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The Sony Linkbuds S are an excellent pair of earbuds for cycling or everyday use, with a huge amount of adjustability, impressive sound, and one of the best transparency modes for cycling that I've used.
The Linkbuds S are the first set of Sony earbuds we've tested at road.cc. Sony has designed them to be always wearable and they are marketed at the very thing I feel is most important in a set of earbuds for when you're riding: having the ability to hear what's around you.
Turning the ambient noise setting on or off is a case of simply tapping on the left earbud, but you can also customise the ambient noise settings themselves, using the Headphones Connect app on your phone, which is a cool feature I haven't come across before.
To set these, you choose from four activities – Staying, Walking, Running, Transport – and seven locations – Home, Workplace, School, Station, Bus Stop, Gym, Other – and adjust each of these activity profiles to let in more or less sound.
Using something Sony calls Adaptive Sound Control and describes as 'a smart function that senses where you are and what you're doing', the earbuds can automatically detect which activity you are doing. They will then automatically adjust the sound to what you've defined.
For example, if I am sat on a train the earbuds will adjust to the setting I've chosen, and automatically change once I am walking down the street. Or if I am sitting at my desk it will adjust to let in the amount of sound I have set for that, but if I am out running or walking, which I've set to let in more sound, it will automatically change to those.
Somewhat spookily, Sony says, 'Over time, it learns your behaviour and recognises locations that you frequently visit.'
Unfortunately, cycling isn't one of the activity options. It's not the end of the world, but does mean that I often turned this feature off when on the bike as it could sometimes turn to noise cancelling when I was sitting at the traffic lights, for instance. Turning it back to ambient sound was just a case of tapping the left ear, but there were a few times when I realised that I had been riding along for a couple of minutes without realising that I was essentially deaf to everything around me.
Using the ambient noise setting manually, they are very good on the bike, letting in a load of sound so I always knew what was happening around me. I could quite clearly hear conversations that other cyclists were having, and cars approaching from behind.
Wind sound at over around 20kph is more than with the Airpods Pro and the Beats Fit Pro, but better than most others I have tried. The output remains clear, just with a bit of extra wind sound, not being drowned out by it.
Off the bike, the sound quality is up there with the best I have used; not quite at the level of the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay EQs, but second only to them from everything I have tested up to this point.
Noise cancelling is exceptional; using them on the train or while sitting at the desk, I was almost completely insulated from sounds around me. Bass is deep and powerful, while mids and uppers are clear, which makes for impressive sounding music or clear and understandable podcasts or audiobooks.
The impressive sound comes partly from the snug and secure fit that means you don't get much sound leakage. This also means they stay in your ear really well on the bike – even on rough terrain they remained securely in place with little to no adjustment needed, and for hours of use.
Controlling the earbuds is done through a series of taps on the sides. The default settings are that a single tap on the left changes between noise cancelling and ambient sound, while on the right it controls playback: tapping once pauses, two taps skips forward, and three taps skips back.
These can be customised to suit your preference, so if you'd prefer to have volume control using an earbud rather than your phone, for example, you can swap that in to replace one of the default functions.
Battery life is dependent on how you're using the earbuds, but for continuous playback with ambient noise they last a claimed six hours, and nine hours with ambient noise turned off. The case itself provides an additional 20 hours of charging before needing to be plugged in.
From my testing, these are broadly accurate claims and is around the same kind of battery life as the Beats Fit Pro and Airpods Pro, although this isn't quite up to the Jabra Elite 7 Pros that I reviewed recently.
Like these three, the Sonys also have a fast charging feature, where a five-minute charge in the case gives around an hour of usage – useful if you've left them out of the case overnight and need to use them in the morning or if you're on a particularly long ride.
The case is charged using a USB C cable, which takes about two hours for a full charge. Sony hasn't included wireless charging, which is a shame, as I have found this feature particularly useful with other earbuds.
When the Linkbuds S arrived for testing they were £179, which was still a decent price compared with rivals, but they've been reduced to £149 making them good value considering the sound quality, ambient noise performance and fit.
The Jabra Elite 7 Pros that I mentioned above are £200, and though they have a better battery life the ambient sound isn't as clear.
The Apple Airpods Pro are £239 and are similar in terms of ambient sounds, but the overall sound quality isn't at the same level.
To sum up, these are an excellent pair of earbuds that provide great sound quality, impressive ambient sounds, and a snug fit. There are some drawbacks, such as the lack of wireless charging and the touch controls being limited to single specific functions, but these are relatively minor marks against what are otherwise very impressive earbuds.
Great sounding set of earbuds with an ambient sound setting that is exceptional
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Sony Linkbuds S
Size tested: n/a
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Sony says: "With LinkBuds S, you're always connected to your everyday worlds. Ultra small and light, they can be worn comfortably around the clock, keeping you in touch with people and places. LinkBuds S switches automatically to optimised ambient sound or high quality noise cancelling for listening without distractions."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Water resistant for everyday use
With an IPX4 water resistance rating, splashes and sweat won't stop these Sony earbuds – so you can keep on moving to the music.
Always on for connecting your online and offline worlds
Automatically switches between optimised ambient sound and noise cancelling
Ultra small, lightweight and super fit
Immersive music and clear calls
20 hours battery life with a 5 minute quick charge for up to 60 minutes of play time
For the full specification, visit https://www.sony.co.uk/electronics/truly-wireless/linkbuds-s/specifications.
Well made and small, which is particularly impressive given how high quality the sound is.
Very good, they sound great, have very impressive ambient sound, and sit comfortably in the ear.
With a snug fit and small size, they are very comfortable to wear.
Their new lower rrp of £149 undercuts the competition by quite a lot, as well as outperforming them in many areas.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Very well, powerful sound combined with very effective ambient sounds is a winner.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The ambient sound is very impressive; I could hear everything around me.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Being limited to one category of gestures per bud – I don't want to have to choose between turning ambient sound on or turning the volume up!
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
With the sound quality they have, combined with the ambient noise performance and fit, this is a good price. The Jabra Elite 7 that I reviewed recently are £200; they have a longer battery life but the ambient sound isn't at the same level. The Airpods Pro are £239 and have similar ambient sounds, but the sound quality isn't at the same level.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
These are a very impressive set of earbuds whether you are on or off the bike. With booming sounds if you want to listen to music, or clarity if you're listening to spoken word, plus an ambient sound setting that allows you to almost always be fully aware of what's around you, they're excellent. And good value too.
About the tester
I usually ride: CAAD13 My best bike is: Cannondale Supersix Evo
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed,
George is the host of the road.cc podcast and has been writing for road.cc since 2014. He has reviewed everything from a saddle with a shark fin through to a set of glasses with a HUD and everything in between.
Although, ironically, spending more time writing and talking about cycling than on the bike nowadays, he still manages to do a couple of decent rides every week on his ever changing number of bikes.