Want to listen to your music without blocking off the sounds around you? Then check out the Sony Xperia Ear Duo. Sony has gone back to its research and development department and worked from scratch to create the technology.
As such, you get a uniquely setup. It’s a little weird, but it works.
In addition, there are handy touch-sensitive controls, as well as useful gestures controlled by head movements, which enable you to control your music and more. Smart-assistant support is built in to help future-proof these rather special earphones.
The Sony Xperia Ear Duo earphones look good, in terms of build quality at least. The materials feel premium and the finish is refined down to the tiniest detail.
However, they look, well, a bit odd. Sure, different isn’t bad, but these units feel like they’re trying to stand out from the crowd. Perhaps the under-ear shape was needed for that ambient noise balance. But the result is a set of earphones that is likely to leave you feeling self-conscious when you’re out and about.
Putting the units on is an experience in itself – the app even has a guide to help show you how to tug your ear lobe down and around as these slide on. They do hold on, but never feel fully secure. And because of this, head gestures were difficult to pull-off every time – but more on that later.
The charging case is brilliant. While it may be larger than some of the competition – yes, Apple, we’re looking at you – it offers a solid three charges of the earphones. It has a solid clasp lid coupled with a satisfying magnetic “clunk” as the earphones sit into place. Two small holes give you a view of the earphones’ status light for at-a-glance battery level indication while they’re in the case. It charges via USB-C for rapid refills when you need it.
The stand-out feature here is that ambient sound access. Unlike some headphones that simply bung on a sound source while leaving the ear canals open, these earphones intelligently react to external noise. So, if you step into a noisy place then the volume of your music, or voice assistance, will go up to compensate.
The result should strike a balance between you still being able to safely hear what’s going on around you, but also drowning it out. That might sound odd, but since the external noise feels like it’s at one level, balanced by the music, your brain should more easily phase it out. So while you’ll react if someone says your name or a car beeps, the general background sound slips away, allowing you to focus on your music. That’s the theory anyway; more on performance below.
Sony’s own assistant is like a little ticker tape in your ear for announcements. This works well for things like WhatsApp messages, the time, calendar and more. These notifications are reactive to times and locations, too, meaning you should be able to step out of the front door and have the weather automatically read out so you know if you’ll need a brolly or not.
The case, too, is another significant feature since this not only offers a solid and safe housing for your earphones when you’re on the move, but it also charges them.
You’ll get three full chargers out of the case, which itself charges quickly via USB-C. A meagre seven minutes in this case will juice the earphones back up enough for a full hour of listening. This is a great way to keep powered up, and thanks to the LED notification lights, you can pretty much always stay safe in the knowledge that you’re not going to run low when away from mains power.
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While the balance of ambient noise and music works, the difference in that smart reaction is barely noticeable. Perhaps the top end just isn’t loud enough, but when stepping into noisy environments the audio didn’t seem to change appreciably.
Gesture controls are a nice idea, allowing you to skip tracks by shaking your head or answer calls by nodding, to name but a few moves. In reality, however, performance was hit and miss. If the earphones were held in place securely when the head gesture was performed then it worked; otherwise it worked some of the time and not others – so not good enough for real use then.
Besides, shaking your head around as if you’re being attacked by a bee isn’t the coolest way to control music in public anyway. The touch controls performed better – although, once again, that play of movement resulted in mistakes when tapping which can be frustrating if you end up skipping a track when wanting to put the volume up.
WhatsApp audio readouts were useful. It will read out the person who sent the message, the group it’s from, and the message, all while continuing to play music. Since the Ear Duo can layer sounds, it does this well without drowning out the music completely. If you need to stay connected all the time, this is great. If not, then perhaps go for a dedicated pair of headphones and just check your messages once in a while.
£249.00 at Amazon
The Xperia Ear Duo are an excellent example of how ambient sound and music can be blended to work together. A well-made and premium-feeling set of headphones, the Ear Duos offer decent sound quality, useful voice-control features and a brilliant charging case.
The Xperia Ear Duo are excellent for runners, cyclists and the like, who like listening to music while they workout, but who need to maintain a level of awareness of their surroundings for safe listening. They’d work in an office environment, too, or could also be helpful for the partially sighted, who could take advantage of the Sony assistant reading out all their phone’s activity and giving access to Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri easily.
However, for pure audio, these can’t compare to closed headphones. The Ear Duos unique fit might also put off some folk – while also proving difficult to take advantage of the gesture controls. Good for ambient audio – but niggles remains over fit and gesture control.