PlayStation Pulse Elite vs Pulse Explore - which new audio device is best for you?

Split artwork of Sony's PlayStation Pulse Elite headset and Pulse Explore earbuds
(Image credit: Future/Sony)

Choosing between the PlayStation Pulse Elite headset and PlayStation Pulse Explore earbuds is the latest quandary for Sony, PlayStation 5, and gaming audio fans. Both products could make their own mark on the internet’s best PS5 headset lists when the Elite joins the Explore on store shelves and with interest in the pair of official products we’re here to help you choose between them.

Both were announced alongside the PlayStation Portal back in August of last year with the Pulse Explore earbuds arriving in December 2023. The Pulse Elite headset is set to come out on February 21, 2024. With distinct deployments, designs, and specs offered by both, there’s much to mull over if you’ve been eyeing up the two.

The Elite headset and Explore earbuds could present a landmark moment for official Sony PS5 audio accessories. This is due to Sony Interactive Entertainment’s acquisition of high-end audio and headphone company Audeze last year. As well as super high-end music headphones, Audeze is known for making some of the most exquisite, premium gaming headsets of recent years. Sets such as the Penrose and Maxwell use large audiophile-focused planar magnetic drivers and are known for their incredibly rich and detailed audio profiles. Both the Elite headset and Explore earbuds feature that same tech and could mark the new standard for Sony’s PS5 hardware.

So which is best for you in the Pulse Elite vs Pulse Explore match-up? Read on and weigh up your options depending on what you need.

PlayStation Pulse Elite vs Pulse Explore - Price

A lifestyle shot of the PlayStation Portal handheld gaming device and accompanying earbuds

(Image credit: Sony)

The PlayStation Pulse Elite headset is the cheapest of the two options, coming in at $149.99 / £129.99. This represents a jump from the Pulse 3D wireless headset that launched with the PS5 back in 2020 as the official audio companion. There are a handful of significant features that elevate the Elite above its predecessor that we’ll go into below, though, so the increase in price looks to be about right. You can place a Pulse Elite pre-order right now before the headset’s February 21, 2024 release date.

On the other hand, the Pulse Explore earbuds have a steeper price of admission of $199.99 / £199.99. This puts the Explore earbuds in the same territory as Sony’s own Inzone Buds, the company’s other gaming offering (though separate from the PS5 hardware ecosystem), at the premium end of the earbud market. Pre-orders and launch stock of the earbuds wobbled but you can readily get your hands on Pulse Explore earbuds stock now, thankfully. 

PlayStation Pulse Elite vs Pulse Explore - Design

PlayStation Pulse Elite artwork

(Image credit: Sony)

The Elite is a gaming headset so, by default, has a larger, chunkier design. It is worn over your head with an ear cup fully enclosing each ear, with a rubber headband stretching over your head. It shares a lot of its form factor and design aesthetic with the Pulse 3D and wider PS5 accessory lineup, generally looking like an augmented variation of its predecessor. It also features some onboard controls and a retractable boom mic on the left ear cup.

The Pulse Explore are true wireless gaming earbuds, with each bud being totally independent of the other and of any wires. Each one fits into the user’s ears neatly, with options for fit provided by different-sized tips (included). These too follow the PS5 family design ethos, finished in curved white and black parts. There’s one small button on each bud for volume control, too.

It seems obvious to say alongside imagery, but the difference in design is key when weighing up the choice between them; do you prefer something more lightweight and unobtrusive in each ear or something that’s secure, robust, and sizable to sit over the head?

PlayStation Pulse Elite vs Pulse Explore - Features

PlayStation Pulse Explore artwork

(Image credit: Sony)

While the internal driver size is different in the Elite headset and Explore earbuds, these are very likely larger in the Elite than the Explore earbuds just by the design of each device.. However, the audio on offer from both should be enhanced by the planar magnetic drivers, offering the level of audio we’ve grown to expect from Sony products, with the company promising rich audio full of subtle details.

In terms of microphone, there’s a clear difference between the two. The Pulse Elite offers a retractable boom mic in the headset arm of the left earcup. Such boom mics are known to offer better clarity of voice, in major part due to the proximity of the microphone to the user’s mouth. On the other hand, the Pulse Explore earbuds rely on built-in microphones. This kind of mic on earbuds will offer a solid experience but might allow environmental and background audio through and may not be able to capture a voice quite as clearly as a boom mic. However, Sony says both devices also feature AI-enhanced noise rejection, a feature that is “trained to identify, isolate, and remove unwanted noises when capturing your voice.”

The headline when it comes to connectivity is that both are PlayStation Link-enabled devices. In fact, the pair are the only Link-enabled audio devices on the market right now. This is Sony’s new proprietary wireless audio connection that promises lossless, high-quality audio. A dongle is required for this connection between both devices and the PS5, but both can also connect directly to the PlayStation Portal with the need for said dongle. For those who have one of the new handheld devices, or those looking to get their hands on PlayStation Portal stock soon, this feature makes the Elite and Explore buds very tempting wireless propositions to pair with the Portal. 

A picture of a PlayStation Portal, Pulse Explore earbuds, and Pulse Elite headset

(Image credit: Sony)

Both offer Bluetooth connectivity to external devices like a mobile phone. You can also connect either to a PS5 or Portal via PlayStation Link and a mobile or tablet via Bluetooth simultaneously for dual-device functionality. The Pulse Elite has one connectivity type that the Explore earbuds don’t however, and that’s a good old-fashioned analog connection via an audio jack. Always a great backup to have, and also means that the Elite can be used across all platforms as a wired companion. 

When it comes to battery life, there’s a rather stark difference between the Elite headset and Explore earbuds. Sony claims that the headset will last up to 30 hours while also offering a fast charge function which will get you two hours from just 10 minutes of charging. The Explore earbuds are stated to last up to five hours, but they can get some more juice from the charging case - up to another 10 hours. Each also comes with a charging-focused accessory, by way of the chunky but stylish charging case for the Explore earbuds and the charging hangar for the Pulse Elite headset. 

PlayStation Pulse Elite vs Pulse Explore - Verdict

PlayStation Pulse Explore artwork

(Image credit: Sony)

The Pulse Elite headset and Pulse Explore earbuds make for a tough choice for a new PS5 audio companion. While they share some features, namely those planar magnetic drivers and PlayStation Link connectivity, they’re deployed in very different ways and, as a result, provide very different propositions. We think it may well come down to design and what type of audio device you really want next. If you’re always a headset person, the Elite is probably best. But if you’ve been wanting some lightweight earbuds to team with your PS5 or PlayStation Portal then the Pulse Explores could be a perfect choice.

Buy the Pulse Elite headset if...

You’re looking for a quality built-for-PS5 headset
Building on the Pulse 3D headset from a few years ago, the Elite will likely be an improved, built-for-PS5 set, especially with those new planar magnetic drivers.

You want a robust, dependable audio device for PS5
The Pulse Elite headset will have a weightier, stronger build, and should be dependable for a long time, while also promoting ease of use and simplicity.

You need a headset with a dedicated mic
The Elite headset’s boom mic will likely be a better option for those looking for something that’ll ensure crystal-clear communication for online play.

You want to prioritize comfort
With soft ear cups and a headband that look similar to that of the Pulse 3D headset, the Pulse Elite will probably be very comfortable by default.

Buy the Pulse Explore earbuds if...

You’re looking for a premium and official set of PS5 earbuds
Also powered by planar magnetic drivers, the Pulse Explore earbuds are premium earbuds that promise crisp, detailed, and quality gaming audio.

You have a healthy budget
If you have plenty to spend on your next PS5 audio companion device then the Explore earbuds could be the premium match for you.

You want a lightweight and portable PS5 audio companion
You can't get much more portable and lightweight than gaming earbuds, so if teaming those characteristics with planar magnetic drivers and great audio is for you, then the Explores win out.

You don’t need another PS5 headset
If you already have a PS5 headset and want something different to provide more flexibility - perhaps to only have in one ear at a time, or to avoid wearing with glasses - then the earbuds could be a great fit. 

PlayStation Pulse Elite vs Pulse Explore - FAQs

What is the difference between the Pulse Elite and Pulse Explore?

If we had to distil it right down to a short overview, the main difference between the Pulse Elite and the Pulse Explore is that the former is a gaming headset designed to be worn over your heard and encase your ears, while the latter are earbuds, designed to go within your ears. This key difference will help guide you as to which is the best for you and your setup - but it's not the only way to discern between the two devices, as our article lays out.

Why are the Pulse Explore earbuds so expensive?

Coming in at $199.99 / £199.99, there's no denying that the price of admission for the Explore earbuds are sizeable. However, we think this is down to the tech that's, somehow, crammed inside them. Namely the planar magnetic drivers, which we think are the first of their kind to be designed into gaming earbuds. This premium feature is likely to contribute significantly to that price tag.

Looking for more options? Check out our guides to the best PS4 headsets, and the best gaming earbuds you can get right now. If you're looking to try and get hold of the Portal then check in with our regularly updated PlayStation Portal restock tracker.

Rob Dwiar
Deputy Editor, TechRadar Gaming

Rob is Deputy Editor of TechRadar Gaming, a video games journalist, critic, editor, and writer, and has years of experience gained from multiple publications. Prior to being TechRadar Gaming's Deputy Editor, he was a longstanding member of GamesRadar+, being the Commissioning Editor for Hardware there for years, while also squeezing in a short stint as Gaming Editor at WePC before joining TechRadar Gaming. He is also a freelance writer on tech, gaming hardware, video games, gardens, and landscapes and is crowdfunding a book on video game landscapes that you can back and pre-order now too.