Featured Article

Sony delivers a killer new pair of earbuds

The $200 LinkBuds S sound great and are super comfortable

Comment

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Surprise! While we were all (understandably) preoccupied with the latest addition to Sony’s excellent over-ear headphones, the LinkBuds S managed to mostly fly under the radar. This likely happened for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the company’s confusing naming scheme. It’s not clear where the new earbuds slot in at first blush.

The short answer is: smack in the middle of Sony’s growing lineup of fully wireless buds. The standard LinkBuds sit at the low end at (a still not cheap) $180. At the high end are the great, but pricey WF1000XM4, which retail for exactly $100 more. The breakdown, this far, is fairly straightforward. The M4 are a truly premium set of earbuds at a truly premium price. The LinkBuds, meanwhile, have a giant hole in the center that’s designed to improve situational awareness.

The ”S” apparently stands for “sound.” That doesn’t really clarify things. Sure, the LinkBuds S sound better than their namesakes with the giant hole in the center, but ultimately less good (owing mostly to the inclusion of smaller drivers) than the M4s. For clarity’s sake, the company offers up the following tagline, “The world‘s smallest and lightest, noise canceling, Hi-Res Truly wireless headphones.” Really rolls off the tongue, right?

Here’s how I would describe them: a really great sounding pair of everyday earbuds. Given the company’s existing line, I’m not convinced the LinkBuds S need to exist. But having worn them as a daily driver the last couple of weeks, I’m glad they do. As someone who tests a lot of earbuds over the course of a year, the LinkBuds S are among the best sounding and most comfortable I’ve had in my ears. It’s an impressive combo.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

At $200, they fall closer to the LinkBuds than M4s. They’re not cheap, by most measures, but at least they compare favorably to the AirPods Pro’s $250 MSRP. It’s the comfort, however, that really won me over. I had (and still have) lots of nice things to say about the M4s. And while their footprint was a big improvement over their predecessor, I’ve always considered them more around-the-house earbuds. When it comes to listening to music in the comfort of your own home, they’re tough to beat.

If you’re an active person looking for something “on the go,” they’re harder to recommend. They wouldn’t, for example, be the first pair of buds I’d grab on my way out the door. And they’re not in the top ten when it comes to my morning runs. They’re just too bulky. They’re big, kind of heavy and they jut out of the ear. The LinkBuds S, on the other hand, are a great walking companion.

I recognize that comfort is both highly subjective and dependent on the idiosyncrasies of your own ear. For my money, though, the LinkBuds S are an ideal size, coupled with a soft silicone tip that sits comfortably in the ear for long stretches. I would still hesitate to recommend them specifically for workouts, however. The latest Beats fit the bill much better with a built-in wing to keep them in place. The touch panels on the side can also be tough to navigate in that setting, particularly while sweating.

The sound quality is a step down from the M4s for reasons highlighted above. Even so, they’re a really excellent sounding pair of buds for music and podcasts. Honestly, the main reasons they’ve left my ears since picking the pair up were to (1) rest Sony’s new over-ear headphones and (2) sleep.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The “always-on” approach is supposedly at the epicenter of Sony’s attempt to address primarily a Gen Z audience (“buds built for the next generation,” per the press material). I’m not really sold on how these buds might be better suited for the TikTok generation, but the company points to features like “Auto Play,” which starts playing music based on different activities. Using the Sony Headphones app, you can fire up music automatically based on various features like putting the LinkBuds in, ending a call or going for a walk.

Endel’s generative soundscapes show up in Sony’s new headphones

Currently these features only work with a pair of music services: Spotify (of course) and Endel. I wasn’t familiar with the latter, but it’s been an interesting experience, thus far. It’s less a standard streaming service like Spotify and Apple Music, and more an algorithmically generated mood enhancer. You can chose different scenarios like “Relax” or “Move.” I’ve been playing around with it for meditation and sleep, as well. I’m listening to “Focus” as I’m attempting to finish this review late on a Friday afternoon.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

I prefer more manual control over my music listening than Auto Play provides. So who knows, maybe it is a generational thing.

The LinkBuds’ noise canceling is quite good as well, if, again, a step down from the M4s. A quick tap on the right bud toggles between that and ambient mode. I’ve been taking calls on the new buds, as well, and the voice clarity has gotten high marks from people on the other end. The little grille on the outside is a mesh windscreen. It does a decent job cutting out bad wind noise though some will invariably still get through.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Battery life is rated at six hours with ANC on, nine without. The case, meanwhile, will bump things up to 20. The charging case is a bit narrower than the M4s (which are rated at eight hours and 24 with the case), as you’d expect. It does, however, drop wireless charging from the equations. Also, it’s a small thing, but I do quite like the textured feel Sony has given the buds this time out.

The M4s price always precluded them from being a mainstream product, and the arrival of the LinkBuds S really drives that notion home. For most people in most cases, these smaller, more comfortable and cheaper buds fit the bill.

More TechCrunch

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

16 hours ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

18 hours ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost

The investor lawsuit is related to Bolt securing a $30 million personal loan to Ryan Breslow, which was later defaulted on.

Bolt founder Ryan Breslow wants to settle an investor lawsuit by returning $37 million worth of shares

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, launched an enterprise version of the prominent social network in 2015. It always seemed like a stretch for a company built on a consumer…

With the end of Workplace, it’s fair to wonder if Meta was ever serious about the enterprise

X, formerly Twitter, turned TweetDeck into X Pro and pushed it behind a paywall. But there is a new column-based social media tool in town, and it’s from Instagram Threads.…

Meta Threads is testing pinned columns on the web, similar to the old TweetDeck

As part of 2024’s Accessibility Awareness Day, Google is showing off some updates to Android that should be useful to folks with mobility or vision impairments. Project Gameface allows gamers…

Google expands hands-free and eyes-free interfaces on Android