Sony LinkBuds S: One minute review
The Sony LinkBuds S are not visually surprising in the same way as the first Sony LinkBuds. They didn’t even fit in your ear, but are designed to let outside sound through a loop over the ear canal. Strange, but pretty cool.
But actually, the Sony LinkBuds S are surprising in their own way when you get close to them, realizing that they’re smaller and lighter than any alternative design you’ve come across. They’re designed like all the other best true wireless earbuds, except they pack Sony’s noise canceling technology into an amazingly discreet design.
The build quality is undeniable, the specs are impressive, the battery life is more than acceptable and there are quite a few very well implemented control options too. The LinkBuds S have even better eco credentials than most of the competition, and are incredibly comfortable too. So on paper they are then ready to dominate.
And during this Sony LinkBuds S review, we found that they largely deliver on that promise. Levels of detail, sound staging and tonality all impress, and the way the frequency range is balanced from top to bottom is also formidable. But when it comes to dynamic headroom, the LinkBuds S are a bit lacking – they can’t muster the sonic energy and drive to bring a recording to full life.
This is quite in stark contrast to the Sony WF-1000XM4, which has long been recognized as one of the very best noise canceling earbuds out there. Now that they’ve been out for a while, the asking price is often very close to LinkBuds S levels – so unless the size and weight of these new earbuds is a big factor in your purchase decision (and it really could be) a big difference for those with small ears), the WF-1000XM4 generally makes more sense to us as a purchase.
Sony LinkBuds S review: price and release date
- Release date: May 20, 2022
- Price: $199 / £179 / AU$349
The Sony LinkBud S true wireless in-ear headphones launched in late May 2022 and currently cost $199 / £179 / AU$349.
You don’t have to search long or hard to realize there’s plenty of competition for this kind of money – not least from Sony itself, whose all-conquering WF-1000XM4 is now routinely available for $229 / £199 or thereabouts.
There’s also Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 3, the Grell Audio TWS/1, and the inevitable Apple AirPods Pro all cost about the same, and they all have enough to recommend them. So inside and out, the LinkBuds S have some rivals to face.
Sony LinkBuds S review: features
- Active noise cancellation with adjustable ambient noise
- Bluetooth 5.2 with SBC, AAC and LDAC support
- 27 hours battery life (at the touch of a button)
The LinkBuds S may be small, but their specs are big. With the exception of multi-point pairing, if there’s one feature these true wireless in-ears from Sony don’t have, it’s probably not really worth having.
Wireless connectivity is via Bluetooth 5.2, compatible with SBC, AAC and LDAC codecs, but – as is Sony’s firm practice – no aptX functionality. However, equip yourself with a suitable LDAC-specified smartphone and the LinkBuds S are comfortable, high-resolution headphones.
They use the same V1 processor that combines noise cancellation and audio processing in one as in the Sony WF-1000XM4, but it powers a new 5mm full-range dynamic driver, which is smaller than the XM4. The earbuds themselves last anywhere from 6 to 9 hours (depending on whether active noise cancellation is enabled or not), while the tiny charging case can still hold a few full charges. That makes battery life very competitive. It’s not class leading, but the buds that outperform are much bigger and heavier. The equally lightweight AirPods Pro, by comparison, manage 4.5 hours per charge with ANC on, so Sony has a big head start there.
Noise cancellation can be turned on or off in the control app or the capacitive touch surface on each earbud, but there’s also the ‘Ambient Sound’ option, which offers 20 different options, meaning the Sony’s let in everything from ‘a hint’ to ‘a deluge’. ‘ from external sound if you wish.
The ‘Headphones’ control app is also home to EQ adjustment, selection between ‘quality’ or ‘connection stability’ as far as Bluetooth is concerned, the ability to rearrange the touch controls and much more. It’s the same app as Sony’s premium headphones, and it’s as effective and stable here as anywhere else.
The touch controls are equally reliable and well implemented, and the LinkBuds have Alexa built in, along with Google Assistant compatibility. The external microphones that provide voice control, as well as telephony, are visible on the outside of each earbud behind a small circle of mesh.
Sony LinkBuds S review: design
- 4.8g per earbud and accordingly small
- 35g charging case with USB-C connection
- IPX4 rating
When a product is this small and light (Sony says LinkBuds S are 40 percent smaller and over 30 percent lighter than its own WF-1000XM4), not much can be done in terms of “design.”
Of course, the whole point of the LinkBuds S being so small and light is to provide a comfortable fit, and in this regard the design is a resounding success. 4.8g per earbud is nothing when it comes to truly wireless designs and, coupled with the four pairs of different sizes of earbuds included in the package, they’re easy to place yourself safely and comfortably.
They will stay that way for hours – especially until they need to be recharged – and they look extremely discreet when on site.
So the LinkBuds S are perfectly made and finished in the same kind of textured recycled plastic-plus-brick that the company builds its high-quality headphones from. Choose between black, white or ‘ecru’ finishes. That last color makes the Sony look a bit prosthetic to be honest.
Charging is via USB-C – there’s no wireless charging compatibility here, and from ‘flat’ to ‘full’ you’ll have to wait a few hours. But once that’s done, you can (within reasonable limits) go anywhere with your LinkBuds: their IPX4 rating makes them capable of handling the sweat generated from a session at the gym or the splashes generated by lounging by the pool.
Sony LinkBuds S review: sound quality
- Detailed, organized and controlled sound
- Lack of dynamic potential
- Good noise reduction
It doesn’t take much more than an MQA powered TIDAL Masters stream of Love and hate in another time by Gabriels for the Sony LinkBuds S to reveal a whole lot about the way they reproduce music. There are no secrets of achievements to tease out of these earbuds — they’re candid about their relative strengths and weaknesses from the get-go.
Type: true wireless in-ear
Weight: 4.8g (earbud); 35g (box)
drivers: 5mm dynamic
Battery life: 6 hours (ANC on), 9 hours (ANC off) (earbuds); two full charges (case)
Check: app; touch; voice
Bluetooth: 5.2; SBC, AAC, LDAC
On the plus side, they are an open, clear and quite impressively detailed listening experience. Low frequencies are thick and well controlled so they don’t drag with tempos or make rhythms sound unnatural. They also contain a lot of detail regarding tone and texture. It’s an equally informative sound at the high end of the frequency range: highs are nearly clear enough, sufficiently substantial enough, and share the same detailed setting.
In between, the amount of detail the LinkBuds S delivers comes in handy for singers of all types. The way Sony has set up a soundstage allows vocalists to take center stage while still being nicely integrated into the performance as a whole – and from there they communicate well. If there is character in a singer’s delivery, the LinkBuds S will highlight it.
The overall balance is good, rhythmic expression is also very pleasing, and the Sony blends every element of a shot with real positivity.
What’s missing in the sound quality department, however, is a real sense of drive or urgency. Dynamic headroom is limited here, and as a result everything that happens in a recording happens at an immutable level. They are a particularly unenthusiastic, almost emotionless listener, the LinkBuds S – certainly some comparably priced rivals sound a lot more engaged and, consequently, captivating.
The way Sony applies noise reduction needs no apologies, mind you. The LinkBuds S deal resolutely with external noises and succeed without leaving an aftertaste. Call quality is also very acceptable – intelligibility is good and Sony’s ‘Precise Voice Pick-Up’ wind noise reduction technology works well.
Sony LinkBuds S review: Value
- Predictable standard of build and finish
- Valuable eco references
- Pound-for-pound sound quality slightly less
When you look at the standard of build and finish here, it’s as if the LinkBuds S have not been scaled down so much as condensed. The finish is impeccable and the earbuds give the impression that they are built to last. The same goes for the charging case, which closes with a firm and reassuring ‘click’.
Sony has made good strides lately in reducing the environmental impact of its products, and the LinkBuds S is no different. They arrive in unbleached, unprinted and plastic-free packaging, and the earbuds and charging case are made from a material that combines recycled plastic car parts with stone. It can be recycled at the end of the product’s life.
But in the end, in-ear headphones live or die by their sound quality – and here the Sony LinkBuds S just aren’t quite a knockout. They are of course much more right than they are wrong, but where they fall short – fundamentally when it comes to dynamics and drive – they suck more than a little excitement out of the recordings.
Should I buy Sony LinkBuds S?
|Functions||Very hard to fault – Sony’s app gives you so much control.||5/5|
|Design||So comfortable, so small, so light.||4.5/5|
|Sound quality||The detail and balance are there, but they lack a bit of energy and excitement.||4/5|
|Where the||They are a good buy, but you can get better sound for the same money.||4/5|