The Sony Inzone H9 is a capable multi-platform gaming headset but fails to wow in the same way the company’s over-ear headphones do
- Immersive spatial audio
- Simultaneous Bluetooth/2.4GHz connectivity
- Good battery life
- Bulky plastic design
- Average microphone quality
- Bass can overshadow dialogue
Sony’s gaming headsets are typically designed with PlayStation use in mind, but not so the Sony Inzone H9. While the PlayStation Platinum and Pulse 3D headsets cater primarily to PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 owners, the Inzone H9 has PC gamers firmly in its sights, too.
It’s a capable wireless headset that performs well when paired with a PC and monitor but is equally effective when used with Sony’s latest console. It’s not without its shortcomings, however, and those expecting it to hit the same sonic or noise-cancelling heights as the exceptional Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones will need to temper their expectations.
Sony Inzone H9 review: What you need to know
Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen Sony console exclusives such as Horizon Zero Dawn, God of War and Spider-Man finally make their way to PC, and the new Inzone sub-brand seeks to capitalise on that previously untapped market.
The Inzone H9 is one of three new gaming headsets manufactured by Sony Electronics – the brains behind the WH-1000XM5 – and was created alongside the Inzone M3 (1080p) and Inzone M9 (4K) monitors. It’s the most advanced of the headset trio and offers active noise cancellation and ambient sound modes borrowed from Sony’s over-ear headphones.
There’s dual connectivity courtesy of Bluetooth 5.0 (SBC and AAC) and a 2.4GHz wireless dongle, meaning you can enjoy lag-free audio on PC, PlayStation or any source with a USB-A port while simultaneously listening to a podcast or playlist on your phone. There’s support for spatial audio in the form of Sony’s 360 Spatial Sound for Gaming if you’re playing on PC, while PlayStation 5 gamers benefit from the 3D audio delivered by the console’s Tempest sound engine. The headset is also Discord certified, which will please those that use that social platform as their primary form of communication while gaming.
Those wanting to customise their experience can do so using the Inzone Hub for Windows. This software provides access to a variety of device and sound settings, including a ten-band graphic equaliser that allows you to create your own EQ and a slider enabling you to control the volume of the microphone. The majority of these options only work when you’re connected to a PC, however.
Sony Inzone H9 review: Price and competition
The Sony Inzone H9 costs £269, putting it up there with the priciest wireless gaming headsets around. The most expensive option we’ve tested is the exceptional Bang & Olufsen Beoplay Portal, which has an RRP of £449. Like the H9, it supports dual-audio streaming, and the use of a virtual microphone means it doubles up very nicely as a Bluetooth headset.
Other high-end wireless headsets worth considering include the SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro Wireless (£330), which supports 360° Spatial Audio along with simultaneous wireless and Bluetooth audio streaming, and the fourth-generation Astro A50, which has recently received a price cut and can be picked up for £240.
Sony has a few other options of its own. The H7 is the H9’s more affordable wireless sibling and costs £199. It has full 360 Spatial Sound and looks practically identical to the H9 but replaces the soft-fit synthetic leather earpads with a smooth nylon. It also ditches the noise cancelling and ambient modes, while making do without with the LED rings found where the headband joins the earcups. Battery life is superior, however, with the H7 offering up to 40 hours of use compared to the 32 hours the H9 can manage with noise cancellation off.
The Pulse 3D headset launched alongside the PS5 and is a solid choice if you’re looking for an inexpensive wireless option for gaming on Sony’s latest console. We were impressed by its sound quality but mic performance and battery life proved a little lacklustre. Finally, Sony’s new H3 headset (£89) caters to those that are happy to use a wired connection. 360 Spatial Sound and use of the Inzone Hub are still supported, but the design is more basic and Bluetooth and wireless connection options aren’t available.
Sony Inzone H9 review: Design, comfort and connectivity
The Inzone H9’s design complements the M3 and M9 monitors and PlayStation 5 very nicely: the plastic housing is all white, while the inside of the headband and synthetic leather earpads are black.
Unfortunately, like Sony’s much sought-after console, the H9 is rather chunky. The earcups protrude out quite a bit and I was compared to the Reddit logo with them on, which wasn’t intended as a compliment to either myself or the headset. The H9 isn’t helped by its all-plastic frame, which leaves it looking rather less premium than it should given its price.
It is, however, lightweight at 330g, and very comfortable. There’s ample padding lining the earcups, and these proved spacious enough to ensure my ears didn’t overheat during longer gaming sessions. Though that spaciousness aids comfort, it leaves the earcups feeling a little loose and I found they slipped slightly when I moved my head vigorously. This won’t be an issue unless you’re an extremely animated gamer, however.
There are a full set of physical controls spread across the two earcups. The left houses a volume dial along with the ANC/AMB button, while the right is home to power and Bluetooth buttons and buttons for adjusting the game/chat balance. These are all sensibly laid out and make controlling your experience very easy.
When using the USB-A dongle, it’s a plug and play affair – simply insert the dongle into your source device, flick the switch to either PS5 or PC, select the headset as your output and you’re good to go. Pairing over Bluetooth is similarly painless and the LED rings on the headset reflect which connection method you’re currently using: blue for Bluetooth, white for wireless and alternate pulsing when hooked up to both.
You’ll get roughly 32 hours out of the H9 when gaming with ANC off, and 10 minutes on charge provides an hour or so of audio playback. Handily, the H9 can be used while charging via the included 1.5m USB-C cable so you’ll never find your gaming sessions cut unnecessarily short.
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Sony Inzone H9 review: Sound quality and microphone performance
The Inzone H9 uses 40mm drivers to deliver its sound and incorporates a couple of interesting design details Sony says help boost audio quality. Ducts on the outside of the earcups provide greater control over low frequencies, while the diaphragm used has a unique shape to aid the articulation of high-pitched sounds.
My experience of the Inzone H9’s audio was mixed, however. There’s no doubting its ability to deliver big, impactful bass but the clarity with which it does so leaves a bit to be desired. In-game explosions like those of grenades in Star Wars Battlefront II were visceral and appropriately dramatic but basslines felt overstated and lacking finesse on gaming soundtracks such as that of roguelike Hades.
It’s not unusual for gaming headsets to push low-end reproduction to the fore but for me, the H9 did this with too much zeal. Dialogue would occasionally suffer as a result – conversations between Aloy and members of the extensive supporting cast in Horizon Forbidden West on PS5 weren’t as crisp as I’d have liked, and vocals on musical numbers took a hit too.
Spatial audio is impressive, however, both on console and PC. The experience can be optimised by using Sony’s 360 Spatial Audio Personaliser app, which requires you to take a couple of photos of your ears which are then used to tweak audio accordingly. It’s only applied when gaming on PC, and I didn’t notice a huge difference after creating my unique profile, but the way in which the H9 positions sounds around your head is impressive no matter the platform.
While stalking robot dinosaurs as Aloy, I got a fantastic sense of everything that was going on around me and felt truly immersed in the action. When I sprung from cover to execute a silent strike, the sound of Aloy’s spear clanging against metal was convincing and the mechanical death whine of the various machines suitably disconcerting. Higher pitched frequencies certainly seem to benefit from the shape of the H9’s diaphragm, it’s just a shame that they sometimes get lost in chaotic scenes where big, booming bass takes centre stage.
The flip-to-mute microphone is not without limitations either. It can’t be detached, which isn’t a huge problem, but did mean I never once considered using the H9’s Bluetooth capabilities outside of the comfort of my own home. Intelligibility is reasonable – my gaming buddies and work colleagues were always able to understand what I was saying – but clarity and voice isolation proved hit and miss.
One colleague described me as sounding like I was in the cockpit of an aeroplane, while another said he was able to quite clearly hear me tapping away on my keyboard. In short, if you’re looking for a headset with a high-quality mic for broadcasting or streaming, the H9 isn’t it, but for general gaming purposes, it’ll do just fine.
UPDATE: In mid-October, Sony released a firmware update for the Inzone H9, which it says improves microphone quality when on calls or in party chat. This isn’t something I’ve been able to test for myself but may go some way to resolving some of the mic shortcomings of the headset.
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Sony Inzone H9 review: Noise cancellation
Not too many gaming headsets offer noise cancellation and ambient modes, so their inclusion here is certainly welcome, even if the implementation isn’t quite as effective as it is on the WH-1000XM5.
That’s to be expected given the different use cases and gulf in price though, and I’ve no complaints about how the H9 handles ANC. It’s easy to cycle between the two modes, and the noise cancelling dampens external sound well enough to ensure you can enjoy whatever you’re playing with minimal distractions. Ambient mode pipes in a level of external noise that allows you to remain aware of what’s happening at home – I never missed a delivery with the headset on – but not to the point where your gaming experience is negatively impacted.
I’d have liked a more obvious indication as to what mode you’re in for clarity’s sake – a voice prompt would have worked well in place of the two rather similar tones – but that’s me being picky.
Sony Inzone H9 review: Inzone Hub
The Inzone Hub is downloadable software for Windows and is actually rather useful, if you’re playing on PC that is. Unfortunately, the majority of the customisation options available won’t work if you’re connected to your PS5 or via Bluetooth.
Assuming you’re connected to your PC via the dongle, you’ve got access to three EQ presets – Flat, Bass Boost and Music/Video – and can create your own on a ten-band graphic equaliser that can be programmed with gains or losses of up to 12dB at each band. Dialling back the bass a few notches and boosting the mid-range remedied the gripes I mentioned in the audio section reasonably well, but it’s frustrating the changes are only applied if you’re connected to your computer.
Other handy options include the ability to control the dynamic range of the headset, the level of ambient sound, sidetone (how loud you hear your own voice) and microphone volume. It also provides an alternative method of adjusting the game/chat balance and switching between the noise cancelling and ambient sound modes if for whatever reason you don’t want to use the controls on the headset.
Whether they’ll be additional functionality added to the Hub if/when the Inzone range is expanded remains to be seen, but as it stands, it’s an easy-to-use platform offering some practical benefits for those gaming on PC.
Sony Inzone H9 review: Verdict
As a huge fan of the WH-1000XM5 and someone who spends a significant chunk of his spare time gaming, I had very high hopes for the Sony Inzone H9.
To say they were dashed would be unfair, as my overall experience was a pretty positive one. Spatial effects are immersive and the ability to listen to two audio sources simultaneously is one I value highly. Battery life is also longer than many of the H9’s competitors and being able to keep playing while charging means the only thing getting in the way of marathon gaming sessions is your own endurance.
But when the bar for audio quality has been set so high by Sony’s over-ear headphones, I couldn’t help but feel a little underwhelmed. The Inzone H9 lacks the balance and musical majesty of the XM5 and microphone quality could be better for the money, though Sony says it’s taken steps to rectify the latter.
The headset also feels and looks cheaper than it should given Sony is asking for £269 of your hard-earned cash. While I can give the PlayStation 5 a pass for being bulky, I’d like a bit more style from something I’m wearing on my head.