Sony’s first pair of truly wireless earbuds designed for the PlayStation 5 will hit shelves early next month, and I’ve been testing them out for the past couple of days. The $199.99 Pulse Explore earbuds deliver lossless, ultra-low latency audio while using the company’s new PlayStation Link wireless protocol. Most devices like PS5, PC or Mac require plugging in a USB dongle. But Sony has added support for PlayStation Link directly to its new PlayStation Portal handheld streaming gadget.
The Pulse Explore buds support plain old Bluetooth, and in a more convenient twist, you can listen to audio simultaneously via PS connectivity and Bluetooth. Hence, taking long-distance phone calls or listening to music on your phone is effortless Spider-Man 2 session.
Sony has graced the Pulse Explore buds Planar magnetic actuators, which is much less common than the dynamic drivers found in most earbuds. That’s no surprise: Audeze, the headphone maker that Sony bought earlier this year, specializes in planar magnetic driver technology. As for these earbuds, Sony says the Pulse Explorer can “reproduce soundscapes with extremely low distortion, delivering great detail and deep, clear bass so you can hear exactly what game developers intended.”
In my relatively brief experience with these buds, clarity and separation are the biggest strengths I’ve noticed. Even in moments of chaotic action, it’s easy to distinguish small details and individual sound effects RoboCop: Rogue CityAnd the Pulse Explore earbuds did a fantastic job of making me feel like I was smacked in the middle. Alan Wake 2A strange world. Sony’s 3D audio technology is well-specified, giving gaming environments a true sense of depth and immersion. If you ever use these for music, it’s a mixed bag, as the tuning used here is light on deep bass for any purpose beyond gaming. These won’t replace Sony’s 1000XM5 in anyone’s bag.
The first earbuds from the PlayStation segment definitely give off a unique vibe while doing those things. Each earbud has a similar design with a volume rocker on one side and a PlayStation Link button on the other. They’re not what I’d describe as tiny, but Sony includes four total silicone ear tips in the box. The Pulse Explore buds fit my large ears without a problem and were surprisingly comfortable despite their bulky dimensions.
The location of the volume rocker took some getting used to, but I got there after a few hours of play. It’s worth noting that the physical volume control only adjusts your games / PS Link audio and has no effect on a Bluetooth device if connected at the same time.
At an asking price of $200, it’s surprising that Sony doesn’t include any sort of active noise cancellation. The company is just advertising noise rejection The two built-in microphones are said to use AI to reduce ambient noise around you during multiplayer rounds.
Battery life is rated at five hours of continuous playback, with an additional 10 hours from the slide-door charging case. This is less than the recently announced InZone gaming earbuds from Sony ElectronicsBut you don’t have two sources at once for the convenience you get from the Pulse Explore.
Sony says the Pulse Explore earbuds are compatible with PS5, PC, Mac, and mobile hardware, but it doesn’t mention the Nintendo Switch. I was curious, and it turns out, they work pretty flawlessly. I plugged in a PlayStation Link dongle with a USB-C adapter and the Switch instantly switched to USB audio. As with the PS5, there’s no lag to speak of, and detailed sound really comes through from the Pulse Explore buds. Super Mario Bros. Wonder. I believe you can plug the dongle into the switch dock when you are at home. (You can also connect to the Switch via standard Bluetooth, but that will introduce more latency.)
I’ll spend more time with the first PlayStation Wireless Earbuds and make a final verdict closer to their release, but so far, I’m impressed with their rich gaming audio and how the PlayStation Link works across platforms. There are plenty of gaming headphones to choose from these days, but if you’re looking for a smaller, lighter form factor with native PlayStation 5 integration, the Pulse Explore is worth a look.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge