We Talked To Sony About Linkbuds — The Most Unique Earbuds We’ve Ever Tested

We Talked To Sony About Linkbuds — The Most Unique Earbuds We’ve Ever Tested

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Sony has taken a whole new direction with the LinkBuds, which concentrate on allowing noise in while you wear them — rather than the more traditional feature of keeping it out.

These earbuds’ donut-hole ring creates constant, transparent sound that makes it easy to keep them in your ears while you do things like talk to folks, listen for your flights at the airport, or workout outside. And though they may not be for everyone, they deserve a look if you value the ability to hear what’s going on around you as much as you do sound quality.

You can see our full review of the LinkBuds here, but to better understand where they fit in the broader audio environment, I spoke with Hiroshi Nakamura, Head of Mobile Product Business Division, HES Business Group, Sony Corporation. Here’s what he had to say about where the idea came from and where you might end up using this unique tech in the future.

Jacob Krol/CNN

“I wanted to create a new form factor of headphones to create [a] new lifestyle. The key is to link online and offline, and then the question was how to realize it,” says Nakamura. And indeed, LinkBuds feature a unique design unlike any other earbuds currently on the market.

The result is a literal hole with a ring-shaped driver to gently allow that offline noise in. But, in addition to the freedom this always-on sound transparency offers, Nakamura was quick to talk about what kind of technology these earbuds could power in the future.

One of the experiences Sony is particularly excited about is what Nakamara calls sound AR (augmented reality), which has the potential to overlay online sounds into the real world. “For example [with] navigation, you may use Apple Maps or Google Maps on your smartphone and when it says to turn right, sound AR will allow the sound to come from the right side of the headphone.”

Layered on top of the LinkBuds open sound environment, this could be extremely helpful for city dwellers and tourists especially. Not only will you be able to hear things like traffic, but you’ll also have that additional direction if you’re not paying full attention (like most of us, most of the time). And, from an accessibility standpoint, sound AR could help those with sight and hearing deficits.

Another example Nakamura discussed was gaming, specifically with Niantic’s Pokemon Go — a game that overlays Pokemon onto the real world you view through your phone.. LinkBuds can help you better pinpoint where the characters are coming from, since they have gyro-sensors built into each bud. Developers could tap into these sensors to create similar spatially aware experiences.

It’s not Sony’s first foray into positional audio — 360 Reality Audio, a separate standard from Apple’s Spatial Audio, performs a similar feat.. For example, you might get drums on the left and behind you, but vocals on the right and in front of you. To a degree it’s mathematically mixing the audio and placing it around you, almost to give off the effect of a surround system.

Could LinkBuds expand? Jacob Krol/CNN

Nakamura notes that the original concept behind LinkBuds came from Sony’s WH-1000XM4 over-ear headphones, which uses a speak-to-chat feature that amplifies outside noises once you start talking.

In our testing on the 1000XM4s, we found that Sony’s headphones allowed us to clearly hear all kinds of environmental sounds (like people speaking, a knock on the door or a even robot vacuum roving around) in the earcups. It’s effectively a smart transparency mode that turned on when we started s

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We talked to Sony about Linkbuds — the most unique earbuds we’ve ever tested

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