Sony does not want you to call its new wireless earbuds by their real name. Globally, they are called the LinkBuds S but in India, Sony would much rather you address them by their rather less exciting –and a bit hard to get used to— WF-LS900N branding. It’s easy to tell why. These earphones look nothing like the original LinkBuds, not even remotely. Those are some of the wildest earphones in the market. The LinkBuds S are relatively run-of-the-mill.
The ‘S’ in the naming might suggest they’re some kind of watered-down version. Spoiler alert: they are not. Like the original LinkBuds, the LinkBuds S – where ‘S’ stands for smart(s)— are theoretically designed to be worn all day but that’s where all the similarities end.
The LinkBuds S instead draw inspiration from the WF-1000XM4s, earphones we called the “new gold standard in wireless audio” not long ago. That’s a good baseline but it also means that the LinkBuds S have a lot to prove. Their pricing is a good start. They come with a sticker price of Rs 16,990 which is roughly the same as their US price. (There’s a Rs 3,000 inaugural cashback available— between November 21-30— with select bank cards, so you can get them for less.) Sony has priced these earphones really well.
As impressive as the WF-1000XM4s are, their size and weight can be a deterrent for long use. Those big, beefy dimensions have their advantages including bigger drivers and better battery life but have you ever imagined how things would be if they were smaller? Well, now you know.
The LinkBuds S are not a page-by-page copy but they (can) get very close which makes their smaller footprint a killer USP feature, actually, one that’s been a long time coming. Sony has been following the bigger is better adage quite religiously over the years even as rivals like Apple and Samsung have strived for comfort (and got better at sound eventually). With the LinkBuds S, Sony is hitting back with vengeance.
At about 4.8g per earbud, the LinkBuds S are lighter than the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro and Apple AirPods Pro Gen 2, both of which weigh over 5g. That’s a far cry from the 1000XM4s where each earbud can go over 7g. Their charging case is also fairly compact and pocketable (35g versus over 50g in case of AirPods Pro 2 and 43g in Buds 2 Pro).
The plastic material that Sony is using – most of which is recycled, it claims— has a coarse, almost earthy texture that doesn’t pick up any fingerprints and is an absolute joy to hold. You can get it in a choice of colours, too, including black, white, and beige. Like most Sony earphones, the LinkBuds S are IPX4-rated, bringing some degree of sweat/water resistance.
High on features
The visibly toned-down dimensions come at the cost of driver size. This is 5mm. But as we’ve come to realise, in time, driver size isn’t always everything. What’s impressive is that despite the small(er) size, Sony isn’t cutting down on Hi-Res audio support (and other smarts).
The LinkBuds S support LDAC codec, much like Sony’s pricier earphones/headphones. While not quite CD quality, LDAC can carry up to 3x more data (up to 990 kilobits per second) compared to typical Bluetooth audio. This works with Android (they support AAC on iPhone). Their DSEE Extreme feature can upscale compressed audio in real-time to something that is close to Hi-Res. They also support Sony’s 360 Reality Audio for a more immersive sound experience with supported content (though Sony still does not have a proper answer for spatial audio that’s increasingly becoming commonplace thanks to Apple and Samsung). As a bonus, they are launching in India with multipoint Bluetooth which was lacking at the time of their global release. This means you will be able to connect them with two devices simultaneously and automatically switch between them on the fly.
Sony’s proprietary V1 chip— also seen inside the XM4s — is basically in charge of active cancellation of higher frequencies while ensuring a stable, low-latency connection. While not quite as effective as the XM4s, the LinkBuds S are no slouch and are able to reduce background noise better than any other competing product in the market. On a scale of 1-10, we’d give it a solid 7.5 which given the low price is a home run. Voice calls, too, are nice and natural most of the time. Each earbud has a mesh covering the onboard mics to prevent instances of wind distortion. It gets the job done.
Transparency or ambient mode is available for when you need to be aware of your surroundings. You can assign either earbud to control ambient sound. You can choose to toggle between on and off with a single tap, or hold to enable “quick attention” to briefly lower playback volume (without pausing). The LinkBuds S can do this automatically through a feature called “speak-to-chat.” They are smart enough to analyse your ear shape and guide you to an optimal fit. They can detect your actions and locations you frequent most to adjust settings such as how to take in ambient sound, say for instance, when you’d want to focus on voices. All this works through Sony’s headphones connect app.
Again, we’ve seen these features before on the XM4s and they work as flawlessly here, too. Credit where it’s due, it’s nice to see these features trickle down to lower price points.
Coming to sound, the LinkBuds S do lack some of the low-end oomph that the XM4s can pull naturally, but, given their driver size, this was mostly expected. That’s not to say they are underwhelming or anything. Where they lack in bass, they more than make up for it with clarity especially in vocals. The sound stage could be a bit wider though.
Battery life is at par with size. Sony claims up to 6-hours of usage with ANC enabled and a total of 20 hours with the case. These do stick closely to those numbers in real world use. Fast charging is available, though a curious omission is wireless charging.
Sony LinkBuds S (WF-LS900N) | Should you buy?
The LinkBuds S are like the WF-1000XM4s in more ways than one. That’s actually quite a big deal. The only difference is that they are much smaller and more affordable. This combination makes them a no-brainer even more so in India where Sony has historically been bad with pricing, generally speaking.
These are some of the most comfortable earbuds that Sony has ever made. They sound good, handle voice calls well, and offer satisfying cancellation. Battery life, too, is at par with competition. All this when paired with their extensive feature set makes the LinkBuds S among the best value for money wireless earphones you can get at under Rs 20,000.
|Premium design, comfortable fit||Sound stage could be wider|
|Good sound, voice calling||Low-end thump lacking|
|ANC, ambient mode work well||No wireless charging|
|Good battery life|