With the PlayStation 5, Sony has added new hardware features that improve the way games impress and delight us beyond conventional “graphics” upgrades. You may have heard of the DualSense controller, which adds tactile immersion through detailed haptic feedback. Enhanced audio is also an important part of the PS5 experience. The PS5’s Tempest 3D Audio technology, which takes the idea of surround sound to the next level by surrounding the player with hundreds of individual audio sources, promises to elevate game audio with improved clarity and virtual surround sound, including the ability to hear things coming from above and below you.
The PlayStation Pulse 3D, Sony’s official headset for the PS5, shows the impact of Tempest without asking its users to spend as much money as possible on a high-end headset. It does that specific job well, but struggles to differentiate itself from other headsets of similar price and features in any meaningful way.
3D audio is the “pulse” of the PS5
The Sony Pulse 3D Headset is a PS5 compatible headset designed by Sony to show off its 3D audio technology and provide gamers with a first party option when looking for a new PlayStation headset. Although the Pulse 3D is designed and tuned to emphasize 3D audio, it’s important to note up front that this is a PS5 feature, not a Pulse 3D feature. You can use 3D audio on any compatible helmet or headset connected to the PS5, including wired models.
When using a headset, 3D audio enhances immersion in experiences designed to take advantage of it, such as Astro’s Playroom Where Spider-Man: Miles Morales. You can hear it when sounds move around you, when cars pass by, or when a character walks and talks. You notice it less in the heat of the moment, however: when things get chaotic enough, the location of a sound can get a little confusing and hard to pinpoint. I don’t think it affected the way I played any of my games and may not be a total game-changer in the larger scheme of things.
Sony Pulse 3D headset design and features
Gaming headsets tend to identify with an RGB-enhanced garish style. Sony’s offer stands out by offering a refined alternative. Like the PS5 itself, the Pulse 3D headset has a sleek, polished look. It’s simple, clean, and identifiable as modern PlayStation gear without the need for breathing LED lights. If you like the curves of the PS5 console, the headset looks and feels like part of a matching set.
The headset doesn’t feel as good as it looks, however. The Pulse 3D headset is far from the worst headset I’ve worn, but the ear cups are particularly uncomfortable. Many, if not most, headphones have oval-shaped ear cups that fit small ears while allowing those of us with larger ears to wear them comfortably. The round cups of the Pulse 3D headphones, on the other hand, seem cramped. Putting them on sometimes felt like stuffing my ears into a space too small to use them. If you have smaller ears, this can certainly be a good fit, but if you’ve had problems fitting the earphones in the past, it could cause problems.
When Sony launched the PlayStation 5, lead designer Mark Cerny made a big deal of the PlayStation 5’s potential for user-specific audio experiences, even suggesting that taking a picture of your ear and sending it to Sony could be part of the PlayStation experience. That’s still in the future, but the unique nature of the helmet seems at odds with that overall ethos.
It holds up well, though: the Pulse 3D is super light at just 0.64 pounds (294g), making it easy to wear, and the rubberized suspension band allows the headset to sit lightly on my head. The plastic frame doesn’t exert much clamping force, which is comfortable but also allows the helmet to move around quite easily.
Playing off the clean look, controls used to operate the headphones fill the left earcup ring, including a mute button, power switch, mic monitoring control, and two rockers for volume and the chat mix. The Pulse 3D has a USB-C port for charging and a 3.5mm headphone jack to allow a wired connection.
To keep things sleek, Sony has built a pair of noise-cancelling mics into the headset’s earcups, rather than using an adjustable boom. It’s not an advantage or a disadvantage in itself, but it does help to maintain the clean look of the headset; it could easily double as wireless headphones if that feature was built in and look good doing it.
Connection and compatibility
Connecting the headphones is a simple affair. To use it wirelessly, simply plug the USB dongle into one of the USB ports on your PlayStation 5 or PC, or to use it passively, connect the included 3.5mm cable to the headset and your PlayStation 5 controller.
Using the headset is also easy. And by that, I don’t mean the process of putting it on your head. On the contrary, plugging in the dongle does not automatically switch your audio input to headphones. To do this, you actually need to turn on the headset itself. When this connects, the audio switches quickly. It’s a really smart move that makes the headset instantly more appealing. Not only is there no cord, but you don’t have to get up and plug in a dongle that could easily go missing, or worry about heading to a side menu to activate headphone mode. It works, and it’s really nice.
Although the Pulse 3D is primarily marketed for the PS5, you can also use it with a PC by plugging in the dongle or plugging it in via a 3.5mm analog audio jack. That said, many features of the Pulse are compromised on PC (unlike a virtual surround headset designed for that platform, like the Audeze Mobius). On-board controls do not work over a wired connection. Most work over a wireless connection, with the exception of the chat mix control.
According to Sony, the Pulse 3D gets up to 12 hours of battery life on a single charge. After draining the battery several times, it seems relatively accurate. It’s not terrible, but it falls below the high bar we’ve set for high-end gaming headsets.
The sound and microphone quality of the Sony Pulse 3D
The Pulse 3D headphones sound good for the price, but don’t expect anything fancy. While playing games, the sound is crisp and you can hear all the little details happening around you, like the different walking sounds when navigating around. Astro’s Playroomor the passage of traffic in Spider-Man Remastered. As with many mid-range headphones, it leans a bit on bass, even without the bass boost feature activated. By turning it on, which you can do through the PlayStation 5 audio settings, the low end is almost overwhelming. I noticed some distortion while playing Spider-Man: Miles Morales at maximum volume, which is a bit odd only because they don’t get extremely loud.
The Pulse 3D headset is a one-time use tool for playing PS5 games. Just as it doesn’t pair well with a PC, it’s not the best choice for sitting around and listening to music. Much of it comes down to the bad seal; when I listen to music in a pair of closed-back headphones, isolation is essential for good bass response, among other things. Sound effects and music are crisp and clear and easy to discern. Jin Sakai’s sword strikes in Ghost of Tsushima and explosions in Spider Man both sound equally good as long as you stay at least a little below the maximum volume, which is a bit odd only because they don’t get extremely loud.
Solid sound quality is hampered by the headset’s ability to block out ambient noise. If you play with other people or try to use the headphones in public via the 3.5mm jack, people around you will be able to hear you and you will be able to hear them.
The mic, as we mentioned earlier, is built into the headset itself. There is no arrow to adjust. This gives a sleeker overall experience, but a built-in mic has limitations compared to an adjustable boom. You’re not going to be perfectly clear like you would with a boom going from good to good. In my experience, my friends had no trouble understanding me, but the sound is tinny and hollow compared to a good bass. If you play a lot online or play with people picky about mic quality, this mic might not be enough to get you by, but it’s certainly passable.
So who should buy the Sony Pulse 3D headphones?
Strictly speaking, the Pulse 3D headset’s biggest crime is that it’s a perfectly acceptable headset for its $99 price tag. It offers reasonably good sound and mic quality as well as easy setup, but with the kind of compromise that often comes with making a priced wireless headset. Ultimately, we recommend it as one of the best PS5 headsets for its quality at this price point and sleek aesthetic. Still, some people will find the comfort issues hard to ignore.
It also bothers me that there is nothing special on the Sony Pulse 3D headphones. It is sony PS5 headset. The company knows more about the PlayStation 5 than anyone, and I would expect a deeper level of integration than what we see here, something that showcases the PlayStation 5. Sony has smartly upgraded its 3D audio to available to anyone plugging in a pair of headphones, meaning the Pulse 3D’s most important feature is what you can get from any headset. This headset can do everything you need it to, but there’s nothing anyone else does better elsewhere.