Earlier this year, Sony launched the $179 LinkBuds: a unique pair of hole-punch wireless earbuds designed to help you stay fully aware of the outside world while you’re wearing them. They have their charms, but let’s face it: most of us need to drown out our surroundings at the very least. Some weather. That’s why the company quickly followed up with the more traditional $199 LinkBuds S.
LinkBuds S have an ambient sound mode to amplify nearby noise, strong active noise cancellation to block it out, and the unique ability to seamlessly switch between the two based on your environment. This makes the LinkBuds S a great companion for outdoor hikes or workouts, long work sessions at home, and noisy subway rides alike, but with some occasional fit and connectivity issues, not to mention very strong competition at this point. price, they are not the best. Wireless headphones for everyone. These are the pros and cons I found after a week of living with the latest Sony shoots.
what we liked
Good sound and style.
I love low-profile earbuds, and the LinkBuds S are exactly that. Available in black, white, or Desert Sand, a Best Buy exclusive, these earbuds sport a simple, spherical design reminiscent of the equally discreet Pixel Buds and Galaxy Buds 2. There are no dangling stems like you’ll find on AirPods or AirPods Pro, nor is it a jarring donut hole like on standard LinkBuds, just a small circle that sits unassumingly in your ear. The touch controls on the headphones were mostly reliable, letting me pause and play tracks or switch between different noise modes with a light touch.
The sleek styling of the LinkBuds S is backed up by pretty good sound, enough that I was happy to make them my go-to music headphones for almost a week. The crunchy guitars and overdubbed vocals of my favorite pop-punk tracks sounded full and bright, and I was especially impressed with how clearly the bass came through.
The AirPods Pro sounded a bit sharper overall when the two were compared side by side, but the LinkBuds S offered a punchier, mind-blowing low end. And unlike Apple headphones, Sony’s Headphones Connect app lets you customize the sound of the LinkBuds S to your liking using a variety of equalizer settings that include options like brightness, smoothness, treble boost, and bass boost. Although I appreciated the sound of the Sony bud out of the box, the bright setting was a welcome choice for highlighting vocals and guitars.
Super smart software and impressive noise control
I was excited to see that the LinkBuds S come with the Adaptive Sound Control feature, one of my favorite features of the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones I recently reviewed. With this option enabled, Sony headphones can automatically switch between active noise cancellation (ANC) and ambient noise based on your activity and location, and in my experience it really works.
For example, the LinkBuds S were smart enough to automatically enable ambient sound when you were out for a walk, before quickly switching back to ANC once you were sitting at home. And just like on Sony’s over-ear headphones, there’s a handy Speak-to-Chat feature that will automatically pause your music once you start talking to someone. You can also take advantage of the Auto Play app (available now on Android, coming June for iOS), which you can set to automatically play specific playlists when you’re walking or sitting.
These cutting-edge smart capabilities let you easily get on with your day without having to constantly fiddle with on-ear or app controls, and give Sony’s in-ear headphones a huge edge over the competition. The AirPods Pro don’t have an automatic noise control feature, and while the Galaxy Buds Pro can turn on ambient noise and lower the volume of music when they detect you’re talking, they won’t pause it for you.
Whether you’re tweaking things manually or letting Adaptive Sound Control do its thing, the LinkBuds S’ noise modes are as good as you’ll get from Apple and Samsung. The headphones’ active noise cancellation is some of the most suppressive I’ve heard at this price point, doing a good job of muffling the sounds of car alarms and neighborhood conversations on my busy Queens street. Similarly, ambient sound was reliable, allowing me to hear vehicles when out for a walk or nearby shoppers while at the grocery store. The LinkBuds S’s ANC and ambient sound modes were comparable to what the AirPods Pro and Galaxy Buds Pro offer, but worked better in certain scenarios, such as when walking through a noisy construction site or sitting in the middle of lots of conversations and traffic. on my balcony
Long battery life and reliable call quality
The LinkBuds S are rated for 6 hours of continuous battery life and a total of 20 hours with the charging case, and my tests largely match that, if not slightly exceed it. I was able to use the Sony Buttons for about four days straight without having to charge the case, and of the 29 total hours I used them, I only plugged the case in twice.
In addition to the long battery life, Sony’s newer headphones allowed me to make many phone calls without any complaints, and the voice recordings I captured on them sounded impressively clear.
What we didn’t like
Finding the right fit can be difficult, and connectivity isn’t always perfect
While the LinkBuds S are lightweight and mostly comfortable (Sony calls them the lightest ANC earphones out there, and they sure feel that way), I sometimes struggled to get them to fit securely in my ear. You have to twist them slightly in your ear canal to make a secure seal, and even then, there were plenty of times I’ve had to adjust them during a hike, and sometimes accidentally activated the touch controls while doing so. That said, I still found them to be more comfortable and secure than standard LinkBuds, which have an open design that doesn’t sit as tightly in the ear.
A cheap case without wireless charging
At $199, the LinkBuds S’s plastic shell feels pretty cheap, and it picked up a significant amount of scuffs and scuffs after just a few days in my pocket. What’s more disappointing is that the case doesn’t offer wireless charging, something you’ll find on comparable models like the AirPods Pro and even cheaper options like the Galaxy Buds 2 and EarFun Air Pro 2.
The Sony LinkBuds S are a very good $199 pair of in-ear headphones that offer great sound, solid noise cancellation and, unlike many competitors, the unique and useful ability to change sound modes depending on what you’re doing. . The problem is that there are plenty of great alternatives out there at this price point.
Apple users should consider the often discounted Beats Fit Pro or AirPods Pro, which offer a more secure fit and more stable connectivity. The same goes for the Galaxy Buds Pro for those on the Android team. But if you want a platform-independent pair of earphones that can either block out or amplify the outside world exactly when you need them to, often without you having to touch them, the LinkBuds S fill your niche extremely well.
How the LinkBuds S compare to other wireless earbuds we’ve tested
|Active noise cancellation||Yes||Do not||Yes||Yes|
|ambient sound||Yes||Yes (via open design)||Yes||Yes|
|Weight||0.17 ounce||0.14 ounce||0.19 ounces||0.22 ounce|
|Colors||White, Black, Desert Sand (Best Buy only)||White grey||White||White, Phantom Silver, Phantom Black, Phantom Violet|
|Battery life (rated)||5.5 hours (headphones only), 17.5 hours (with case)||4.5 hours (earphones only), 24 hours (with case)||5 hours (headphones only), 18 hours (with case)|
|wireless charging||Do not||Do not||Yes||Yes|