Article updated on February 15, 2024 at 6:00 AM PST

Sony Pulse Elite Wireless Headset Review: Impressive for the Price

Designed for use with the PS5 and lots of other devices, the $150 Pulse Elite Wireless Headset's secret sauce is its low-distortion planar magnetic drivers, which are usually found in high-end audiophile headphones.

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David Carnoy
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Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
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8.4/ 10

Sony Pulse Elite Wireless Headset

$150 at Best Buy


  • Fairly affordable
  • Excellent sound (planar magnetic drivers)
  • Low latency for gaming
  • Connect to multiple devices at the same time
  • Very good voice-calling performance


  • Onboard controls don't work when headset is paired with phone
  • Slightly heavy and bulky

In December 2023, Sony released its $200 Pulse Explore earbuds. Though they're ostensibly low-latency gaming buds designed to be used with Sony's PS5 gaming console, its new PlayStation Portal remote player and Windows and Mac computers, they sound shockingly good for music listening when paired with a phone via Bluetooth. That's largely because they feature planar magnetic drivers, the same low-distortion drivers found in Sony's new $150 Pulse Elite Wireless Headset. And it's that driver technology, along with excellent noise reduction and microphone performance, that ultimately makes the Pulse Elite a standout among a plethora of gaming headsets, especially at this price point.

Watch this: Pulse Elite Review: PlayStation's New Gaming Headset

Step-up design

From a design standpoint, I'd describe the Pulse Wireless Headset as a swankier version of Sony's Pulse 3D Wireless Headset, which retails for around $100. Sony's gaming headsets have always looked and felt a little plasticky (not surprising since they're all-plastic affairs), but the Pulse Elite Wireless Headset has a cleaner, more futuristic look than the Pulse 3D, and its ear cups and cushy ear pads are a step up not only in terms of design but quality and comfort.

The only downside I noticed was that the black matte plastic on the exterior of the ear cups can easily get scuffed up (the black shows the scuff marks). I'd have preferred a lighter color for the ear cups, even if it would've taken away from the two-tone design. 

The big issue with noise-isolating earbuds like the Pulse Explore is that not everyone can get an optimal fit. If you don't, the sound quality will be adversely impacted, so you may encounter one person who thinks the Pulse Explore buds sound great and another who's underwhelmed. With an over-ear headset, sound quality issues related to fit tend not to be a thing.  

The Sony Pulse Elite Wireless Headset has a retractable boom microphone

The headset has a retractable boom microphone.

David Carnoy/CNET

Like the Pulse 3D, this model also features a headband strap that slides up and down and is designed to take pressure off the crown of your head. That strap is an important feature because this headset is definitely on the heavy side, weighing in at 347 grams (12.2 ounces) versus the Pulse 3D's 292 grams (10.3 ounces). By comparison, Apple's AirPods Max weigh in at 384.8 grams (13.6 ounces) and have a mesh headband that's designed to mitigate undue pressure.

You can look at the weight as a good or bad thing. Yes, you ideally want a lighter headset (or headphones), but a weightier set of cans gives the impression of higher quality. Over-ear headphones with planar magnetic drivers are often rather bulky and  expensive, so you could argue that the Pulse Elite Wireless Headset is remarkably compact and lightweight given the driver technology it's using. All that said, I didn't have an issue with comfort wearing them for longer gaming and listening sessions. Nor did my teenage son, who plays Fortnite, Rainbow Six: Siege and EA Sports FC 24 way too much and approved of the fit and performance of the headset. 

Dual-device connectivity

As with the Pulse Explore Earbuds, connecting the headset to the PS5 was simple. You plug in the PlayStation Link USB adapter to the USB-A port on the PS5 and then press the link button on the case with the earbuds still in their case. What's also nice is that you can simultaneously be connected to your phone via Bluetooth and take a call if it comes in while you're gaming.

Though you could pair these with a PC via Bluetooth, you'll likely want to use the PlayStation Link USB adapter with your Mac or Windows PC because it creates a lossless, low-latency connection with the buds. With the Nintendo Switch, you'll need a USB-C-to-USB-A adapter to plug in the dongle. No dongle is required for the PlayStation Portal remote player. It's a shame you need a dongle for the PS5, as it's unclear why the technology can't be built into the unit like it is with the Portal. But Sony reps told me the development of the PS5, even in its newer slim version, didn't line up with the development of the Pulse Explore earbuds and the Pulse Elite Wireless Headset (apparently the timing worked for the Portal).

To test the headset for gaming, I split my time between a PS5 and a PlayStation Portal. Once you connect to the Portal (or PS5), the headset will automatically relink with the device when you turn it on, while also remaining connected to your phone. In my 15 hours or so of game testing, I didn't notice any lag, and the headset sounded very good overall, offering an immersive audio experience similar to what I'm used to with other premium over-ear headsets I've tested.

The Sony Pulse Elite Wireless Headset has plush ear pads
Enlarge Image
The Sony Pulse Elite Wireless Headset has plush ear pads

The headset's ear pads are quite comfortable and do a good job of passively sealing out the world around you.

David Carnoy/CNET

The headset is compatible with Sony's 3D Audio-supported games (I played Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater), and Sony says they'll "enhance your perception in 3D Audio-supported PS5 games as audio cues are positioned with an incredible degree of accuracy across all three dimensions." Note that you do have to turn on 3D Audio for the headset in your PS5's settings.

As with the Pulse Explore earbuds, microphone performance seemed excellent for multiplayer games, and the onboard volume controls worked fine while I was connected to both the PS5 and PlayStation Portal. You may not notice it at first, but there's a retractable and bendable boom microphone, and you can place it close to your mouth for optimal voice pickup. It's also equipped with a mute button, which is always appreciated.

Limited headphone features, but enough

As with the Pulse Explore buds, the Pulse Elite Wireless Headset has no active noise canceling (aka ANC), but you do get a good amount of passive noise isolation from the ear pads, which seal out the outside world well. So I didn't miss the active noise cancellation too much, though it would be nice to have.

There are no ear-detection sensors that automatically pause your music when you take the headset off, and no companion iOS or Android app with an equalizer. However, you can tweak the sound with a recently added equalizer on the PS5 and save those settings to the headset (all firmware updates are done via the PS5).

The volume control buttons only worked when using the headset with a PS5 and PlayStation Portal, and there were no controls for skipping tracks when using the headset with a phone. (I tested with an iPhone 15 and Google Pixel 7.)

Though most people will use this as a wireless headset, it can be used wire, but Sony doesn't include a headphone cable (no USB-C audio is available). What's interesting is that, unlike the Pulse 3D, you have to turn on the power to use this headset as a wired headphone, which improves the sound quality. For folks with a collection of lossless music files on their computers, you can plug in and have a relatively high-end listening experience.

Impressive sound quality

Sony recently acquired Audeze, known for its planar magnetic drivers and in 2021, it made a pair of $1,299 wired planar magnetic earbuds called the Euclid that are currently listed as sold out. Planar magnetic drivers are prized for sonic accuracy and less distortion-prone. They're typically larger than standard dynamic drivers found in most headphones and harder to drive.

Many video games feature visceral audio elements, including rather loud explosions, but you might also notice that background music sounds clearer and more refined when listening with this headset. The headphones are very revealing and articulate, so they can make badly recorded tracks sound worse but will make well-recorded tracks sound even better.

While the headset may not offer quite the same sound quality as high-end over-ear planar magnetic headphones, which tend to be open-back headphones, it exhibits many of the same sound traits: well-balanced audio that's detailed, accurate and relatively open (wide sound stage), with bass that goes deep but is well defined. 

I can't guarantee everybody will love the sound. If you like warmer headphones that are a little more bass-heavy, this headset may not be your cup of tea (Sony's WH-1000XM5 noise-canceling headphones are warmer).  

Alas, it doesn't support Sony's well-regarded LDAC audio codec for Bluetooth streaming. It does support the AAC audio codec, and I had no issue with how loud the headset played when I was using my iPhone 15. (The volume was slightly lower with the Pixel 7.)

Pulse Elite Wireless battery life and charging

I didn't have a chance to fully test the headset's battery life, but Sony rates it at 30 hours of listening at moderate volume levels, and a quick-charge feature gives you two hours of battery life from a 10-minute charge. No complaints there.

The Sony Pulse Elite Wireless Headset come with a charging dock

You can hang the headphones up on the included charging dock, though you do have to mount it on a wall.

David Carnoy/CNET

There are two ways to charge the headset. You can plug a USB-C cable into its USB-C port and charge that way. I charged using my own AC adapter, but you can connect the USB-C cable to one of your PS5's USB ports if you have one free.

Additionally, Sony includes a little charging hanger (dock) that you mount on a wall or something you can drive a screw into (the screw isn't included). On the underside of the headband, you'll find a second charging port that meshes with the charging dock. You plug the included USB-C cable into the dock and connect the cable to your PS5 (or an AC adapter) and then hang the headset in the dock to charge it. 

Great for voice-calling

As with the Pulse Explore earbuds, I was impressed with this headset's voice-calling capabilities. Callers told me it did a superb job suppressing background noise while my voice came through clearly, even on the noisy streets of New York (they couldn't tell I was outside).

Certainly, having a boom microphone right in front of your mouth helps, but this is an excellent headset for making phone calls or videoconferencing on a computer.  

The Sony Pulse Elite Wireless Headset is excellent for voice calls

Making calls on the streets of New York. 

David Carnoy/CNET

Sony Pulse Elite Wireless final thoughts

There are a lot of decent gaming headsets out there that are comfortable to wear over long gaming sessions. Some cost less than the Pulse Elite Wireless and some cost considerably more. Ultimately, what sets the Pulse Elite Wireless apart from the competition are its planar magnetic drivers and excellent sound quality for both gaming and everyday music listening. While it may not necessarily look like a high-end gaming headphone, it does perform like one and seems like a relative bargain. I wish it had a few more features that made it a little more conducive to use as an everyday headphone, but I can't complain too much because headphones with planar magnetic drivers would cost a lot more.

In some ways, I do prefer the Pulse Explore earbuds, simply because they're much smaller and thus easier to carry around (the buds cost more because of how challenging it is to implement planar magnetic driver technology in earbuds). But with earbuds, a certain segment of users won't get the optimal fit and sound quality will suffer. With an over-ear headset like this, the vast majority of people should get a good fit, so you should see fewer negative reviews about sound quality, even though the Pulse Explore buds and Elite Wireless buds sound pretty similar.