Sony links noise cancellation, AR sound in LinkBuds S

Sony’s open style of listening was only recently introduced, and it’s already seeing an upgraded take in the form of augmented reality audio.

We’ve seen audio take some different turns in recent years, and head tracking is one of the reasons why.

You can hear it with spatial audio on Apple Music for iPhone and iPad, provided you have a specific pair, either the AirPods 3, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, or the Apple-owned Beats Fit Pro.

But while Apple can seem like it has the monopoly on positional audio that tracks your head, this has popped up before from Bose’s Frames, and it seems to be popping up again in a different way. This week, there’s another pair that offers head tracking, as Sony updates its only recently announced LinkBuds model with a dose of tracking for the LinkBuds S. Kinda.

Sporting a similar style but not the open ring shaped design of their sibling, Sony’s latest earphones are built for someone looking for a lighter and more comfortable fit of noise canceling earphones, a grade of truly wireless that is normally a little heavier.

Unlike the ring shaped donut driver we saw in the original LinkBuds (that really only just came out), the LinkBuds S are built to be more of a closed experience, and use some of the tech from the premium WF-1000XM4 noise cancelling earphones. They’re not the same, but the V1 chip is there, as is support for both LDAC and Sony’s Digital Sound Enhancement Engine “DSEE Extreme” for audio upscaling.

The focus here is primarily on light earphones that can cancel the world, but also adapt to it, using a form of volume control and sound tweaking to bring in audio as you walk around, apparently switching between noise cancellation and a hear-thru ambient mode automatically.

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Interestingly, Sony is also pairing the LinkBuds S with a variation on spatial audio, but it might not be what you’re expecting.

While Apple tracks position in its earphones and headphones for use in movies, and of course addition of Atmos music playback on iOS, Sony will apparently be incorporating an augmented reality (AR) layer with the LinkBuds S. However, it doesn’t appear to be quite the same, using an AR app on a phone rather than positional tracking in the earphones themselves.

Niantic, the makers of AR game Ingress will apparently be using the earphones as a form of audio AR, and given that game is based on moving your phone around, may end up tracking audio position from the phone, rather than the earphones themselves. That means the LinkBuds S are probably less like Apple’s head tracking in their approach or even like what Bose tried, and more just an extra thrown in. So what is the point here?

Much like how the LinkBuds were designed to be a comfy pair that could let you listen to music and everything else, the LinkBuds S appears built to let you focus on music and navigate between everything else you do — work, walking, life and so on. They’ll also sport what Sony says is all day battery life, hitting 6 hours with an extra 14 in the case, covering roughly two charges.

Priced at $349.95 in Australia, the LinkBuds S are a touch more wallet-friendly than Sony’s other noise canceling earphones, but are also quite close to Sennheiser’s recent best in class, the $399 Momentum True Wireless 3, not to mention the $399 Apple AirPods Pro.

Given the price and focus on lightweight design, we suspect Apple’s AirPods are the target here, but with availability set for Australians in late June, you’ll be able to find out whether they’re worthwhile very soon.

Leigh :) Stark

One of Australia's well regarded technology journalists working out of Sydney, Leigh Stark has been writing about technology for over 15 years, covering phones, computers, cameras, headphones, speakers, and more. Stylising his middle initial with an emoticon, he aims to present tech in a way that makes it easy for everyone. While he founded Pickr in 2016, Stark's work can be seen in other publications including The Australian Financial Review, Popular Science, and many more. His award-winning podcast "The Wrap" is syndicated on Southern Cross Austereo's LiSTNR network weekly, while he can be heard on radio via ABC Brisbane and ABC Canberra, and seen on TV's Nine. Check out Leigh Stark's most recent media appearances.

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