Sony Linkbuds S Review: supremely comfortable ANC earbuds

The Sony Linkbuds S is an oddball. Unlike the original Linkbuds, which emphasized hearing your surroundings while wearing the earbuds, the Linkbuds S is a pair of closed-back designed earbuds with active noise cancellation. The best way I can describe the Linkbuds S is that they are a mid-range set of earbuds that sit between the WF-1000XM4s and the CF-C500. They have many of the features of the WF-1000XM4s but are slightly cheaper and more comfortable. The biggest question is whether they are worth the $200 MSRP price, but that may not matter at this point. I’ll explain later.

Specifications

  • 🔋 Up to 6 hrs with NC on (AAC), 14 hrs for the case
  • 🎨 Black, White, Sand
  • 🎵 SBC, AAC, LDAC
  • 🎁 Active noise canceling, IPX4, DSEE Extreme, Fast Pair
  • 🔌 USB-C
  • ⚖ 0.17 oz earbuds, 1.23 oz charging case
  • 💸 $200
  • 📅 2022.05.20

Build Quality

The Sony Linkbuds S earbuds and case uses recycled plastic from automobiles. The recycled plastic is sturdy. My only nitpick is that the charging case cover can flex from side to side (the WF-1000XM4s have the same issue). Other competing earbud cases like Samsung Galaxy Buds 2’s feel more solid. The flex could be due to Sony trying to use as little plastic as possible. If that is the case, I am okay with this trade-off. The case flex hasn’t been an issue for long-term durability on my WF-1000XM4s.
The earbuds themselves are solid. They are super light at 0.17 oz (the WF-1000XM4s are 0.2 oz). The earbuds are also considerably smaller than the WF-1000XM4s. If you are someone who found the WF-1000XM4s too big for your ears, definitely try out the Linkbuds S.

Sound quality

After using the Linkbuds S, I feel like the sound for the Linkbuds S is a slight step down from the WF-1000XM4s. The difference is minimal. I think you’ll be happy with either earbud. If you are interested in an in-depth review of the sound quality, Aaron is Loud has a great video comparing the WF-1000XM4 and Linkbuds S.

Comfort and Fit

The Linkbuds come with four different ear tip sizes (x-small, small, medium, large). Unlike the WF-1000XM4s, you are looking at fully silicon tips this time. I would have liked to see the same foam/silicon hybrid ear tips here. The omission is most likely a cost-saving measure.
In terms of comfort, the smaller size makes these way more comfortable compared to the WF-1000XM4s. While the WF-1000XM4s would give me ear fatigue after a long (5+ hours of wearing them) session, the Linkbuds felt quite comfortable even after extended use. I have fallen asleep with the Linkbuds S various times without feeling like they are on my ears. Honestly, it is impressive how comfortable Sony made these. Sony seems to set out to make earbuds that feel like you aren’t wearing anything and I think Sony has certainly succeeded.

The Application

There are a couple of features currently exclusive to the Linkbuds S (as well as the WH-1000XM5s). The ability to quickly launch your music player of choice when you put your earbuds on or when a call ends. I’ve never found these features that useful so I put their value at a minimum.

Battery life and Charging

Like the WF-1000XM4, my right earbud runs out of battery before my left one. Using the earbuds none stop with ANC on and DSEE on would result in 4 hrs and 57 min of battery life. The battery life is close to Sony’s estimate of 6 hours of battery. It is lower compared to the WF-1000XM4’s 8-hour estimate.

Charging is one area I think Sony missed an opportunity. The Linkbuds S does not support wireless charging. You will have to resort to plugging the case with a wire. The lack of Qi wireless charging is a bummer given its $200 asking price. For comparison, the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 have an MSRP of $150 and they come with Qi wireless charging. My guess is that adding Qi wireless charging to the Linkbuds S would make them too similar to the WF-1000XM4s.

Microphones and Call Quality

Despite Sony’s marketing, they had improved the mic and call quality, but I did not experience any meaningful improvement from the WF-1000XM4. Mic and call quality are okay. They work fine in a relatively quiet environment.

Eco Paper Packaging

Sony eco paper packaging is also available for the Linkbuds S. I think the box is even better than what they had done for the WF-1000XM4s. The box itself feels a lot sturdier than the previous packaging which is a welcomed improvement.

Good Active Noise Cancellation

The ANC for the Linkbuds S are quite good. They are not as good as the WF-1000XM4s but are close. Part of this might be just due to the ear tips that come with the Linkbuds S v.s WF-1000XM4s though. The ANC is definitely good enough for any air travel or commuting on a train or bus.

Missing multipoint support

Like the WF-1000XM4s, Sony still does not support multipoint Bluetooth on the Linkbuds S. Currently only the Sony headphones support this feature. Although, I’ve never had a great experience with multipoint Bluetooth. All of the implementations I have tried have been more trouble than it’s worth. The switching has never been seamless for me and requires me to finesse with the settings. I do hope Sony does add this feature to its future earbuds as it is becoming a standard throughout the industry.

MSRP price is too high but the sale price is a decent deal

When the Sony Linkbuds S was first released, the MSRP price was $200. For $200, I would have recommended you just get the WF-1000XM4s. In the past couple of weeks, Sony has put these on regular sales. Right now you can get this pair of earbuds for $150 (as of 2022.08.21). At $150, these are worth a look. If you are something who has trouble finding earbuds that fit your ears (especially if you have smaller ear canals) definitely check these out.

Recommendations

If you are looking for a pair of truly wireless ANC earbuds that have great ANC, superior comfort, and decent sound, the Sony Linkbuds S is a great deal. These are ideal for traveling and for people who regularly wear their earbuds all day. If you are able to find these for under $150, I would recommend them.

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