Sound controls

[Review] Sound quality, features, comfort of Sony LinkBuds S headphones

Sony LinkBuds sporting an open-ear design have polarized reviews. Yet my colleague could barely fault them in her review, even going from skeptic to converted after spending just under a week testing them.

Part of Sony’s new audio rollout includes the LinkBuds S. Featuring ear tips and a more bulbous design, their appearance isn’t too different from other common wireless earbuds on the market.

But as I would find out later, it was what they could offer that mattered most in the end.

Look and feel

I received the LinkBuds S in white. Using recycled plastic materials from automotive parts, the texture of its charging case and earbuds have been sanded to a fine matte finish and felt like paper. While they’re soft to the touch, they’ve slipped from my fingers far too many times than I care to admit, especially when I opened and closed the case lid with one hand.

But hey, I’m usually a clumsy person in the first place, so maybe that’s a personal shortcoming.

The charging case itself is a good size and easily storable, with an LED on the front to show its battery levels, plus a USB-C charging port and reset button on the back .

Battery life for the LinkBuds S is rated at around six hours with ANC on, and a total of 20 hours with case charges. Throughout my testing so far, Sony’s claims have matched my experience.

Like most brands, the Sony LinkBuds S come with different sizes of silicone tips to fit securely in different ears. I changed mine to the XS, and they sat comfortably in my ear canals.

As far as the in-ear fit goes, the LinkBuds S are delightfully comfortable and I had no problem wearing them for hours, as they weigh just 4.8g each.

Sounds pretty good

My colleagues have been singing the praises of Sony’s audio products for a while now. One has been a massive Sony fanboy for years, and another recently claimed that she may now prefer Sony audio devices over Jabra. For context, the latter was the brand that converted her (and subsequently, me) from non-believers in wireless headphones to those who can’t unplug our ears.

Doubtful, I plugged in the LinkBuds S and listened to my usual Disney musicals and pop music. I was first surprised by how clearly I could hear every voice and every instrument in the track, especially the lightness of the singer’s falsetto.

I’d say the LinkBuds S excelled in the highs and mids, although I found the bass didn’t give me enough oomph, despite switching between different EQs in the app.

It didn’t detract from audio clarity, but my tracks lacked depth, which my trusty Jabra wireless earbuds delivered without fail.

As for the ANC on the LinkBuds S, I just wish it was more pronounced. Although it cut out some noise and chatter in the office, I could still hear muffled mumbling around me with my music on.

Then again, I can’t really blame the LinkBuds S for this as they were designed to be worn all the time, whether it’s lounging on the couch or walking the streets (when it comes to real safety).

Voice calls on the LinkBuds S were pretty good. I could hear my caller loud and clear, and they reported the same from my end, as the LinkBuds S have coverage over the outside microphones to help filter out surrounding noise.

I let them stay in my ears

Because the S in LinkBuds S is meant to represent their “smartness”, Sony says the earbuds never need to be taken off while you go about your daily business. With Adaptive Sound Control, the company envisions people wearing them throughout the day, with the buds automatically reacting to different activities, location changes, and more.

I left the headphones in my ears all morning in a busy office. Writing, light-hearted chatting with my co-workers, walking around the office, and snacking, it all happened while one of our co-workers was testing a new vacuum at full suction power.

With a tap of the left earbud, I could switch between ANC and ambient sound. It was a quick and convenient switch between focusing on my work and answering questions from my colleagues, all without having to pause my music.

However, I’m someone who finds having audio in my ears while talking to people distracting, so the Speak-to-Chat feature on the LinkBuds S came in handy.

Via the Sony Headphones app, Speak-to-Chat automatically pauses your audio for 5, 15 or 30 seconds when you speak, allowing you to converse. The LinkBuds S will then pick up where you left off after your conversation ends.

This feature is similar to removing an earbud with auto-pause features. That’s something the LinkBuds S has too, although it’s not always accurate.

My only wish was that Sony had built-in vents or some other way to relieve ear pressure and the “stuffy” feeling. Ironically, as odd as the “8” shape of the Sony LinkBuds we previously reviewed was, it probably would have been the perfect solution to overcome that “plugged-in” feeling.

Verdict

Testing the LinkBuds S for almost a week now, am I convinced it’s worth a price tag of RM929?

Not really, for some personal reasons.

I’m not someone who keeps my headphones plugged into my ears all day, so I find its adaptive sound control less beneficial to me.

With that, I’ll probably also disable the Speak-to-Chat feature and manually remove an earbud from my ear to automatically pause my tracks.

The reason for this is that I sing a lot to my music and usually quietly read everything I type while writing articles. The LinkBuds S would annoyingly pause my audio even after reducing its sensitivity for the Speak-to-Chat feature.

Also, the touch control features on the headphones would trigger commands unintentionally, pausing my music or disabling ANC when I didn’t intend to. Therefore, my belief that tangible buttons are superior persists.

Still, great audio quality (despite the lack of bass and depth) is something Sony unquestionably maintains well, and the LinkBuds S are a worthy candidate for those looking to upgrade their current headphones.

If I could pinpoint the right target market for the Sony LinkBuds S, I’d say they’re best suited to those who are constantly on the go and want earbuds that don’t entirely shut off their surroundings.

Advantages The inconvenients
Good sound and call quality ANC below normal
Lightweight and comfortable to wear for long hours Speak-to-Chat function too sensitive, even on the lowest sensitivity
Seamless integration of digital audio and ambient noise
  • You can read more about the Sony LinkBuds S here.
  • For more on the vice presidents’ verdicts, click here.

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