PlayStation Pulse Elite Headset Review

PlayStation has been expanding its first-party audio offering and at the top of the ladder is the latest high-end PlayStation Pulse Elite headset. This pair of over-the-ear headphones is the evolutionary step up from the base Pulse 3D headset that first launched alongside the PlayStation 5 in 2020.

Since that time, Sony and PlayStation have identified new ways to innovate and immerse players. To do so, Playstation invested in new solutions all powered by a new audio system. Sony launched the new PlayStation Link audio technology. This was first introduced when the Pulse Explore earbuds launched on December 6th. Earlier this year, we went hands-on with the buds. While impressed with the technology, PlayStation has some things to be desired. This left the PlayStation Pulse Elite ripe to step in and become that well-balanced device the audio ecosystem was missing.

Now, we’re on the advent of the Pulse Elite’s launch. The headset is poised to be an upgrade from the base Pulse 3D while taking advantage of the latest lossless and ultra-low latency support. But are all the new bells and whistles enough to shell out $199.99? Ultimately, it depends on the user and how much they value a higher-end audio experience on PlayStation 5.

Out of the box

By now it should come as no surprise how committed PlayStation is to having all of its devices fit the design aesthetic of the PlayStation 5. The Pulse Elite is no exception to the rule. If you’re familiar with the Pulse 3D headset, the new sister product doesn’t deviate too far. It retains the same black and white colourway as the PlayStation 5. The suspension band is practically the same. However, there are minor design changes to the overall product.

For instance, the white rigid plastic headband now protrudes slightly past the redesigned earpads. This is largely because Sony has reformatted the controls and onboard microphone. Now instead of the volume control, on/off button, etc. being on the earcup, it’s built into the white stems. Additionally, Pulse Elite has a built-in expandable microphone hidden in the left stem. Simply pull it out and adjust it to a comfortable position in front of your mouth. There’s also a handy mute button built into the concealable microphone. Alternatively, the DualSense button retains its mute ability while using the Pulse Elite.

Even with all the changes and added components, Pulse Explore is incredibly lightweight and comfortable to wear for hours on end. I do appreciate the slight refresh to the earcups. They seemingly fit better around my ear, creating a tighter seal. The material is also a bit more spongey. I’ve been left wondering if the change in density was a decision made to improve acoustics or if it was purely for comfort. Either way, the Pulse Explore feels like a premium headset.

Within the box, PlayStation includes a PlayStation Link USB adapter, USB-C charging cable and components for a surprise Charging Hanger. Perhaps I was not aware but PlayStation opted to have two means of charging the headset. The first is the traditional USB-C port located on the earstem. The second uses the Pulse Elite Charging Hanger. This givesaway to the option of mounting the hanger on a wall, desk, etc. The USB-C then feeds into a passthrough that connects to the top of the white headband. It’s a similar charging method as the DualSense Charging Station. I wasn’t aware of the Charging Hangar’s inclusion so it was a nice surprise when I unboxed the device.

Immersion and clarity

For the last few years, I have been happily using the base Pulse 3D headphones on PlayStation 5 not only because of its ease of use but because of its immersive technology. After transitioning over to the Explore earbuds the past few months, I saw the advancements in audio technology start to take form but still didn’t know to the degree to which the Pulse Elite would be capable.

Much like the Pulse Explore buds, Pulse Elite is built using the new planar magnetic drivers. This is the basis of Sony’s advanced audio, in which the drivers can render an accurate and wide soundscape. Essentially, this is the next step up from the 3D audio support PlayStation 5 offers. In The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered, enemy footsteps can be pinpointed more accurately. The whistles of the Seraphites not only echo in the silence but hit my ear like a bullet. PlayStation’s Pulse Elite also heightens those epic moments while playing. The roaring soundtrack of Helldivers 2 crafted by Wilbert Roget II flooded my ears as my friends and I fought for liberty. Gunfire from the Automatons woosh by my ear to such an immersive degree.

The Pulse Elites also giveaway to very subtle audio cues. I’ve played countless hours of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 but have noticed new layers of audio when dropping into Warzone with some pals. I find the headset can provide clarity when it comes from the angles of gunfire or the location of chests. They may not necessarily give you the winning advantage but in a competitive setting, that added sense of immersion does help.

Clarity is also extended to in-party voice chats. I asked a friend of mine to sit down in a party chat as I swapped between using the base Pulse 3D, Pulse Explore, and the new Pulse Elite headphones. I had been told that the Pulse Elite did offer the best clarity, though only by a fractional margin compared to the Pulse 3D. The main advantage of the Pulse Elite, so I’m told, was that background noise (mainly my cat meowing) wasn’t registered through the Pulse Elite. The new headset utilizes AI noise-rejection to identify background sounds and remove them.

Audio and longevity

As with Pulse Explore, the Pulse Elite utilizes the new PlayStation Link technology to deliver lossless audio and ultra-low latency support. To do this, the headset ships with a small USB dongle that much be inserted into your PS5 or PC when in use. The PlayStation Link dongle can be used to connect upwards of eight compatible devices, including the PlayStation Explore earbuds. It’s also worth noting that the PlayStation Link dongle can be used on Nintendo Switch when paired with a USB-C to USB-A adapter.

Recently, a PlayStation system software update launched a sound equalizer feature. This was designed for PlayStation Pulse and Explore, enabling users to tweak audio preferences. Out of the box, Pulse Elite has very little to no bass. The new EQ settings are supposed to help add some much-needed bass and lower frequencies. Unfortunately, the bass delivered by the planar magnetic drivers often sounds flat. However, mid to high frequencies sound rich and punchy across the board.

Aside from updates to its audio technology, the increase in battery life is the selling feature of the Pulse Explore. In the week-long period I’ve had with my headset, I’ve only had to charge it once. It’s been able to hold upwards of 25 hours of battery life on a single charge. There’s also speedy fast charging enabled. From a 30-minute charge, the Pulse Explore lasted a five-hour gaming session without any interruptions. On average, the Pulse 3D headphones typically last me 10-12 hours before needing a charge. Pulse Explore struggled to deliver half that, topping out at five hours. If uninterrupted battery life is a priority for you, the Pulse Elite is an obvious upgrade from the base model.

Final thoughts

I was hesitant and skeptical when approaching Pulse Elite. I found the base headset so robust that maybe the newly developed over-the-ear solution may be a little lacklustre. However, much to my surprise, Playstation not only brought over all the things that worked with PlayStation Explore but the headphones addressed some of the points of the earbuds. If you’ve been on the fence about investing in the $199.99 Pulse Elite, the benefits of lossless audio and ultra-low latency are a no-brainer.

I’ve been delighted with the battery life thus far. It’s simply one of the best refreshes I’ve seen from the house of PlayStation. Whether I’m investing hours in an immersive single-player experience or jumping into a party chat with friends, Pulse Elite offers top-of-the-line audio solutions. There are a lot of perks to garner from this headset as long as deep bass and low frequencies aren’t deal breaker.

PlayStation Pulse Elite launch in Canada on February 21st.

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