Sony PlayStation Pulse Explore Review

Sony PlayStation Pulse Explore Review by MajorHiFi

Sony and PlayStation have had quite a busy year with the release of the new Portal Remote Player and the purchase of Audeze. They also announced these new true wireless earbuds for the PS5 called the Pule Explore, which cost $199. With these new earbuds, Sony looks to foster a new era for their wireless gaming headphones. Interesting features like new planar drivers and lossless audio over wireless aim to be the new standard for Sony’s product line. Can the Pule Explore live up to those expectations?

What You Get

  • PULSE Explore™ wireless earbuds
  • PlayStation Link™ USB adapter
  • Charging case
  • 6 Earbud tips
  • USB cable
  • Printed materials

Sony PlayStation Pulse Explore single

Look & Feel

Everything from the charging case to the shell of the earbuds is meant to resemble the shape of the PS5. This makes for quite an odd-looking pair of true wireless earbuds, but it matches the futuristic aesthetic of the PS5. Just looking at the Pulse Explore for the first time, you might second guess how they could possibly fit in your ears. Their large wings that stick out don’t exactly look the most appealing to insert into your ear, but those concerns start to disappear when worn. While using the Pulse Explore, I never really thought about how strange they look in comparison to other true wireless earbuds on the market. The Pulse Explore is perfectly comfortable for long gaming sessions, and never gave me any significant ear fatigue.

Sony PlayStation Pulse Explore case open

Design & Functionality

One of the Pulse Explore’s biggest changes from Sony’s main driver configuration for their wireless headphones is the switch to planar instead of dynamic. This brings the Pulse Explore closer to higher-end headphones like the ones made by the company that PlayStation now owns. These drivers bring ultra-low distortion and other properties closely tied to higher-fidelity sound. Planar doesn’t mean automatically great sound, but its inclusion here does assume a focus on detailed sound reproduction. That doesn’t stop Sony from including other features like noise reduction though.

With help from AI, the Pulse Explore automatically rejects obstruction noise while in use. This aims to help clarity while using the earbud’s interior mics for voice chat as well. Regarding voice chat though, the actual quality of my voice while talking to friends is lacking quite a bit. You get that industry-leading isolation from Sony, but my voice isn’t even as clear when compared to the built-in mic inside of the PS5 controller.

Other features like Sony’s Tempest 3D audio are fully compatible with the Pulse Explore, giving you access to spatial audio through the PS5 under formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS. You can manually adjust these settings using the PS5 menu, but you won’t have to do the same with volume control thanks to the dedicated volume buttons on each earbud.

Sony PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds with case

Bluetooth

There are a few interesting facts about the Pulse Explore’s Bluetooth capabilities. When I first started mentioning them, I was mostly interested in the earbuds supporting lossless audio over wireless. This is not over Bluetooth though, as the Pulse Explore uses a USB dongle called the PlayStation Link to be able to enjoy uncompressed sound using these earbuds. If you’re using a PC or the new PlayStation Portal, you will also be able to use this dongle. So using Bluetooth on your phone will still only give you the resolution of whatever Bluetooth CODEC you’re limited to. The PlayStation Link also gives you access to a much quicker connection, as well as ultra-low latency.

A major upside to the Pulse Explore’s Bluetooth is its multipoint capabilities which lets you connect the earbud with two separate devices. This came in handy when playing games on my P55 and needing to take a phone call without needing to switch out my earbuds. Multipoint also lets me do things like listen to my game audio while also listening to a podcast or audiobook in the background.

Battery Life

With a full charge, the Pulse Explore will last about 5 hours before you need to put them back in the charging case. The charging case will give you 10 hours of additional battery life, which is average for the price.

Sony PlayStation Pulse Explore pair

Soundstage

All of the limitations we associate with the soundstage over true wireless aren’t a factor with the Pulse Explore. When connected to the PS5, these earbuds are wider and more articulate than many other Bluetooth earbuds. The imaging is always organized and conveys accurate spatial positioning, with or without Tempest 3D audio. Using the PS5’s 3D sound will give you a different experience, but the Pulse Explore also does justice to the soundscapes of games in standard stereo.

Booting up Apple Music on the PS5 also shows how well the Pulse Explore communicates the soundstage through its large wingspan and separation with music. This audio is completely lossless through the USB stick, which is how I prefer to test most of my experience with the Pulse Explore. I felt like I was able to get a full picture of the sound through the earbuds, as just listening over standard AAC made the sound feel more boxed in by comparison.

So how do the Pulse Explore earbuds best present the sonic environments of your games? I played a few different games using Sony’s Tempest 3D audio to get the best representation of the Pulse Explore’s soundstage. Whether I was playing Demon’s Souls or Fortnite, one of the Pulse Explore’s most impressive characteristics was its localization. You could always tell the exact direction sounds were coming from. It could be left, right, up, down, forward, or behind. It feels like every sound emanates from a specific origin from just outside of your head, rather than from a left/right channel. This is useful for identifying enemy positions in competitive games, as well as a way to immerse yourself in a fictional world.

Using the Pulse Explore earbuds in Fortnite made me super aware of distant firefights happening, while the layered environments in Demon’s Souls encapsulated my head. It lets the sound design breathe, but if I can have one gripe with the soundstage, it’s that musical scores can sometimes get relegated to the background in bombastic moments. The sound design and dialogue seem to always get the focus, rather than finding a balance for all of the elements to work together.

Low End

Gaming headphones have a tendency to overdo it with the bass response, but I think the Pulse Explore finds the perfect median. Of course, you’ll want a sufficient impact for certain moments in games to grip you, and the Pulse Explore has no problem with that. Games like Demon’s Souls or Grand Turismo 7 do a good job of conveying the growl of the timbre while keeping everything tight. Cutting into an enemy in Demon’s Souls feels meaty, and always feels like it has an extra punch to it. You get a subtle foundation of sub-bass texture that makes the roaring engine of a variety of cars in Grand Turismo 7 all feel distinct and equally satisfying to drive. The tone portrays these sounds with realism rather than theatricality, but depth is not sacrificed.

Mids

Although the midrange possesses more detail than a lot of gaming earbuds, some of the sound elements come off as a bit thin. The Pulse Explore can showcase accentuated sound effects with good room and identity. Listening to music alone through the PS5 also wields some fine instrumental quality, but their timbre doesn’t elicit the fullest response. Some effects come through with crisply, but the timbre of these frequencies doesn’t have the same fidelity and musicality that the lows do. Something feels scooped out, but there’s still texture in the region. Most of that texture is located in the upper mids, where dialogue shines, but some sound effects, like the smacking of a baseball in MLB The Show, have a satisfying crack to it.

Highs

There’s good energy in the highs, and it compliments the immersion when Tempest 3D is enabled. Both effects and music have distinguishable tails that feature a very prominent glint. It’s not too aggressive, but there’s significant volume associated with this tone. Some of its timbre comes across as synthetic, but it never feels too unrealistic. Sound effects that have a scrape to them extend well into the upper highs with a shimmery response. A sword hitting a wall and echoing through a tunnel gives you specific artifacts and details you can envelope yourself with.

Summary

When it comes to pure sound quality, the Pulse Explore isn’t perfect but is still immensely satisfying for gaming. This is especially true while using the PS5’s spatial audio features and PlayStation Link dongle. With its new planar design, this might be the best audio you can hear across true wireless gaming earbuds made for gaming.

It’s certainly one of the most entertaining ones, with a tuning meant to complement the soundscapes of your games. Mic quality and some instances of music fidelity can be improved though, and I think being able to use some form of EQ with the Pulse Explore might help that. $199 is still a very generous price point for what these earbuds are, and all the features it brings. I think the Pulse Explore is worth it well enough, but I’m more excited to see how Sony and PlayStation further develop this design in the future.

Pros  Cons
  • Immersive soundstage and imaging through standard stereo and 3D audio
  • Clear and deep bass 
  • Snappy midrange sound effects
  • Crisp treble range
  • Lossless wireless audio with PlayLink
  • Multipoint Bluetooth
  • Price
  • Inferior mic quality for voice chat 
  • Lacking fullness with some music
  • Can’t be used with Sony’s companion app

The Sony PlayStation Pulse Explore is available here.

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Alex S. is a sound designer and voice-over artist who has worked in film, commercials, and podcasts. He loves horror movies and emo music.