Freelance contributor, TechHiveMay 18, 2022 9:00 am PDT
Image: Theo Nicolakis/Foundry
You’ve no doubt noticed that more and more people are wearing true wireless earbuds all the time—not simply while listening to music. That trend isn’t lost on Sony. With the company’s new LinkBuds S—a sibling to the LinkBuds true wireless earphones we reviewed in early May, 2022—Sony is betting this trend will continue to the point where headphones will be an all-day, everyday accessory even anticipating your musical preference based on your activity or mood.
During an embargoed briefing in New York City last week, Sony said its LinkBuds S promises to create a seamless, “never-off” experience that the company envisions will keep users connected in both online and offline worlds, thanks to LinkBuds S’s small size, lightweight design, strong ambient sound performance, and robust battery life.
This news story is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best noise-cancelling headphones, where you’ll find reviews of the competition’s offerings, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping for this type of product.
With its LinkBuds S, Sony is targeting the consumer who wants a lifestyle-focused wireless earbud that delivers more than your typical music and call experience. Sony says the LinkBuds S leverage sensor and spatial sound technology to deliver new and immersive sound experiences for augmented reality (AR) games—in other words, adding a sound layer to accompany the AR experience. The LinkBuds S are likewise ready for LE Audio, a next generation Bluetooth audio that enables ultra-low latency audio ideal for gaming.
What’s perhaps most interesting is the LinkBuds S’ new “Auto Play” feature designed to make music listening seamless. Auto Play integrates with Spotify for musical selections; Endel, a fee-based service that creates personalized soundscapes for focus, relaxation, or sleep; and Microsoft Soundscape, an application that uses 3D audio to enhance awareness of our environment. Sony says the Auto Play feature set in the LinkBuds S is capable of detecting your environment and playing music automatically based on your activity. Auto Play is now available for Andoid-based smart devices and is projected to be available for iOS devices in June.
Sony says Auto Play opens new possibilities: For example, the LinkBuds S can automatically play music as soon as you put the earbuds on or end a call; they can also auto-trigger music to play based on your behavior, such as going out for a jog or walk.
The LinkBuds S have built-in sensors that work with a unique algorithm that analyzes your activity and then automatically delivers music and audio notifications right when you need them. One example Sony gives is that when a listener might have been wearing headphones earlier while on the move then finishes a call, the headphones will resume music from Spotify or soundscapes from Endel based on pre-sets configured by the user. Additionally, audio notifications can be read aloud without pausing music.
The LinkBuds S feature Sony’s acclaimed noise-cancelling and transparency technology. I had a chance to sample the LinkBuds S first-hand during the briefing, and I can tell you that Sony’s noise-cancelling and ambient-aware tech is onboard in full force.
The new earbuds also integrate seamlessly with Sony’s outstanding Headphones Connect app. The app gives you a single pane of glass through which you can see and manage all your Sony headphones. The LinkBuds S likewise maintain all the mature functionality and features that differentiate Sony’s headphones, such as “Speak to Chat,” spatial sound optimization, ear analyzer for Sony 360 Audio applications, and adaptive sound control based on location or detection of actions. I found all these features to work flawlessly.
As with other Sony models, the LinkBuds S are Google Assistant and Alexa compatible.
The LinkBuds S have a new 5mm driver unit and, unsurprisingly, support Sony’s LDAC high-res audio codec. The company’s Integrated Processor V1 is also on-board to improve noise cancelling, enhance sound quality, and reduce distortion while consuming less power.
Sony says that the LinkBuds S will deliver crystal clear calls on noisy streets or windy days thanks to Sony ́s Precise Voice Pickup Technology that optimally controls the microphones on both earbuds and the use of a mesh structure around the microphones. If this ends up being anything close to the technology I experienced in my recent review of Sony’s WH-1000XM4, it’s going to prove to be a game-changing experience.
The LinkBuds S are smaller than Sony’s flagship WF-1000XM4 and come with traditional silicone tips as opposed to the memory foam tips of the XM4. The LinkBuds S are also a traditional, closed-back design that gives users who might have liked some of the technology in the original LinkBuds, but didn’t care for their donut design. I wore the LinkBuds S for several hours and thanks to their small size, they felt natural and lightweight.
Wearing wireless earbuds all day long requires strong battery life, and Sony rates the LinkBuds S for up to 6 hours on a single charge, with the case holding up to another 14 hours. A five-minute quick charge is expected to give you an hour’s worth of playback time. The LinkBuds S will drop with a retail price of $199.99 on May 20 and are available for pre-order in white or black at Sony.com, amazon.com, and other authorized dealers. BestBuy will be the exclusive carrier of a third color option, Ecru.