Although PlayStation has always offered its own, growing range of first-party peripherals with each new console generation, it’s been especially bold with the line up of official accessories for the PS5. Not just in the breadth of technology or striking designs but in delving into particularly luxurious attachments that command just as much of a price tag as they do your attention. But while the majority of higher-end third party devices for the PS5 takes a kitchen sink approach to features, PlayStation’s own have been more about quality and integration than outright innovation.
The DualSense Edge controller is a great example of this. It doesn’t do a huge amount to compete with other “pro” controllers in its price class when it comes to feature set, but it’s undeniably well designed and built, and by virtue of being a proprietary PlayStation product it integrates wonderfully with the PS5 software. The new Pulse Explore wireless earbuds, a first for PlayStation, share a similar philosophy – they’re not packing as many back-of-the-box bullet points as other wireless buds available for the PS5, but they sound fantastic and work seamlessly with the console and likewise will with the upcoming PlayStation Portal.
The most immediately noticeable thing about the Pulse Explore buds is their design, which continues PlayStation’s commitment to the striking, black-and-white aesthetic of the PS5 console and all of its assorted add-ons. Even the charging case is novel, opting for a sliding cover as opposed to the flip-tops most wireless earbud users are accustomed to. It’s quite big too, but a lot of that comes down to the buds themselves, which have a uniquely elongated shape that makes them a fair bit larger than a lot of others that I’ve used.
Thankfully, the unusual shape and size of the Pulse Explore buds hasn’t resulted in them feeling overly hefty. Obviously everyone’s mileage will vary depending on their individual ear shapes, but in my use they’ve actually been shockingly comfy and snugly secure even for long periods of play. These buds are packing planar magnetic drivers – more on that in a bit – which more than likely necessitated them being a bit girthier, but PlayStation’s done a commendable job of moulding them into a design that’s both visually remarkable and supremely comfortable. Plus, there are a total of four sets of interchangeable tips which is fairly generous in my experience.
Also included in the box is the PlayStation Link USB Adapter, facilitating a new low-latency, lossless audio streaming solution that works with the Pulse Explore buds and will similarly feature in next year’s Pulse Elite wireless headset. PlayStation Link not only provides high-speed, high-fidelity audio but enables seamless compatibility with PS5 devices like the PlayStation Portal, which has the Link tech built-in. The PlayStation Link USB Adapter also works flawlessly with PC, and you can buy extras separately, so you can easily pair the Pulse Explore buds with multiple adapters and switch between your devices as you need just by pressing the buttons on both.
The fact that PlayStation just launched a revised version of the PS5 console without taking the opportunity to integrate PlayStation Link into it feels like a bit of a misstep though, especially because the adapter is USB-A and therefore will need to go into one of the rear ports if you have the new “slim” machine. Still, the setup is mercifully easy out of the box. You just whack the adapter into your console, take the buds out of their case and voila – you’ve got sound.
And excellent sound, too. Thanks no doubt to PlayStation’s buyout of audio innovators, Audeze, the Pulse Explore wireless earbuds are packing planar magnetic drivers that are more commonly reserved for the kinds of high-end headsets used by the folks that engineer the audio in games and movies as opposed to the conical, dynamic drivers found in typical consumer headphones or buds.
The result is incredibly crisp, nuanced and detailed sound that absolutely blew me away from the jump. They also manage this without sounding overly thin or flat, instead providing a deep and rich soundscape that really elevated the experience in games like Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, Horizon Forbidden West and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and brought out new subtleties I’d missed even with a half-decent external sound system. Couple that with the PS5’s Tempest 3D audio and I was genuinely floored with what I was hearing from a pair of wireless buds. No matter what games I threw at them and what kind of spectacle was occurring on-screen, these unassuming buds handled it spectacularly and I often felt the kind of auditory immersion reserved for booming cinema speakers.
There are a couple of drawbacks to the use of planar magnetic drivers, though. For starters, they tend to use more power, which has meant that the Pulse Explore wireless earbuds have a fairly average battery life. PlayStation says it’s about five hours per charge, with the case providing roughly three full charges, and in my testing that’s been about bang on. It’s not awfully short, especially when these are geared more toward gaming than being an all-day headphone for commuting, working out and the like, but it’s worth noting.
More disappointing though, and perhaps also due to power concerns, is that the Pulse Explore buds don’t get as loud as I’d have liked. I wouldn’t say they’re too quiet, but I can imagine most users will find the sweet spot is all the way up 100% volume which naturally leaves no room for extra oomph should it be needed. They also don’t feature any kind of active noise cancelling, so if you’re trying to use them in a louder environment you’re not left with many options. Thankfully this was only ever really an issue when I tried to use them out and about to listen to music, which honestly isn’t the greatest use for them anyway – it sounds fine, but it’s clear these are meant for listening to cinematic, pulse-pounding video games and movies and not the latest TJ Mack banger.
Along with the omission of noise cancelling, the Pulse Explore wireless earbuds are also missing some other niceties found in more general-use buds, like touch controls or sensors to turn them on and off as you insert or remove them. These strike me as things that were deemed less important to gaming and worth skipping in favour of keeping these things at a somewhat-reasonable price tag given the cutting-edge audio tech inside them. Wireless headphones with planar magnetic drivers are typically exorbitantly priced, so the trade-off makes some sense.
While I haven’t spent a heap of time using the Pulse Explore buds to chat with mates, what little response I’ve had from others online so far has been pretty positive. The built-in noise rejection from the microphone seems to be surprisingly decent at not picking up anything other than my voice, and the quality is pretty much on par with anything you’d expect out of a gaming headset mic. The great thing is that the Explores can be paired simultaneously to PlayStation Link and Bluetooth, so you can chat or listen to music and podcasts using another device while still getting game audio. Given the otherwise walled-in nature of these PlayStation products I was pleasantly surprised with how flexible they are in terms of connectivity.
They work nicely with the PS5 software as well, being a proprietary device they’re properly integrated into the UI and you can tweak basic stuff like volume and 3D audio and see battery life and connection status of both left and right buds on-screen. Beyond that there’s not much more you can do to customise the experience, I do wish there was some kind of equaliser or at least some presets, but again these are intended for gaming over anything else so that won’t be a dealbreaker for most.
If you're a PS5 owner looking for in-ear headphones for gaming over anything else, then look no further – the Pulse Explore wireless earbuds are seamless, comfortable and sound brilliant. And thanks to PlayStation Link and Bluetooth support they're also nicely versatile for multi-device use. The battery life is just fine, and they could stand to be louder at the top end, but those are worthwhile trade-offs for the stellar audio experience on offer.
Rich, detailed and cinematic sound for gaming
Very comfortable despite their odd form factor
Buds and case design fit nicely into the PS5 aesthetic
Good connectivity options with PlayStation Link and Bluetooth multipoint