Sony Xperia Ear Duo Review: Productive Bluetooth headphones
The Xperia Ear Duo takes a different tack than most Bluetooth headphones by focusing on productivity, although audio quality could be a lot better.
- Comfortable fit
- Works well if you want passthrough audio for an office
- Doesn't exactly look like you're wearing a Bluetooth headset
- Smart integration to take you away from your phone
- Ordinary audio performance
- Large carrying case
- Head gestures look weird and don't always work
Sony has a significant share of the headphone market and has put considerable resources into developing some of the very best headphones you can buy as well as more affordable everyday fare.
The Xperia Ear Duo is something a little different, however. Their Xperia branding is quite deliberate as they're part of a small number of Xperia designs that Sony has launched at successive Mobile World Congress events around the idea of providing accessories that take you away from your phone screen without depriving you of actual information or cutting you off from the world.
Xperia Ear Duo: Design
You can tell the Xperia Ear Duo headphones aren't like other devices in their category from the moment you take them out of the box. Standard designs tend to put everything into a small hook style design, a la Apple's AirPods, or with looped cables in the style of Google's Pixel Buds.
Sony has instead taken inspiration instead from the world of hearing aids because that's rather undeniably the case. That makes fitting them an unusual chore because you have to loop them around the bottom of your ear, with the main body of each headphone fitting behind your actual ear.
It's a bold design with as many upsides as downsides. People will assume you've got hearing aids on – or at least they certainly did in my case – but that could be seen as an advantage compared to the somewhat dorky look of many Bluetooth headsets out there. They're certainly unlikely to think you're actively listening to music on the go. The looped design means that they fit very snugly in place and will not drop out, even during intense exercise. They also won't easily get in the way of glasses, and most earrings should also work well with them.
The larger size of the Xperia Ear Duo might make them appear uncomfortable to wear for an extended period of time, but this isn't the case. Where I've experienced pretty severe irritation from having buds in my ears from other headphones, the hanging style and soft buds of the Xperia Ear Duo were very comfortable for extended wear periods. There's a slight caveat here that if you do have unusually shaped ears, the fit might not be as good. They're not likely to fit a boxer's cauliflower ears all that well, for example.
However, one definite downside to that larger design is that the battery/carrying case for the Xperia Ear Duo is quite a bit larger than competitive designs. It's a disc shape that will fit into a pocket, but only just.Back to top
Xperia Ear Duo: Installation
The Xperia Ear Duo works across both Android and iOS devices via Sony's free Xperia Ear Duo app, which is a mandatory installation to even get them to pair. Sony does note that iPhone users won't get quite the full array of features with the Xperia Ear Duo, and for the purposes of review, I've used them paired to a number of Android handsets.
The actual pairing process follows the relatively standard trick of pairing with the app as soon as you pop them out of the carrying case. If you do need to pair them with a new device, holding down on the touch panel on the side for five seconds or more will put them into pairing mode.
Because the Xperia Ear Duo isn't just a music headset, you've also got to sort out Sony's own digital assistant feature, which can perform a variety of spoken tasks for you. On Android, this involves giving it a lot of permissions to your personal contacts and information, and as always that's going to be a trade-off between your privacy and your desire for the Xperia Ear Duo to give you the most information possible.
Setting up Sony's assistant also involves a lengthy voice file download process, so it's wise to kickstart the process when you're in range of a Wi-Fi connection rather than doing so over costly mobile data.Back to top
Xperia Ear Duo: Performance
Sony's pitch for the Xperia Ear Duo is that it's an assistant device that allows you to perform a small range of smartphone activities in a hands-free way and also prompts you with information around missed calls, messages, weather and other useful details. The design of the inner ear loops is specifically designed to allow other audio sources to intrude because the idea is that you'd wear them in an office or other environment where keeping your own information private is ideal, but you don't want to cut yourself off from the actual world either.
What this means in audio terms is that the Xperia Ear Duo isn't particularly strong for music playback. I've certainly heard worse Bluetooth headphones, but the lack of audio isolation can make listening to music a rather less compelling experience. Again, that's sort of the point because if you are listening to music while you work, you're meant to be concentrating on the work, not the funky beats – or whatever you're into. I won't judge, and neither will the Xperia Ear Duo. There's a setting for what Sony calls "Adaptive Audio" which will adjust the volume based on your surroundings, but on numerous occasions, I found myself straining to hear podcasts or music on a noisy train even with adaptive audio enabled.
What it will do is interrupt you with useful information when relevant, or when you invoke it using the touch panels on each Xperia Ear Duo headset. The left ear touch panel controls basic music playback controls, while the right can be configured for Google Assistant, Sony's own Anytime Talk feature for chatting to other Xperia Ear Duo users, event reminders, replying to messages or the daily assist feature, which gives you a rundown of the day ahead with a gesture.
Sony's assistant is certainly a chatty one, which you may find endearing, although it's a touch annoying that the only news sources it has (or had during my review period) were UK ones. Hopefully, Sony sorts this out relatively rapidly for Australian users as it's a feature that could work a lot better if it could deliver more than just local weather.
Like most Bluetooth headphones with touch panels, it can be a bit hit and miss for accuracy, especially for sliding your finger up and down either touch panel to adjust volume. A lot of the time, it interpreted the start of the gesture as a single tap or vice versa.
The Xperia Ear Duo's other method for keeping you from staring at your phone is the use of head gestures, such as a nod or shake to answer calls or reject them, respond yes or no to Google Assistant or skip music tracks.
The idea here is noble enough, but the implementation needs a lot of work. In my experience, it varies from super-sensitive to nowhere near sensitive enough. While driving with the Xperia Ear Duo in place, I've had it skip tracks back and forwards because I was turning corners. While out walking around and trying to specifically skip tracks, I've had to throw my neck around in a way that drew more than a few stares from folks who seemed certain that I was having some kind of fit. It's a clever idea, but it ultimately doesn't respond with enough precision to really appeal.
Battery life on the Xperia Ear Duo is rated for up to four hours of direct playback, and that's a fair estimate if you are using them full-time for music listening. The more likely scenario is that you'll listen for a while, then have a meeting, then listen a little more and then take a few calls. It would be feasible to get a day's work out of the Xperia Ear Duo headphones based on my own ad-hoc testing. The carrying case also acts as a recharge battery for when they're not in use, so you shouldn't have too many charging worries.Back to top
Xperia Ear Duo: Verdict
The Xperia Ear Duo is very much a niche product because you've got to have the trio of needs for a Bluetooth headset with direct audio passthrough as well as its assistant features. Sony's certainly done the hard work in improving its basic Xperia Ear design from the first generation, and it's a very capable headset for most functions. However, the more gimmicky sides of its operation don't work as well as I'd like them to. Maybe that will improve with future firmware updates, but if that's what appeals to you about them, be ready for more than a little weird head shaking action in your future.Back to top
Xperia Ear Duo: Pricing and availability
The Xperia Ear Duo retails in Australia for $399 from Sony Store and JB Hi-Fi.
Buy the Sony Xperia Ear Duo from Sony
Sony's Xperia Ear Duo offers you audio without losing the outside world, as well as a digital assistant that lets you keep track of your day without having to stare at your phone all the time.View details
Xperia Ear Duo: Alternatives
There's not anything exactly like the Xperia Ear Duo thanks to its particular productivity focus, but there are products with much of the same appeal for voice control via either Google Assistant or Siri.
The Google Pixel Buds work with Google's Assistant and include touch panels for simple operation if that appeals to you. Apple's iconic AirPods offer better sound than the Xperia Ear Duo but a rather more obvious design style and are best suited for iPhone users, for example.
Xperia Ear Duo: What the other reviewers say
|Wareable||"Sony wraps useful smarts inside of a bonkers-looking hearable."||3/5|
|SMH||"Sony's Xperia Ear Duo is an exciting look into the future of wearable tech, even if this version isn't exactly refined."||N/A|
|AFR||"Mobile phones have made such idiots of all of us, anything that helps us get our noses out of them so we can smell the roses around us, so to speak, is a worthwhile venture."||N/A|
- Product Name
- Sony Xperia Ear Duo
- Google Assistant
- Bluetooth A2DP, AVRCP, HFP
- Weight (grams)
- 10.6g each
- Speaker information
- Quad microphone with beamforming Noise suppression, Adaptive volume control, Echo and Wind noise cancellation, Clear Phase, Dynamic driver unit on each core unit, Codecs SBC/AAC
- 56mAh each, 740mAh charging case
- Battery life
- Up to 2.5 hours talk, up to 4 hours listening, up to 22 hours standby