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Sony Linkbuds S

9
£149.00

VERDICT:

9
10
Great sounding set of earbuds with an ambient sound setting that is exceptional
Impressive transparency
Excellent sound
Good value
Impressive fit
Intuitive and easy-to-use app
Auto-adjusting sound cancelling feature not ideal for cycling
No wireless charging
Quick controls are limited
Weight: 
42g
Contact: 
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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.

Their ambient noise functionality is up there with the top performers I have used, on a par with the Apple Airpods Pro and Beats Fit Pro, which have been the best I've come across for a while.

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.

Auto adjusting

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.

2022 Sony Linkbuds S - 2.jpg

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.

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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.

Sound quality

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.

2022 Sony Linkbuds S - buds.jpg

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.

Controls

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.

2022 Sony Linkbuds S - front.jpg

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

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.

2022 Sony Linkbuds S - charging case open.jpg

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.

Value

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.

Conclusion

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.

Verdict

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?

Sony lists:

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.

Rate the product for quality of construction:
 
8/10

Well made and small, which is particularly impressive given how high quality the sound is.

Rate the product for performance:
 
9/10

Very good, they sound great, have very impressive ambient sound, and sit comfortably in the ear.

Rate the product for durability:
 
7/10
Rate the product for weight (if applicable)
 
9/10

Very light.

Rate the product for comfort (if applicable)
 
9/10

With a snug fit and small size, they are very comfortable to wear.

Rate the product for value:
 
7/10

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.

Overall rating: 9/10

About the tester

Age: 33  Height: 6 ft  Weight:

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.

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12 comments

Avatar
MarkiMark | 1 year ago
0 likes

Just a shout out for my Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 earbuds. After years of wired phones breaking on the bike through bad weather conditions, these have lasted me now for about 3 years without a hiccup. Very minimal, very goos sound (as good as you need on the road anyway), simple to use with no touch controls, proper clicks. Right click/hold volume up and left down. Good battery and minimal case I carry in jersey pocket on longer rides. Brilliant, and now dirt cheap.

Avatar
BikeJon | 1 year ago
0 likes

Do they have a microphone? If so, how good is it?

Avatar
holtyboy | 1 year ago
0 likes

I have been waiting for somone to release a pair with replaceable batteries, until then every one of these designs has obsolescence built in as the irreplaceable batteries degrade.

Something like this points the way:

https://pqearbuds.com/

Avatar
jaymack replied to holtyboy | 1 year ago
0 likes

Yep without replaceable batteries these are destined to be a problem for our great grandchildren.

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to jaymack | 1 year ago
0 likes
jaymack wrote:

Yep without replaceable batteries these are destined to be a problem for our great grandchildren.

Assuming that the planet will still be habitable then

Avatar
HoarseMann replied to holtyboy | 1 year ago
0 likes

I'm not quite so bothered about replaceable batteries for ear buds. I've had the original Airpods for years and use them for hours everyday. They don't last as long as they used to do, but still perfectly useable. I never find them running out of juice, as they recharge so quickly in the case.

They're small and light, the waste created when they eventually pack up is minimal (especially now manufacturers have to recycle them). I think other parts of them will wear out before the battery becomes an issue. I've already had to de-gunk them twice (yuk), when the volume in one got noticably quieter than the other.

Making the battery replaceable would add weight and complexity that I think would compromise the overall experience. 

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kil0ran | 1 year ago
0 likes

Sony's headphones and particularly noise cancelling technology have been excellent for years. I prefer my full enclosure headband WH-XM3s but the earbud version is just as good, if less comfortable. Exceptional sound quality and I'm consistently amazed at their ability to tune out public transport noise (tube/train/plane). Prefer to cycle in silence but if I didn't I'd have a set of these in an instant. 

I see that Sony are selling the last gen WF-XM3 earbuds for £100 at the moment, that's an absolute bargain (better sound quality than these, but less good for exercise)

Avatar
Tass Whitby | 1 year ago
0 likes

Or you just remove one. I don't use them, so not speaking from experience, but  someone suggested that when it came up in discussion the other day.

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Steve K | 1 year ago
0 likes

I'd really like to see these ear bud reviews also give comparisons with bone conduction earphones, because if you're talking about headphones you can cycle wearing and still hear traffic etc, that's really the other option.

Avatar
George Hill replied to Steve K | 1 year ago
1 like

I would love to, but they're different beasts. You can't really compare them easily because bone conduction will never create the same sound quality as in-ear and the method of hearing what's around you doesn't come through the product itself on bone conduction, so you can't really make a fair comparison.

Avatar
Steve K replied to George Hill | 1 year ago
0 likes

Thanks for the response.  Whilst I understand your point, I'm not sure I agree that the method of hearing whats around you for bone conduction headphones doesn't come from the product itself - it is the whole point of the product, really.  So I would have thought it would be possible to make a judgment of how well you can hear what's around you on the transparency modes of buds compared with bone conduction headphones.  In the end, isn't that the trade off - sound quality v awareness - and if transparency gets good enough, the case for bone conduction headphones goes (other than the 'not falling out' issue).

I write all this as a big fan of my Shokz headphones.

Avatar
RoubaixCube replied to Steve K | 1 year ago
1 like

I have a pair of headphones (Mpow flame solo) that i wear for cycling where the buds dont sit all the way up in the ear canal like normal headphones.

Traffic is still a little muted but i can still hear 70% of it providing i dont crank the volume all the way up (which i never do)

I have seen folks wearing headphones similar to samsung wireless galaxy buds (and even smaller...) but i dont recommend them because unlike my Mpow headphones that have a hook around the ear to hold them in position and from falling out. The galaxy buds require the buds to be pushed deep into your ear canal for a good seal to prevent them from falling out, and when you push them that deep, they isolate a lot of the outside noise.

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