The Sony LinkBuds S ($199) are the company's newest wireless earbuds and they are designed to fill the mid-range gap between its entry-level LinkBuds ($178) and its flagship WF-1000XM4 ($280). Despite their name, however, the LinkBuds S share a lot more in common with Sony's high-end buds than the basic model.
Unlike the LinkBuds, the LinkBuds S have noise-canceling and transparency modes. They support LDAC, Sony's codec for streaming high-resolution audio tracks (up to 32-bit/96kHz) over Bluetooth; they also support as Sony's immersive sound technology, 360 Reality Audio. And they don't have the open design (with the hole in the middle) that lets ambient sounds in. Instead, the LinkBuds S feel like a shrunk-down version of the WF-1000XM4.
But don't get twisted. The Sony WF-1000XM4 are some of the best noise-canceling wireless earbuds you can you buy in terms of noise cancellation and overall sound quality — and while the Sony LinkBuds S are solid, they definitely feel like a budget alternative.
After testing the new earbuds over the last week, here are some thoughts.
What's good about the Sony LinkBuds S?
These earbuds are feature-packed
Sony's headphones and wireless earbuds are known for being rich with features — and the LinkBuds S are no different. They are packed with smart abilities like adaptive sound control, which automatically switches between noise-canceling and transparency modes depending on the environment you're in, and "speak to chat," which automatically lowers the volume of your music when it detects that you are talking.
They also work with Sony's Headphones companion app, which allows you to tweak settings for EQ sound and various on-earbud controls. And, if you're a Spotify subscriber, these wireless earbuds support Spotify Tap; you can program playlists to launch with a few taps of the earbuds.
They're comfortable to wear
Sony has drastically changed the look and fit of its wireless earbuds in the past few years. And while I really liked the angular look of the WF-1000XM3, the more bulbous design of the WF-1000XM4 admittedly doesn't fit in my ears all that well.
Even though the LinkBuds S have a very similar design to the WF-1000XM4, they actually fit quite differently, because each earbud is roughly half the size — and I found them surprisingly comfortable. There are several different sized silicone tips to choose from, too, so it's much easier to hone in on the right fit for you.
Sound quality is good, for such small earbuds
The LinkBuds S sound great for their size. Sony integrated them with the same V1 processor that's in the WF-1000XM4 (as well as in the WH-1000XM5, although that has an extra processor for extra sound quality and noise-cancellation), which helps them upscale standard MP3 and AAC files, which is what most people listen to when streaming from services like Spotify or Apple Music. And they do sound bright, punchy and rich.
Like the WF-1000XM4, the LinkBuds S also support Sony's high-resolution LDAC files as well as immersive 360 Reality Audio tracks — but it's difficult for me to consider these game changers. If you have an iPhone, for example, than your device doesn't support LDAC files. And there are only a few streaming services that support 360 Reality Audio tracks, with Amazon Music Unlimited and Tidal being the two most popular.
What are the tradeoffs with the LinkBuds S?
They're not as good as Sony's WF-1000XM4
There's no getting around the fact that in terms of noise-cancellation and overall sound quality, the LinkBuds S just aren't at the same level as their larger and more powerful siblings. With noise canceling turned on, the LinkBuds are effective at canceling lower frequencies like humming, but voices still seep through. The WF-1000XM4, on the other-hand, are our pick for the best noise-canceling earbuds you can buy — even above the Apple AirPods Pro.
$200 still ain't cheap
There's no doubt that the LinkBuds S are entering a crowded field, as there are quite a few wireless earbuds with active noise-cancellation that are around $200. Heck, even Apple's AirPods Pro, which normally cost $249, often dip under $200 when sold by third-party marketplaces like Amazon and Best Buy. Throw in the fact that Amazon (and other sellers) frequent runs discounts on Sony's WF-1000XM4, dropping them to around $240, and it might be worth spending the extra dough to get the flagship buds instead of the LinkBuds S.
No wireless charging
Maybe the biggest new-age feature that's missing from the LinkBuds S is support for wireless charging. The WF-1000XM4 have it, while the LinkBuds S and LinkBuds do not. And spending $200 on a set of wireless earbuds that don't support wireless charging in 2022 feels like a miss.
Sony LinkBuds S: the Verdict
There's not an awful not to complain about with the Sony LinkBuds S. They're excellent wireless earbuds that sound good, have solid active noise-cancellation and have a ton of other features that you can choose to take advantage of. The biggest issue with the LinkBuds S is that they're not super-cheap. Seeing that Sony's superior WF-1000XM4 are frequently discounted close to the LinkBuds S price, they're probably the better option for most people.
However, if you're looking for a smaller earbud design that delivers many of the promises of the wonderful WF-1000XM4, that's where the LinkBuds S come in. Plus, the fact that Sony earbuds frequently drop in price cuts both ways; it's likely that you'll be to snag the LinkBuds S for between $150 in the coming months, and that'll be a bargain.