With the WF-1000XM5 wireless earbuds available, Sony’s true wireless line-up has a range of options from budget to premium prices. How do they fare when pitted against Sony’s own LinkBuds S?
The WF-1000XM5 are aimed at the audiophile listener, while the LinkBuds S target the more casual, lifestyle user. Both are true wireless buds that we rated highly, with the LinkBuds S scoring 4.5 stars while the WF-1000XM5 awarded the full five.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that the WF-1000XM5 are the earbuds to get. Which out of the WF-1000XM5 and LinkBuds S is the best option for you?
The WF-1000XM5 go on sale August 2023 with an RRP of £259 / $299 / €320. That puts them in premium bracket as far as prices for true wireless earbuds go.
The LinkBuds S went on sale in 2022 for £180 / $199 / €200 / CA$299 / AU$268. That’s already more affordable than the WF-1000XM5 but the LinkBuds have been on sale for longer, and have fallen further in price since. In the UK they’re available for £129.
In terms of design philosophy, the LinkBuds S and WF-1000XM5 share plenty in common. In fact, you could say that the LinkBuds S offered many clues as to the direction Sony was heading in for their premium true wireless.
They’re both compact in size, lightweight (4.8g for the LinkBuds S, 5.9g for the WF-1000XM5), and nestle securely into the ear. The range of ear-tips packaged with both buds is the same (extra small to large), so there should be a size that fits everyone’s ears. Both are comfortable to wear over long periods.
Both utilise touch controls that cover the usual functions though the WF-1000XM5 include onboard volume control whereas that’s only available on the LinkBuds S if the controls are customised in the Headphones Connect app. That does mean you’ll have to sacrifice another aspect of control (playback) to have it, which is not ideal.
The charging cases for both are similar in size (i.e. small), and both buds are rated to IPX4 to protect against splashes of water and sweat. the LinkBuds S come in more colours with Earth Blue and Ecru joining the usual black and white version. It’s not the most colourful line-up but at least it’s different.
With little to separate them, the WF-1000XM5 gets the win mainly due to the fact that it includes volume control from the get-go. For us (and perhaps for you) that’s more convenient than having to enable them through the app.
By-and-large, the feature set for these two earbuds covers the same ground. They share support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice control: Bluetooth multipoint for connecting to two devices at once, 360 Reality Audio support, as well as customisation of the audio EQ, wireless connection, noise-cancellation, and controls. There’s smart features too, such as Spotify Tap and Auto Play (you can receive important notifications without touching your phone).
Speak-to-Chat (where music pauses as you’re speaking) is available on both, as is the Find Your Equalizer feature (that’s currently in Beta). The DSEE Extreme upscales compressed to higher quality on both buds and in terms of Bluetooth support, both cover SBC, AAC, and LDAC. The wireless performance is around the same on both in terms of stability in busy areas, which is to say mostly good with a few jittery moments here and there.
Battery life is better on the WF-1000XM5 with eight hours compared to the LinkBuds S’ six. The premium true wireless also edge matters in overall battery life with ANC on, offering 24 hours compared to 22.5 from the LinkBuds S. If you want to top up the battery there’s fast-charging available, although only the WF-1000XM5 supports wireless charging.
Where noise-cancelling is concerned the WF-1000XM5 is the more powerful of the two. The LinkBuds S don’t reach the same level of silence as the XM5 can but they’re strong enough to reliably minimise the noise of traffic, large groups of people and heavily reduce ambient sounds. The WF-1000XM5 are a big step up for those that want one of the best noise-cancelling experiences currently available.
Call quality we found to be better on the WF-1000XM5. The LinkBuds S tends to be more greatly affected by sounds going past, whereas the XM5 only leak noise when we were speaking. Both could benefit from improvements in this area though.
The LinkBuds S sound closer in tone to the WF-1000XM4: more of an emphasis on a richer midrange presentation, but still clear and detailed, describing voices and instruments in a slightly warm but expressive manner.
Along with its new Dynamic Driver X, the WF-1000XM5’s tuning puts in a more balanced performance. They’re not as rich or warm in tone, with more clarity across the frequency range and a clearer, better defined performance in the high frequencies too.
The WF-1000XM5 are the superior of the two: sharper, clearer, more dynamic, along with offering better definition and detail. We don’t think you’ll find a better-sounding true wireless available at this moment in time.
The Sony WF-1000XM5 are the better-performing true wireless pair of the two. They are outstanding in almost every category while the LinkBuds S are very good.
Price will play a factor in this decision as well, given the LinkBuds S are half the price of the WF-1000XM5. If you want one of the best true wireless earbuds on the market (and can afford them), the WF-1000XM5 are the superior choice. If you’re budget is less, the LinkBuds S are a fine substitute with many of the same attributes that can be found in the premium pair.