Skip to main content

Sony’s new PlayStation earbuds are a perfect match — for my Nintendo Switch

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.

A perfect match

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.

A Pulse Explore earbud sits in a man's ear.
Giovanni Colantonio / Digital Trends

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.

Sony's Pulse Explore earbuds sit next to a Nintendo Switch OLED.
Giovanni Colantonio / Digital Trends

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.

Editors' Recommendations

Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
PlayStation Portal misunderstands remote play and cloud gaming’s appeal
A PlayStation Portal boots up.

Sony finally revealed more details about its upcoming handheld, now called PlayStation Portal, but these announcements have soured my opinion on the device rather than hyped me up for it. I enjoy cloud gaming and have used a variety of services like Google Stadia, Amazon Luna, and Xbox Cloud Gaming - across my phone and even dedicated devices like the Logitech G Cloud Gaming Handheld. Because of that, I was really excited to see what PlayStation could do as it entered the space. Unfortunately, some specific exclusions from PlayStation Portal's functionality that make it more of a remote-play device rather than a cloud gaming handheld indicate that Sony has a fundamental misunderstanding about what people would want out of a PlayStation game streaming handheld.

Namely, the device's positioning as primarily a "remote play dedicated device" and the exclusion of PlayStation Plus Premium cloud gaming compatibility drastically shrinks the number of reasons people should pick the device up. Cloud gaming and devices built around it have been around long enough to show that an inclusive approach to the number of services, games, and kinds of game streaming available is vital to success, and for a $200 handheld, PlayStation Portal seems like it's excluding way too much.
Narrowing its appeal
Remote play differs from what's more ubiquitously referred to as cloud gaming players are running the games on their own consoles rather than a third-party console or server. Still, it's a form of streaming games over a Wi-Fi connection, typically through an app on a phone or device like the Logitech G Cloud Gaming Handheld. That means you'll have to stick around your own home to use the PlayStation Portal, and its game library is limited to whatever the user owns on the console. That's limiting (it's like if Steam Deck only ran Steam Link) but does have some use cases. Still, it doesn't necessarily feel like it warrants a dedicated $200 device over a phone and a nice mobile controller like the Razer Kishi V2 or Backbone One - PlayStation Edition; haptic feedback and adaptive triggers only go so far.

Read more
Sony’s PlayStation wireless earbuds promise audiophile quality for $200
Sony Pulse Explore wireless earbuds for PlayStation.

Sony's very best wireless audio tech is usually reserved for its flagship headphones and earbuds, currently the WH-1000XM5 and WF-1000XM5. However, it looks like the company is going break with that tradition -- partially, at least -- for its latest PlayStation gaming accessory, a set of wireless earbuds called the Pulse Explore.

The Pulse Explore are unmistakably PlayStation-themed, with a white, winged design that mimics the lines of the PlayStation 5 console, as well as its controller. But lurking beneath that gaming-inspired exterior is some very high-end audio tech. The Pulse Explore use planar magnetic drivers, which have traditionally been reserved for expensive, audiophile-grade headphones and wired earbuds due to their cost.

Read more
Sony’s cloud handheld, the PlayStation Portal, will only stream certain games
Astro's Playroom booting up on the PlayStation Portal.

Sony has unveiled the price for its upcoming cloud gaming handheld, as well as an official name for the device: PlayStation Portal. However, one significant caveat to its functionality might sour people's interest in the handheld: It only supports PS4 and PS5 native games that the owner purchased.
PlayStation VR2 games can't be streamed to PlayStation Portal, which does make sense. More bafflingly, though, is the fact that the PlayStation Blog post states that "games that are streamed through PlayStation Plus Premium’s cloud streaming are not supported." That means you shouldn't pick up PlayStation Portal expecting to stream some PS3 and PS4 games available through PlayStation Plus Premium to the device. That's certainly an odd omission when it's currently PlayStation's most notable cloud gaming effort.
Although Microsoft is more closely associated with cloud gaming, Sony beat it to releasing a dedicated cloud gaming device. PlayStation Portal was first teased as Project Q during May's PlayStation showcase, but now, a PlayStation Blog post more clearly explains what we can actually expect from the handheld. Most importantly, we learned that PlayStation Portal will cost $200, which puts it underneath the cost of a Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series S, and other cloud gaming devices like the Logitech G Cloud Handheld.
As for what you're getting for that price tag, it's essentially a decent screen attached to two halves of a DualSense controller. The controllers on each side share all the functionality of the DualSense, including things like haptic feedback and adaptive triggers. In-between is an 8-inch LCD screen that streams games over Wi-Fi at up to a 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second. All in all, that's fairly solid for a cloud gaming handheld that is this cheap.
Sony confirmed that the PlayStation Portal will have a 3.5mm audio jack, but also used the same blog post to unveil two new wireless audio options. There's the Pulse Elite wireless headset that features a retractable boom mic and a charging hanger and Pulse Explore wireless earbuds that offer similar audio quality in earbud form.
None of these products are available for preorder or have a specific release date just yet, but they are all expected to launch before the end of the year.

Read more