Tracking the over-ear Sony WH-1000XM5, the Japanese company has also recently released the LinkBuds S as an alternative to the older LinkBuds.
As the world’s smallest and lightest* earbuds right now (with many stars), Sony’s new true wireless LinkBuds S are a worthy option at $200, especially if you value comfort and powerful ANC (Active Noise Canceling).
They’re now available in black, white, plus an additional ecru color, exclusive to Best Buy.
*Smallest and lightest noise canceling true wireless Hi-Res headphones.
Design and fit
The LinkBuds S comes in a housing similar to the AirPods Pro case, except matte. However, it feels nice and smooth. The lid really doesn’t open as far back as I would have liked, but it snaps closed magnetically with a reassuring “sound”.
Inside, we have the tiny LinkBuds S earbuds themselves. In design, they look quite traditional at first glance, with rubber earplugs, flat, touch-sensitive areas and perhaps most notably, a ventilation-like mesh on each.
The earbuds feel just as nice as the housing, they are made from the exact same matte plastic and are indeed quite light in the hand. Don’t expect to be blown away by their size though, they look pretty average despite Sony’s “smallest and lightest” claims.
Speaking of their design and build quality, the LinkBuds S are rated IPX4, meaning they’re water resistant enough to survive even the worst workout sweats. However, I wouldn’t risk it with anything more than that, like rain, precisely because of those aforementioned vents. Those are definitely not swim-proof earplugs, so keep them away from the pool or beach, and frankly, keep them away from the rain too.
So, how do the new LinkBuds S (which Sony calls WF-LS900N by the way) fit and feel in the ear? With those claims of being super light, probably great, right? I didn’t mean to rhyme this. But yeah.
I’m normally someone who can’t stand rubber earplugs, they can irritate my ears, so I lean towards earplugs they don’t have, like the Galaxy Buds Live.
But to be fair, the LinkBuds S are light enough that this isn’t an issue here. And I bet most users would be fine using them for many, many hours at a time. They are so light and easy to forget.
And it fits well, they won’t fly off your ears during an intense workout, even if you shake your head like crazy. Absolutely no complaints here, when it comes to the design, fit and feel of the LinkBuds S.
In the box, you get the earbuds in their case, 3 sets of rubber earbuds in different sizes to choose from, and a USB Type-C charging cable.
We’ve got the usual touch controls here, which you’re definitely used to by now if you’ve ever used Sony or Samsung earbuds before.
You can tap the flat, touch-sensitive areas of each earbud to play and pause, skip a track, skip to a previous track, summon a virtual assistant such as Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant, switch between ANC (active noise canceling) and ambient noise, and so on.
The important question is, are those touch controls on the LinkBuds S as good and accurate as on the XM5s?
Answer – indeed they are. Unlike most true wireless earbuds from Samsung, the Sony LinkBuds S can be adjusted, removed or put on in your ear without worrying about accidentally activating a touch gesture.
Sony was smart about giving those earbuds a reachable surface, apart from their touch-sensitive sides, which are themselves small enough to only activate on purpose. And the touch controls work perfectly for recognizing what you’re trying to do, no problems there either.
As I mentioned in our XM5 review, props to Sony for mastering touch controls, something I usually dread when it comes to headphones and earbuds.
Sound quality and noise reduction
The Sony LinkBuds S sound great, clear and simple. There is a perfect balance between clear sound, definition and bass. While the XM5s felt a little underwhelming, especially in the bass area for me, a bass aficionado, the LinkBuds S don’t skimp on that thick bass you might be used to. At least, if you are a lover of modern electronic dance music.
Now this may be undesirable for some who prefer a more “flat” sound with less pronounced bass, but for me, and from what I’m assuming, the majority of people who probably buy $200 earplugs for casual listening – there is nothing to complain about here , I only have nice things to say.
There’s no distortion or deafening highs you might have experienced with lesser earbuds, and don’t get me wrong about the bass – it’s not ultra-fat, muddy bass that completely destroys a track. It is clean and loudly just right. And you can tone it down through Sony’s app, which we’ll talk about later.
Let’s move on to the noise cancellation, which impresses in typical Sony fashion. You can tap the left earbud to switch between ANC and ambient sound, the latter using the earbud’s microphones to let in the ambient sounds (voices, etc.) for you to hear. But switch to ANC and the world goes quiet.
I’m not kidding, there are loud seagulls flying around and at least two constructions going on near me, it all went dead silent when I turned on the LinkBuds S. I can’t sell you enough – even as I stretch to hear something, it’s just the keyboard keys clicking as I write this, along with a faint, muffled high-frequency outside noise, like the chirping of birds.
As with the Sony XM5s, I’m very impressed with the ANC here, especially considering we’re dealing with small earbuds and not over-ear headphones. Sony even claims that the LinkBuds S’s ANC is on par with the XM5’s, which, after using them both, I’m willing to believe.
App and features
And now to talk about something I’m not too fond of. You don’t have to, but if you want you can download Sony’s Headphones Connect app to further enhance your LinkBuds S experience.
After you agree to the terms and conditions and hassle you to create an account with Sony (thankfully, you can skip that), you get access to some extra features.
Most notable is the disappointing 360 Reality Audio feature, which only works with a few apps and is hardly worth mentioning, but Sony does this all the time.
But you can also set your favorite voice assistant so that you can summon it with commands (for example, “OK Google” or “Alexa”).
You can use the app’s built-in equalizer to make your music sound more or less bassy, you can also check out a helpful tutorial on how to use these earbuds and in particular their touch controls, ideal for beginners.
From the app, you can also enable Speak-to-Chat, which is a very handy feature that automatically pauses your music when you start talking to someone, and resumes it shortly after you stop. Very handy if you’re in a pub, for example, and someone brings you a nice cold beer, because you can immediately start a conversation without touching anything; your music will pause on its own as long as that call lasts!
From the app, you can also enable DSEE Extreme, which is disabled by default. Now that feature is well worth keeping, as it upscales any compressed music you play, increasing the sampling rate and bit rate. Will you feel a difference? Who knows, maybe with YouTube. In any case, it can’t hurt to keep it on, right?
Of course you also use this app to update the software of your LinkBuds S when new versions are released. But in the end, if nothing here piques your interest, you can easily go without downloading this app.
The Sony LinkBuds S have automatic wind noise reduction, and it certainly shows. Even in the wind, my voice was clear and concise in conversations, even if it sounded a bit mono-ish, like I’m speaking through a tube.
Suffice it to say that the clarity of the voice is very good and that you can use the LinkBuds S just fine for the occasional Skype or Zoom call. But this won’t be the high-end microphone you want to use to start a podcast or for Twitch streaming and what not.
To be fair, most wireless earbud microphones in this price range sound about the same on average as LinkBuds S, so don’t let my minor voice quality issues discourage you from buying these.
Other Notable Features and Specifications
As with our Sony XM5 review, here are some of the valuable features and specs of the LinkBuds S that we haven’t mentioned, if at all, for the extra tech-savvy among you…
- 5mm drivers, powerful neodymium magnets
- Hi-Res audio, LDAC and DSEE Extreme support
- Frequency Response (44.1 kHz sampling): 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz
- Frequency Response (LDAC 96 kHz sampling, 990 kbps): 20 Hz – 40,000 Hz
- Bluetooth 5.2
- Bluetooth range: 32.81 ft (10 meters)
- ANC strength is comparable to Sony WF-1000XM3
- Quick Pair / Quick Pair
- IPX4 water resistant
- Charging via USB Type-C, no wireless charging
Plus – yes, the LinkBuds S will automatically pause your music when you turn them off, which is always handy. They also come in eco-friendly packaging, which – again – is always good to see.
On their own, the Sony LinkBuds S earbuds last about 6 hours on a single charge with ANC on, or up to 10 hours with ANC off. But in combination with their case, they can easily last up to 20 hours.
Especially for the small size of the earbuds, those 6 hours on their own are pretty impressive, and the extra 14 hours you can get from storing them in their cases means you’re ready for the weekend. Or for more than two days, depending on how long your listening sessions are.
It’s also worth noting that Sony says a quick 5 minute charge of the case will give you up to an extra hour of playback, so if you’re always on the go you’ll appreciate this.
There’s a downside – despite their $200 price tag, the LinkBuds S case doesn’t support wireless charging. Wired only, through the USB Type-C port on the back.