With the Sony Linkbuds S, the manufacturer has only a few weeks ago “smallest and lightest true wireless in-ear headphones with ANC and Hi-Res audio in the world” officially presented according to its own statement. Just empty promises? Or can we expect a real marvel here? Our Sony Linkbuds S review clarifies these and many other questions.
|Bluetooth codecs||SBC, AAC, LDAC|
|Maximum operating range||12m (without obstacle)|
|Battery life||Up to 8hrs, 22hrs total with charging case; (varies depending on volume level and audio content)|
|Charge Time||2 hrs (for headphones via USB-C); 3 hrs (for charging case + headphones via USB-C)|
|Size Charging Case (W x H x D)||60 mm x 55mm x 30 mm|
|Weight||4.8 g per earbud; 42 g charging case & earbud|
|Most important features||ANC; Transparency mode; Wear detection; Speak-to-chat|
|Price||€ 144.00 *|
Sony Linkbuds S review: what’s included
Sony offers its new TWS in-ears in three different colors. They all come in a small, almost square cardboard box. In the course of sustainability, the manufacturer collects the first plus points here, because plastic is completely dispensed with.
The inner workings of the packaging look well thought-out and tidy. At the very top of the cardboard slipcase, the charging unit and Earbuds are waiting for us. Below that, in individual compartments, are the manuals, safety instructions and other paperwork.
The USB-A to USB-C charging cable with an almost ridiculous length of 22 centimeters has its own compartment in the box. But okay, at least any other cable can be used.
The scope of delivery is completed by another cardboard slipcase, which contains the additional silicone ear tips. In addition to the pre-installed ear tips in size M, you can expect two smaller pairs (size SS and S), as well as a larger pair (LL).
Design and workmanship
With the Sony Linkbuds S, the manufacturer takes a completely different approach than in the case of the Linkbuds (without the S name suffix), despite the name approximation, and once again approaches conventional in-ear headphones. The open, circular design of the permeable Earbuds gives way to an appearance that approaches the still current top model WF-1000XM4. The only difference is that the manufacturer does without the metal details here.
But let’s start with the charging case of the Linkbuds S in ecru. Just like the in-ear headphones themselves, it is available in a matte sand-colored shade and convinces with a pleasant feel.
It is 60 mm long, 55 mm high and around 30 mm deep. It thus fits quite well in a trouser pocket and turns out smaller than the corresponding counterpart of the 1MORE Evo (our review), but immensely larger than the case of the Apple AirPods Pro (our review). On the other hand, it is significantly lighter than the competition: 42 grams including the Earbuds, and only 33 grams without the headphones.
Visually, the usual picture awaits us: Sony logo on the top, LED strip at the opening. On the back, we find a dedicated pairing button next to the USB-C input for charging. The compact Sony Linkbuds S are held securely on the magnetic charging contacts in the case itself. Another advantage: The charging case has a flattened bottom and can thus be placed on a surface without problems.
Let’s move on to the Earbuds themselves. Here, Sony relies on a rounded design that is reminiscent of the WF-1000XM4. The metal details of the big brother are conspicuous by their absence.
However, we once again like the headphones’ matte plastic, which makes fingerprints no problem. Sony once again does without pins that protrude from the ears. The gold microphones on the outside of the drivers and the gold-plated charging contacts on the inside are striking. The colored labels on the respective side also prove to be practical. In general, the design of the Sony Linkbuds S looks classy and well thought-out and does not miss anything.
And what about the size? Including the silicone ear tips, the Buds are about 25 mm long, just under 20 mm high and about 25 mm deep. That is definitely very small and especially not as deep as the (also very compact) Beats StudioBuds. However, the weight of just 4.8 grams per Earbud is particularly impressive.
Workmanship of the Sony Linkbuds S
Despite the low weight and use of plastic, the Sony Linkbuds S look extremely high-quality and convince with a pleasant feel. From the charging case’s folding mechanism to the Earbuds themselves, everything seems to be made of one piece. We especially like the matte design that does not show fingerprints – a rarity. The workmanship more than lives up to the rather high price.
Wearing comfort of the Linkbuds S
There is also not much to complain about in terms of wearing comfort in the Sony Linkbuds S test. The feather-light earbuds find a comfortable hold in the ear and are easily twisted into the inner ear after insertion.
However, due to the round, flattened shape of the inside, the wearing comfort is much more subjective than with Apple’s AirPods Pro, for example. The reason: The contact surface in the ear is immensely larger, which can be uncomfortable for certain ear shapes. However, I personally did not have any problems with this in the test. Even over hours, the in-ears rested extremely comfortably in place.
What’s more, since the Earbuds don’t protrude from the ear, you can even lie flat on the bed or sofa with them without anything pressing. And theoretically even sleep with them. Very pleasant. In combination with the right size of the earbuds, the passive seal is also excellent. Within the companion app, there’s also an earbud fit test that measures air permeability to help you find the perfect size.
Features and battery life
At a recommended retail price of just under 200 euros, the Sony Linkbuds S should already have a lot to offer. In fact, the manufacturer equips the Earbuds with a long list of features that hardly leaves anything to be desired.
They wirelessly use the Bluetooth 5.2 standard and support Bluetooth LE (which is not yet available) for particularly low latencies. Thus, we get a distance of around 12 meters to the audio source without any connection interruptions. In iOS and Android, the Earbuds are recognized and connected quickly and reliably. They also support Google Fast Pair and Swift Pair on Windows devices.
The only thing that really pisses us off is the lack of multipoint connectivity. That is, connecting and switching between two audio sources at the same time. Unfortunately, this is not possible with the Sony Linkbuds S.
However, the manufacturer easily makes up for this flaw with some unique selling points. For example, the Linkbuds S offer a mono mode when only one earbud is used and even a wear detection, where the music automatically pauses when one earbud (or both) is taken out and automatically resumes playback when it is put back in.
But that’s not all. From Sony’s over-ear models like the WH-1000XM4 (our review), the new in-ears inherit the Speak-to-Chat feature, but it can be disabled if desired. If you speak with the headphones in place, the Linkbuds S automatically switch to transparency mode and pause the playback. This enables clear conversations and works very reliably in practice, although the earphones sometimes react to a loud throat clearing. A feature with rarity value, which can not only be deactivated but also customized if desired.
Is that it for special features? Nope! There’s more. For example, the Sony Linkbuds S offer IPX4 certification and are protected against sweat and splashing water. And then there’s the DSEE Extreme function, which uses artificial intelligence to optimize compressed music files in real time and thus improve the sound.
In addition, Sony’s high-resolution LDAC codec is supported, at least on Android, as well as 360-degree reality audio on all platforms. More about that later in the section about the sound quality. All in all, an excellent set of features that actually only lacks multipoint.
Battery life: When size becomes a problem
The small dimensions of the Sony Linkbuds S are of course not entirely without compromise. Thus, we get a maximum of 20 hours of combined runtime in the test, which is made up of 6 hours for the pure Earbuds and another 14 hours for the charging case. With activated active noise cancellation (ANC). Without ANC, we get just under 8 hours of runtime, which is slightly below the manufacturer’s specs.
Maximum, mind you. If you want to enjoy your music in the best possible quality and at a volume of more than 80 percent, you will only get around four hours. Unfortunately, this is merely average.
Charging is only possible via USB Type-C, since the case unfortunately does not offer a wireless charging function. A full charging process also takes quite a long time with about three hours. Nevertheless, about 5 minutes in the charging case is enough for just under an hour of music playback including ANC for Sony’s Linkbuds S via Quick Charge.
What’s odd is that the right earbud loses power faster than the left for some unknown reason. Why this is, and whether it is a bug, is unclear. In practice, the runtime on the right is around five minutes lower than that of the left.
Operation of the Sony Linkbuds S
Sony relies on touch-sensitive surfaces on the outer sides for operation. The touch sensors on both sides can be adjusted separately. By default, the left side is used for ambient noise control and two Quick Access functions, while music playback is controlled on the right.
A single tap on the left switches between ANC and ambient mode (transparency mode), while holding it down activates the Quick-Attention mode. This is perfect for short conversations in between: Here, the music volume is reduced and the transparency mode including voice highlighting is activated. Double and triple taps provide access to control via Quick Access. So far, only Spotify and Endel can be selected as services, but more will follow in the course of time.
On the right side, you can start or pause playback (tap), as well as switch to the next (two taps) or previous song (three taps), while holding the touch surface launches the voice assistant (Apple Siri, Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa). Volume control is not possible by default, but can be set if desired. The operation seems well thought-out and is quickly internalized. Moreover, it always works flawlessly and precisely.
Audio quality, ANC and microphones
Possible doubts that the Sony Linkbuds S cannot keep up with the strong features in terms of sound due to their compact size fortunately remain unfounded. Sony has already impressively proven that the driver size is not necessarily directly related to the audio quality with the new over-ear top model WH-1000XM5. After all, they shrunk the drivers from 40 mm to 30 mm there.
It’s a similar story with the Linkbuds S. Their high-performance neodymium magnets are only 5 mm in size (in comparison, the drivers of the Nothing Ear 1 are more than twice as big at 11.6 mm), but they deliver a rich and extremely detailed sound. The Sony in-ears cover a frequency range of 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz in the standard SBC and AAC codecs. In the high-end codec LDAC, it even goes up to 40,000 Hz with 96 Hz.
Sonically, the Sony Linkbuds S are characterized by a relatively neutral sound image with clear, but by no means over-present bass and impressive mids. The sound is rather warmly mixed and voluminous at the same time. Especially vocals, voices and lead instruments are reproduced clearly, and fine details can always be heard. The trebles also deliver a very good sound and that without any unpleasant overemphasis.
However, the rounded audio quality seems a bit cramped in itself. However, this is only noticeable in comparison to even better headphones. Considering the price, the sound is definitely on a top level here and only has to admit defeat to the in-house WF-1000XM4 and the Sennheiser Momentum models in terms of audio quality.
In terms of sound, the Sony Linkbuds S undoubtedly deliver and we like them even better than the AirPods Pro or Bose QC Earbuds. Especially since the 5-band equalizer can be used to enhance the sound even more. Thanks to Clear Bass, for example, a powerful bass can be added without losing precision. In addition, various presets are available here, with which the acoustics can be adjusted to one’s own preferences.
Benefit: 360-degree audio and DSEE Extreme
The Linkbuds S also score bonus points in the LDAC codec, but especially in 360-reality audio recordings, which are available, for example, in the streaming services of Tidal or Deezer. This results in an impressive 3D sound stage that feels as if you are standing right next to the musicians on stage or in the studio. The result really blew us away in the test, even though the selection of albums and tracks is still manageable.
And then, yes, there is the DSEE Extreme AI feature, which is supposed to convert compressed audio content in real time. This feature can be activated in the companion app if desired and actually has a positive effect on the sound. Especially when streaming via the Internet, music titles seem more spacious and powerful. Nobody should expect magic from this technology, but an improvement in sound quality can definitely be heard. However, DSEE Extreme additionally nibbles away at the in-ears’ battery.
ANC and Transparency Mode
The active noise cancellation (ANC) of the Sony Linkbuds S also knows how to please. Although it can not quite keep up with the top model from its own house. However, the manufacturer once again proves that there is no way around Sony in the ANC sector.
The noise-canceling not only suppresses low frequencies effectively, but also does an excellent job with medium pitches and high frequencies. In the home office test, for example, I was surprised that the TV sound my son was listening to was almost completely suppressed or at least significantly attenuated. However, a minimal background noise remains. However, this is also well below most competitors in terms of volume. Definitely one of the three best ANCs in the in-ear headphone segment. However, high-quality over-ears block out ambient noise even better due to their design.
In addition, Sony relies on adaptive ANC in this model. In practice, this means that the headphones recognize whether you are resting, walking, running or on public transport. Various settings can be made in the companion app for all modes. For example, it’s possible to automatically activate ANC when in Stay mode, while switching to Transparency mode with focus on voice when walking.
In addition, locations can be learned and assigned to a category. For example, the Sony Linkbuds S automatically activate ANC mode in your own home and transparency mode when you enter the train station. Very cool. However, this feature can also be deactivated if desired.
Transparency mode in 20 levels
Keyword transparency: this mode, unlike the ANC, offers a total of 20 levels. The higher the selection, the more ambient noise comes through. If desired, this mode can also be equipped with a “focus on voice” that… well, does exactly what the name implies. It additionally amplifies voices to make conversations, but also the sound from the TV, clearer.
This feature is also suitable if you have problems with the intelligibility of the TV program. Basically, the background noise increases noticeably in transparency mode, which could be annoying at times, especially in maximum level 20. In return, the ambient noise convinces with a clear, natural sound. However, Sony cannot quite keep up with the AirPods Pro here.
Microphone quality of the Sony Linkbuds S
The Linkbuds S deserve praise for their exceptionally good microphone quality. At least in the area of in-ear headphones. Even though Sony does not reveal any details about the technology here, we really like the basic sound.
A “precise voice pickup technology for controlling the external and internal microphones” is supposed to ensure clear conversations even in loud ambient noise. We can also confirm this in the test.
Ambient noise and wind noise are suppressed excellently without affecting the dynamics of the voice. Even if we only speak softly, the headphones recognize our voice and reproduce it clearly and in detail.
App connectivity: Sony Headphones Connect
The companion app is Sony Headphones Connect for iOS and Android, which comes with a huge feature set and clear design. In the initial setup, we first set all the settings. We also have to take a picture of both ears for the 360-degree sound. The app also provides a sound sample that shows the difference between stereo and 360 reality audio. In addition, there is an overview of apps that support Sony’s technology.
Various settings are then available in the main menu. Under “Status”, the app provides us with information about the battery status and the current adaptive ANC mode, the current music playback and the current sound pressure – including health information about its effects on the hearing.
Under “Sound” we can quickly switch between ANC and transparency mode, turn Speak-To-Chat on and off, and adjust sound settings via equalizer. We also determine whether the Bluetooth connection should rather focus on the best possible sound or the highest possible stability. We also activate DSEE Extreme here.
In the “System” section, we adjust the touch controls, select the preferred voice assistant and make other quick settings. This is joined by firmware updates and various statistics on usage time, safe listening, and even badges that reward us for various actions.
Sony Linkbuds S review: conclusion
With the Sony Linkbuds S, the manufacturer once again shows that they are one of the market leaders in the audio sector. Design and workmanship are high-quality and classy. The wearing comfort probably does not suit everyone. However, I personally like it very much.
In addition, there are so many features and equipment characteristics that you can’t get anywhere else in the 200-euro range. Only the lack of multipoint hurts. Furthermore, the battery life, although on a decent level, is too short. However, this is probably due to the compact design and extremely low weight.
The in-ears compensate for this with a clear, powerful sound, thanks to which Sony’s Linkbuds S can play right at the top. ANC and transparency mode are also very convincing and only lag behind the company’s top model (ANC) and the AirPods Pro (transparency mode).
Thus, Sony delivers an excellent price-performance ratio and lets us give it a clear buy recommendation. Sony’s Linkbuds S currently rank among the top 5 best in-ear headphones. On the other hand, the even better WF-1000XM4 are only about 15 Euros more expensive in stores. However, both models can inspire all along the line.