PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds review: perfect for PS5, peerless for PlayStation Portal

 PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds on a wooden surface with a white brick background.
Credit: Future/Rob Dwiar

PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds: Two-minute review

The PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds are excellent gaming earbuds that are easy to recommend. If you’re on PlayStation 5, PlayStation Portal, or PC you won’t find better-sounding earbuds.

The sound quality is simply superb. I’ve never heard such clear, detailed, rich, and high-quality audio from a pair of earbuds in all my years of testing them. The first-class audio is supported by a robust mic that came in clear through party chat; a solid design and build; splendid connectivity between the buds, PS5, and PlayStation Portal handheld; and a sturdy charging case that offers fast charging. The result is a robust portable package.

It’s not all good news, though. The lack of active noise-cancelling, the just-okay battery life, and the fact that you’ll likely need some third-party foam tips to get the best comfort and sound out of the Pulse Explore will irk some. We wish they were a little cheaper too.

If you can look beyond those shortcomings, you’ll get some of the best gaming earbuds for PS5 and PlayStation Portal on the market and some of the best audio we’ve ever heard from gaming earbuds in general.

PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds on a wooden surface with a white brick background
PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds on a wooden surface with a white brick background

PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds: Price and availability

  • List price of $199.99 / £199.99 / AU$249

  • Premium pricing…

  • …but discounts and price drops are becoming common

The PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds launched in December 2023, a few weeks after the PlayStation Portal remote-play device came out. There were some wobbly stock levels at launch, but now the buds are widely available at all major retailers and from Sony itself.

They're expensive for gaming earbuds, sitting right at the top of the premium band of pricing. However, since their launch, we’ve seen them go for under the list price, particularly in the UK, so it's worth keeping an eye out for price cuts and sales events.

That lofty list price pitches them against some other big-hitters of the gaming earbud market, namely Sony’s own Inzone Buds. Coming in at an almost identical price ($198 / £179 / AU$249), the Inzone Buds have a few key differences despite also offering Sony’s audio prowess.

They’re also more expensive than the JBL Quantum TWS, and way pricier than some of our favorite wired buds like the SteelSeries Tusq.

PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds: Specs

PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds on a wooden surface with a white brick background
PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds on a wooden surface with a white brick background

PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds: Design and features

  • Distinct form factor, comfy fit

  • PS5-inspired design language

  • Battery life is middling

The design of the Pulse Explore earbuds is very in keeping with the PlayStation 5 console and suite of accessories. There are sweeping (as much as there can be on small buds) curves of white plastic across the earbuds and charging case, which makes them look at home next to the console and the PlayStation Portal. The inner parts of the buds and the tips are black, punctuated by metallic charging points.

The charging case also has that aesthetic and shares the buds’ top-notch build quality. It’s got a neat LED light on the front, and while it’s chunky to the point of not being quite pocket-friendly, I've been able to fit it inside two different PlayStation Portal cases. One more so than another, admittedly, but keeping the buds and Portal together in one carry case is eminently doable.

Onboard the Pulse Explore buds, there are just two buttons: one volume rocker button, and one PlayStation Link button. The former is a simple, single-function affair with one exception: you can’t use it to change volume when connected via Bluetooth. This is a slight annoyance and seems like something that’s only a meager software update away – and given there have been a few of those already, I’m a little baffled as to why this hasn’t been patched in. The latter button has several functions depending on the press, ranging from connecting to the last device, connecting to Bluetooth, wiping connections, and resetting your charging case. The charging case itself has one button, which can be held down for varying amounts of seconds to get functions such as Bluetooth pairing mode, and deactivating or activating the most recent PlayStation Link connection.

PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds on a wooden surface with a white brick background
PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds on a wooden surface with a white brick background

The Pulse Explore buds connect to your PS5 and Portal via PlayStation Link - Sony’s new proprietary audio connection system. This promises swift, crisp, and robust connectivity that will mean lossless audio with super-low latency. It hasn’t ever let me down in my testing. It also means that the buds can connect directly to the PlayStation Portal and are one of only two devices (at time of writing) that offer that - the other being the PlayStation Pulse Elite headset.

The quoted five hours of battery life - though I got about six out of them in my testing - is a bit middling, even if supported by some extra charge in the case (10 hours). This might be enough for most gaming sessions and is supported by a quick charge function which will get you 1.5 hours in 10 minutes, but we’d hoped for more from earbuds that cost this much.

PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds on a wooden surface with a white brick background
PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds on a wooden surface with a white brick background

PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds: Performance

  • Audio quality from planar magnetic drivers is sublime

  • PS5 and PlayStation Portal performance is seamless and excellent

  • Require extra foam tips to get the best comfort and audio

Putting it simply, the audio quality on offer is superb. Much was made of the Pulse Explore offering planar magnetic drivers in gaming earbuds for the very first time, and boy can you hear and appreciate that. In every game, and across media, the earbuds sound terrific. From light environmental sounds of rustling leaves and water dripping on the Beira D in Still Wakes the Deep or characters brushing through grass in A Plague Tale: Requiem to chaotic firefights in Helldivers 2 and Diablo 4 the buds excel at providing beautifully detailed audio. Alongside the richness, the amount of bass is particularly impressive, given the buds’ small stature. In short, the sound quality will surprise, thrill, and delight whatever you play or listen to, and they really hold their own as a PS5 headset option.

If you need to alter the sound a little, you can. There are options on the PS5 to mess with the EQ, so there’s some versatility and customization on hand if you need to optimize the soundscape for particular games or genres.

You may have to do a little work to get the very best from the buds, at least, that’s what I’ve found after nearly two months of testing. Don’t get me wrong, out-of-the-box audio is exquisite, but I have found that experimenting with comfier foam earbud tips boosted the earbuds’ audio volume levels and quality and made them far more comfy, too. I bought a set for less than $10 / £10 Amazon that did the job.

Connecting the buds to the PS5 and PlayStation Portal is simple and effective. PlayStation Link makes the process seamless with the included dongle and it hasn’t hiccuped once in my weeks of testing the buds. Now that the PlayStation Portal has had an update to boost its usage capability when away from home, the Pulse Explore earbuds are slightly more attractive given that PlayStation Link-powered direct connection.

PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds on a wooden surface with a white brick background
PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds on a wooden surface with a white brick background

Using the buttons takes some getting used to. The volume button is slightly more accessible than the PS Link button, but both need relatively firm pushes to engage. This can feel like you’re jeopardizing their fit every time you press them, given the force needed.

As mentioned briefly above, the battery life is very middling for buds. I’d call it ‘just about good enough’ on a practical level. The quoted battery life of five hours is about right, though I have got more than that – definitely at least six hours – out of them on more than one occasion. The fast charge function is a lifesaver, but you’d be forgiven for hoping for more from $200 / £200 gaming earbuds.

The microphone has never let me down when using it for multiplayer gaming on PS5 – in Helldivers 2, Diablo 4, and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint, specifically – but I will say it’s not anything spectacular. It’s robust and clear enough for comms in such online games, and when using the earbuds on PC for work meetings and voice calls, but, naturally, it won’t hold a candle to a headset boom mic.

Overall, I’d prefer the earbuds to be a bit cheaper, and the shallow battery life in particular holds these buds back a bit, but I still wholeheartedly recommend them to anyone looking for top gaming earbuds for PS5 - especially so if the PlayStation Portal needs to be taken into consideration too. Planar magnetic drivers in gaming earbuds are now here, and I’m all for it.

Should I buy the PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds?

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

Also consider...

If you want to keep your options open for gaming earbuds then the below alternatives should be food for thought. It’s worth mentioning that if you’re looking for a decent alternative for the PlayStation Portal device, the PlayStation Pulse Elite headset is the most viable candidate given it’s the only other audio device that can connect to the Portal directly. That said, here are two other sets of earbuds for consideration.

How I tested the PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds

  • Tested for weeks with PS5 and PlayStation Portal

  • Compared against other gaming earbuds and PS5 headsets

  • Tested with multiple devices and third-party tips

I used the Explore earbuds with my PS5 and PlayStation Portal for nearly two months; incorporating them into my daily and weekly gaming schedule and habits. I used them to play single-player games such as Still Wakes the Deep, GTA 5, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Rise of the Ronin, and to revisit A Plague Tale: Requiem to get the platinum trophy. I also tested all these on the PlayStation Portal, with the Pulse Explore buds connected to the PS5, as well as directly to the handheld. Elsewhere, I played Helldivers 2 and Diablo 4 online with friends to test the mic, while also using the buds on my PC for meetings and voice calls.

I was able to compare them with the Razer Hammerhead True Wireless buds (2nd gen), which I use every day I commute to see how they stack up against some established competition, particularly in terms of music and listening to podcasts or radio. As an extension of this comparison testing, I also compared the buds with other headsets in my collection, including the SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro Wireless, Sony Inzone H9, and SteelSeries Arctis Nova 5.

Read more about how we test

First reviewed April to June 2024.