Sony’s recently launched LinkBuds S or WF-LS900N follow the interestingly donut-shaped LinkBuds original, and share the same philosophy. This series is meant to be worn all the time and this intention skews them differently from Sony’s other true wireless earphones such as the flagship WF-1000XM4 (Rs 19,990). While these could be considered to be aimed at music enthusiasts and for listening in, for the most part, the LinkBuds S (Rs 16,990) are designed to be keep you very much connected to your surroundings while still listening in. To achieve this, Sony seems to be looking for the perfectly balanced open design that still gives the wearer the option to shut off unwanted noise but not miss anything important. And all that, while sounding good.
The LinkBuds S are above all, really comfortable. They’re light and come in a reasonably small pocketable case with nothing at all looking cheap and plasticky. Other than the usual black and white, there’s a beige coloured version that makes for a change. The case is in a matte finish, textured in some colours, and should be easy enough to keep clean. The magnetic pull of the case is quite strong, so the buds get sucked in nicely and snap into place with little effort with no chance that they’ll fall out. The case doesn’t support wireless charging - one of the features perhaps scaled back for differentiation.
The buds themselves are nice and small as well and seem to just fit, at no time threatening to fall out. If you find a strong fit with the right ear-tips, you could workout with them, especially as they’re IPX4 sweat and splash resistant.
The original LinkBuds had a strange design with looks and almost a ball for a bud, but the LinkBuds S are much more typical and familiar looking. They’re not extremely in-ear because, as mentioned, the design must be more open to keep you very much present in the present. No one is sure why there’s an ‘S’ in the name, so the floor is open for guesses.
To get the most out of any Sony audio products, it’s best to download the companion headphones connect app. One must stop to reiterate that Sony’s is easily the best such app around. It gives you granular control over all the features like noise cancellation, sound, EQ, and connects you to services, and allows you to update firmware. You can also use it to set actions for the touch controls on the buds. Those work well as they’re very sensitive and responsive. If anything, one will need to make sure not to trigger unwanted actions accidentally, such as changing noise handling when adjusting your hair.
Tuned to appeal
The LinkBuds S are tuned to appeal to a wide customer base and for different categories of listening. For music, they sound enjoyable and lively, with a consumer-oriented bass and good mids pushed out by its 5 mm drivers. While not specially detailed and separated enough in the highs to please audiophiles, they sound perfectly good for casual everyday listening. They support SBC, AAC and LDAC codecs and 360 Audio, but for the hi res and spatial audio you need specific services. As ever, you can choose from preset sound profiles or make your own using the app’s EQ feature. Speech, such as on podcasts and on phone calls sounds good. There are in fact improved microphones on this set of earphones to make calls more clear. They work over Bluetooth 5.2 and you can use the app to prioritise connectivity over sound quality - or vice versa.
For a design that is more open than is typical, these buds do a great job of noise handling. Sounds around you can be dampened down very well without seeming to be unnatural and leaving you in a vacuum. While not extreme in total noise cancellation, the noise management is balanced and comfortable, making it quite a lot easier to work at something and concentrate while not totally disconnecting from surroundings.
Should you want to tune into sounds on the outside, you can opt for the Ambient Mode - or just let the earphones learn and figure out when to do this for you. There is also the ‘Speak to Chat’ feature available here which is when the music recedes and pauses on hearing your voice as you speak to someone. It’s a smart feature that some prefers to turn off because it can trigger off when you sing along, cough, etc.
Battery life behaves very well on the LinkBuds S with six hours for the buds and an additional 14 hours with recharge cycles from the case.
Take your pick
With the price difference between the top tier 1000XM4’s and the LinkBuds S not being so drastic, there may seem to be little point in considering the latter. In fact the LinkBuds S do have a few strong advantages. They are more comfortable, for one, and wearable for much longer sessions or even the whole day. The buds are smaller and easier to handle, with the included ear-tips being an easier fit. They also don’t create an unduly pressured feel when ANC is turned on. The 1000XM4‘s on the other hand sound better and more refined, have better instrument separation and detail and are clearly focused on music-listening. They have stronger noise cancellation and noise handling and wireless charging. The LinkBuds have a more open and airy feel and don’t close you off from what is around you.