Sony's InZone Buds are a triumphant choice, boasting exceptional sound quality, active noise cancellation (ANC), and impressive battery life.
Excellent audio quality
Fantastic active noise cancellation
Attractive design, comfortable fit
Long battery life
Spotty device compatibility
Spatial Sound failed to impress
The understated design of the earbuds excludes RGB lighting as one of its features. Whether this is significant or not largely depends on personal preference. Personally, I have never been particularly concerned about lighting on earbuds or headsets. However, content creators or streamers seeking a more visually striking option might be disappointed, especially considering that many comparably priced competitors, such as the Razer Hammerhead Pro HyperSpeed, do offer lighting features.
Sony's expertise in design truly shines in a crucial aspect: comfort. While comfort is subjective, I personally found the InZone Buds to be extremely enjoyable to use, offering a pleasant fit that remained stable in my ears.
The earbuds are housed in a charging case that resembles a treasure chest in shape. The case is larger and more rectangular compared to most, making it less convenient to fit into a pocket. However, this design does offer certain advantages. For instance, the case sits flat on a desk or entertainment cabinet with ease. The USB-C charging port is positioned at the back of the case, allowing the cable to exit directly from the rear. This arrangement facilitates simple cable management. Additionally, the case provides ample space to store the earbuds' included USB-C wireless dongle.
Unfortunately, it is disappointing that the included USB-C cable is surprisingly short, measuring only six inches in length. While it managed to fulfill its purpose, it resulted in the otherwise well-designed charging case awkwardly hanging off the side of my PC. On a positive note, the USB-C charging port provided ample clearance, allowing compatibility with most USB-C cables available.
Sony also includes four extra pairs of earbud tips (bringing the total to five) along with a handy rod to keep them organized. This thoughtful addition sets it apart from many other wireless earbuds that simply bundle the tips in a small plastic bag, making it challenging to sort through them.
Sony can be argued to possess more experience in constructing headphones and earbuds than nearly any other company worldwide, and the InZone Buds undeniably reflect this wealth of expertise.
To commence my testing, I selected Boards of Canada's "New Seeds," a nuanced track that gradually develops into a complex climax. The InZone Buds performed impressively with this song, delivering superb separation and clarity across the highs, lows, and mids, essential for capturing the intricate details of the track. Additionally, I observed a pleasing, warm analog sensation that complemented the artist's retro-futuristic sound.
The InZone Buds' warm sound signature proved to be equally beneficial when listening to Taylor Swift's "Anti-Hero," a track that embraces retro vibes to create a comfortable yet eerie atmosphere. The rich and immersive bass served as an ideal foundation for Swift's distinct, pristine vocals, which effortlessly cut through the mix.
DJ Shadow's "Nobody Speak" featuring Run The Jewels was another standout experience with these earbuds, albeit for different reasons. While the InZone Buds' bass may have been slightly underwhelming, it remained tight and well-defined, allowing the saxophones in the track to effortlessly occupy the soundstage. I also observed a remarkable level of detail and nuance in the saxophones, resulting in a more authentic and realistic feel compared to many other gaming earbuds on the market.
Yves Tumor's "Echolalia" was the only test track that didn't quite resonate with me. The artist's harsh electric style seemed somewhat subdued by the InZone Buds' warm and mellow presentation. While still enjoyable, it felt like the earbuds smoothed out the edges, resulting in a slightly diminished impact for this specific track.
The Sony InZone earbuds also provided an excellent audio experience in gaming, thanks to their impressive level of detail. The earbuds offered a clear, distinct, and reasonably wide soundstage, especially considering they are gaming-focused earbuds. This allowed for sound effects and music to coexist without one overpowering the other, which is particularly advantageous in modern shooter, role-playing, and action-adventure games. These genres often feature explosive bass-heavy moments alongside dialogue and intricate background music, making the balanced audio reproduction a significant advantage.
Starfield provided an opportunity for the InZone Buds to truly excel. This recently released RPG features a beautiful soundtrack, impressive sound effects, and extensive dialogue. However, due to its open-ended nature, the game's audio presentation can sometimes feel chaotic, with NPCs talking amidst waves of dramatic music and the repetitive sound of gunfire. Yet, the InZone Buds managed to deliver all these sounds with clarity, ensuring that no individual element overwhelmed the others. This was particularly noticeable in the game's cities, where the constant chatter of NPCs can be challenging to hear on less capable earbuds and headsets.
The experience was similar in Horizon: Forbidden West. In addition to the aspects I mentioned in Starfield, this game features powerful and intense bass effects from the hybrid creatures that are part biological and part machine. The InZone Buds handled these effects admirably, delivering punchy yet clear sound reproduction.
However, it is worth noting that the InZone Buds were not flawless. A common drawback for earbuds, especially gaming-focused ones, is the lack of impact in deep bass. While the InZone Buds performed better than average in this aspect, they still felt somewhat underwhelming when confronted with massive, rumbling explosions that shook the screen.
Surround sound, which is often a weakness in earbuds, also left much to be desired. The InZone Buds offer support for Spatial Sound, although it involves a multi-step process that includes taking pictures of your ears. However, the outcomes were rather modest. While I did notice decent separation between left, right, up, and down audio positioning, the sound stage did not seem to extend behind my ears.
I must also highlight Sony's lack of clarity regarding the functionality of Spatial Sound in games. The multi-step setup process claimed to offer the optimal listening experience but provided no guidance on how the feature, which is disabled by default, should sound or be utilized in games. I suspect that many less tech-savvy users may not even be aware that this feature exists.
The InZone Buds are equipped with a built-in microphone that cannot be detached. In terms of performance, it fared well for a built-in microphone found in earbuds, but it did experience some common issues.
The microphone of the InZone Buds unmistakably resembles that of an earbud microphone. It exhibited a distant and muffled quality, giving recorded audio the impression of a conversation on speakerphone, particularly when compared to a higher-quality headset microphone. The subdued nature of the microphone's output struggled to stand out amidst background noise or chatter.
Nevertheless, the microphone quality was satisfactory as it would be sufficient for your friends on Discord to understand you without difficulty. It also benefited from Sony's AI noise cancellation technology. The microphone effectively captured louder and non-repetitive noises while significantly reducing the sound of my mechanical keyboard while engaged in a Discord conversation, which is an accomplishment not commonly achieved by most earbuds. Additionally, more distant sounds like a loud conversation in a nearby room were not picked up by the microphone.
Features and Software
The InZone Buds are equipped with Sony's premium active noise cancellation, and it is undoubtedly the standout feature of these earbuds.
Once I put on the InZone Buds with their active noise cancellation (ANC) activated, it felt like enveloping my ears with a thick, warm, and comforting blanket. Almost all sounds were minimized or completely masked, ranging from the gentle rustling of wind through the trees in my yard to the distant tapping and clattering of roofers, as well as the continuous whoosh of a space heater. Even the cawing of the crows that usually linger near my office became muffled, although still faintly audible.
I cannot emphasize this enough: Sony's active noise cancellation (ANC) is in a league of its own compared to its competitors. If you prioritize exceptional ANC as a must-have feature and the InZone Buds are compatible with your gaming device of choice, your search can end right here. No other competitor even comes close to matching its performance.
The features of the InZone Buds can be managed through a downloadable PC application. The application is visually appealing, user-friendly, and offers a range of adjustments, such as an equalizer and the ability to customize the earbuds' touch controls. However, it is puzzling that Sony has chosen not to develop a mobile application for Android or iOS, which means certain features cannot be modified while on the go.
Device compatibility is inconsistent. The InZone Buds officially support the PlayStation 5 and Windows PCs using a 2.4GHz wireless USB-C dongle. The dongle can also be used with other devices like the Nintendo Switch and USB-C smartphones, but it is not compatible with the Xbox Series X. Bluetooth connectivity is available; however, I could only successfully pair the InZone Buds with my Android smartphone. They failed to connect with any of my Apple devices (iPhone 12 Mini, iPad Pro, and Mac Mini) over Bluetooth, and a Sony representative confirmed that this was the expected behavior. Additionally, the earbuds were unable to connect to my Switch over Bluetooth.
The InZone Buds possess the necessary features and performance to cater to both gaming and everyday personal audio needs. However, their software and device support did not fully meet expectations. Particularly, the limitations imposed on Bluetooth connectivity were peculiar and not commonly observed among competitors. Most gaming earbuds that support Bluetooth can effortlessly connect to Android and iOS devices, as well as PCs and Nintendo Switches, without such restrictions.
The InZone Buds proudly feature a battery life of up to 12 hours when using 2.4GHz wireless connectivity, and an impressive 24 hours when connected via Bluetooth. This represents a notable improvement over many competing products. For instance, the Razer Hammerhead Pro HyperSpeed offers a maximum of 6.5 hours, while the Logitech G Fits claim up to 8 hours of battery life. Furthermore, when paired with the charging case, the InZone Buds can extend the maximum battery life to 24 hours (over 2.4GHz wireless) and an astounding 48 hours (over Bluetooth).
My personal experience aligned with these impressive numbers. I only needed to charge the earbuds once during a week of usage, and considering my extensive gameplay sessions in both Starfield and World of Warcraft: Hardcore, my usage time was higher than average.
Charging the InZone Buds was a straightforward process. The charging case fully charges in approximately two hours, which is comparable to other wireless earbuds. The charging case itself utilizes a USB-C connection, so finding a suitable cable (of more than six inches in length) was not a problem.
Sony's InZone Buds offer an outstanding audio experience that surpasses the competition. They boast industry-leading active noise cancellation, a decent built-in microphone, and notably longer battery life. However, the positives of the InZone Buds are dampened by inconsistent device compatibility. While the earbuds' Bluetooth functionality supports Android phones, connectivity for most devices, including Apple phones and tablets, is limited to 2.4GHz wireless using the provided USB-C dongle.
These limitations introduce some considerations to what could have been essential earbuds, but the Sony InZone Buds are a straightforward choice for gamers who primarily use a PlayStation 5 or Windows PC. They effortlessly outperform competitors like the Razer Hammerhead Pro HyperSpeed in terms of audio quality and active noise cancellation.