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Sony’s Pulse Explore earbuds deliver immersive audio and one very useful trick

Sony’s first pair of true wireless earbuds designed for the PlayStation 5 will arrive on shelves early next month, and I’ve been testing them out over the last couple of days. The $199.99 Pulse Explore earbuds offer lossless, ultra-low-latency audio when using the company’s new PlayStation Link wireless protocol. With most devices such as a PS5, PC, or Mac, that’ll require plugging in the included USB dongle. But Sony has baked support for PlayStation Link directly into its new PlayStation Portal handheld streaming gadget.

The Pulse Explore buds also support plain old Bluetooth, and in a super convenient twist, you can listen to audio over PS Link and Bluetooth simultaneously. So it’s effortless to take phone calls or listen to music on your phone in the middle of a long Spider-Man 2 session.

Sony has outfitted the Pulse Explore buds with planar magnetic drivers, which are far less common than the dynamic drivers found in the vast majority of earbuds. It’s not terribly surprising to see: Audeze, the headphone maker that Sony acquired earlier this year, specializes in planar magnetic driver technology. In the case of these earbuds, Sony says the Pulse Explore can “reproduce soundscapes with ultra-low distortion to deliver rich details and deep clear bass so you can hear exactly what the game developers intended.”

A photo of Sony’s Pulse Explore wireless earbuds.

And in my relatively brief experience with these buds so far, clarity and separation are easily the biggest strengths I’ve noticed. It’s easy to distinguish small details and individual sound effects, even during moments of chaotic action in RoboCop: Rogue City, and the Pulse Explore earbuds did a fantastic job of making me feel like I was smack dab right in the middle of Alan Wake 2’s eery world. Sony’s 3D audio tech is well represented, giving gaming environments a real feeling of depth and immersion. If you occasionally use these for music, that’s more of a mixed bag, as the tuning used here can be light on deep bass for any purposes beyond gaming. These won’t replace Sony’s 1000XM5 in anyone’s bag.

A photo of Sony’s Pulse Explore wireless earbuds.

A photo of Sony’s Pulse Explore wireless earbuds.

And the PlayStation division’s first earbuds certainly give off a unique vibe while doing all of those things. Each earbud has an identical design with a volume rocker on one side and PlayStation Link button on the other. They are not at all what I’d describe as small, but Sony includes four total sets of silicone ear tips in the box to cover a wide range of ear sizes. The Pulse Explore buds fit into my large ears without any issue and proved surprisingly comfortable despite their chunky dimensions.

The location of the volume rocker took some getting used to, but I got there after a few hours of gameplay. 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 you’ve got one connected at the same time.

A photo of Sony’s Pulse Explore wireless earbuds.

For the $200 asking price, it’s surprising that Sony isn’t including any kind of active noise cancellation. The company is only advertising noise rejection for the two built-in microphones, which are claimed to use AI to weed out 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. That’s less than the recently announced InZone gaming earbuds from Sony Electronics, but those lack the two sources at once convenience that you get from the Pulse Explore.

A photo of Sony’s Pulse Explore wireless earbuds.

Sony says the Pulse Explore earbuds are compatible with PS5, PC, Mac, and mobile hardware, but it doesn’t mention anything about the Nintendo Switch. I was curious, and it turns out, they work pretty much flawlessly. I plugged in the PlayStation Link dongle with a USB-C adapter, and the Switch immediately switched over to USB audio. Just like on a PS5, there was no latency to speak of, and the detailed sound from the Pulse Explore buds really came through during Super Mario Bros. Wonder. I’m sure you could just plug the dongle into the Switch dock when at home as well. (You can also pair the Switch via standard Bluetooth, but that would introduce more latency.)

I’ll be spending more time with the first PlayStation wireless earbuds before landing on a final judgment closer to their release, but so far, I’m impressed by their rich gaming audio and how reliable PlayStation Link works across different platforms. There’s a whole sea of gaming headphones to choose between nowadays, but if you’re looking for a smaller, lighter form factor with native PlayStation 5 integration, the Pulse Explore are worth a look.

Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge