Sony Inzone Buds impressions: A WF-1000XM5-liked ear buds but tuned for gaming
Last year we saw Sony making inroads into the gaming peripherals domain, introducing the its own gaming Inzone brand which featured monitors and a selection of headphones (we reviewed the top-of-the-line Inzone H9). This year, they’ve revisited the Inzone, launching a pair of earbuds and refining its mid-range headphones. If you’re looking for an audio upgrade, you’re likely to find an Inzone audio device that suits your preference (whether it’s in-ear or over-the-head cans) and budget.
The freshly-minted Inzone Buds are portable and, surprisingly, inherit the same Dynamic Driver X audio architecture as Sony’s flagship WF-1000XM5, which by the way, is highly rated at HardwareZone. That means they also integrate Sony's renowned active noise cancellation technology coupled with an ambient sound mode, both optimised to enhance sound quality during gaming sessions. Visibly, they're reminiscent of the PlayStation 5 (PS5) aesthetics(although my review unit came in black) as with the rest of the Inzone range, but what sets them apart is the case design. This somewhat hefty trapezoidal case houses not just the earbuds but also a wireless audio dongle. This addition, albeit unusual for typical earbuds, is more common on gaming devices, as it provides a dedicated low-latency 2.4GHz wireless connection. This guarantees that crucial in-game audio cues, such as an enemy’s footsteps, are heard almost instantaneously without any lag. Interestingly, the dongle comes also with a switch to toggle between PCs or the PS5, though there’s always the fallback of a conventional Bluetooth connection if you want to connect it to your smartphone or tablet.
From my personal experience, this dongle was a welcome convenience. I first tried streaming music via Bluetooth to my iPhone 15 Pro Max and it was seamless. When gaming with it on my PS5, all I had to do was plug in the dongle to the front USB-C port and it automatically detects the earbuds. One very cool feature of the integration between the Inzone Buds and the PS5 is that information like battery level or volume is displayed directly on the console's home screen.
The Inzone Buds also work with Sony’s 360 Spatial Sound Personalizer app, which customises audio to the user's ear canal. The earbuds also come with an AI-powered noise reduction feature, which could prove to be handy when gaming, say, in a noisy environment. In all honestly, I quite like the spatial audio support here as it provides a 3D soundstage that adds to a better quality of life audio experience. Especially with shooter games, where the earbuds gave me a better sense of where my enemies could be approaching.
Sony claims the Inzone Buds have a 24 hours battery life in a single charge when connected via Bluetooth (or 12 hours when using it with the wireless audio dongle) and for the most part, in my limited time with it, that’s quite spot on. I’ve played Cyberpunk 2077 heavily over the last weekend and I only had to charge it once. Anyway, if you’re ever caught in a pickle with a low battery, a mere five-minute charge with the charging case yields an hour of playback, with the case storing enough power for a full recharge.
Although I’m someone who prefers larger headphones for gaming at home, I can appreciate how some would prefer the portability that earbuds like the Inzone Buds can provide. I can also appreciate how the Inzone Buds’ excellent drivers excel in both gaming and music, and one could even say it’s quite literally a WF-1000XM5 in a different form factor. But cheaper. And I think this makes the ear buds quite an appealing choice for gamers and audiophiles alike.
That said, despite my fondness for the Inzone Buds, they're not without shortcomings. The absence of wireless charging for the case is disappointing, given their $299 price tag. Moreover, the case's chunky design is well…chunky, compared to other wireless gaming earbuds charging case. Additionally, while the Inzone Hub software on PCs is comprehensive, there’s a conspicuous absence of a mobile equivalent. Adjusting touch controls on-the-go is off the table, at least until you're back at your PC.
Sony's Inzone line expansion also brings the H5 headphones, which comes with a $219 price tag. The H5 will succeed the pricier H7 as the new mid-range model, but despite the drop in price the H5 comes with an enhanced mic and now boasts both wired and wireless audio capabilities. There’s one major trade-off though; the H5 comes with a reduced battery life, from 40 hours with the H7 down to 28 hours.
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