance, and instantaneous connectivity with all iDevices.

You’ll stumble upon features like Live Listen to pick up external sounds using the iPhone mic that can be heard on the AirPods. This acts as an ambient sound mode, though it isn’t as effective as versions found on other wireless earbuds, plus the open design already lets in a decent number of sounds. The Microphone setting also assigns the AirPods’ mic to automatically change from left to right or be fixed to one side. iOS has plenty more to discover.

Sony added as many features as they could to the LinkBuds, the majority accessible through the Sony Headphones Connect app. Again, to see these buds come with 360 Reality Audio, Adaptive Volume Control, DSEE, EQ, and Speak-to-Chat is awesome.

Some of Sony’s signature features are missing, such as LDAC and NFC for tap-to-pair functionality. You can complain about adjustable ambient sound being left off the list, but keep in mind that these buds were designed to let you hear music and what’s happening around you simultaneously without blocking your ear canals. Therefore, the mode isn’t needed.

The LinkBuds might have the more entertaining feature set, but the AirPods 3’s feature set is more serviceable.

Winner: AirPods 3

Sony LinkBuds vs. AirPods 3: Battery life

It took long enough, but Apple increased the AirPods 3’s battery life by an hour, capping playtime at 6 hours per charge. This falls below several other mid- and low-range models, but at least it’s more than the AirPods Pro: 4.5 to 5 hours. The boost in battery life also applies to the charging case, which now holds 30 hours when fully powered. Wireless charging and quick charging come as part of the package; a 5-minute charge equals 1 hour of use.

A tiny design often suggests short battery life. Well, the LinkBuds surpass expectations, generating 5.5 hours on a full charge. This falls to about 5 hours when factoring in volume and special features. A 10-minute quick charge nets you 90 minutes of listening time. We only wish the charging case held more than 17.5 hours and supported wireless charging.

Winner: AirPods 3

Sony LinkBuds vs. AirPods 3: Call quality

Sony’s track record with call quality had been horrendous until they made a 180 with the WF-1000XM4. The LinkBuds doesn’t offer the noise neutralization of its ANC brethren, but it rejects ambient noise much better than one would think, creating a clear path for loud, audible calls. Our only complaint comes from the open design, which can make it tough to hear people but won’t cause any interference on the opposite end.

We still believe the AirPods 3 to be a better calling headset. It doesn’t put a kibosh on the environmental fracas. However, Apple’s beamforming mics do a solid job of minimizing distractions and producing loud, balanced audio. Wind resistance has also improved; crashing effects caused by gusty conditions or cars speeding down the street aren’t as harmful to your hearing.

Winner: AirPods 3

Winner: AirPods 3

The AirPods 3 isn’t as innovative as its competitor, but it is certainly more functional. You get a solid frequency range to enjoy Apple Music tracks and decent ambient sound out of these buds. It’s hard going up against Apple’s phenomenal control scheme and call quality. Higher battery life and a longer list of features seal the deal.

Sony LinkBuds WF-L900AirPods 3
Value (5)35
Design (10)97
Comfort and fit (10)67
Controls (10)910
Audio quality (25)1520
App and special features (20)1516
Battery Life (10)57
Call quality (10)89
Total Score (100)7086

There’s no denying that the Sony LinkBuds has one of the most inventive designs ever created. Sony stuffed a significant amount of horsepower into such a compact frame. Intuitive controls and pleasant call quality earn it extra points as well. We get what Sony was trying to do with its truly open ear design, and though they accomplish their goal of always giving listeners ambient sound, there will be moments when you’ll want privacy to hear music, movies, games, podcasts, etc. These buds won’t allow it.

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