I’m an avid user of my regular AirPods. They work pretty seamlessly with the other Apple products I use, they don’t feel invasive to my ears, and they sound pretty good. But it’s not every day that I come across something that I might even like a little more than AirPods—the Sony Linkbuds S.
The first thing that I was surprised to learn is that Sony actually managed to name headphones properly. Granted, there are Sony’s donut-shaped Linkbuds before this but we usually had to deal with the Sony WXM…5200XP…6969s. The impersonal names turned me off, so even though it’s named after the donut ones—which I’m still confused about—I appreciate Sony for giving them actual names that average people can remember.
Opening up the box was pretty cool, too. I almost dropped the case trying to open it for the first time due to its awkward opening, but putting that aside, I really liked how the box was designed.
Inside the box lies a smaller compartment that hides other small compartments on the side, like for the manual, the USB to USB-C charger cable, and several other sizes for earbud tips. Sony also notes that the entire packaging is plastic-less. So, kudos to that.
And when it came to the buds’ charging case itself, I was equally as impressed with its design.
The charging case
Looking at the Sony Linkbuds S charging case, I was surprised to find that they look remarkably similar to my AirPods’ case. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, I think that it’s pretty smart.
As an AirPods user, I think that the AirPods’ design is already great. It’s simplistic, modern, and sleek. Other buds I’ve tried out tried to go out of their way to bring in some other type of unnecessary design that could either be too bulky or not good-looking. The Linkbuds S’s attempt at an AirPods-like look worked to pull me in.
What surprised me when I held the case for the first time is that they feel light—but they aren’t particularly lighter than my 3rd Gen Airpods. In fact, the AirPods are apparently even lighter than the Sony buds. The LinkBuds S weigh at about 45 grams with the buds slotted in, but the AirPods with the case weigh about 38 grams.
The Linkbuds S case feels lighter, likely due to its more plastic-y build. It’s one of the things that I’m not really fond of when it comes to the buds. The lid is creaky and it doesn’t look like it’s made to fit with the case’s body. So, while the lightness can be a plus, it doesn’t help make the case feel more luxurious.
The matte feel of the case also contributes to the cheaper look to it—compared to the more solid and glossy feel of the AirPods case. And because it’s matte, it’s also more susceptible to dirt. I’ve noticed tiny scuffs after carrying it in my bag for a couple of days.
But as for the Linkbuds S themselves, I can’t find a good reason to dislike them.
Putting on the Linkbuds S
I’m not usually a fan of soft-tipped in-ear buds. In fact, I created a “horror film” just to show how much I disliked them. I just don’t really like how a lot of them feel in my ear, and I much prefer my hard-tipped AirPods.
But when I stuck the Linkbuds S in my ears for the first time, woo baby. Is this what in-ear buds are supposed to feel like?
They fit so well in my ears, and it doesn’t at all feel like anything is forcefully stuck in like how I felt with the other soft-tipped in-ear ones I’ve tried.
The comfort level probably also is due to the fact that the Linkbuds S has got a wider range in soft tips than something like the WF-1000XM4s—I was able to pick out tiny-sized tips marked “SS”.
They are feel pretty damn light to hold, even though they’re supposed to be slightly heavier than my AirPods and the AirPods Pro. Its got a round shape with a plastic-y feel, different from the AirPods’ heavier head and thin stick ends—so I think that it distributes the weight better.
The only little bone to pick about the shape—if I had to pick some bones—is that its light round shape doesn’t look that cool in my ears. I think I look way cooler wearing the AirPods with the thin ends than I do wearing the Linkbuds S. But, you know, most cool people won’t need cool headphones to be cool. So, that’s on me, I guess.
Listening with the Linkbuds S
It was only recently that I started to appreciate noise-cancelling headphones. But even though I knew of the joy of having most of the sound around me blocked out while I concentrate on work, I still went back to the hard-tipped non-noise-cancelling AirPods because I just think they’re more comfortable.
But ever since trying out the Linkbuds S, I found it hard for me to go back to my old faithfuls. Besides how comfortable they are in my ears, they also sound pretty damn good.
After a few seconds of trying them out for the first time, I was immediately taken aback. The songs I was used to playing on my AirPods sounded crisp and detailed without it being too bass-y or heavy.
But if you’re super into bass-heavy sounds, you can download Sony’s headphones app (iOS, Android) to pick different equalisers. I just don’t think that its necessary at all, especially if you have headphones that are already pretty bomb.
I even had a few team members try the buds, and they seem to agree with me too—they just sound really good. Rory is even planning to steal them from me when I’m done with this review, and it’s partly why I’m taking my time with this project.
Because the noise-cancelling of the Linkbuds S blocks out noise so well, I don’t really need to hike up the volume all that much to block out the noise. Even so, I do anyway, and my colleagues have informed me that they can hear me blasting Stray Kids in my ears.
So, maybe it’s not incredible at keeping the noise to just my ears. But it also doesn’t feel like it’s pumping out too much pressure in your ears—because you know how some noise control headphones make you feel like you’re in an airplane? These ones aren’t like that.
Tapping my left ear buds once will switch the modes from noise control to ambient, and vice versa. I’d listen to my music on ambient mode if I need to keep alert with my surroundings, but I never really use them on the mode. I only really wear headphones at work when I need to focus, and I don’t like walking around outside in the first place—let alone using headphones when walking around. Just the thought of that makes me anxious.
But what I do find neat about Sony headphones—especially if you download its Headphones app—is how you can toggle “Speak to chat”. The mode pauses the music and switches to ambient mode automatically for you when they hear your voice talking, and continue the music back again a little after you stop talking. But of course, this isn’t a mode just for the Linkbuds S. It’s a general Sony thing.
Also, audio features and sound quality isn’t all that Sony has Apple beat.
Living with the Linkbuds S
After going through my daily routine with the Linkbuds S, I was blown away by its battery life as I was so used to the crappy battery life of my AirPods. It’s been a bit less than a week since I last charged the case, and after about a couple hours of noise-cancelling play a day, the case itself is at 40%.
With a three hour charge time, Sony says that the buds have a 6 hour battery life with noise cancelling on—and the case itself has an additional 14 hours. I think that checks out.
Whereas Apple says the AirPods have a 5 hour battery life with spatial audio enabled, with “up to 30 hours of listening time” with the case. But in my experience with the pods, I found myself charging them with the case a lot more often.
When it comes to me answering phone calls or for when I record audio, the buds’ mic quality is much worse than my AirPods. They’re not a complete turn-off, but it does affect your decision if you’re one to go on phone calls or Zoom meetings on your headphones a lot more often.
However, I did find myself going through an annoying problem when I tried to connect with more than one device. Connecting the Linkbuds S with my phone after I first used it was seamless—as it automatically connected. But when I tried to connect it with other devices afterwards, I had a hard time trying to figure out how.
It wasn’t until self proclaimed Sony expert, Rory, figured out the fix. We had to press on the pairing button at the back for a lengthy amount of time until the light turns blue. I couldn’t find this in the manual, and if you aren’t used to pairing buttons, this would be a minor hiccup for you.
As an Airpods user, I’m pretty used to how seamless paring can be with my other Apple devices. According to Rory, the pairing button is “actually quite common on cheaper headphones”. It’s just weird that the same pairing button can be found on rather expensive earbuds like the Linkbuds S.
Are the Sony Linkbuds S better than my AirPods?
I mean, good noise-cancelling headphones make a world of a difference—that part is clear. But mixed with it being really comfortable for soft-tipped in-ears, as well as its lightness and great audio quality, the Linkbuds S stands out amongst the few other soft-tipped ones I’ve tried (and that includes the AirPods Pro). And I consider the comfort level a huge part of my general opinion.
There are, for sure, better audio quality soft-tipped in-ear buds out there. But if they don’t sit comfortably in my ears, the buds will just rot inside my desk drawers after a while.
With the Linkbuds S, I found myself wanting to leave my beloved AirPods in the drawers instead. And that’s a bold statement for buds that aren’t even Sony’s flagship ones—and I’ve reviewed Sony’s flagship ones.
Granted, the retail price is probably way too much for something like this. I enjoyed the hell out of these headphones, sure. But no matter how great the earbuds themselves are, the cheap-looking plastic case made it hard for me to convince myself that RM929 is worth it for them.
However, the price range is pretty close to the Sony’s flagship WF-1000XM4’s RM1,099 price. If you had that amount of money to spend on earbuds, getting the Linkbuds S is a more satisfying purchase if you’re into the Apple aesthetic—but with Sony’s great quality sound. You can even get the Linkbuds S for RM749 right now—so it seems like more of a deal. Additionally, previous sales like 8.8 offered the buds for a mere RM547, which is a heck of a bargain. It might be even more worth it to wait for the next big sale.
Pictures taken by Raymond Saw and Dzamira Dzafri with the Sony A7III.