Price: from €159
Pros: relatively good noise cancellation for the price, good fit, decent battery life
Cons: no multipoint switching
It is surprising how quickly earbuds have gone from mostly rubbish to reasonably effective at active noise cancellation.
Sony’s latest mid-range Linkbuds S is a good example. Priced €50 to €100 below premium earbuds, they cut a sizeable chunk of the surrounding din from your audio ambit. This is partly because they fit so snugly, with never a hint of becoming dislodged or falling out when I brought them on long walks or light jogs.
Sony maximises the chances of the Linkbuds S in a number of ways. One is the option of photographing each ear (a guided process within the accompanying Sony Headphones app) to contribute to the system’s analysis of what might work best.
Indeed, that app includes quite an extensive set of controls and tweaks for how you want to use the Linkbuds S.
This includes toggling features such as ‘speak to chat’, which automatically switches the buds into ‘ambient’ (or transparent) mode when it hears your voice, on or off. I found this a useful feature at times, but I often left it off as it would sometimes activate when I cleared my throat.
The Sony Headphones app also has an ‘adaptive sound’ feature that will allow the buds to adjust the audio based on your surroundings
And it lets you apply ‘360 reality Audio’, which syncs with a handful of high-resolution music streaming platforms (such as Tidal), but not by either of the big two platforms (Spotify and Apple Music).
The buds themselves have many of the touch-sensitive controls you’d expect, but it was something of a relief to me that they’re implemented in a fairly clean, error-free way. You can touch to pause or play a song or to toggle out of noise-cancelling or ambient listening models.
They’re also splash-proof – but no more – with an IPX4 rating.
Audio quality on these buds is generally very good. And it supports LDAC, which some phones also work with on the same high resolution platforms mentioned above.
As for call quality, the microphones are slightly redesigned to deal a little better with wind noise, which is typically one of the worst problems with earbuds when making calls.
Battery life is very good, with up to six hours per charge and two extra full charges from the battery case.
There are a couple of downsides. There’s no wireless charging here. But a bigger one is that they don’t support multipoint switching, which is increasingly an expected feature for any buds costing over €150. This means that if you’re using them to listen to a video on your laptop and a call comes in on your phone, you’ll have to fumble around in settings quickly, manually switching the Bluetooth.
Other than that, these are a well-priced, good quality pair of earbuds that do a very good job at noise cancellation.