Sony has announced its latest wireless headphones: the LinkBuds S, and they’re an intriguing mix of technologies borrowed from the mighty Sony WF-1000XM4 in a lighter body that costs less. And therefore, I think they might be the first headphones to finally break the hold the AirPods Pro have had on my ear canals since their release, as they tick some boxes that too many headphones miss.
I’ve tested dozens of pairs of the best wireless earbuds since the AirPods Pro first released in 2019, many of which beat the AirPods in different ways. They offer longer battery life, better sound quality, or more effective noise cancellation…but they rarely beat the AirPods in all way. And more importantly, they don’t while being as light, small and comfortable as the AirPods Pro.
It’s the thing the AirPods Pro had from the start, and is often overlooked, or ignored at all. The AirPods Pro weigh 5.4 grams / 0.19 oz per earbud, and their stick design means the weight doesn’t seem to come out of your ear, trying to pull itself out.
By comparison, each Sony WF-1000XM4 weighs 7.3 grams / 0.26 oz, and while 1.9 grams might not seem like a huge difference, it is 35% heavier. And then you factor in the bulkier design, which means the weight is different.
The design of the AirPods Pro also means the case is slimmer, so it slips into a pocket without digging into your leg or bulking up awkwardly. Because of these various benefits, I always end up with my AirPods Pro – I crave comfort.
And that brings us back to the Sony LinkBuds S, which feature the same custom V1 sound processor and noise canceling as the WF-1000XM4, but are 40% smaller than Sony’s best headphones and weigh just 4.8g/ 0.17 oz per bud.
Opinion: Compromises worth making
Sony told TechRadar that the LinkBuds S won’t offer as powerful active noise cancellation as the WF-1000XM4 despite using the same processor, and that’s likely due to them having a different driver and hardware setup. different microphone – which is to be expected given their $199/£180 lower price than the Sony WF-1000XM4’s $279/£219. (Except in Australia, where they’re the same price of AU$349. Go figure.)
But even Sony’s slightly less effective noise cancellation is likely to beat everything else on the market that doesn’t have ‘Bose’ in the name. And you still get many of the features I love about Sony headphones, including the excellent control app and DSEE music upscaling, which aims to add extra detail in the compressed audio that’s sent via Bluetooth. And there’s LDAC support for those who want a high-quality wireless connection.
And they’ll also address my biggest gripe with the AirPods Pro, which is battery life. The LinkBuds S offer six hours per bud charge, while the AirPods Pro manage 4.5-5 hours – just a little extra flexibility would be welcome.
If I get all the best features of Sony headphones, but in what seems like an even more comfortable design than the AirPods Pro… well, who could resist?
The LinkBuds S will be available “end of May 2022”, according to Sony.