It hasn’t been a great spring for Sony in terms of new product leaks. The company’s new flagship headphones, the WH-1000XM5, broke cover early, as did its latest earbuds. Today, the company officially announced the LinkBuds S: a set of $200 true wireless earbuds with active noise cancellation (ANC) and a host of handy features. Sony says they’re designed for a “never off wearing experience,” with transparency mode allowing you to tune into your surroundings as needed.
Joining the open wear LinkBuds that debuted earlier this year, the LinkBuds S have a more “traditional” closed design. The shape is similar to Sony’s other recent earbuds, the flagship WF-1000XM4 and the $100 WF-C500. The LinkBuds S are much smaller though, making them more comfortable to wear for longer periods of time, which also serves Sony’s mission of all-day use. In fact, the company claims the LinkBuds S are “the world’s smallest and lightest, noise-canceling, hi-res” true wireless earbuds. And the IPX4 rating means they can withstand workouts too.
Inside, 5mm drivers deliver “powerful bass and stunningly clear vocals,” according to Sony. The company’s Integrated Processor V1, which is also on the WH-1000XM5 headphones, works to maintain sound quality, minimize distortion and bolster noise cancellation. The LinkBuds S also support high-resolution listening via Sony’s LDAC codec and DSEE Extreme upscaling. The latter technology recovers finer details that are typically lost to compression of digital audio content. A low-latency mode is on the way for gaming and Sony is working with Niantic to bring spatial audio and head tracking to the AR mobile game Ingress.
Another key difference from the first set of LinkBuds is the addition of ANC. On the LinkBuds S, there’s enough noise-blocking ability to reduce background clamor, but Sony is clear the tech isn’t as robust as the WF-1000XM4. While this new model doesn’t let the outside world in by design, it’s equipped with transparency mode to get that job done. What’s more, the company’s Adaptive Sound Control can be configured to change noise canceling and ambient sound settings based on your activity or location. Plus, Sony’s handy Speak-to-Chat feature is available here, which automatically senses your voice, pauses the audio and activates ambient sound mode when you begin to talk.
The main feature Sony is hyping for the LinkBuds S is called Auto Play. True to the rumors, this tool automatically plays or resumes audio based on your activity when you put the earbuds in or complete a call. If you’re on a walk, for example, you can have a specific playlist selected for that behavior. Auto Play is limited right now in two ways. First, it’s only available in the Sony Headphones Connect app on Android right now. The company plans to bring it to iOS in early June. Second, it only works with Spotify and soundscape app Endel.
For calls, Sony says its Precise Voice Pickup Technology “optimally controls the microphones on both earbuds.” Combined with a mesh cover for the mics, the company explains that you can expect clarity walking down a busy street or on a windy day. These claims vary widely from product to product, so we’ll be sure to put this through its paces during our review. Other convenience features include compatibility with voice assistants, a full suite of customizable touch controls and support for both Google Fast Pair and Windows Swift Pair.
In terms of battery life, Sony says you can expect up to six hours of use with active noise cancellation enabled. There’s another 14 hours in the charging case too, but the company didn’t specify any non-ANC listening times. The case doesn’t support wireless charging, but it does offer a quick-charge option. Just five minutes will give you an hour of use.
The LinkBuds S are up for pre-order starting today with general availability starting May 20th. You’ll have black and white color options to choose from at most retailers, but Best Buy will carry an exclusive beige (Ecru) version. This $200 model will sit in the middle of Sony’s true wireless lineup, with the flagship WF-1000XM4 at the top and the affordable WF-C500 below. The open design LinkBuds also occupy the mid-range for $20 cheaper, and Sony plans to deliver the Auto Play functionality to that model via firmware update.