The PS5’s Official Wireless Earbuds Make Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth Feel Even More Epic

The Pulse Explore wireless earbuds are the best way to experience Square Enix’s epic RPG sequel.

Side profile of a person with an earbud, with a reddish-orange tinted overlay.
Lais Borges/Inverse; Photo by Raymond Wong
Gear Reviews

I knew from the second the game’s iconic theme song played that Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth would be a symphonic masterpiece. I just didn’t know that I’d enjoy playing the second installment of the JRPG remake wearing PlayStation’s Pulse Explore wireless earbuds more than through my Dolby Atmos soundbar.

Don’t get me wrong, if you have a good soundbar, speaker system, or pair of gaming headphones that bring the oomph, you’re absolutely appreciating games properly. Any speaker or headphones setup will pump out better sound than the tinny speakers from your TV.

But what if you’re like me and the stray cat you recently took in gets irritated when you game at night and Cloud’s triple-slashing and “Braver” special attacks in Rebirth spook her? Well, if you’re a PS5 owner like me who prefers wireless earbuds versus over or on-ear headphones, I can’t recommend the Pulse Explore wireless earbuds enough.

At $199, they’re pricey for “gaming” wireless earbuds that don’t even come with active noise cancellation (ANC), but let me tell you, you will hear things in your games that you’ve never heard before. Your cat (dog, child, partner, roommate, whoever) also will appreciate the quietness.

Weird Design, But Good Comfort

The charging case holds an additional 10 hours of charge, so you get 15 hours total.

Photograph by Raymond Wong

If I’m being honest, the Pulse Explore are not the best-looking wireless earbuds you can get. Sony leaned into the PS5’s curvy aesthetic (there are even tiny little PlayStation symbols patterned on the inside of each earbud), but that also comes with a few compromises. For one thing, the charging case is on the bigger side compared to AirPods Pro 2 or Nothing’s Ear 2. Even Sony’s best-in-class WF-1000XM5 ANC wireless earbuds come with a more compact case. I definitely felt a little self-conscious with the tube-shaped case in the front pocket of my skinny jeans. And despite the larger case, there’s nowhere to stow the included USB-A PlayStation Link dongle that you need to pair the buds to a PS5 (a separate USB-A-to-USB-C adapter dongle is also not included). Clearly, PlayStation expects you to plug the Link dongle into the back of your PS5 and just leave it there. But with no slot in the case, you could lose it if you use it with other devices like a PC or Mac. Replacement dongles aren’t cheap: $25.

The PlayStation Pulse Explore wireless earbuds use planar magnetic drivers to deliver detailed sound.

Photograph by Raymond Wong

I was confused at first about how to correctly wear the Pulse Explore buds. Hint: The PlayStation logo should be facing upwards. This makes the volume buttons on each bud harder to press since they’re angled; I would have preferred the buttons sit at the top. Once you figure out the right way to wear them, though, the Pulse Explore are comfortable; a little big if you’re used to AirPods, but they stayed in my ears, and I liked that several ear tip sizes were included in the box. Last weekend, I wore them for almost five hours straight until the battery gave out (the case adds another 10 hours for a total of 15).

Apart from those two questionable design decisions, the Pulse Explore buds are pretty standard. The charging case has a pairing button, there’s an LED light to indicate the battery life, and it charges via USB-C. Each bud also has a PlayStation Link button that connects and disconnects them to a PS5 or PlayStation Portal, but there seems to be a bug that causes them to randomly drop connection or show their paired status incorrectly on the PS5 (sometimes my PS5 said the buds were disconnected when they were still connected and vice versa).

Terrific Sound With Low-Latency

The earbuds come with several different sizes of ear tips.

Photograph by Raymond Wong

The selling points of gaming earbuds or headphones are always the same: good sound with lower latency, especially if the audio is not delivered over Bluetooth. As I said earlier, the Pulse Explore requires a PlayStation Link dongle to beam audio from a PS5. This dongle is key to reducing latency and pushing out higher-quality sound. The last thing you want is for a game’s audio to be out of sync; even a split second would drive me nuts.

Thankfully, the Pulse Explore deliver what’s promised on the box. In Rebirth, I could detect no audio lag. Of course, Rebirth is a slower game than, say, a rhythm game, where audio is crucial to getting a “perfect.” So I also tested the Pulse Explore with Theatrhythm Final Bar Line, and while I’m no pro at the music game, I would say I literally hit all the beats as accurately as I would have with sound coming through my TV or soundbar.

Truthfully, I’d be rioting if these wireless earbuds didn’t sound good. Sony has a strong track record with excellent wireless earbuds dating back almost a decade, so it’s not surprising the Pulse Explore sound really damn good. They use “planar magnetic drivers” versus the typical “dynamic drivers” found in most earbuds. Audiophiles could write you a whole book about the benefits of planar magnetic drivers and how they can accurately deliver audio details at even the most indiscernible frequencies, which tells you all that you need to know. If they’re approved by audiophiles, they’re more than solid enough for the average PS5 gamer.

The metal “ball” of debris that I kept kicking around because it sounded so hollow.

Screenshot by Raymond Wong; Square Enix

My playthrough of Rebirth has been completely different with the Pulse Explore than through my TV. Hearing the rattle of Cloud’s armor, the subtle movements when he dashes and rolls, every crate bump, the rustle of the tree leaves in the Grasslands or the ripple of the Swamplands water as you tread through on a Chocobo — it all adds to the immersion of the game and makes me appreciate the details beyond the pixels (though, I have a gear to grind about the lack of ray tracing). I spent way too many minutes kicking a ball-shaped piece of debris on the beach; it sounded hollow as hell and didn’t match its metal material, but boy was it fun to just aimlesly push it around. When you really pay attention, you can actually hear details like the sound of a wicker basket when you walk into it, birds chirping nearby, and dialogue echoing in the open world.

I usually mash the O button to get through the dialogue quickly (especially when that annoying dude Chadley is bugging you about side quests), but hearing so many little sound details in Rebirth made me realize how much of a game we miss out on when we pay little attention to the delicate sound design. Somebody on the developer team added all these sounds, but few people even hear them. It’s a real shame.

The planar magnetic drivers clearly work in elevating footsteps and grunts and barely audible spell casts, and prevent the soundtrack from drowning them out.

Just to make sure I wasn’t imagining all the things I heard, I switched back and forth between my soundbar and an old pair of Razer Blackshark gaming headphones. It’s not that the sounds aren’t there, it’s just that they’re not as distinct. The planar magnetic drivers clearly work in elevating footsteps and grunts and barely audible spell casts, and prevent the soundtrack from drowning them out.

Non-PS5 Connectivity Is An Afterthought

The charging case is quite a bit larger than Nothing Ear 2 (left) and AirPods Pro 2 (right)

Photograph by Raymond Wong

If there’s one major gripe with the Pulse Explore it’s that they lack ANC. Why don’t these $200 Sony wireless earbuds have ANC when the same company makes the WF-1000XM5 wireless earbuds? The passive noise cancellation from the silicon in-ear tips is fine and blocks out a decent amount of ambient noise, but not having ANC at this price point is disappointing.

The microphones sound average for in-game voice chat even with the “AI-enhanced noise rejection” and pairing the earbuds to a phone is a subpar experience (the on-buds controls don’t work when you connect to a phone or tablet via Bluetooth), but you’d be foolish to buy these for anything except gaming with a PS5. At $200, should Sony have made the Pulse Explore outstanding for PS5 and your phone? Yes, it should have, but then it couldn’t sell you WF-1000XM5 buds. Battery life could be a lot longer too: 15 hours, which works out to three charges, means you’ll be charging these babies once every three days or so if your daily gaming sessions are around 5 hours like mine are.

Rebirth is a completely different game when the hearing experience is as gripping as the visual one.

Ideally, the Pulse Explore would cost no more than $100 to $150. That seems like a fairer price when the non-PS5 features are not up to snuff. Still, I have been loving the gaming wireless earbuds. Rebirth is a completely different game when the hearing experience is as gripping as the visual one. It’s not just Rebirth, all of my favorite PS5 games — Gran Turismo 7, Street Fighter 6, and Spider-Man 2 — feel new again.

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