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Sony Inzone Buds review: Capable gaming earbuds with a couple of crucial caveats

Our Rating :
£177.00 from
Price when reviewed : 180
inc VAT

The Sony Inzone Buds are a great choice for multi-platform gamers with a Bluetooth LE Audio phone but less enticing for everyone else

Pros

  • Impressive sound quality
  • Very comfortable fit
  • Noise cancellation and 3D audio support

Cons

  • Bluetooth connectivity limitations
  • Not customisable on PS5
  • Mic could be better

Having launched PC-focussed gaming hardware brand Inzone in 2022, Sony Electronics is back with its first wireless earbuds for gamers, the Sony Inzone Buds.

The Inzone Buds were released alongside a new over-ear gaming headset, the Inzone H5, completing a lineup that includes last year’s M3 and M9 monitors and H3, H7 and H9 headsets. They deliver an impressive audio performance on both PC and PlayStation, with strong battery life, easy-to-use touch controls, effective noise cancellation and various customisation options rounding out a solid set of features.

Most of those customisation options are only available on PC, however, and Bluetooth restrictions mean that not everyone will be able to use the Inzone Buds with their smartphone. Those issues limit their appeal somewhat and there’s room for improvement where microphone quality is concerned. However, the Inzone Buds remain a decent option for wireless gaming across multiple platforms.

Sony Inzone Buds review: What do you get for the money?

The Inzone Buds cost £180, which is a little pricey compared to a lot of the competition. Razer’s PlayStation-licensed Hammerhead HyperSpeed will set you back £150, the EPOS GTW 270 retail for £129, and the JBL Quantum TWS have a list price of £125.

However, they are cheaper than the gaming earbuds recently released by another Sony subsidiary, Sony Interactive Entertainment. The Pulse Explore (£199) are manufactured by PlayStation and use the brand’s new wireless audio technology, PlayStation Link, to facilitate seamless device switching and achieve low-latency, lossless audio. 

Your £180 gets you a pair of earbuds that look rather like a slimmed-down version of Sony’s WF-1000XM3. They’re considerably lighter than those impressive in-ear headphones, however, with each bud weighing roughly 6.5g. The buds terminate in silicone ear tips that seal off your ear canals and Sony supplies a choice of four sizes (SS, S, M and L) to help achieve a stable and comfortable fit.

Also included in the box is a USB-C to USB-A charging cable for topping up the accompanying charging case along with the USB-C transceiver that facilitates a 2.4GHz wireless connection when plugged into your PS5, PC, smartphone or laptop. Bluetooth connectivity is supported too, although it’s limited to LE Audio, which means you’ll need a device with Bluetooth 5.3 capabilities to make use of it.

The battery life of the buds is stated at 11hrs with noise cancellation engaged and 12hrs with it off, while the case provides one full charge for a total battery life of around a day. When connected via Bluetooth, these figures drop by an hour. I got roughly two weeks of mixed moderate daily usage out of them before needing to top up both the buds and case.

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Sony Inzone Buds review: What did we like about them?

The Inzone Buds are available in either black or white; I was sent the white version and rather like their aesthetic. It nicely complements the look of the PlayStation 5 but it’s important to note that while the Inzone Buds work well with Sony’s next-gen console, PC gamers get access to a wider range of functionality and customisation options via the Inzone Hub software.

Not only do the Inzone Buds look the part, but they’re also very comfortable. Using the largest ear tips, I was able to create an effective in-ear seal that didn’t exert undue pressure on my ear canals, meaning I could game happily for hours without any discomfort. They don’t lie as flat against your ears as Sony’s flagship true wireless earbuds – the WF-1000XM5 – but this wasn’t detrimental to my gaming experience.

While the design and fit are different to the XM5, the Inzone Buds use the same 8.4mm “Dynamic Driver X” units to deliver audio and, for the most part, I was very pleased with their performance. The default frequency response is well-balanced, there was no noticeable audio/video lag, and the buds are particularly adept at reproducing mid-range and treble sounds, doing so with great clarity and conviction.

Dialogue was always perfectly intelligible during narrative-heavy titles like Final Fantasy XVI and Horizon Forbidden West on PS5 and sonic highlights were brilliantly bright without ever becoming harsh. 

The Inzone Buds support PlayStation’s Tempest 3D audio engine and despite a relatively narrow soundstage, they articulated positional audio cues effectively. There was clear left and right delineation when contending with the terrifying ensemble of creatures in the Resident Evil 4 remake and the additional spatial awareness helped me prepare for the horrors lurking at every turn.

When gaming on PC, the Inzone Buds can take advantage of Sony 360 Reality Audio – the same technology supported by the WF-1000XM5 and their over-ear stablemates, the WH-1000XM5. I found this communicated spatial sound slightly more effectively than Tempest 3D Audio, giving me an ever-better indication of what was going on around me and a more accurate sense of distance. For optimal results, you’ll want to download the 360 Spatial Sound Personalizer app and create a custom profile based on the shape of your ears.

Noise cancellation has become an increasingly common inclusion on gaming headsets of late and, unsurprisingly given Sony’s track record, it’s handled well here. You don’t get quite the same level of attenuation as you would while using the WF-1000XM5, nor can you adjust how strong the cancellation is, but I found it blocked out more than enough external noise to fully focus on the games I was playing.

There’s also a transparency mode available when you need to tune into your surroundings. Again, it’s not up the the high standards set by the WF-1000XM5, but did allow me to communicate with my partner without having to pause my game.

Switching modes couldn’t be simpler, with a single tap on the left earbud cycling between noise cancellation, ambient awareness and having both turned off. The remaining touch controls are equally straightforward. Holding your finger down on the left bud turns the microphones on or off, while a single tap on the right increases volume. A longer press lowers the volume and the Inzone Buds were responsive to my touch and quick to act on my commands.

The Inzone Buds’ in-ear stamina is also to be applauded. You won’t find many true wireless earbuds able to last much more than seven or eight hours with noise cancellation engaged, but the Inzone Buds have the juice to handle an all-day gaming marathon and then some.

Sony Inzone Buds review: What could be improved?

My biggest gripe with the Sony Inzone Buds is that they only support LE Audio over Bluetooth 5.3. You’re covered if you own a recent release like the Google Pixel 8 Pro, Apple iPhone 15 Pro or Samsung Galaxy S23 but those with an Android phone from before 2022 will need to give up their precious USB-C port for the wireless transmitter to use the buds on the go.

And those who own an iPhone with a Lightning connector are completely stuffed. Alienating such a large group doesn’t make business sense, so I can only assume technical or cost limitations prevented the inclusion of support for regular Bluetooth connectivity. 

Another shortcoming is the lack of customisation available if you’re using the Inzone Buds on PlayStation 5. You can adjust the height of the 3D Audio profile via the console’s settings but that’s about it. The Inzone Hub, meanwhile, provides a wide range of personalisation options for players using a Windows PC.

Those options include the ability to create a custom EQ using a ten-band graphic equaliser, access to some preset EQs and toggles for spatial audio, automatic power off and voice guide notifications. You can also adjust the level of ambient sound and sidetone, have ambient mode focus specifically on voices and rebind the touch controls.

Changes made to the controls carry over to use on PS5, which is just as well as you can’t adjust game and chat balance by default. Unfortunately, EQ tweaks do not.

Microphone quality is serviceable but not one of the Inzone Buds’ stronger suits. My Expert Reviews gaming buddy, Will Geogiardias, reported that I sounded “pretty clear” as we blasted our way through the procedurally generated world of Remnant II – hardly a ringing endorsement of a pair of earbuds costing the best part of £200.

He could make out my exasperation as he killed me with friendly fire for the sixth time in a co-op session but also noted he was able to pick up on various other goings on in my living room, despite the Inzone Buds making use of an AI-developed noise reduction algorithm.

Finally, the bass reproduction of the Inzone Buds’ default EQ lacks the kind of wallop characteristic of many gaming headsets on the market. This has advantages – a booming bass response can muddy dialogue and drown out more subtle audio cues such as footsteps –  and is rectifiable using the equaliser settings in Inzone Hub if you’re gaming on PC. But PS5 players in search of truly gratifying low-end impact will likely find the buds fall a little short of their expectations. 

Sony Inzone Buds review: Should you buy them?

If you flit between gaming on PC and PlayStation 5 and own a smartphone that supports Bluetooth 5.3, I’d certainly recommend the Sony Inzone Buds. They’re capable of delivering detailed and immersive gaming audio thanks to support for two spatial audio formats, are extremely comfortable, have bountiful battery life, and the inclusion of noise cancellation enables them to effectively double up as earbuds for general use.

That recommendation isn’t as strong if you only game on PS5 or own an older phone, however. Without the Inzone Hub’s customisation options or the flexibility of being able to use them wherever you go, the Inzone Buds are just not as appealing.

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