Just a few months after revealing its new LinkBuds line of wireless earbuds, Sony is introducing a second version with the LinkBuds S that, like the original, are designed to be worn all day long while adapting to your activities so you can hear the world around you when need to—and tune it out when you don’t.
The original LinkBuds took a mostly new approach to wireless earbuds by trading the traditional silicone plugs designed to funnel sounds directly into your ears while physically blocking unwanted sounds for circular 12-millimeter drivers with gaping holes in the middle.
Sitting just outside the ear canal the earbuds’ driver design allowed the user to naturally hear the world around them—be it the sound of approaching cars or someone talking to them in the office—while still listening to music or podcasts or making a phone call. The design meant a user could leave the LinkBuds in their ears all day long, but that giant hole meant that noise cancellation simply wasn’t an option. During a commute, the screeching sounds of a subway’s metal wheels on the tracks would be just as audible as the music or podcast a user was listening to.
The new LinkBuds S are Sony’s attempt to deliver almost everything the original LinkBuds did, with the added convenience of active noise cancellation to occasionally tune out the world completely. The 12-millimeter ring driver is gone, replaced with a more traditional five-millimeter driver and silicone ear tips for passive sound blocking, while the on-board mic facilitates the active noise cancellation; although Sony says the ANC in the LinkBuds S isn’t quite as capable as the feature found in its larger, heavier, and pricier WF1000XM4 wireless earbuds.
Sony claims the new LinkBuds S are the “world‘s smallest and lightest, noise canceling, Hi-Res Truly wireless headphones,” with the inclusion of “Hi-Res” there being an important distinction because although each bud weighs in at a scant 4.8 grams, the Nothing ear (1) earbuds slightly edge them out at 4.7 grams each. However, the LinkBuds S offer the use of Sony’s DSEE Extreme technology to intelligently upscale compressed sound files which the company claims makes them sound better in the ear, which is something the ear (1) can’t do.
What makes the LinkBud S most interesting is the use of sound and activity monitoring to automatically adapt or change what the wearer hears. As with other Sony wireless audio products, music automatically pauses when the wearer starts talking, while ANC can be dialed back automatically when ambient sounds (like passing motor vehicles) need to be heard. Through Sony’s smartphone app, the LinkBuds S can also customize what’s being heard based on what someone is doing. While out walking, a more upbeat Spotify playlist could be triggered, while at the end of a long video call, a more relaxing mix could be triggered to help the user calm down.
Touchpads on each bud can be tapped to trigger playback functions or toggle features like ANC or sound boosting. Unfortunately, one of the best features of the original LinkBuds, the ability for a user to tap on the skin around their ears to trigger shortcuts, is not available on this model.
Battery life is a small step up from the LinkBuds, with the LinkBuds S lasting about six hours on a charge with ANC turned on plus an additional 14 hours of runtime provided through the charging case. That can be boosted with ANC turned off, and a five-minute charge in the case will provide a full 60 minutes of battery life. The added ANC also means the LinkBuds S are slightly pricier than the originals—$200 compared to $180—which is comparatively priced to competing products like the new Google Pixel Buds Pro.