Sony’s Pulse 3D wireless earbuds represent the company’s inaugural attempt at making audio hardware purpose-built for their PlayStation gaming systems. Launching on December 6th, 2022 at a price point of $199.99, the Pulse Explore earbuds aim to provide PlayStation gamers with an optimized audio experience through the use of planar magnetic drivers and Sony’s new PlayStation Link connectivity.
Right off the bat, the use of planar magnetic drivers sets the Pulse Explore buds apart from much of the competition in the wireless earbud space. These specialized drivers, rarely seen in earbuds due to size constraints but valued for their accuracy and dynamic range, lend gaming audio an exceptional level of detail and immersion according to Sony. PlayStation Link, meanwhile, facilitates an ultra-low latency wireless connection between the earbuds and PlayStation consoles for lag-free game sound and chat.
With these ambitious technologies providing the foundation, have Sony’s engineers successfully translated the company’s audio pedigree into a compelling PlayStation-tailored product? In this review, we will analyze the Pulse Explore’s design, features, connectivity protocols, audio reproduction, microphone quality, and overall usability across various gaming and media use cases.
Expectations are high given Sony’s reputation – can these wireless earbuds deliver a great handheld listening experience for PlayStation gamers, or do they come up short in effectively balancing gaming prowess and everyday practicality? By covering all aspects of the user experience, we will paint a clear picture of where these earbuds excel and where they need refinement. Ultimately, our evaluation will determine if the Pulse Explore earbuds warrant an investment from the PlayStation faithful seeking to upgrade their audio game.
Ergonomics and Construction: Form Over Function?
Upon first laying eyes on the Pulse Explore earbuds, some may find their design almost comically bulky compared to the current crop of diminutive wireless earbuds flooding the market. Make no mistake – these are substantial, chunky pieces of hardware. Viewed from the side, the elongated housings and external microphone boom arms give off almost a cyberpunk vibe that contrasts sharply with the rounded, pebble-like dimensions characteristic of alternatives like the Apple AirPods Pro.
Dominated by smooth flowing lines and an interplay between matte black housings and white exterior touches, the Pulse Explore buds arguably share some of the same avant-garde industrial design DNA as the PlayStation 5 console itself. Yet for all their standout aesthetics, there is no skirting around the fact that these are still among the largest wireless earbuds available right now. Those with smaller ears or ear canals may struggle to fit them comfortably for extended gaming sessions.
Out of the box, Sony includes four differently sized silicone ear tips to help accommodate a wide span of ear sizes. Swapping through each set, I was able to achieve a tight seal and relatively secure in-ear fit. However, the sheer thickness of the housings still exerted noticeable outward pressure on my ear canal openings over time. Smaller tips solved inner canal comfort at the expense of security – with their weight biased towards the exterior, the earbuds never felt fully locked in place and wanted to slowly slip out.
Beyond personal fit, the buttons are well-positioned for natural blind access. Either earbud sports separate protruding physical controls for volume and activating PlayStation Link mode. Gamers will appreciate the tactility of real buttons, especially for making quick audio adjustments mid-game without the need to navigate fussy touch surfaces. Each earbud also contains motion sensors for auto ear detection and an integrated LED for monitoring connectivity status.
While certainly distinctive in form factor, the Pulse Explore’s design comes up short in not adequately accounting for smaller-framed users. Their sheer size remains far outside the norm and could easily dissuade people from choosing them for everyday wearability reasons alone.
The charging case, while slickly presented, is equally oversized. Its curved white plastic shell mimics PlayStation 5 console lines, but when opened up, the inside somehow looks even deeper than you’d expect. There is a lot of unused vacant space around the earbud recesses. Portability takes a hit too – despite the ruggedized look, now you have a case that is wider and twice as thick as an AirPods Pro case to haul around. Not exactly pocket-friendly dimensions for something intended to be on-the-go gear.
On battery life, Sony rates the Pulse Explore buds at around 5 hours of continuous use per charge, with the case supplying two additional full top-ups. This comes across as rather dismal up against the 12-24 hours of listening time offered by rivals in the gaming and lifestyle earbud arena. Even Sony’s own InZone gaming buds boast double the longevity between charges – that’s a massive difference in staying power during gaming marathons.
One nicety not seen in competitors: the integrated LEDs on each earbud projecting low battery warnings in red when power is running low. But nonetheless, in an era of all-day wireless earbud battery life, needing to constantly worry about finding a charging break every few hours should not be the norm. There are understandable battery drawbacks from utilizing planar magnetic drivers in such a compact format, but the Pulse Explore are still severely hampered by limited runtimes compared to alternatives serving similar use cases.
Connectivity: Best of Both Worlds or Disjointed Experience?
PlayStation Link marks Sony’s first attempt at a proprietary lossless, low-latency wireless connection platform custom-built for gaming and media. By diminishing lag and preserving more acoustic detail compared to open wireless standards like Bluetooth LE, Link in theory banishes the connection-related gremlins that can undermine gaming immersion.
Implementation seems straightforward enough – users must first insert the bundled Link adaptor into any host device like a PS5 console or computer. The Pulse Explore earbuds will instantly pair when you press their Link buttons while seated in the charging case. During testing across PS5 and PC platforms, Link couplings happened reliably within 5-10 seconds following the quick setup routine described. No device-specific menus or options to contend with either.
In practice, Link works as advertised in delivering perfectly synced, detailed sound with nary a hint of delay. Performance held steady across tested games and media even with several obstructive walls in the signal path. However, being a proprietary platform, Link needs more third party adoption before it becomes a mainstream wireless standard. As of now external devices like the Portal media remote and Pulse 3D gaming headset remain the only other Link-ready products in market. So while it nails the functional promises on paper, PlayStation Link’s closed ecosystem drastically narrows overall product compatibility in its current state.
Fortunately, the Pulse Explore buds provide Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity as a flexibility counterbalance. Setup follows conventional Bluetooth pairing: manually put the earbuds in discoverable mode, scan and connect them from your device’s Bluetooth menu. Audio reproduction over AAC codec connection sounded clear, but I did notice subtle latency initially in console game menus until switching to wired USB Link. Bluetooth will be the best wireless solution for non-PlayStation hardware without Link support, handling music and video playback admirably even if not ideal for competitive, timing-sensitive gaming.
An unexpected surprise is the Pulse Explore’s ability to concurrently maintain Link and Bluetooth connections without any forced switching between sources. Several times I had console party chat audio over Link while taking mobile calls via Bluetooth without dropping either connection. This is a hugely beneficial advantage for not intruding on gaming just to take a quick call. Multipoint Bluetooth further extended versatility by allowing simultaneous pairing to a media device and smartphone.
Touch controls are basic yet functional, providing reliable in-ear tap and press gestures for call and audio management. Each earbud acts independently so controlling music playlists will take some relearning. Key omissions on the feature front start with the lack of a companion app – that leaves no avenue for applying audio EQ tuning profiles based on game genre or personal preference. Noise cancellation is also conspicuously absent; only a modest degree of passive isolation to rely on for blocking ambient distractions. Even basic comfort amenities like sidetone adjustment for hearing your voice on calls did not make the cut.
For $200 true wireless buds dressed up as premium gaming gear, skipping crucial features that competing headsets integrate as standard equipment seems questionable. Yes, the planar driver design presents acoustic advantages and Link/Bluetooth coexistence is clever. But the barren lack of customary earbud features or customization ultimately pigeonholes the Pulse Explore’s role far more than should be acceptable. Without the versatility of a proper companion app for refining the user experience, Sony shipped an overly barebones product given how diverse customer needs tend to be. Functionally capable yet lacking in refinement, these earbuds demand too many feature compromises for broad appeal.
Audio Reproduction: Gaming Greatness, Musical Mediocrity
Packing planar magnetic drivers into earbuds sized for everyday portability seems an engineering challenge ripe for compromises. Yet the Pulse Explore manage to stick the landing where it arguably matters most – serving up stellar audio for gaming applications. Across various PlayStation 5 titles like Spiderman Miles Morales, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, and Returnal, the Pulse Explore earbuds shone as an impressive platform for showcasing each game’s intensely kinetic soundscapes.
Planar drivers earned their vaunted reputation for ultra-accurate sound reproduction without excessive distortion or coloration. Translated to gaming duty, the Pulse Explore buds conveyed subtle audio details with sparkling clarity. Mids and highs sounded open and airy, lending realistic presence to spatial effects like weapon discharges and environmental cues that tightly enveloped my senses. Even hectic friezes of combat felt properly organized. Bass delivery paired impactful yet responsive low-end thump in harmony with crisp treble elements. Everything coalesced into a lively and convincing sense of atmosphere that amplified gaming immersion considerably over average bundled earbuds.
Directional 3D audio performance can only be described as spectacular. Nuanced imaging grounded positional cues precisely where intended relative to my virtual in-game position, fully leveraging PlayStation 5 hardware acceleration. Whether reacting to flickers of dialogue or staying primed for enemy movements off-screen, the Pulse Explore’s stellar directionality and detail separation genuinely enhanced spatial awareness to gain tactical advantage. The planar driver difference manifests most prominently here – their transient response and low distortion translates to better picking up subtle location tells.
Sadly, shift focus towards musical enjoyment and the shine wears off rapidly. Aggressive V-shaped tuning smothers mids while sapping much textural nuance from vocals and instruments. Listening to familiar test tracks spanning rock, pop, jazz, and classical genres, the Pulse Explore excessively accentuated treble and bass extremes at the expense of midrange coherence. This created a doppler-like effect of distant, hollowed-out instrumentation flanked by booming lows and raspy spike highs.
Certainly this tuning focus brings out percussive punch for gaming sound effects. Yet for music, the missing midrange warmth significantly detracts from tonal accuracy. Audiophiles seeking a Hi-Res wireless listening conduit will be far better served by Sony’s own WF-1000XM4. Planar powered the Pulse Explore excel brilliantly on the PlayStation soundstage, but remain a lackluster portable playback vessel mismatched to most musical content outside slickly produced modern pop.
Communication performance drew mixed reactions. Noise rejection works admirably well at suppressing background chatter and ambient noise before it reaches call recipients. Multiple test callers came away impressed by how my voice isolated clearly amidst purposefully introduced commotions. However, they also routinely noted thinner, more sterile vocal reproduction compared to other wireless earbuds. Speech conveys clearly and cleanly without background interference, yet lacks the richer presence and depth afforded by noise cancellation. A tradeoff that emphasizes understanding of voices without fully capturing their natural tonal qualities.
The Alternatives: Viable Options Exist
Considering their positioning as PlayStation-tailored audio gear, the Pulse Explore earbuds seem destined for inevitable comparisons against Sony’s own InZone Gaming buds. As siblings within the PlayStation ecosystem, both check the boxes for low latency performance, PlayStation 5 plug-and-play compatibility, 360 spatial audio support, and dedicated gaming audio modes. Yet the InZone offer significant advantages in battery life, headphone app customization, and a more discreet fit for smaller ears. They also beat the Pulse Explore to market by several months as Sony’s inaugural mobile gaming audio product.
The tradeoffs come down to the Pulse Explore buds championing newer PlayStation Link wireless technology and planar driver sound at the cost of noise cancellation and lengthier runtimes per charge. Those willing to forgo some features in favor of next generation connectivity and premium gaming audio reproduction may deem the Pulse Explore a worthy value. But more pragmatically minded gamers needing versatility and flexibility have an excellent option already here.
Beyond Sony’s ecosystem, the gaming audio landscape continues expanding at a fiery clip. Earbuds like the Razer Hammerhead True Wireless Pro hit a strong middle ground in balancing gaming prowess with lifestyle sensibilities like active noise cancellation. Nari Ultimate earbuds also garner favor with their haptic feedback and software configurability. While the Pulse Explore buds earn their keep for PlayStation fidelity first and foremost, their barebones approach leaves avenues open for alternatives boasting broader appeal. Sony aimed closer to specialty than generalist; other products make fewer audio compromises seeking hybrid usefulness across gaming, communications, and media duties.
Closing Thoughts: Sound Quality Comes at a Cost
With the Pulse 3D Wireless earbuds, Sony set out to build speciality audio hardware particularly suited for PlayStation gaming over anything else. In many respects they achieved that purpose exceptionally well – gaming often felt palpably more dynamic and engrossing through the marvelous planar magnetic drivers inside these earbuds. Persnickety audiophiles obsessed with hearing game soundtracks and effects reproduced just as developers intended need look no further. Yet this laser focus on maximizing raw sound quality in a gaming scenario involves necessary tradeoffs.
The outsized housings clearly took comfort concessions to squeeze in advanced planar components. Their huge charging case hints at what must be minuscule internal battery capacity relative to appearance. Extras like noise cancellation and other features expected of modern lifestyle earbuds got omitted from the build. What we are left with excels brilliantly for PlayStation gaming but proves significantly less versatile general usage compared to rivals – even ones priced similarly.
Make no mistake – these sound spectacular with console game audio. Dazzling highs, hard-hitting lows, and exceptional detail separation combine for sublime 3D imaging that amplifies gaming immersion tremendously. And if that enthralling experience is your highest priority then few competitors can compete with the fidelity produced here. PlayStation Link lag-free wireless tech keeps that pristine quality firing reliably across channels.
Yet away from a DualSense controller, the Pulse Explore rapidly lose appeal. Harsh, scooped out mids flatten much musical excitement while unbalanced bass overwhelms genres that demand more subtlety. Five hour battery life between charges also feels woefully archaic for any modern wireless earbuds. Forget about blocking external noise either when sporadic distractions can shatter the spell – there will be no zen isolation zone to escape to with these buds.
Priced at a premium $200, the Pulse Explore ultimately exemplify specialized pro gear – they do one thing extremely well but buckle as an adaptable daily workhorse. Only hardcore multiplayer PlayStation gamers yearning for ultimate acoustic advantage need apply. More well-rounded audio brands address wider demands under tighter budget constraints. Even Sony’s own WF-1000XM4 outclasses these new gaming earbuds sonically beyond just consoles while costing less.
So for most buyers, better all-purpose values can be found unless uncompromised PlayStation gaming audio eclipses all other needs. The Pulse Explore earbuds nail their core mission without question. Yet an excessively single-minded pursuit of quality audio for gaming alone struggles to justify significant functional sacrifices versus more versatile market options. Think carefully about your expectations before committing.
PlayStation Pulse Explore Wireless Earbuds
Sony's Pulse 3D Wireless earbuds ultimately exemplify a niche product that accomplishes its intended purpose brilliantly but buckles under more versatile everyday usage. Their gaming audio fidelity awes while music and battery life disappoint. A 5/10 reflects focused specialization over flexible functionality. These buds sell acoustic excellence for PlayStation above all else - and only that specific audience should buy in.
- Superb audio quality for PlayStation games - excellent detail, directionality, and immersive 3D spatial sound
- Lag-free wireless performance thanks to proprietary PlayStation Link connection
- Multipoint Bluetooth allows simultaneous connections to multiple devices
- Distinctive, avant-garde aesthetics fitting PlayStation branding
- Tactile physical controls for volume and activating gaming mode
- Bulky design with overly large earbud housings and charging case
- Comfort and fit issues, especially for smaller ears
- Very limited battery life (just 5 hours per charge)
- Lack of active noise cancellation, transparency, or sidetone features
- No companion app or EQ customization options
- Aggressive tuning makes music playback unbalanced and unsatisfying
- Underwhelming microphone quality for natural vocal reproduction
- Expensive given missing features compared to rivals