Sony LinkBuds S (WF-LS900N) Review: Not Quite Flagship, but Still Good


If you’re looking for a premium true wireless headset and want options from Sony, you’re likely to take notice of its flagship WF-1000XM4 first, and rightfully so. Sony’s flagship true wireless headset is among our top picks in this space, thanks to the generally good active noise cancellation, features, and sound quality. However, at nearly Rs. 20,000, it is undoubtedly expensive and would be out of reach for many. Sony’s latest true wireless headset, the LinkBuds S (WF-LS900N) may offer something of a solution.

Priced at Rs. 16,990 in India, the Sony LinkBuds S (WF-LS900N) costs a bit less than the flagship WF-1000XM4 but promises an experience that is nearly as good, thanks to advanced Bluetooth codec support, active noise cancellation, and a lightweight form factor that makes it a viable ‘wear-all-day’ option. Does this unique positioning make the Sony LinkBuds S (WF-LS900N) worth the price? Find out in this review.

The Sony LinkBuds S (WF-LS900N) is very different from the original LinkBuds, thanks to a more traditional form factor which also allows for ANC and advanced Bluetooth codec support

 

Sony LinkBuds S (WF-LS900N) design and features

While the naming convention might suggest that the Sony LinkBuds S (WF-LS900N) is the successor to the original Sony LinkBuds (WF-L900), the new headset is quite significantly different. The design is decidedly more traditional, with a proper in-canal fit and earpieces that don’t look strangely out of the ordinary in any way.

That said, the LinkBuds S earpieces are considerably smaller and lighter than most competing options in the premium segment for true wireless earphones. The earphones are available in three colours — black, white, and ecru. The black review unit that I received had a nice texture and feel.

Sony suggests that the LinkBuds S is a wear-all-day kind of true wireless headset, and the 4.8g weight and compact shape of the earpieces certainly help in this regard. Although quite comfortable for an in-canal fit, the Sony WF-LS900N isn’t as comfortable as the original LinkBuds, and I found it hard to actually keep the earphones on all day as Sony might suggest. That said, wearing the earphones for 2-3 hours at a time was no trouble at all.

The traditional form factor and styling of the Sony WF-LS900N allows for a secure fit with proper noise isolation and active noise cancellation. However, the compactness means that Sony has had to go with smaller-than-usual 5mm dynamic drivers in the earpieces. The outer surface of each earpiece is flat to allow for easy use of the touch controls (customisable through the app), while the inside has a proximity sensor which controls the auto play-pause functionality, among other things. The earpieces are IPX4 rated for water resistance.

The charging case of the Sony LinkBuds S (WF-LS900N) is a fairly straightforward one, with the colour of the case identical to that of the earpieces. It’s a compact, convenient shape and size, with an indicator light just under the lid, and the USB Type-C port and pairing button at the back. Notably, there is no wireless charging on the Sony LinkBuds S, which is a bit disappointing given the price of the headset.

The eco-friendly sales package includes four pairs of silicone ear tips, and a USB Type-C charging cable. Other features on the headset include support for Spotify Tap and Endel personalised soundscapes, Google Fast Pair, and multi-point connectivity for up to two devices simultaneously.

Sony LinkBuds S (WF-LS900N) app and specifications

Sony’s excellent Headphones Connect app handles the connection with all of its premium wireless headsets, including the LinkBuds S (WF-LS900N). The app is available for iOS and Android, and has a largely similar interface and selections regardless of the platform, adding to Sony’s continuing approach to platform agnosticism.

That said, the Sony LinkBuds S (WF-LS900N) are best used with an Android device, in order to take advantage of the support for the LDAC Bluetooth codec. This, and the associated functionality, are the only points where the app experience is different between the two operating systems. In fact, during my time with the Sony LinkBuds S, a software update for the earphones enabled multi-point Bluetooth connectivity, along with introducing a distinct section for services integrations such as Spotify Tap.

sony linkbuds s review app Sony

When paired with an Android device, I was able to use the LDAC Bluetooth codec on the Sony WF-LS900N earphones

Other key features in the app include music playback controls, adaptive sound control for ANC and ambient sound mode customisation, speak-to-chat, Bluetooth connection quality customisation (to favour sound quality or connection stability), touch controls customisation, auto play-pause when the earphones are worn or removed, and a graphical display for battery life of the earpieces and charging case, among other things.

The app covers practically everything you could need on the Sony LinkBuds S (WF-LS900N), although perhaps the only real drawback is the lack of detailed customisability for the controls. The Sony WF-LS900N lets you choose control ‘sets’ for the right and left earpieces separately — these include ANC and Ambient Sound controls, playback controls, and volume controls. This means that you’ll have to choose two of three essential sets, while entirely excluding one, and then making sure you remember the somewhat confusing controls going forward.

The Sony LinkBuds S (WF-LS900N) has 5mm dynamic drivers, with a frequency response range of 20-40,000Hz (with the LDAC codec in operation). For connectivity, there is Bluetooth 5.2, and support for the SBC, AAC, and LDAC Bluetooth codecs. The headset uses Sony’s Integrated Processor V1 for connectivity and ANC functionality.

Sony LinkBuds S (WF-LS900N) performance and battery life

Sony is pitching the LinkBuds S (WF-LS900N) as a slightly more affordable alternative to the flagship WF-1000XM4, and indeed has practically everything the latter has to offer in terms of features, but at a price which is around Rs. 3,000 lower. However, there are some notable differences that explain the difference in price and positioning, the biggest of which is sound quality.

The Sony LinkBuds S (WF-LS900N) uses 5mm drivers, smaller than the 6mm drivers on the WF-1000XM4. While the actual size of the drivers may not be indicative of anything, there is definitely a notable difference in the sound on the WF-LS900N, as compared to the more expensive and better-sounding WF-1000XM4.

sony linkbuds s review earpieces Sony

The Sony LinkBuds S (WF-LS900N) has very good active noise cancellation and decent battery life

 

The sound came across as fairly straightforward in terms of tuning, adhering to the commonly used U-shape frequency response curve for the most part, being well-suited to most popular music genres. The lows and highs were more pronounced than the mid-range in tracks such as Stay (Don’t Go Away) by David Guetta, deviating a fair bit from the more balanced approach of the WF-1000XM4. This also tended to affect the tonal accuracy and audible detail levels, as compared to Sony’s flagship true wireless earphones.

Listening to Je M’amuse by French electro-jazz band Caravan Palace, the sound was aggressive, punchy, and forward, while remaining comfortable and completely non-fatiguing. The dubstep-style electronic elements of the track had a distinct sense of rumble and attack, while the swing-style vocals and instrumentals held a fair amount of detail that sounded about right for the price of the headset.

However, despite the significant bandwidth advantage that the LDAC Bluetooth codec brings, the Sony WF-LS900N seemed not to be able to fully capitalise on it. The tone, drive, detail, and sense of polish present in the WF-1000XM4 were missing here, despite the many similarities between the Sony WF-LS900N and its more expensive stablemate. This is where the price and positioning difference between the two TWS headsets is most evident.

Active noise cancellation on the Sony LinkBuds S (WF-LS900N) is very good, and benefits significantly from the excellent passive noise isolation and fit of the headset. There was a considerable reduction in indoor noise; the hum of overhead air conditioning was almost completely blocked out.

There was a fairly noticeable reduction in miscellaneous noise outdoors as well, which helped to focus on what was playing even at low volumes. Music, audiobooks, and dialogue in videos sounded decent in noisy spaces even at around the 50 percent volume level. Calls were similarly well handled, with decent microphone performance ensuring that I could be heard just as well as I could hear.

Battery life on the Sony LinkBuds S (WF-LS900N) comes close to the advertised claims; I was able to get a little under six hours of listening time from the earpieces. The charging case added two full charges in addition, for a total run time of around 17 hours per charge cycle. Fast charging claims to offer an hour of listening with five minutes of charging.

Verdict

There’s very little to complain about with the Sony LinkBuds S (WF-LS900N); this is a capable, well equipped, and well priced pair of true wireless earphones, and offers arguably better comfort and ANC performance than most other options in its price range. It’s hard to argue with the proposition here on a practical level but on an emotional level, there’s just a bit missing in the WF-LS900N, and this largely comes down to the lack of anything special in the sound.

The Sony LinkBuds S sounds good enough for a premium true wireless headset, but doesn’t quite push the boundaries as far as the actual flagship headsets. This is the only real drawback in an otherwise cheerful, practical, and sensibly-priced pair of true wireless earphones.

Perhaps spending that little bit more on options such as the WF-1000XM4 or Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 might be worth it, if you can budget for it. If you’re using an Apple or Samsung smartphone, the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) or Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro respectively, might make more sense from an ecosystem point of view. However, if the size, form factor, and promise of good ANC performance on the Sony WF-LS900N appeals to you, you won’t be disappointed at all.


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