Sony isn't new to the wireless earbud game. It's produced some of the best buds on the market in its WH1000 XM range, most recently with the stellar XM5s. However, with the Inzone Buds, the brand is bridging the gap between its mainstream consumer and gaming markets - at an odd time, considering the PS5 Pulse Explore buds will also be hitting the shelves on December 6. With the latter offering 3D audio, simultaneous Bluetooth connections, and dedicated volume and mic mute buttons - features the Inzone Buds themselves don't offer, it's difficult to see where the new release fits. After spending a month with the buds, I'd put them somewhere in the middle of the two markets.
These are gaming earbuds still, but they're not quite so laser-focused on the PS5. They've got the ANC and sound quality to put them more in line with the everyday XM5-type buds but without the Bluetooth compatibility to back them up. The Sony Inzone Buds are fraught with contradictions, but if you find yourself in the niche of players who will make the most of their features, there's plenty to love here.
|Price||$199.99 / £179.99|
|Connection||2.4GHz (USB-C) / Bluetooth LE|
|Driver||Sony Dynamic Driver X|
|Additional ear tips||4 extra sets, 1 set installed|
|Battery||12 hours (2.4GHz) / 24 hours (Bluetooth LE) + up to 48 hours in case|
|Compatibility||PC, PlayStation, Android, Nintendo Switch|
While Sony might be angling the Inzone Buds more toward a PC market, there's an undeniable air of the PS5 in their design. This is much clearer in the black-and-white model, and the all-black model I received is far more subtle. You'll still find those soft curves of the PlayStation's latest look without being as in-your-face about it as the Inzone headsets, for instance.
I'd argue that the case goes against this slick, smooth ethos. The chunky treasure chest-type design is a solid rectangle with a much larger footprint than you'll find elsewhere on the shelves. A sloped back means it sits neatly on a tabletop, though - handy considering the USB-C charging port leads out from the back. That's great, but I would much rather have a portable case than one that looks nice sitting on my desk. Everything carries the quality you would expect here, though, with a satisfying snap to the lid itself and a sturdy hinge keeping everything safe. I was also pleased to find a spot for the USB-C 2.4GHz dongle inside the clamshell as well.
Lifting the buds out of the case and into the ears, I was surprised by the level of comfort on offer here. I initially held comfort concerns after spying the fairly harsh sudden contours of the top of each bud, but they slotted neatly into each ear and could stay there for longer sessions without making themselves known. After all, the best designs are the ones you don't even notice and after about ten minutes I forgot the Sony Inzone Buds were even there. You will, of course, find four pairs of extra earbud tips in various sizes to make sure you're getting the right fit.
The Sony Inzone Buds are designed to bridge a gap between gaming and everyday earbuds, but they don't quite offer the features to truly satisfy either. In the world of gaming, earbuds need to be fast, offer a clear microphone, and provide some depth to directional audio. The 2.4GHz USB-C connection certainly keeps up its end of the bargain, matching on-screen action to audio cues quickly and precisely - there was never any concern about lag in my testing across PC and PS5. Similarly, the directional audio, once set up with the same bizarre ear pic process as the Sony Inzone H5, kept the soundstage realistic and offered a nice level of accuracy to various spatial cues. However, the microphone isn't up to the standard you'd expect from a gaming-specific set of buds. This is a standard mic you'd expect to find on an everyday device - it's doable for the odd call when you're out and about but I was muffled and distant on in-game chat, with calls often being lost to the audio void.
Then we get to the features relied upon by millions after an everyday set of earbuds for music and streaming. ANC, a strong battery life, Bluetooth connection, and easy media controls are all heavy hitters here, but the Inzone Buds fall down in this arena as well.
It's worth pointing out straight off the bat that Sony certainly hasn't let its ANC game slip here. This is still the incredibly powerful active noise cancellation that you'll find in top models like the WF-1000XM4 or XM5s. I would go so far as to say that the blocking from this tech is a solid reason by itself to opt for the Inzone Buds - it certainly made walking the dog next to a busy street far more peaceful. Battery life is solid too, you're getting 12 hours from the buds themselves over a 2.4GHz connection, with an additional 12 hours available via the charging case.
Unfortunately, there's a heavy blow for iPhone users. The Bluetooth LE used to wirelessly connect to a device without the USB-C 2.4GHz dongle isn't compatible with a range of smartphones, laptops, and even the Nintendo Switch. That means you won't be able to use these as everyday earbuds on an iPhone, Macbook, or some older Android devices - a bizarre choice from Sony considering such flexibility across Bluetooth is industry standard at the moment. It's a considerable sacrifice and one that means I wouldn't recommend the Inzone Buds to iPhone users at all.
The Inzone Buds do feature touch controls, with a nicely mapped range of commands on each side. They were nice and responsive as well, with a quick tap or double tap instantly yielding the desired result. You can also customize this mapping within the Inzone PC software (there's no smartphone app here), which also acts as a home for your EQ customization.
While the features on offer are a little frustrating, the Sony Inzone Buds do impress with their audio quality. I was surprised by the size of the soundstage, having never quite experienced a breadth quite like this from smaller in-ear buds before. That wider space meant a fantastic level of detail, particularly in the mids and highs, with well-defined effects and dialogue handling as well.
The jingles of Eastward mingled with the ambient sound effects and bouncy soundtrack with a rich precision that felt warmly textured and nicely balanced. Meanwhile more competitive endeavors like CS:GO had clearly defined and easily followable directional cues, with a crisp, snappy reload tone. In these upper ranges, the Sony Inzone Buds absolutely sing, and while the bass isn't as strong as you'll find in a full over-ear gaming headset, I was impressed by the power of explosions and gunfire in Dead Island 2. That's power, but not necessarily detail. While typical of gaming earbuds, the lower ranges were considerably flatter than those further up the scale, with far less definition to individual sounds and a muddy tone overall.
Should you buy the Sony Inzone Buds?
While there's some solid audio quality coming out of these drivers, and a long-term comfort that can't be taken for granted from in-ear buds, Sony's offering isn't one I would recommend to the majority of gamers. That limited connectivity is a big problem here - a $199.99 / £179.99 price tag needs to earn its keep and considering you'll find earbuds cheaper than this with far greater application across your everyday life, it's difficult to justify.
iPhone users need not apply straight away, Android users can get by if they're prioritizing active noise cancellation and battery life in their buds. In this scenario, though, I would at least await the verdict on the Pulse Explore buds before pulling the trigger. With simultaneous Bluetooth connections, 3D audio for PS5, and dedicated gaming features like mic mute and volume buttons, December's offering looks to be the better option on paper. We'll keep this review updated as the new buds hit the market in the coming weeks, but for now, this is a wait-and-see situation.
|Specs||Sony Inzone Buds||Razer Hammerhead HyperSpeed||EPOS GTW 270 Hybrid|
|Price||$199.99 / £179.99||$149.99 / £149.99||$149 / £129|
|Connection||2.4GHz (USB-C) / Bluetooth LE||2.4GHz / Bluetooth||2.4GHz / Bluetooth|
|Driver||Sony Dynamic Driver X||10mm||10mm|
|Microphone||Inbuilt||Inbuilt||Dual beamforming (inbuilt)|
|Additional ear tips||4 extra sets, 1 set installed||S, M, L||XS, S, M, L|
|Controls||Touch controls||Touch controls||Single button|
|Battery||12 hours (2.4GHz) / 24 hours (Bluetooth LE) + up to 48 hours in case||6.5 hours + 26 hours in case||5 hours + 14 hours in case|
|Compatibility||PC, PlayStation, Android, Nintendo Switch||PC, PlayStation, Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch||PC, PlayStation, Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch|
How we tested the Sony Inzone Buds
I used the Sony Inzone Buds for four weeks, using the buds for all daily play as well as music and streaming. In that time, I was primarily playing Dead Island 2, CS:GO, and Eastward, and testing directly against the Sony Inzone H5 headset and Razer Hammerhead Hyperspeed buds. For more information on how we test gaming headsets, check out the full GamesRadar+ Hardware Policy.