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Reviews

PlayStation’s Pulse Explore wireless earbuds are solid but overpriced

While not without merit, these buds are tough to recommend given the many far cheaper alternatives out there

PlayStation Plus Pulse Explore earbuds

I’m not a fan of over-the-ear headphones.

As someone whose ears get rather red-hot at times, especially during lengthy gaming sessions, I just don’t like having them fully covered, even for brief periods. I’ve come to this conclusion after trying and failing to consistently use both of Sony’s proprietary PS4 and PS5 headsets. Ultimately, gaming headsets have just not been my cup of tea; I prefer to simply use Discord on my phone when playing online with friends.

That’s why I’ve been quite interested in Sony’s Pulse Explore wireless earbuds — much more so, in fact, than the PlayStation Portal and Pulse Elite headset. After using it on and off for about a month, though, I’ve come away merely pleased with the experience. While it does some things well, nothing about the experience has necessarily wowed me, especially given its steep $270 price tag.

PlayStation Plus Pulse Explore earbuds in earFirst and foremost: I should confess that I’m very much not an “audiophile.” For me, cheap $30 to $40 wireless knockoff AirPods from Amazon are more than sufficient. Even in situations where I’m supposedly immersed in so-called “superior” audio quality, be it with higher-end headphones or in premium movie theatres, I rarely notice a substantial difference. Therefore, I’m very much coming at this from a layman’s perspective, for what that’s worth.

With that out of the way, I’ll get into what I like most about the Pulse Explore — namely, the design of the buds themselves. Both their rubber tips and curvature fit quite comfortably around my ears. In the past, some buds I’ve used have fallen out of my ears multiple times when I’m moving around a lot, such as when exercising or vacuuming, but I haven’t found that to be the case here. Snugness is key with earbuds, and thankfully, the Pulse Explore gets top marks from me in that regard. (Your mileage, of course, may vary.)

On top of that, I like the look of the buds. Naturally, both the buds and its charging case sport the PS5’s signature white, which means it matches your console nicely. I was initially against the PS5 being so pale, but over the past three years have warmed up to that, and so I appreciate that the buds maintain that sleek aesthetic. (While the included little USB-A adapter to connect it to your PS5 or PC is black, it matches with the darker hues on the front of the console.)

Next up (and more importantly) is the actual functionality of the buds. In that regard, I don’t find them to be particularly impressive. The biggest thing that Sony is touting with the Pulse Explore is the “lossless audio,” which didn’t mean much to me going into this. Essentially, lossless audio is a form of compression that preserves all of the original data to ensure higher-quality sound.

PlayStation Plus Pulse Explore earbuds in handIn practice, though, I’ll confess that I didn’t notice all that much of a difference. The sound quality is sharp, no doubt, but not necessarily any more so than I’ve heard when using $40 Boltune or $65 Tagry buds. (Hell, cheap $15 wired headphones I bought at Shoppers Drug Mart to use when staying with my grandparents for a week didn’t sound all that worse.)

To be clear, the Pulse Explore’s audio quality is no less than good. Whether it was jamming out to the brilliant MIDI music of my favourite game, Final Fantasy VII, enduring the crackling, fiery energy blasts in the surprisingly tough bosses in Final Fantasy XVI‘s new Echoes of the Fallen DLC or hearing the clang of steel as I executed parries in Ubisoft’s incredible Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, the earbuds undeniably sounded crisp. I’m just not sure, however, that it was all that better for me than any other headphones or earbuds I’ve used on PS5.

Of course, the other key function of the buds is that they have built-in mics for online play. While I generally gravitate towards single-player games, I do have the occasional virtual game night with friends, so I made sure to use the Pulse Explore buds during one of those instances. In this case, we played both Apex Legends (I just had to try out that strange yet wonderful Final Fantasy VII crossover event) and The Finals (which I’ve enjoyed way more than I thought I would).

Once again, I found the receiving audio to be decent — just not revolutionary in any way. Meanwhile, I asked my friends how it sounded on their end and they didn’t notice any substantial leap over my usual iPhone Discord setup. I even made a point of switching back to that after to give them a clearer comparison and they both still said the same.

PlayStation Plus Pulse Explore earbuds But even if they’re not outstanding to me, I’ve still enjoyed using them, both for their form factor and versatility. On a base level, it’s a nice solution for late-night gaming. My gaming setup is directly before my mum’s room, so I often worry my games are too loud and will wake her, making the Pulse Explore buds a good option.

What’s more, I appreciate that you can take them on the go with you thanks to Bluetooth support. While the volume control buttons don’t work in these cases (you have to do this on your phone instead), it’s convenient to be able to seamlessly go straight from playing a game to using the buds when I leave the house. For instance, I love to go to the movies, so sometimes I’ll come home from the gym, game for a bit and then go back out to catch a later showing, often playing later than planned, and in these cases, the Pulse Explore buds are especially handy.

They’re also essential if you want wireless audio on the PlayStation Portal, given that the online-only handheld bafflingly lacks Bluetooth. Yes, the Pulse Explore buds are currently the only way to listen to music wirelessly on the Portal, which also costs $270 (the latest in an ever-growing roster of exceedingly pricy PS5 accessories). Admittedly, this doesn’t apply to me since I let my colleague, Dean Daley, review the Portal (I have zero interest in it), but it’s worth noting this requirement nonetheless.

PlayStation Plus Pulse Explore earbuds on ear frontThere are a few downsides to using the Pulse Explore buds on the go, however. For one, the charging case itself is pretty bulky, coming in at 16cm (W) and 11.5cm (H), making it somewhat inelegant to carry around in your pocket. It’s not a deal-breaker, but I do wish it was even a bit thinner. Meanwhile, the buds have a roughly five-hour battery life, which isn’t very good, although the case does offer up to 10 hours of additional charges.

Ultimately, though, I’m not sure I can recommend the Pulse Explore to anyone but the biggest of audiophiles who are also deeply entrenched in the PS5 ecosystem. Perhaps that bunch will find these worthwhile, but more general gamers — or even more hardcore ones like me who otherwise don’t care for pristine audio quality — will struggle to find these worth the significant cost. Truthfully, I would even recommend buying PlayStation’s exceptional DualSense Edge controller (which also costs $270) instead if you have the cash.

Otherwise, you’re better off losing these lossless earbuds.

The PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds are now available in Canada for $270 at retailers like Amazon and Walmart.

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