June 23, 2024

Mikayla Macfarlane

Serving technology better

A slick, gamer-focused twist on the WF-1000XM5

4 min read
A slick, gamer-focused twist on the WF-1000XM5

Last year, Sony released its first line of dedicated gaming peripherals with its Inzone brand, which consisted of a couple of monitors and a range of over-the-ear headphones. Now Sony has returned with a new pair of earbuds and an update to its mid-range cans that are worth considering for gamers thinking about upgrading their audio.

Sony’s more portable offerings are simply called the Inzone Buds and they use the same drivers that you get in the highly-regarded WF-1000XM5, so it probably won’t be a surprise when I say they sound great. You also get support for Sony’s excellent active noise cancellation tech and a handy ambient sound mode, but from there the buds’ features were tweaked to better optimize sound quality while gaming.

Like most earbuds these days, the Inzone Buds have touch-sensitive panels on them for adjusting volume, skipping tracks and more.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Aside from an updated design that has clear ties to the PS5, the Inzone Buds’ biggest departure from the WF-1000XM5 is its case. It’s a relatively large trapezoid that opens to reveal the buds themselves and a wireless audio dongle. The inclusion of an adapter is sort of unusual on everyday earbuds, but it’s more common on gaming peripherals as it provides a dedicated low-latency 2.4GHz wireless connection (with a sub-30 millisecond delay) to ensure sounds like footsteps and other audio cues hit your ears in a timely matter. The dongle even includes a switch for PCs or the PS5 / mobile devices to streamline things even further, though you can also rely on a standard Bluetooth LE connection.

In addition to delivering higher-quality sound when gaming, I found the adapter was just really convenient. When listening to music on my phone where latency isn’t a big concern, I was happy to use Bluetooth. But when I was sitting in front of my PC or PS5, switching audio sources was as simple as plugging the dongle into a free USB-C port. As another bonus for PS5 owners, the buds allow you to see things like battery level or volume directly in the console’s UI, which is typically reserved for PlayStation-branded peripherals. Remember, these buds are made by Sony Electronics (the people who make TVs, speakers and other gadgets), not Sony Interactive Entertainment (the PlayStation folk).

On top of being somewhat bulky, the Inzone Buds' case (middle) also doesn't support wireless charging, which feels like a miss on headphones in this price range.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engdget

You can use Sony’s 360 Spatial Sound Personalizer app to customize audio based on your ear canals. That said, in my experience the effect was much less pronounced than on Sony’s over-the-ear headphones, which account for the shape of your entire ear. Though you can further adjust the buds’ sound tone personalization in the Inzone Hub app. What I do like is the addition of a new AI-based noise reduction feature that filters out distracting sounds during calls, which is pretty useful especially when you’re gaming on PC while using a loud mechanical keyboard. And thanks to support for spatial audio, you get a 3D soundstage that can help you figure out when enemies might be sneaking up on you in a shooter.

With battery life of up to 24 hours on a charge when connected via Bluetooth LE (or around 12 hours when using 2.4GHz), Sony claims the Inzone buds have the best longevity of any true-wireless gaming earbuds. And after using them for a weekend, that figure seems about right. When you eventually run low, the charging case can add an hour of juice in just five minutes while holding enough power for a second full recharge.

One small but thoughtful inclusion is four sets of swappable ear tips that range from SS to L.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

That said, while I generally like the Inzone buds, I have a few gripes. The first is that the case doesn’t support wireless charging, which seems like a weird omission on $200 headphones. Also, the case is rather bulky when compared to more typical earbuds, and when you factor in its trapezoidal shape, some people may wonder if you’re hiding a rabbit in your pocket. The other small frustration is that, while you can use the Inzone Hub software on your PC to adjust all sorts of settings, there isn’t an equivalent mobile app. That means if you’re walking around town and you want to adjust the Inzone Buds’ touch controls, you’ll have to wait until you get home.

What’s interesting is that if you’re someone like me, who generally prefers earbuds over larger cans due to their portability, it’s nice to have small headphones that are equally adept at gaming and general audio. And with the Inzone buds priced at $200, or $100 less than the WF-1000XM5s, these are an interesting option for people who care about both.

Sony's $149 H5 headphones will be replacing the more expensive H7 model and come with support for both wired and wireless audio and a better mic, but it has a bit less battery life.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Aside from its new earbuds, the other update to the Inzone line are the new $150 H5 headphones, which are a new mid-range replacement for the older and more expensive $229 H7 cans. Despite costing $80 less, the H5s have a better mic thanks to the same AI-based noise reduction tech you get on the buds, along with support for both wired and wireless audio (the H7s were wireless-only) and a slightly lighter design. The one trade-off is that overall battery life has declined a touch from 40 to 28 hours.

The Inzone Buds and the Inzone H5 headphones are available today for $200 and $150, respectively.

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