TL;DR: External sounds can be heard quite clearly. They may be useful for MTB, but definitely not for road biking, because they can’t be heard over wind noise, which they do nothing to reduce.
It seems I am perpetually searching for good “true” wireless earbuds. The main reason for this is that the shape of my ear canals is unusual (they are shaped like narrow slots rather than round holes), so most earbuds don’t fit well and stay in my ears securely. The other reason is that I like to wear them while cycling, but being unable to hear the sounds around me is a safety issue, so I want to be able to hear music and the world around me.
To be good for cycling, earbuds need to:
- Fit securely
- Allow external sounds to be heard
- Function in 20+ mph winds
- Tolerate sweat and sometimes rain
- Have sufficient battery life
Sound quality is not a significant concern for cycling earbuds, but of course it is always nice to have. Comfort would also be nice.
The Sony LinkBuds have an innovative design to address the ability to hear external sounds, and they definitely deliver. The donut-shaped driver allows external sounds to be heard quite clearly, with fully detail, and without electronic coloration (and also without drawing on battery power). I called out to a rider who was stopped to ask if they needed help, and they were at least ten yards/meters away when they answered, and I heard them quite clearly. As far as I can tell, my hearing was about the same as if I had nothing at all in my ears, so in terms of road safety, and having conversations, they are quite good.
The Sony LinkBuds also fit quite securely, even without being inserted into the ear canal. It has a low profile design that nestles into the ear and grasps inside it. They are small and lightweight, and it’s very easy to forget they are there. I’ve only worn them for a couple of hours at a time, but they’ve not slipped out, and not caused any fatigue or ache. For me, they definitely fit securely, and they are comfortable.
According to the specs, they have an IPX4 rating and a 5.5 hour battery life.
The sound quality isn’t awful, but it isn’t wonderful. These are not audiophile earbuds. They aren’t very loud.
However, the Wind. They do nothing to block, diminish, or reduce the noise of wind in your ears. Even at lower speeds, perhaps anything over 10 mph (16 kph), the sound of the wind in my hears is so overpowering that I couldn’t make out what I was listening to. As I’ve said, they aren’t very loud, so they don’t compete against the wind very well. I was listening to a podcast, and I struggled through the entire ride to make out what was being said, and I often missed things. Perhaps if I was listening to music, it wouldn’t seem so critical (I’ll have to give that a try).