Sony engineers have always pushed the limits of technology, often providing unique and groundbreaking solutions for audio and visual products. With a glut of similarly shaped earbuds, their Link bud open-ear models released last year broke the mold with a donut-shape design that provided a unique form factor. Their upgraded model, the Sony LinkBuds S, dropped this unique shape in favour of superior performance, a more conventional fit, and plenty of trickle-down tech from their higher-end models. Is the more “boring” looking pair in fact the best bang for your buck? Read on to find out!

Specifications for the Sony LinkBuds S

  • Driver: 5mm
  • Frequency response: 20hz-20,000Hz / 20Hz-40,000Hz via LDAC
  • Waterproof rating: IPX4
  • Battery time—music: 9hrs (noise cancelling off) / 6hrs (NC on)
  • Weight: 4.8g x 2 (case: 35g)
  • Bluetooth: Ver. 5.2, SRC/AAC/LDAC
  • Noise Cancellation: Yes (with ambient sound mode)

Unboxing the Sony LinkBuds S

Like the earbuds themselves, there’s a confident simplicity and genuine elegance to the way Sony has packaged its product. Enclosed in a thin outer sleeve, the inner box is made entirely of cardboard, with origami-like folded paper boxes placed shelf-like inside. These contain the USB-C charging cable, different-sized replacement ear pads, and simple “getting started” instructions. The case itself is slightly textured making it easy to hold without slipping, and the hinge is firm and secure. The buds themselves connect via what seems like a strong magnet, and even after accidentally dropping it to the floor everything remained intact.

The buds were immediately some of the most comfortable I’ve yet listened to, shaped to effortlessly nestle with the folds of my ears. At a mere 4.8g, they feel practically weightless, and even after many hours of listening I never felt them slip out or become uncomfortable to wear.

Setting up the Sony LinkBuds S

Sony’s software is as refined as these earphones, and the downloadable app for iOS and Android was extremely easy to set up and use save for one finicky element. Within seconds I was able to reconfigure the noise cancellation sound modes and set what functions I wanted for touch playback and so on. You can configure “Speak-to-Chat” that automatically engages ambient mode when it recognizes you speaking, and can even dial in the sensitivity of this feature.

The 360 Reality Audio mode has the small advantage of analyzing your ear shape to customize the experience. There’s the similarly situated “Spatial Sound Optimization” that I didn’t really use but is an option on these earbuds.

The customized EQ is a welcome addition, and while most of my listening was done with the default flat curves the ability to tweak is very pleasing indeed. There’s also Sony’s proprietary DESS Extreme mode that according to their website uses AI to “restore high range sound lost in compression.” I found there was relatively little difference in switching back and forth between off and Auto.

Sound quality of the Sony LinkBuds S

Sometimes the extra features mask what otherwise would be a relatively mid-range device. Instead, we have in the Sony LinkBuds S some truly exceptional earbuds, with a clear, open sonic signature that rivals models well above its fighting weight.

They have clear bass that’s never boomy, sweet treble without harshness and rich mid-range, all situated within a form factor that’s exceptionally comfortable for long periods of time. The imaging is wide yet never showy, providing fantastic stereo imaging and immersing yourself deeply in the music. I threw plenty at the LinkBuds S earphones and they never faltered, from the electronic bass of Hans Zimmer’s score to delicate orchestral pieces or high-register voices like early Joni Mitchel that tax even the best of drivers.

I give special recognition to Sony for their implementation of noise-cancellation circuitry. This is literally the first pair I’ve ever tested where there’s almost zero equalization difference between ANC being engaged or disabled. In quiet environments, it was only by making changes in the app I was able to see if it was even working. In noisy environments, like walking on the street or on transit, the ANC options do an adequate job of drowning out some of the noise from outside. I found myself engaging this mode far more often than I have in the past.

Like the rest of the device, there’s nothing overkill about the ANC implementation. While other earbuds may do a slightly better job deafening the din, this is a noise-cancellation solution I would find myself using far more often than on just about any competitor’s device.

Setting up LDAC High Resolution audio on the Sony LinkBuds S

LDAC is Sony’s answer to high-bitrate Bluetooth streaming. On compatible devices, the difference can be quite dramatic once you get everything set up. I found it difficult to get the setting to behave on my Android phone, but once it’s set up you’re good to go.

First of all, you must select “Priority on Sound Quality” under the Sound setting on the App. You then have a separate slider box in your phone’s Bluetooth settings to enable LDAC, and in my case I was forced to tweak some further advanced settings in developer mode.

It took a long time, but when finally set I was impressed at the immediate difference in sound from sources that could best exhibit it. On TIDAL master, for example, the difference between the same track presented as compressed and not was a lot clearer. Since there’s far more bandwidth used it may tax your buds’ batteries somewhat, but the sonic benefits outweighed any other considerations and I’ve set it to that mode without looking back.

Sony earbuds reviewFinal thoughts on the Sony LinkBuds S

Sometimes ‘boring’ style can be quite beautiful. While there’s nothing flashy about any element of the Sony LinkBuds S, from its design to the case to its packaging, it’s actually quite energizing to have a pair of earphones that simply do the job this elegantly and confidently. The sound is premium and powerful, the fit and construction world-class, and the features robust yet can be disabled when you want to focus on the core features.

While other earbuds overemphasize certain frequencies to plump up the sound of certain types of music or cram so many features that they overwhelm everything, the Sony LinkBuds S simply delivers in a way that’s refreshingly simple and sophisticated.

With superior LDAC sound, great ANC implementation and a highly musical sonic signature, the Sony LinkBuds S are among the best earbuds I’ve had the pleasure of auditioning. They’ve quickly become my go-to pair, and I highly recommend you consider adding them to your setup. You can find your own pair at Best Buy.

You can also explore the full range of Sony’s high-quality earphones available on bestbuy.ca.

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