While the iron was still hot after announcing its brand new LinkBuds range, Sony tacked on one more family member: the Sony LinkBuds S. The LinkBuds range is Sony’s dedicated “Never Off” line of wireless earbuds, designed to be worn all-day.
In my review of the Sony LinkBuds S, I sussed out its fit, active noise cancellation and listening experience to see if it’s everything it’s cracked up to be. But what I was keen to experience was its Ambient Sound Control, a new feature that is programmed to listen and adapt to your activities to give you the best audio experience possible.
From the moment you remove these wireless earbuds from its recyclable packaging, the set-up process is totally seamless, especially if you’re already a Sony user.
To get started, you’ll want to download Sony’s Headphones app and turn on your Bluetooth. There’s truly not much else you need to do, except pair the two by selecting your Sony LinkBuds S when it appears on the list of nearby devices.
Downloading the Headphones app isn’t mandatory, but if you want to take full advantage of these earphones’ features, I highly recommend you do.
Once connected, you can use the app to check on each earbud’s battery as well as the charging case’s, which is a very handy feature. From there, you can also choose to turn on the LinkBuds S’ Ambient Sound Control, which will take note of your location and adjust its noise cancellation or ambient noise depending on whether you’re relaxing at home or walking on a busy road.
Its Ambient Sound Control feature is ideal if you’re trying to work in a busy office, but don’t want to miss out on any important conversations happening around you. You can even opt to “Focus on Voice”, which will take in voices while suppressing noise.
Inside the app, you’ll also be able to play with the equalizer to adjust your music based on your preferences – whether you prioritise the sound of the bass pounding in your ears, or to focus on the vocals.
I did try to set up Spatial Sound Optimisation in-app, but after craning my head up and down for a good 10 minutes (and feeling very silly), I couldn’t get a result. The idea of it is meant to measure your headphones wearing angle so you can experience more precise spatial sound. But honestly, listening without it set up was still fine.
I’m a big fan of the Sony LinkBuds S’ design. In a commendable move, the LinkBuds S are made from the recycled plastic parts of old automobiles, which gets a firm nod from me on the sustainability front.
Its charging case feels paper smooth and gives a satisfying snap whenever you shut it, that’s almost as addictive as playing with a fidget toy. (Although probably shouldn’t treat it like one).
The wireless earbuds themselves are considerably small and featherlight, which is ideal for smaller ears that usually have to endure bulky ear pieces that stick out like a sore thumb.
It’s nothing as outlandish as the doughnut-shaped LinkBuds, and while it’s nothing to write ballads about, its simple design is just that. They’re available in white, black or ecru (pale gold). None of the aforementioned colours are anything to scream about, but they do feel a little devoid of personality.
These Sony earphones were designed with the intention to be comfortably worn all-day, and on that front they were a success. I was able to wear them for an entire shift at work and not feel that dull ache inside my ears that usually comes from wearing a pair of earbuds for too long.
Another thing I want to add is that these guys will stay glued to your ears if you head out for a walk or a fairly rigorous run. I braved the outside world a handful of times and decided to run at my fastest down a footpath and didn’t once have to stop to push my earbuds back in.
Compared to the Sony WF-C500 earbuds that I reviewed a few months ago, I prefer the LinkBuds S’ seamless design and touch controls.
While I initially thought that the touch controls weren’t super sensitive, I later found that to be not true. During my review period, I noticed that sometimes the Sony LinkBuds S would pause my music as I moved around the house. While I could restart it hands-free by calling out to my Google voice assistant, it just kept on happening. Eventually, I realised it was because my bangs would brush against it and trigger the pause button. So if you have long hair like me, you might want to keep that in mind.
Sony advertises that the LinkBuds S can offer up to 20 hours of playtime, which I found to be pretty accurate. While this is a little low on the battery life spectrum – especially when its marketed towards those who want to listen all day – it’s plenty for me who tends to listen for a few hours at a time. In fact, I probably only needed to charge it once a week, if not less.
Even if you are a dedicated to living your best life by ignoring the outside world, you will need to give your ears a break here and there. The Sony LinkBuds S are designed to offer six hours of continuous use before they need to be recharged in its case. While a speedy five minute charge does allow up to 60 minutes more battery life, it feels like an inconvenient or convenient amount of time to give your ears a rest – depending on how you look at it.
Your charging case will indicate when its battery is getting low by turning bright red. However, you can also keep an eye on each parts’ battery percentage by checking the app.
How do they sound?
Using the equaliser
The equaliser is one of my favourite parts of the Headphones app. It allows you to easily customise your music preferences, depending on whether you want to focus on the vocals or create a custom equaliser setting.
The default options that are consistent on the app regardless of which pair of headphones you own are bright, excited, mellow, relaxed, vocal, treble boost, bass boost, speech and manual.
Answering phone calls is a breeze. While I wouldn’t say you’ll have a standout experience, it gets the job done. You can just tap the left earbud to receive or finish a call, which is perfect if you’re on the move.
I forced my boyfriend to call me (ah, the joys of having a tech writer as a partner) and he reported that I sounded “okay”. My mum then called me later and spoke to me for about half an hour. She said that she could hear me clearly the whole time while I didn’t have any trouble listening to her speak.
How does Adaptive Sound Control work with ambient sound and noise cancellation?
Ah, the star of the show. According to Sony, the “LinkBuds S automatically switches between Ambient Sound Mode and noise cancelling depending on where you are and what you’re doing.”
So, how does that work? Well, the Sony LinkBuds S are designed to be worn all day long – hence, how damn comfortable they are – so as you go about your activities, it’ll pay attention to whether you’re on route to work, studying at your local library or just sitting on your bed scrolling TikTok. Once the LinkBuds S has an idea about how you spend your day, it’ll start to tune out any ambient noise, like the cars racing past you on your morning walk.
There’s generally four adaptive sound modes it switches between that you can customise: staying, walking, running and transport. Out of the four modes, you can opt to set it to noise-cancelling, ambient sound or off, as well as scaling how much ambient sound you want to hear, and whether you want to take in voices as you go about your activities.
If you head into its settings, you can register and customise the modes depending on real places you visit. For instance, when I’m at home, I’ll wear my earbuds because I want to focus on a task, such as work or cleaning. Using Learned Location, Sony can pinpoint all of the places I frequent and display them on a Google map (which also means it knows where I live). But because it picks up on my location, it knows to automatically switch on noise-cancellation while I’m wearing the LinkBuds S.
As for noise cancellation, it’s pretty good. It’ll block out the sound of your nearby TV and muffle the voices of those speaking around you, but it won’t block out everything. Like snoring.
Listening to music
And lastly, how does it sound? Like a dream. I’ve been cycling through all kinds of music lately, anything from songs you can scream in the car to cottagecore instrumental.
I particularly enjoyed listening to my new favourite cottagecore playlist, since it features a lot of upbeat flute playing. The flute’s melody carries clearly over the other instruments in a way you wouldn’t notice if you were relying on your phone’s itty bitty speakers.
If you switch over to a bass heavy playlist, unfortunately it doesn’t quite reverberate through your chest like you’re attending an in-person gig. The bass is very subtle (even if you play around with the equaliser), so if you were hoping for a pair of earbuds that could resuscitate your cold, dead heart, you might want to look for another option.
The lack of good bass is pretty disappointing, considering that the Sony WF-C500 has the 360 Reality Audio feature and sits at a $100 cheaper price point. In contrast, somehow the flute playing sounds better and bounces back and forth between my ears as though I’m sitting in the crowd of an orchestral concert? The same thing goes when I hear other instruments play, such as the violin or a piano.
Should you buy the Sony LinkBuds S?
Oh yes. Price-wise, I think you’re getting a solid deal for a mid pair of earbuds. Compared to the expensive donut earbuds and the budget-friendly WF-C500, you’re sitting well in terms of sound quality and pricing, with heavy emphasis on a more comfortable and uniform design.
The LinkBuds S are priced pretty competitively, especially with active noise cancellation. If you want a pair of wireless earbuds that offer some solid hush, you’ll need to look around the $300 mark. But the LinkBuds S are the exception.
If you’re looking for a pair of earbuds that you can wear all-day minus the ear ache, there’s no better option out there.