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Product test

Small and comfortable: Sony Linkbuds S in test

Kevin Hofer
02.06.2022

Sony expands the Linkbuds family of true wireless in-ears with the Linkbuds S. In the test, the small and lightweight earpieces show strengths in wearing comfort and the microphones, but weaken a bit in terms of sound.

Sony has a long tradition of complicated product names. With the Linkbuds, I thought: Cool, finally a catchy, simple name. And then come the Linkbuds S. They do exactly the opposite of the Linkbuds without the name suffix. Namely, the S are closed and come with Active Noise Canceling (ANC), while the Linkbuds are open and let outside noise get to you. It's confusing why the Linkbuds didn't get an addition like O for Open or C for Close.

All the confusion aside, the Linkbuds S are damn comfortable in-ear headphones with the best microphones of any in-ears I've heard so far.

Sony Linkbuds S (ANC, 6 h, Wireless, True Wireless)
Headphones
149.–

Sony Linkbuds S

ANC, 6 h, Wireless, True Wireless

97
Sony Linkbuds S (ANC, 9 h, Wireless, True Wireless)
Headphones
149.–

Sony Linkbuds S

ANC, 9 h, Wireless, True Wireless

97
Sony Linkbuds S (ANC, 6 h, Wireless, True Wireless)
Headphones
149.–

Sony Linkbuds S

ANC, 6 h, Wireless, True Wireless

97

Here are the key specs at a glance:

  • Battery life: 6 hours with ANC, 9 hours without.
  • Additional runtime with case: 14 hours (quick charge feature is supposed to ensure the earpieces should run for an hour after five minutes of charging)
  • Weight per earpiece: 4.8 grams
  • Driver: 5 millimeters
  • Protection class: IPX4 (splash-proof)
  • Headphone type: Closed in-ear headphones
  • Attachments: 4 sizes
  • Controls: Touch
  • Voice assistants: Siri, Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa
  • Modes: Active Noise Canceling and Ambient Sound Mode
  • Bluetooth: version 5.2, codec AAC, SBC and LDAC

The most comfortable in-ears I've ever worn

I've already said a lot about the design and feel of the earphones in my hands-on. After two weeks of testing, the first impressions are confirmed: Workmanship, feel and wearing comfort are top.

Die Linkbuds S erinnern mich an einen Marienkäfer.
Die Linkbuds S erinnern mich an einen Marienkäfer.

I especially like the fresh design. Earphones in the form of a "Himugüegelis" - Bernese German for ladybug - I have not had until now. What I also never had until now: Earbuds that I do not feel even after more than two hours of wear. This is thanks to the compact size and the weight of only 4.8 grams per earbud. Unfortunately, the Linkbuds S also stick out of my ears a bit too much for me to lay on my side. At least they can be operated individually, which means I can still lie down - just with mono sound.

Sound quality good, but not as good as the WF-1000XM4s

The Linkbuds S sound good. The bass is powerful and the trebles are clear. Compared to the more expensive Sony WF-1000XM4, I have the impression that the Linkbuds emphasize the lows more. In return, the mids go down a bit. It is not that the mids are not clearly discernible with the Linkbuds, but they are more balanced with the XM4s. Overall, the sound of the XM4 is more voluminous than that of the Linkbuds. Whereas I already find the XM4s to be too bass-driven and not quite as voluminous.

Lass dich nicht von meinem gequälten Blick täuschen: Eigentlich klingen die Linkbuds S ganz gut.
Lass dich nicht von meinem gequälten Blick täuschen: Eigentlich klingen die Linkbuds S ganz gut.

Personally, I like this kind of sound with hip-hop. With guitar-heavy or orchestral music, I prefer more balanced soundscapes. But as we all know, that's a matter of taste and can be partially remedied thanks to equalizer settings. Unfortunately, I did not quite succeed in setting the perfect sound for me with the Linkbuds S.

Suppressing and amplifying ambient noise

Also not up to par with the XM4 is the ANC of the Linkbuds S. The noise cancellation is good, but it mainly works at the low frequencies. The ANC of the Linkbuds also only comes in one level and cannot be adjusted.

However, the Ambient Mode in Sony's Headphones app can be adjusted. Thanks to this, ambient noise gets through to you better. The adjustment can be made in 20 levels. I find everything above level 15 unnatural. Especially voices sound so tinny.

Auf dem Velo muss ich den Ambient Mode wegen des Fahrtwindes beinahe ganz ausschalten.
Auf dem Velo muss ich den Ambient Mode wegen des Fahrtwindes beinahe ganz ausschalten.

By default, I can switch from noise reduction to ambient mode by tapping the left earbud. Alternatively, thanks to Speak-To-Chat, audio playback turns off automatically and Ambient Mode is activated. This allows me to chat with someone without stopping playback and taking the Buds out of my ears. I can set the duration until playback continues in the app. This works flawlessly in my test.

The adaptive noise control works less well for me. It switches the headphone settings depending on the action or location. So at the train station, the function is supposed to activate Ambient Mode and as soon as you sit on the train, it activates noise cancellation. However, since it switches constantly for me the first two days, I disable the feature in the app. I prefer to switch manually or use the Speak-To-Chat feature.

Ich steuere die Linkbuds S lieber manuell anstatt über die App.
Ich steuere die Linkbuds S lieber manuell anstatt über die App.

For me, the best microphones in a true wireless in-ear.

The highlight for me is the microphones on the Linkbuds S. Here, Sony uses the same technology as on the Linkbuds. In a quiet environment, the quality is comparable to that of the XM4. However, if ambient noise is added, the Linkbuds S shine: The ambient noise is efficiently filtered out without me sounding like I am coming from a garbage can.

In the second recording with background noise, I hold the speaker of my smartphone at full volume against the Linkbuds S. A YouTube video with background noise from a coffee bar is playing.

Audio sample microphones

The app

Various settings can be made in the smartphone app. In addition to the functions already mentioned, the app offers an equalizer, shows you the charging status of the Buds and the charging case, or you can personalize the touch gestures. However, these cannot be customized individually, but only in groups. For example, ambient noise control or playback control.

Besides that, the app offers other options like 360 Reality Audio. This is an object-based spatial sound technology from Sony, which should make you feel like you are in a live performance.

Plenty of battery for the size

According to Sony, the Linkbuds last six hours with ANC enabled. This is roughly in line with my tests. The charging case then provides another 14 hours of charge before it has to be plugged in. That does not sound like much compared to the XM4 with up to eight hours. However, considering the size of the Linkbud S compared to the XM4, that's decent. After all, they also have less space for the battery cells. Fast charging is also on board, and five minutes in the case provides 60 minutes of playback.

Die Hörer selbst bieten bis zu sechs Stunden Akku. Das Case liefert dann nochmal 14 Stunden.
Die Hörer selbst bieten bis zu sechs Stunden Akku. Das Case liefert dann nochmal 14 Stunden.

Other features

Thanks to Android Quick Pair and Swift Pair for Windows, the Linkbuds S are paired quickly and easily. If it should not work with a device, they can be connected via a pairing button on the charging case. Speaking of the charging case: As one of the few true wireless in-ears in this price range, the charging case of the Linkbuds S does not feature wireless charging. That only works via USB-C.

Der Ladeanschluss und der Pairing-Knopf befinden sich auf der Rückseite.
Der Ladeanschluss und der Pairing-Knopf befinden sich auf der Rückseite.

Like most other in-ears, the Linkbuds S are IPX4 protected. This means that they offer protection against splashing water on all sides.

Unfortunately, what the Linkbuds S lack is multipoint. So, you can only connect them to one device at a time.

Conclusion: Small, but nice

The Linkbuds S convince as small, lightweight and damn comfortable true wireless in-ears. In addition, the integrated microphones inspire me. For the first time, I have the feeling that I am not harming the ears of the person on the other end of the line.

Unfortunately, the Linkbuds do not quite convince me in terms of sound. Although they are good, they are too bulky for me in the bass and not balanced enough in the mids. The noise reduction is good, but not exhilarating. The earpieces offer many features, but I miss Multipoint for connecting multiple devices at once. However, I don't care that they can't be charged wirelessly, since I don't do that anyway.

Price-wise, the Linkbuds S are currently set a bit high at just under 200 francs / euros. The XM4s currently cost only 35 francs more. If you value excellent Active Noise Canceling and better sound quality than the Linkbuds S, you should go for the XM4. I can recommend the overall good Linkbuds S to anyone who wants small and comfortable earbuds that offer many features.

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