Sony LinkBuds S WF-LS900N – quality mid-range BT/ANC earphones (review)
The Sony LinkBuds S WF-LS900N is everything you expect from Sony – well-made, good performance and, surprisingly, a very reasonable price.
And at $269, they are a fair bit cheaper than big brother, the $389 WF-1000XM4, which are among the top-performing true ANC buds. Sony WF-1000XM4 are remarkable BT, ANC earphones (long-term review).
So, what are the compromises? Sure, they are not as good, but the compromises are surprisingly few. For example, both are (or difference WF-1000XM44 in brackets)
- BT 5.2 with SBC, AAC and LDAC codecs
- 5.1mm (6mm) Neodymium 20Hz-40kHz closed back
- Adaptive Noise-cancellation (Active and Adaptive) and Ambient sound mode (same)
- Multi-point and quick pair (same)
- 3 mics (4)
- 6 hours ANC on (8)
- 3 hours charge (1.5 hours and Qi wireless charge)
- IPX4 (same)
It is a crowded market, and Sony has packed a lot into a relatively affordable price. Don’t confuse these with the Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 – open ring, hear through, BT earphones (review) – they are entirely different.
Sony Linkbuds S WF-LS900N
|Website||Product Page and Online help page|
|From||Sony Online and major CE Retailers|
|Colours||White, Black, and Ecru (beige) Includes SS, S, M, L ear tips and USB-A to USB-C cable|
|Country of Origin||China|
|Company||SONY is a Japanese multinational conglomerate corporation headquartered in Tokyo, Japan. As a major technology company, it operates as one of the world’s largest consumer and professional electronic products manufacturers, the largest video game console company, and the largest video game publisher.|
|More||CyberShack Sony news and reviews|
We use Fail (below expectations), Pass (meets expectations) and Exceed (surpasses expectations or is the class leader) against many of the items below. We occasionally give a Pass ‘+’ rating to show it is good but does not quite make it to Exceed.
First impression – Pass
Sony’s new environmental plastic-free packaging is growing on me, and the buds use recycled plastic from automobile parts. We don’t usually comment on environmental measures because every manufacturer supports the movement.
These are small, light (4.8g) plastic, flattish buds that don’t stick out too far. They are 40% smaller than the WF-1000XM4. The USB-C charge case is quite pocketable. And IPX4 is sweat-resistant.
Comfort – Pass+
Given their smaller profile and lighter weight, they are very comfortable. I like that Sony offers four tip size choices.
But make sure you run the App’s fit test because passive noise isolation and better bass depend on an air-tight fit.
Sony Headphones Connect set-up – Pass+
While you can use them as BT earphones, the App adds value and can optionally sign in for Activity tracking. My only gripe – the firmware update took nearly an hour, but in Sony’s defence, you can keep using the buds! It has Google and Window Fast pair and multi-point connections.
- Battery level of each bud and the case
- Adaptive Sound Control (this is not Adaptive Noise-cancelling) requires persistent and precise GPS location and can learn staying, walking, running and bus. This may raise your privacy concerns, but it is really no different to the data from your iOS or Android phone
Adaptive Sound Control is a new trick for the next-gen earphones is to use onboard AI to learn your environment and change volume and noise-cancelling levels accordingly. It is a work in progress for all brands because it simply is not smart enough to adapt quickly. But AI is getting smarter!
- Noise Cancelling, Ambient sound level (with a slider) or off (unless using Adaptive Sound control) and focus on voice
- Speak to Chat settings (Auto, high/low sensitivity)
- EQ bright, excited, mellow, relaxed, vocal, treble boost, bass boost, speech, and manual. You can also set up a couple of custom levels
- 360 Reality Audio. I did not test this functionality as it requires a subscription to Deezer, nugs.net, or Tidal. You can also use your smartphone camera to analyse your ear shape for the full 360 Reality Audio experience
- Bluetooth connection quality – priority on a stable connection or sound quality. Select quality unless you have issues. It may reduce battery life
- DSEE Extreme upscales lossy MP3 and AAC music, making these sound punchy, rich, and bright without too much heavy bass dominance. It affects battery life.
- The most important setting is here – Determining the optimal ear tips. As there are SS, S, M, and L ear tips, you need to get this right or passive noise cancellation, and the widest sound stage will not work.
- Voice Assistants include Siri, Bixby, Alexa, Google Assistant or off.
- Touch options include different left and right bud functions for single, double, triple tap and continue pressing. There are perhaps too many options, and it will take some time to master them all.
- Other settings include automatic power off, pause toggle, language for the notification and voice guide, download of the software, and initialise settings.
You can set up Spotify Tap, a Quick Access option where a double or triple tap can open your current Spotify playlist.
This is a useful option since it shows the total hours of use, locations, and actions. This may be a privacy issue, and not required to use the App or the buds.
Adaptive Noise Cancelling and Ambient sound – Pass+
Noise-cancelling needs a good air-tight fit to enable passive noise reduction, which is so important for the low bass and 5kHz and above noises. The rest of the work is done via the external mics and digital signal processor (DSP) that performs the electronic trickery of producing anti-noise to cancel out external noises. To that end, it is good at the low bass rumble and tapers off to about 1kHz when voice frequencies kick in.
Ambient sound is often called hear-through, and all that means is the mics still pick up the external sound but let more of it through. That is adjustable via the Sound tab from 1 (minimum external sound) to 20 (full). We settled on to start.
It is not heavy-handed, block a jumbo jet on take-off noise cancellation (the WF-1000XM4 can block a lot more noise), but I think it is about right.
Hands-free calls and voice assistants – Pass+
Sony has invented another marketing term – ‘Precise Voice Pickup Technology’. It is a term for AI machine learning using over 500 million voice samples to suppress ambient noise and extract voice clearly.
Yes, it is good, and callers commented on the clarity of my voice and vice versa.
All voice assistants are supported – initiated by a tap.
Sound – Exceed
Unfortunately, we cannot ‘technically’ test in-ear canal buds, so we resort to a subjective assessment of how they sound. No, they are not WF-1000XM4 standard (I have a pair for comparison), but they are surprisingly good.
Sony LinkBuds S WF-LS900N uses the same V1 sound processor as the premium WF-1000XM4 and WH-1000XM5 headphones. It produces powerful and premium sound.
Even better if you can use the high-res LDAC codec instead of SBC and AAC.
The sound stage (as with all closed-back, in-earphones) is inside your head. Sony is pushing its 360 Reality Audio (like a DTS:X or Dolby Atmos), but we did not test that. However, Dolby Atmos test tracks showed good left/right separation and a slightly increased sound stage.
Battery – Pass
Battery life is claimed as 6/9 hours ANC On/Off and two hours with a 5-minute fast charge for 60 minutes of use. We wore these for an 8-hour day at 50% volume, and the claims are spot on.
The case holds 14/21 hours (ANC on/off), a tad below the industry average.
CyberShack’s view – Sony LinkBuds S WF-LS900N have excellent sound heritage
Sony’s audio innovations
- 1979: World’s first portable music player, Walkman TPS-L2
- 1982: World’s first In-ear headphones, MDR-E252
- 1995: World’s first Consumer Noise Cancelling Headphones MDR-NC10/MDR-NC20
- 2008: World’s first Digital Noise Cancelling Headphones MDR-NC500D
- 2021: Next-generation Truly Wireless headphones WF-1000XM4
The Sony LinkBuds S WF-LS900N have subtle adaptive noise cancellation (not full-on like the WF-1000XM4), are very comfortable, and have a good sound signature with an EQ and a comprehensive App.
At the price, they meet or exceed all our tests and get an unreserved buy recommendation. Although so did the
- JBL Reflect Pro+ BT/ANC $269
- Jabra 85T (on run-out $299 and a top-drawer bargain)
- Jabra 75T (on run-out $249 and very similar adaptive NC)
- Sennheiser CX Plus ($259 and has aptX codecs)
- Bose QC (on run-out $299 and a top-drawer set)
- OPPO Enco Free 2 $199
Sony has the lead as slightly smaller and lighter, but it’s a tough choice.
Sony LinkBuds S WF-LS900N mid-range BT/ANC earphones$269
- Good AI-based adaptive noise cancellation
- Terrific sound
- Well-featured app
- Good fit and comfort
- Great value
- Nothing really at this price
- If you need full ANC to go for the WF-1000XM4
- Six-hour battery life is a little below average