These earbuds look nothing like their predecessor, but they deliver both great sound and great comfort. We have the Sony LinkBuds S with us today, and they’re the brand’s newest addition to the LinkBuds lineup.
So let’s talk design. These look very, very different from the original LinkBuds. These actually look more like the Sony WF-C500 earbuds that I reviewed previously, which aren’t open-fit earbuds. It’s a more traditional look and I do like the way these fit much better than the LinkBuds. The earbuds are incredibly small and light, by the way, meaning they fit very nicely in the ear and there’s almost no wearing fatigue at all. In fact, I managed to drain the battery on the earbuds in one sitting without even realising I had them in for so long, which is quite an achievement. Unfortunately, they still protrude slightly from the ear and I can’t lie on my side wearing these, which is a shame.
The case is also very small, and it looks quite similar to the case for the LinkBuds, although the LinkBuds S case has a rougher texture compared to the LinkBuds. Not 100% sure I like it, but it’s interesting and it should hold up slightly better to scratches I think. On the back, you get a USB-C port for charging and a pairing button. There’s a LED indicator between the lid and case that’s quite standard across Sony’s wireless earbuds nowadays, and that’s about it. The case and earbuds are pretty simple.
Touch controls are pretty standard, by default, the right earbud handles music playback, so single tap for play/pause, double tap for track skip forward and triple tap for track skip backwards. A long tap and hold pulls up the phone’s voice assistant. On the left, it’s set to ambient sound control by default, so a tap and hold toggles between noise cancelling and ambient sound. The double and triple taps will activate quick access software like Spotify Tap or Endel. A tap and hold results in the Quick Attention feature where music is paused and ambient sound mode is toggled on. It’s a bit of a shame that Sony still uses group touch controls for customisation because I would have much preferred to have double taps and triple taps on the left set to volume control instead of the Quick Access feature that I will never use.
Anyway, in the app, there’s a lot of stuff that can be customised or toggled on, the level of ambient sound, for example, the equaliser feature, DSEE Extreme upscaling, auto power off and more. The S in the name supposedly stands for Smart, and the adaptive sound control has indeed been upgraded to be “smarter”. There’s now the ability for the earbuds to “learn” which locations you frequent and switch settings based on that.
Sony already previously had the option for the earbuds to switch between noise cancelling and ambient sound when you’re moving, commuting or walking. Now there’s location detection as well, and you can register locations like your home, office and such to adjust the settings. Maybe you want ambient sound to be turned on at home, but you want ambient sound turned off at the office. If you set it all up, the earbuds will automatically switch the settings once you enter the zone you’ve set for each location. It’s pretty cool, but if you don’t typically change your settings for different locations, you won’t ever have to touch this anyway.
Because of the change back to a more traditional design, there’s ANC on these earbuds, and it’s actually really good. Not to the level of the WF-1000XM4 earbuds, but it’s surprisingly effective at removing almost all the noise from a car while I was sitting inside. I only caught snippets of music or dialogue from the radio, but the engine noise and rumble were pretty much all removed. Really, really good job here by Sony.
Additionally, the ambient sound here is nice and really natural. The maximum level is a bit too much I think, I typically set it to around 10-15. Voices sound much more normal than they did on earlier offerings from Sony, and while it’s not quite to the level of the AirPods Pro, these sound perfectly fine for day-to-day usage. Of course, if you need open-fit earbuds, the original LinkBuds are still a good option.
These run on Bluetooth 5.2 and support SBC, AAC and LDAC, which is nice. I’ve tested these out with a spare phone and yeah, LDAC support is always nice.
The earbuds have six hours in them with ANC on and nine hours with ANC off. There are another two-ish charges in the case for a total of 20 hours and there’s quick charge here as well, five minutes of charge gives an hour of playtime. That being said, I do have to point out there’s no wireless charging available here, which is a bit of a disappointment considering that these earbuds cost S$299 or US$199.
There is IPX4 water resistance here, and that’s great because I think these are great earbuds for exercise, seeing as they’re so small and lightweight.
Microphone quality is actually pretty good. There’s a mesh covering on the earbuds to reduce wind noise and my voice does come across quite clearly even when I’m outdoors.
The sound quality is also quite decent, although I’d say the decision to go for a 5mm driver here to keep the earbuds small does affect the quality a bit. There’s enough bass, sure, and there’s also power and impact. Mids are perfectly fine with plenty of detail, and the treble has a bit of air. But there’s just a lack of energy all around I think; the earbuds don’t sound quite as dynamic and as musical as other earbuds from Sony like the WF-1000XM4. Granted, these are cheaper, and it’s not to say that they sound bad, not at all. They’re just not my first pick from Sony when it comes to sound quality.
The soundstage isn’t quite as wide either, and while you do get a vague distinctness between instruments and layers, it’s not as well-defined and crisp as I would like.
Overall though, I’d say these earbuds aren’t a bad choice if you need something that’s small and light and has very good ANC and ambient sound while still sounding decent. It is a little on the pricey side though, but if you can find these at a discount, I’d say they’re worth the pickup. Personally, the biggest selling point of these for me is how comfortable they are in the ear. I really cannot remember the last time I used a pair of earbuds from full battery until I got the low battery prompt. Well, aside from when I was using these.