The Sony INZONE Buds are a pair of truly wireless earbuds unlike what we have come across in the past. Instead of being designed primarily for your phone for playing music, the INZONE Buds are designed to be used with your PC and console for gaming.

Sony INZONE Buds review

The trick here is the use of a USB dongle, which must be plugged into your PC or PS5 console. The earbuds are then able to create a custom 2.4GHz wireless connection to the dongle, which greatly reduces latency compared to what you get over Bluetooth.

In this review, we will be discussing audio quality while gaming and listening to other content, latency performance, noise cancellation, and battery life as well as exploring what limited Bluetooth connectivity is on offer.

Design and comfort

The INZONE Buds feature a standard in-ear TWS form factor with your typical charging case but with a few notable distinctions.

The earbuds are slightly on the chunkier side but not enough to be obtrusive or stand out too much when used in public. Our white model has a two-tone finish, with a glossy black and white exterior with matte black on the inner surface. There is a large capacitive touch area on each earbud with a sizable microphone grille.

The earbuds are rated at IPX4, so they should be fine with sweat and light rain.

Sony INZONE Buds review

The case has a matte gray finish regardless of the color of the earbuds with a soft, almost paper-like texture. The design is very similar to that of ring boxes with roughly similar dimensions. On the back of the case is a USB port for charging and a button to initiate Bluetooth pairing. The lid on our case had some sideways play to it but otherwise, the build quality was decent.

Inside the case, you will find the two earbuds and the USB dongle. The dongle has a very slim profile that isn’t much thicker than the USB port. It has a slider switch that needs to be toggled between PC mode and PS5/mobile mode (more on this later). There’s also an LED that lights up to denote pairing status as well as a pairing button.

While Sony has kept the dimensions of the dongle to a minimum, it is still a thing that sticks out from the USB port and is supported merely by the rigidity of the USB connector. You will need to be careful not to put too much strain on it or accidentally bump into it as it could easily damage both the dongle as well as the port it’s plugged into.

The use of the USB-C connector is understandable but it must be said that not a lot of PC cases have a USB-C port on the front, which would be the ideal spot to plug the dongle in. Sony advises against using a dock or even a USB-A to USB-C adapter but I was able to use the latter with no issues, so that may be the solution you can seek out if your PC case doesn’t have a front USB-C port.

Sony INZONE Buds review

Getting back to the earbuds, they tend to sit at a slightly shallower depth than most in-ear noise-cancelling models. Sony has deliberately designed the earbuds to minimize contact with your ears so you can wear them for longer.

In terms of comfort, the INZONE Buds are excellent. Indeed, the decision to reduce strain on your ear canal by not opting for a greater insertion depth or resting within your outer ear cavity pays dividends, as after a few minutes you tend to forget you are even wearing anything. The earbuds are also relatively light despite their apparent mass so you can wear them for hours without fatigue.

Compared to typical gaming headsets, the INZONE Buds can be vastly more comfortable if you are okay with the in-ear design. They cover much less of your head so you can avoid sweaty ears and messed-up hairstyles and don’t have a giant boom mic sticking out in front of them. If you are fine with the form factor then this is simply a better design from a usability perspective.

Software and features

Like Sony’s other INZONE products, the INZONE Buds are meant to be used with the company’s INZONE Hub software, which is available exclusively on the Windows platform.

Sony INZONE Buds review

There is a range of features that can be accessed through this app. Basic things include a ten-band equalizer with presets, dynamic range control, volume, microphone level, and ANC. Aside from that, you will also find settings for Sony’s spatial sound feature, which seems like Sony’s 360 Reality Audio minus the branding.

The spatial sound feature can be enabled with just a toggle but Sony highly recommends calibrating it to your specific head and ear shape to generate an HRTF profile. This entire process is a lot more involved than I’d have liked. First of all, you can’t even start the calibration process until you sign in to or create a Sony account, which alone is going to put most people off. You are then required to download a special app for your phone, log in to your Sony account, and then start the process of taking pictures of your ears. The app then uses these images to create an HRTF profile for your specific head and ear shape. This profile is then loaded into the INZONE Hub app.

This process is no different than the 360 Reality Audio calibration for the company’s other headphones. It’s needlessly complicated and, as you’ll see, absolutely not worth the effort.

The INZONE Hub app also lets you customize the touch gestures for the earbuds. However, there is a complication here that you won’t find on usual Bluetooth earbuds. While the earbuds support assigning playback gestures, you can’t actually use them when connected over the USB hub. This means you can’t actually do things like play/pause or skip tracks when listening to music over USB and removing the earbuds doesn’t automatically pause the audio. This is why the default assigned gestures are only for controlling volume and ANC.

So why do the earbuds support playback gestures at all? Well, those are for Bluetooth, which is where we get to the other side of the equation. The INZONE Buds do support Bluetooth connectivity in a limited form. Instead of supporting typical Bluetooth audio connection, they only support Bluetooth LE Audio and the only audio codec supported is LC3.

Sony INZONE Buds review

Low Complexity Communication Codec or LC3 is the successor to the default SBC by the people who make Bluetooth itself and is supported in Bluetooth 5.2 onwards. But if you think it will be available on every Bluetooth 5.2 device, think again. As of this writing, only a handful of devices support this codec and chances are your current phone, tablet, or notebook isn’t one of them.

If you do happen to have such a device then you can more or less use the INZONE Buds like your average Bluetooth earbuds, once you enable the LC3 codec through Bluetooth settings. At this point, the earbuds should also become compatible with Sony’s Headphones Connect app, which is used for other Bluetooth headphones. Except, that wasn’t the case for us.

As it turns out, the INZONE Buds require a particular firmware version to become compatible with the Headphones Connect app on the phone, v02.000.002 to be precise. Turns out, this update was pulled by Sony for some reason and so our review unit wasn’t able to work with the mobile app. As of this time of writing, there is no word on when this update will be released.

The INZONE Buds app is only available on Windows and only works if the dongle is in PC mode. If you wish to connect the earbuds to any other USB device then you are expected to switch to the PS5/Mobile mode. In reality, you can use the dongle in either mode with smartphones or tablets and the same goes for PCs but the INZONE Hub won’t work if the dongle isn’t in PC mode so you will miss out on the features it provides.

When connected in the PC mode, you get two audio sources in your Windows, one labeled Game and the other Chat. This allows you to use one source purely for game audio while the other can be used for voice applications, such as Discord. If you toggle to PS5/Mobile, you only get a single source but can still use the mic.

Sony INZONE Buds review

The USB dongle presents itself as a 7.1 channel source in Windows when using the PC mode. You can have native 7.1 channel audio sent to the earbuds from compatible sources, although for some reason the LFE channel isn’t audible by default. To hear all eight channels, you have to enable the spatial sound feature from the INZONE Hub app.

In the PS5/Mobile mode, the dongle works as a stereo source. In this mode, you can still get surround sound but only if the source device supports it. The PS5, for example, handles its 3D audio processing internally and then sends it over two channels.

Of course, when paired over Bluetooth, the dongle is out of the equation and the earbuds work in standard stereo mode.


Audio quality

There are different aspects to the INZONE Buds audio quality so let me just start with the best way to listen on these earbuds, and that is using the USB dongle with Sony’s spatial sound disabled.

Before getting into that, it’s worth noting that the INZONE Buds use the same 8.4mm drivers as the WF-1000XM5 so you could think of these as the gaming-oriented version of those earbuds.

Sony INZONE Buds review

The INZONE Buds do sound similar to the WF-1000XM5 with a warm but not overly bassy sound signature. The bass has a broad elevation in the mid and upper bass regions, which is less noticeable than pure mid-bass bloat and manifests more as a pleasant warmth to the overall sound signature. The low bass isn’t particularly impressive without any notable extension or depth so you don’t get an especially satisfying thump or rumble in your sound.

Vocals sound good for the most part with good timbre and body but there is a slightly audible dip in the mid-mids that does push them a bit further back in the mix. Upper mids are also a bit conservative, so you don’t get some of the airiness or clarity in female and some male vocals.

The treble performance is a bit subdued but far from being anemic. Sony clearly doesn’t like a brighter sound, as we have seen on countless products, and aside from a few peaks in the upper regions that add a bit of sparkle the overall sound is laidback and bordering on veiled.

The earbuds have a unimpressive soundstage, with a fairly intimate sound that is par for the course for in-ears. Imaging is decent but nothing to write home about. The level of detail and resolution are decent and the sound is adequately revealing for gaming.

Overall, the out of the box audio performance of the INZONE Buds is quite good. It’s fairly well-balanced across the spectrum, which is great not just for gaming but also for other content.

All of these observations go out the window when enabling spatial sound in the INZONE Hub app. The sound signature changes to a quieter, brighter sound with a bit more emphasis on bass. The mids, on the other hand, are pushed even further back in the mix.

Unfortunately, despite going through the rigamarole of setting up the feature by taking pictures of my ears, Sony’s audio spatialization is mediocre at best. There is no real improvement in soundstage and the object placement is also quite intimate so it always sounds like the sound is inside your head rather than around you.

Sony INZONE Buds review

The feature is also terrible at differentiating between the seven surround channels, with front and back channels sounding rather similar and only the side surrounds having some depth to them. The center channel is buried so far inside your head that you may as well be hearing your own thoughts rather than the voices coming from the screen in front of you. There is no depth or dimensionality to the sound nor any sense of space. Of course, these observations are based on my personal HRTF profile and you may hear things differently with yours.

Testing the spatial sound in actual games, I was more aware of the shrill treble than anything else. There was no improvement in the placement of enemy sounds and actually sounded worse in some cases due to the compressed sound field that places front and rear sounds closer to you than those coming from the sides. The suppressed mids and increased bass also made the sound more bloated and less distinct. The sound is also fairly compressed, not in terms of dynamic range, which is plenty, but in terms of resolution and detail.

The good thing is that you don’t have to rely on Sony’s spatial audio processing as a lot of games these days have spatial audio built-in. Using the Dolby Atmos processing in Overwatch 2 while keeping Sony’s disabled, the improvement was palpable. The default audio signature of the earbuds is much more neutral and revealing of finer audio cues and the game’s built-in Atmos processing also has access to sound information directly from the game engine. Not to mention, Atmos can also emulate height channels, letting you pinpoint enemy positions even above you, something Sony’s spatial audio with its basic 7.1 information cannot hope to achieve.

Ultimately, the best way to use the INZONE Buds in games is to use them as standard stereo earbuds and then enable spatial audio from within the games themselves.

Sony INZONE Buds review

Of course, this applies primarily to the PC. If you are using the INZONE Buds with a PS5, then the experience would be different. The PS5 does its own 3D audio processing before sending the signal over a stereo channel to the earbuds. PS5 games, for the most part, also support 3D audio natively so the audio processing has more and better information to work with than the INZONE Hub PC software. As such, the experience would be better than using the PC software but you can also get this 3D audio experience from the PS5 using any stereo earbuds plugged into the controller.

Moving on, there is also the matter of Bluetooth performance. The frequency response when using Bluetooth was slightly different than when using the USB dongle. There was more mid-range presence and the sound was overall slightly duller and less resolving. It’s not significantly worse but there’s definitely a difference and it’s not clear how much of it is down to the LC3 codec or the onboard DSP.


The INZONE Buds have good microphone performance when using the USB dongle. Voices sound clear with a natural timbre and there is decent suppression of ambient noise without any noticeable artifacts.

Unfortunately, for a pair of gaming earbuds, the noise suppression cannot deal with the sound of keyboard clicks very well, so your teammates will still hear you furiously clacking over the keyboard every time you speak.


Latency performance is of paramount importance for gaming audio and the good news is that the INZONE Buds perform very well here. Sony claims 30ms of latency with the USB dongle and while it’s difficult to test a figure that low, as a seasoned Overwatch player I can say that I heard absolutely no delay in the sound despite being used to wired headphones. If you aren’t doing well in your games with these earbuds, rest assured it’s not the fault of the earbuds.

Sony INZONE Buds review

Unfortunately, the latency performance goes out the window when using Bluetooth. The INZONE Buds have some of the worst latency I have come across over Bluetooth making them only suitable for music. Even with video, despite the paired device trying to adjust for audio delay, there was a small lag compared to the onscreen video.

Noise cancellation

The INZONE Buds feature active noise cancellation with transparency mode. The ANC performance here is a bit underwhelming for what we have come to expect from Sony but good for the intended usage environment.

Sony INZONE Buds review

When used indoors, the INZONE Buds ANC works well enough to drown out ambient sounds like fans, air conditioners, or your computer’s loud fans. It’s also good enough to drown out the sound of keyboard keys. It’s only when you try to use the earbuds outdoors does the ANC not measure up to something like the WF-1000XM5. The issue seems to be with the way the INZONE Buds sit inside your ears as the fit isn’t as deep as on other TWS earbuds so they naturally let in more noise that the ANC can’t always keep up with.

Unfortunately, a bigger issue with the INZONE Buds is that the speakers produce a noise of their own. There is a consistent background hiss audible when nothing is playing and while you won’t notice it outdoors or if you have a lot of ambient noise indoors, it’s quite obvious when in quieter environments. It defeats the purpose of having ANC if the earbuds are producing their own noise.


When used with the USB dongle, the INZONE Buds have excellent connectivity performance. There weren’t any disconnections or temporary connection dropouts during testing. The connection is also more robust than Bluetooth usually is and works if you move around the house a bit with walls in between.

Sony INZONE Buds review

The Bluetooth connection also worked fine, although getting it to work with your phone was the obvious issue here. Of the devices in my possession, only the recent Pixel models supported LC3. Some devices, like the Nothing Phone (2) list LC3 in the supported codecs list in developer settings but didn’t work with the INZONE Buds. Others, like the iPhone 15 Pro, have no support for the codec whatsoever.

To switch between USB and Bluetooth mode, you have to tap and hold on both earbuds simultaneously. However, at one point, something went wrong and only one earbud switched, which resulted in one being connected over Bluetooth and the other over USB. It took some back and forth and patience to resolve the issue and get both earbuds to pair over the same protocol.

Battery Life

The INZONE Buds have some fairly high claimed battery life figures, with Sony claiming 11 hours when used over USB and an incredible 18 hours when using Bluetooth LE. Turn off the ANC and you are now looking at 12 hours with USB and an astonishing 24 hours claimed with Bluetooth LE.

For my testing, I focused on the ANC results as that’s how most people would be using the headset. With this enabled, I managed to get 12 hours and 13 minutes, which is a fair bit longer than the claimed 11 hours.

Sony INZONE Buds review

The Bluetooth results were even better. With ANC enabled, I managed to get an incredible 20 hours and 35 minutes of continuous playback, the highest we have ever tested on any pair of TWS earbuds. I can only imagine how high the figure would be with ANC disabled.

Sony also claims a mere 5-minute charge will provide 1 hour of playtime. In my testing, I got just over an hour with USB and 1 hour 23 minutes using Bluetooth LE.


As a pair of gaming earbuds, the Sony INZONE Buds perform admirably. They are comfortable for extended usage, have impressive audio quality out of the box, feature exceptionally low latency, and have very good microphone quality. The icing on the cake is the battery life, which is simply the best we have seen on any pair of true wireless earbuds, let alone ones using a wireless 2.4GHz connection.

Sony INZONE Buds review

On the downside, Sony’s spatial audio feature in the INZONE Hub app leaves a lot to be desired, both in terms of performance and ease of setup, and feels wholly unnecessary. The Bluetooth connectivity also feels limited at present due to the lack of widespread support for Bluetooth LE Audio. ANC performance is also less impressive compared to the more typical competition, including some of Sony’s own models.

However, none of those matter much in the grand scheme of things when you consider the intended use case for these earbuds. At around $200, the INZONE Buds are cheaper than most of the premium Bluetooth TWS models out there and are infinitely better for gaming. In fact, they are better than most dedicated headsets for gaming. If you are comfortable with the in-ear design and the price, the INZONE Buds should just be the default option for all your gaming needs.

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