Is the Sony LinkBuds S x Olivia Rodrigo collab worth your money?
14 mins read

Is the Sony LinkBuds S x Olivia Rodrigo collab worth your money?


Full disclosure: I am not an Olivia Rodrigo die-hard fan by any means. I probably know three of her songs (great songs, admittedly) and have no interest in knowing any more. Still, I was excited when Sony dropped the LinkBuds S x Olivia Rodrigo wireless earbuds back in September.

From a tech standpoint, I found it thrilling that the buds are supposedly designed by Olivia — with two custom EQs tuned by her and producer Dan Nigro for optimal listening to the GUTS and SOUR albums. Key word: Supposedly, as, upon testing, it wasn’t particularly obvious how these LinkBuds S differ in the sound they provide from Sony’s regular LinkBuds S (which have the same list price as Olivia’s spiced-up version but are often seen on sale for up to $50 off).

By now, you probably think I have something against either Sony or the 20-year-old pop star extraordinaire who first took the world by storm with her heart-shattering, tear-jerking “driver’s license.” None! Of! That! As I said before, though I wasn’t even close to being in Olivia’s top 0.5% of Spotify listeners this year, I respect the girl and like some of her music. I also found a lot to like in her LinkBuds S collab with Sony — including noise cancellation great for loud city streets or travel, a feature-packed compatible Sony app, and sound that felt like it was truly all-encompassing (which is always a win when it comes to compact earbuds).

The Olivia Rodrigo LinkBuds S resting in their case while placed on a mesh placemat

These lil’ buds weigh just 35 grams.
Credit: Stacia Datskovska / Mashable

If you’re interested in all of these perks and want pretty, violet-colored earbuds that differ from Sony’s regular black/white/blue offerings in color if not functionality, you might want to add these babies to cart. Before you commit, though, here’s everything I found right (and wrong) with them.

Active noise cancellation pops off and sound leaking is kept to a minimum

I first put the LinkBuds in my ears when taking a bus ride from NYC to Virginia, which was a good choice: I immediately noticed just how much background “din” the buds instantly eliminate when turned on. To play around with their noise cancellation, I kept tapping the feature on and off with a single press of the sensor located splat in the middle of the left earbud. When the option is disabled, the buds allow more ambient sound to pass through (you can actually regulate these levels from one to 20 on the app) — which sounds like all the little natural noises around you that you’re already familiar with, but disconcertingly precise.

I felt trippy using this ambient mode, so I stayed away most of the time in favor of good ol’ noise cancellation, which truly made me feel like I was insulated in a vacuum (even while I was riding the loud bus or walking through the notoriously hectic NYC). BTW, Sony offers an added layer of its own take on “transparency mode” by allowing you to choose the option of “voice passthrough,” which suppresses most background noise save for voices. I haven’t encountered this feature in any of my prior headphones or earbuds testing at Mashable, so I was undoubtedly impressed.

Both when playing songs that had a heavy bass undertone to them (read: Megan Thee Stallion’s “Cobra (Rock Remix)”) and songs that were of higher pitch (any Taylor Swift bop will do), the LinkBuds did an amazing job of replicating the full frequency range of the sound as well as providing that immersive, surround-sound feel which distinguishes mediocre headphones from truly awesome ones.

The author's dog curiously sniffing at the LinkBuds S she holds up in her hand

My dog, Umka, thought the buds were cute enough to eat.
Credit: Stacia Datskovska / Mashable

On the note of sound, one thing I always worry about is if strangers can hear me in a public space when I blast my music at levels which make even Apple concerned for my ear health. This is better known as the phenomenon of sound leaking, which budget headphones are more likely to succumb to than pricier versions. Compared to the AirPods Pro, the LinkBuds S can be considered in the “budget” category; so, imagine my delight when I tested out how much sound leaked from them by taking them out of my ears while the music kept playing and found out the answer — barely any.

In other words, if you love your music loud but don’t want it to bother anyone else, you’ll adore what the LinkBuds offer in that department.

Visually, earbuds can be improved upon

When I unboxed my new Olivia Rodrigo earbuds, I first marveled at how damn cute their color was (that violet marble pattern is definitely attractive to the eye), how pleasant to the touch they were, and how easy it was to get them ready for use. All the box came with was the buds in their case, three additional ear tip size options, a charging cord, and a user manual. That’s it — no BS, no nonsense.

When I plopped them in my ears, though, I had to laugh. They were quite awkward and (there’s no way around this) looked like hearing aids. As someone who’s used to the sleek and ubiquitous design of simple white AirPods, I wouldn’t say I was too pleased with the change. Then again, functionality > looks any day.

Throughout my weeks of testing the buds, I ran with them, cycled with them, stretched with them, and walked with them — trying to gauge just how secure of a fit they provided for vigorous exercise. Rest assured: These earbuds can accommodate even the most impassioned of head bops and dance parties. No wonder Olivia Rodrigo got behind them: She’s practically begging you to have a solo dance sesh to the entire GUTS album in your new LinkBuds.

Sony seems to compensate for this product’s resemblance to hearing aids by treating users to some cool features like the ability to analyze your ear shape and subsequently calibrate 360-degree audio functionality. To do this, you first have to take a photo of your ears (Sony guarantees that the pics are destroyed after 30 days, thank God), after which it analyzes your ears in a very mysterious way and allows you to send the results to select Sony-compatible streaming apps. If you are an active user of TIDAL, PeerTracks, something called nugs.net, or Artist Connection, you’ll love this feature. Sadly, for the 99.99 percent of the world population (a guesstimate) that chooses to use Spotify or Apple Music, the ear analysis proves redundant.

Screenshot of Sony's in-app ear analysis feature taking a photo of the author's ears

The ear analysis feature made me LOL.
Credit: Stacia Datskovska / Mashable

Author Stacia Datskovska wearing the LinkBuds S from Sony in one ear in a selfie

The violet color and marbled pattern on the buds is hella cute, though.
Credit: Stacia Datskovska / Mashable

Some features are undercooked and laggy

I was excited to find out that you can use these earbuds with voice assistant — simply by prompting Siri to play something or, instead, pairing your LinkBuds to Amazon Alexa. You need to have the Alexa app downloaded and the account active for that, but, even then, the feature isn’t perfect. I tested it out by having my earbuds in and saying “Alexa, play music.” Alexa responded both in my ears and on my nearby Echo (4th Gen), playing different personalized music stations from both outputs. Chaos ensued. I decided to never, ever voice control the LinkBuds through Alexa again. Alas.

Whenever you do change voice control “input” options, the LinkBuds disconnect from Bluetooth and require manual reconnection. In fact, this seems to be their fatal flaw — they often unpaired from my Sony app, which wasn’t very intuitive of them, and reconnection was oftentimes laggy.

Again, as if to make up for these shortcomings, Sony delivered when it came to allowing users to personalize Quick Access tap settings. In other words, you can tell the buds what to do when you tap them twice in quick succession or three times. I chose to signal to Sony that a double tap would mean opening Spotify and playing a recommended tune. It surprised me with “Feeling Whitney” by Post Malone — a throwback that brought on some much-needed high school nostalgia.

Screenshot of an in-app screen that shows the LinkBuds S not connecting

“Cannot connect” was an ominous and frequent phrase on the Sony Headphones app.
Credit: Stacia Datskovska / Mashable

With Adaptive Sound Control, you’ll feel like you’re living in the future

Probably my favorite feature of the Sony LinkBuds S was Adaptive Sound Control, which claims to “detect your actions and automatically switch how ambient sound is filtered in.” Remember when I mentioned that a single tap of the left bud can switch from ANC to “ambient mode”? Yeah, this is one-upping all of that. You can go as far as registering personalized locations you frequent based on exact GPS coordinates and triggering a specific audio balance calibration whenever the buds detect that you’re in that location.

The detected action options include A) staying, B) walking, C) running, and D) riding a vehicle. While switching back and forth from one to another, I noticed clear differences in audio filtering. “Running mode,” for instance, filters in wayyy more ambient sound than “vehicle mode” (which is great for any runner’s safety!). Once, I was cycling on a stationary bike and the LinkBuds recognized my activity as walking. Maybe I should’ve pedaled faster?

Screenshot of an in-app screen depicting the "Riding a Vehicle" Adaptive Sound Control option

“Riding a vehicle” Adaptive Sound Control option.
Credit: Stacia Datskovska / Mashable

Olivia Rodrigo-specific EQ settings aren’t all that

The whole premise of these buds is that they come with two never-before-seen EQ settings: Tailor-made by Olivia Rodrigo and producer Dan Nigro. One setting is strictly for listening to her GUTS album, and one is crafted for the earlier SOUR tracks. I demoed each by playing “lacy” and “deja vu,” respectively, and let me tell you — the super special EQs made no difference compared to the control group of my experiment (AKA, songs played without messing with sound equalization).

Sony advertises these particular LinkBuds S as a purchase that will allow you to “listen like Olivia,” but, TBH, I didn’t have this experience at all (plus, my prediction is that Olivia has on a pair of classic wired Apple EarPods right about now and is not, in fact, using LinkBuds S). Such is the nature of celebrity product endorsements.

Screenshot of the custom GUTS EQ setting on the Sony app, programmed by Olivia Rodrigo and her producer

The “GUTS” EQ setting, programmed by Olivia herself, wasn’t life-altering.
Credit: Stacia Datskovska / Mashable

Battery life is just OK, but charging case packs a punch

I tested the earbuds’ battery life by playing music on a loop through them after charging them up to 100 percent in both left and right buds, then seeing how many hours it took for the buds to run out of juice. The results? About 5.5 hours with ANC on and about seven hours with it off. Sony specifies that battery life for continuous music playback on these babies is a maximum of six hours (ANC on) and a maximum of nine hours (ANC off). The LinkBuds’ case also provides 14 extra hours of charge — making it easy to quickly power them up without connecting to power via USB. Also, just five minutes of such USB charging boosts the buds’ battery power by a whole hour (I can verify this statement).

For reference, comparable earbuds that I tested in a previous review — the Soundcore by Anker Liberty 4 NC wireless noise-canceling earbuds — lasted for 32 hours with ANC and 40 hours without ANC. Yeah, the difference is pretty stark.

The TL;DR to all of this: If you’re someone who regularly forgets to charge their technology, the LinkBuds S might not be the safest option for ensuring you have access to a steady input of music, podcasts, and anything else you listen to throughout the day. However, if you methodically connect everything in your household to an outlet at the end of each day, you won’t be mad about that 5.5-hour-with-ANC-on runtime — especially if you always put the buds back in their case after use.

The Olivia Rodrigo LinkBuds laying next to a purple scrunchie, rings, keys, and a notebook

Olivia apparently loves the purple aesthetic, so I hope you’re on board with that.
Credit: Sony

Are the LinkBuds S x Olivia Rodrigo earbuds worth it?

It’s tempting to snatch up a celebrity headphones collab when it hits the scene, but such products always (clearly) need to be taken with a grain of salt. I’d have been way more impressed by the LinkBuds S x Olivia Rodrigo wireless earbuds if they were significantly distinct from the normal LinkBuds S (beyond just their quirky color, two fresh EQ options, and a pic of Olivia wearing them on the product’s page). That wasn’t the case at all, so unless you think that in 20 years’ time you’d be able to resell them on eBay for a fat profit, these LinkBuds don’t really fall in the “absolute need” category.

That being said, if your favorite color is violet and you’ve been dying to grab hold of the LinkBuds S before this whole star-studded collab even came about, I say go for it. Olivia Rodrigo would (be contractually obligated to) approve.





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