If you’re the kind of PlayStation loyalist who buys every add-on Sony puts out, 2023 may have been a pricey year for you. We’ve gotten the DualSense Edge, PlayStation VR2, a brand new PS5 model, and the PlayStation Portal — but that’s not all. Sony is refreshing its audio offerings on top of all that, starting with the Pulse Explore next month.
Sony’s new wireless earbuds are built with PlayStation devices in mind. They use a new PlayStation Link connection system, which is built to easily pair them with the PlayStation 5. That tech actually replaces Bluetooth entirely on the new PlayStation Portal, which means that the Pulse Explore will be one of the only ways to get wireless audio on the handheld this year. It’s a sign that Sony is getting more aggressive about building a dedicated PlayStation ecosystem, Apple-style. It doesn’t just want you to buy Sony consoles, but all of the black-and-white accessories that go with them too.
I’m not using mine on the PS5 or Portal, though. Instead, they’re now my go-to Nintendo Switch OLED earbuds.
The Pulse Explore are fairly standard gaming earbuds with a few key features. Perhaps the more intriguing feature on paper is their “AI-noise rejection,” which Sony says uses machine-learning tech to remove any unwanted noise that comes through the buds’ discrete microphones. It sounds like modern jargon, but it works. When I recorded some audio with my head firmly pressed up to a heating vent in my apartment, that loud whooshing was reduced to a quiet hum in my voice recording.
That’s a neat extra, but it’s not exactly the main selling point here. The Pulse Explore have clearly been built around the PlayStation gaming ecosystem, right down to their PS5-matching design. On the audio side, they feature Planar magnetic drivers that promise “near-perfect accuracy.” Sony says that the tech is useful in better translating the PS5’s 3D Audio to the buds and I can hear that. Games that make full use of the feature, like Astro’s Playroom, retain their detailed, multidirectional soundscapes. The Pulse Explore feel very lacking on the low end of the spectrum, but they’re otherwise clear and don’t run into much distortion.
I’m less impressed with them as a PlayStation Portal partner. It’s not that they don’t sound good there; it’s just that the device is always remote streaming its audio through the PS5. Quality already takes a natural hit in that experience, so the idea of spending $200 — on top of the $200 Portal — is a little silly. And as good as they sound on PS5, there’s no universe in which I’d be using earbuds on the console instead of the Pulse 3D headset.
But there is another system that they’re a better match for.
While the Pulse Explore tout PlayStation Link tech, they’re also standard Bluetooth buds that can be connected to any compatible device. That includes the Nintendo Switch, of course. And since I happen to have the OLED model, that means the earbuds’ black-and-white design fortuitously matches my Joy-Cons perfectly. The same goes for the snazzy little charging case that comes with them, which I can fit right into one of my larger Switch cases. They last five hours on a charge (with up to 10 additional hours via the charging case), which mostly lines up with the Switch’s battery life too. It’s an accidental match made in heaven.
If you’re a Switch owner, don’t take this to mean that you need to run out and buy a pair now. The Pulse Explore have some design quirks that I’m having trouble adjusting to still. They awkwardly protrude from my ears with their thick arms and they’re a loose fit for me at the moment. Couple that with the very expensive $200 price tag and they become a pretty hard sell overall.
But if you like to keep your gaming aesthetic tight and are willing to pay extra for that, the Pulse Explore are an accidentally versatile gaming fashion accessory. Whether you’re trying to match your PS5 or Switch OLED, you can make a statement.