The Takeaway: Sony’s LinkBuds S just dethroned the BeatsFit Pro (also $200) as the best wireless headphones we’ve tested. They’ve gained this leg up thanks to their high res sound and smart audio automation capabilities so that they never have to leave your ears throughout the day. LinkBuds S can automatically adapt to your environment by switching between active noise cancellation (ANC) and transparency mode, which pauses music and lets more ambient sound in when you speak to others. And at just under $200, the LinkBuds S are an incredible value. Spending more money for the AirPods Pro or Bose QuietComfort (both are currently on sale on Amazon but aren’t always this cheap) offers diminished gains versus Sony’s more affordable buds.
Now, with that said, the LinkBuds S aren’t as easy to pair across Apple devices due to the lack of a H1 chip, the case itself offers no wireless charging (a bit of a miss in 2022), and they don’t feel as secure—lacking wing tips and hooks. While comfortable and adaptable for all-day use, the smooth rounded bulbs feel a bit slick, like they could dislodge when you’re yawning, a feeling we experienced during testing. These are the only contention points I have with these earbuds, though, as they’ve become my new daily drivers.
- Automatic switching between noise cancellation and transparency modes; stops playing music when you speak and enhances ambient sound
- Small, lightweight IPX4-rated buds
- Case provides up to 14 hours of battery life (just over three full charges for the buds) and takes an hour itself to recharge
Exceptional Sony Sound Quality
Audio of any type, be it a podcast or song, is full, accurate, and crisp, with effects like record crackling or shakers coming through clearly. There are multiple equalizer sound profiles with room for two custom and five presets; off, bright, excited, mellow, vocal, treble boost, and bass boost. The default out-of-the-box “off” sound profile is good for most song genres, especially pop hits from Harry Style’s new album to classics like Elton John’s Rocket Man. But even playing with the EQ profiles, like the bass-heavy option, keeps backing instruments, vocal layers, and sounds clearly intact while enhancing the aspect that you prioritize. The LinkBuds S capture highlights and flourishes so you can feel bass without it being overpowering. Hop over to rock or rap, and even the hardest riffs won’t shake or max out the audio.
Sony’s Headphones Connect app offers a full suite of feature set controls, from EQ adjustments to sound improvements. Enabling the Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) option restores sound sources that have been compressed in the digitization process, which results in richer audio. Kendrick Lamar’s Savior proved to be the best example of this technology at work. From the simple background vocals to the opening monologue, speech and sound clarity were loud and more robust. With that said, this boost comes from AI improvements. If you use a compatible streaming service like Tidal or Deezer, you can take advantage of Sony’s LDAC Bluetooth audio codec, which provides high-resolution audio quality wirelessly for pure unaltered sound without any compression artifacts or imperfections.
Automated Smart Features
More so than incredible sound is the abundance of smart features that elevates the LinkBuds S above the competition. The biggest advantage the earbuds have is location tracking to learn your schedule and automatically apply sound profiles in certain scenarios. For example, when I’m out and about, the noise cancellation is at its highest so I can block out the distracting background noises of traffic, conversations, and construction. But when I cross the threshold into my office or apartment, the LinkBuds let in more ambient noise and blend it into my music so I can hear the world around me. You can also use a speak-to-chat feature that recognizes when you’re talking to others and pauses the music until you’re done with your conversation while amplifying the noise around you. It’s a super helpful feature that the competition lacks, and it works well—most of the time. The only instance I had to turn it off was during a bout with the flu, since the earbuds registered my coughs as me talking and kept pausing my music.
The LinkBuds’ 360 Sound feature performed better than the Spatial Audio of the BeatsFit Pro—despite working with fewer streaming services. During testing, I sampled audio tracks in standard two-channel configurations, where sound plays left and right. Using 360 Audio processes sound to come from more directions, like the back corners, and move around your sides and in the front to form a sphere of encapsulating music. In comparison, Apple’s Spatial audio appeared to come from more of the front sides and was overall more processed.
Lastly, the multi-assistant capabilities are helpful. I used my iPhone’s Siri and third-party Alexa simultaneously for smart controls and voice commands. This made it easy to operate my fragmented smart home. While some devices run on HomeKit and Shortcuts from my iPhone, others like my interior lighting and climate are controlled by Alexa. When I pull up to my apartment, I can use Siri to control the SwitchBot connected to my garage door, then tell Alexa to run my personalized “I’m Home” routine to turn on my lights, switch on the a/c, and play some music when I walk through the door. All of this occurs without me removing my phone from my pocket or taking off the buds.
Lightweight And Compact Design
The LinkBuds S are housed within a travel-friendly 2-inch case, which holds up to 14 hours of battery life. I charged the case from fully dead to 100 percent in 1 hour, 5 minutes on average. After one hour with ANC on, the headphones still had 75 percent battery life with battery-chomping smarts like the location-based listening mode switching active. This provides a total battery life that lasts a bit longer than four hours of uninterrupted playback with noise-cancelling enabled. That made it easy to shut out the world while hopping between Uber rides, but once the buds sensed I returned home or to my office, they automatically switched to an ambient mode that let real-world sounds pass through without having to take the buds out of my ears or apply the setting manually.
The silicone ear tips are extremely comfortable and run cool. I cruised through town, hit the beach in 90 degrees and direct sunshine, and even jogged through the rain in these since they’re IPX4 rated. Both the buds and the case looked and performed like normal. They are small and lightweight, causing no inner-ear soreness over time as many competitors can. I do wish these had wingtips though, because they shift slightly even with mild movements like walking down a set of stairs or a big yawn. But even when they loosen, I’m not scared of losing them—I’ve shaken my head back and forth to dislodge them to no avail. So if you’re worried that they’ll fall out into the street or train platform while waiting for a ride, don’t be. Even if you swing your head or bounce around, the buds will sit in your ear for you to press them back in snug. But if you get anxious at the feeling of a loose bud, the grip provided by the BeatsFit Pro make those a better pick.
If you’re not sold on over-ear headphones or looking for something more compact, the LinkBuds S are the best wireless earbuds, period. They offer rich sound that bests the competition, have solid battery life, and boast the newest smart features that automate the way you listen to your music while going about your day. Sony could stand to add a hook or wingtip for a more secure fit. But otherwise, these are the premium drivers if you’re looking to make the most of your money.
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