Sony Xperia Ear Duo review: A different, smarter, kind of earbud

Sony Xperia Ear Duo
  • Sony Xperia Ear Duo
  • Sony Xperia Ear Duo
  • Sony Xperia Ear Duo
  • Expert Rating

    2.75 / 5

Pros

  • Unique design unlike any other earbuds out there
  • Solid battery life

Cons

  • Music playback experience is poor
  • Digital assistant falls short of full potential

Bottom Line

Where other true wireless earbuds are about audio isolation, the Xperia Ear Duo are about audio synthesis. They’re a different, smarter kind of earbud, for a different, smarter kind of customer.

Would you buy this?

The Pitch

With the war on wires in full swing, it hasn’t taken long for true wireless earbuds to go from a niche category with two or three brands in it to one with two or three dozen options competing for the attention and money of everyday consumers. And it’s hard to think of any brand that’s embraced this growth category as comprehensively as Sony. Though the WF-1000X earbuds were a little late to the party, they impressed us enough to earn a nod in our 2017 Editors Choice awards.

Now, less than a year later, Sony is fleshing out its true wireless roster with the Xperia Ear Duo - a set of wireless earbuds that come across as radically different compared to not just the WF-1000X but every other true wireless proposition out there. Where other true wireless earbuds are about audio isolation, the Xperia Ear Duo are about audio synthesis. They’re a different, smarter kind of earbud, for a different, smarter kind of customer.

Specs

Dimensions: 17.5 x 59.6 x 10.2 mm

Weight:  10.6g each earphone, 76g charging case

Smart Assistant support: Siri and Google Assistant

Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2 LE

Built-in Microphone: Yes

Durability:  IPX2

Pack Ins:  USB Type C-cable,

Battery Life: 4 hours, 16 hours total

Colors: Black

Price:  $399

Design

The Sony Xperia Ear Duo don’t really look like normal earbuds do. At a glance, they look like small, rounded metal paddles with weird pipes sticking out of one end. Like the WF-1000X, they’re a little bit sci-fi. Think more Star Trek than Star Wars. When worn, they look and feel like an odd set of earrings than anything else.

The pitch here is that these are earbuds that utilize a unique open-ear design and utilise a set of “Spatial Acoustic Conductors” to deliver an audio experience that doesn’t interfere with your ability to hear ambient sound or even conversation.

In line with what their unusual shape suggest, the Xperia Ear Duo are not terribly comfortable to wear - but they’re not terrible uncomfortable either. I’ve tested more uncomfortable earbuds and I’ve tested more comfortable earbuds, these sit somewhere around the middle.

[Related Content: Which 2018 True Wireless Earbuds Should You Buy?]

The charger-case is more conventional, but not by much. It’s a discus-shaped plastic pod with a single USB Type-C port on the bottom edge. To their credit, the Ear Duo feature a hefty four hours of listening time per charge, plus an additional 12 hours of usage held in a fully-charged case. They also support fast-charging, offering 1 hour of usage from just seven minutes of charging.

Sony have opted for gesture controls over buttons here and users are able to modify the volume settings and pause or skip audio by using either voice controls (powered by your assistant of choice) or a touch-based tap-and-swipe controls scheme.  

The earphones also support more-unique gesture controls for situations where voice commands aren't ideal. Once configured, you'll be able to answer or refuse calls by shaking your head and change songs by tilting to the left and right. These all work as described, and for certain users will likely hold-up as compelling additions to the formula.

Nevertheless, it feels like, for most users, they’re pretty forgettable and superfluous. They all work - but that’s kind of all there is to be said about them. They’re not massive game-changers, they’re just another dot-point on the box.

The Xperia Ear Duo also come with a predictable smart assistant hook in the form of a Daily Assist feature built into the Ear Duo’s companion app. Once setup, Daily Assist will recognise time, location and activities to offer relevant information throughout the day - reminding you what time your next meeting is when you reach the office or narrating the latest news headlines.

Performance

When configured, the Xperia Ear Duo are able to integrate with both Siri and Google Assistant to feed you regular updates. In theory, this automates the need for you to constantly check your phone - as you can just tap and hold on one of the earphones for a full-runthrough of your day.

However, in practice, the real-world usefulness of this feature is a little limited. It didn’t take long for the robotic summations of real-world news to become grating on my ears and the automated reading of my emails to become much more of a hassle than it was worth - especially when things malfunctioned and the Ear Duo would drown my ears in email preview text.

Now, if you’re the kind of user who wants the seamless integration of their music and smart assistant that Sony are offering here without being isolated from your work environment, the Xperia Ear Duo seem like a good option.

However, personally and anecdotally, I just wasn’t terribly convinced that little bit of extra utility lived up to the hefty price-tag attached. Yes, they’re definitely a little different to the other true wireless earbuds options out there. However, different can only go so far if it’s not also better in some, real and meaningful way.

It doesn’t help that, fundamentally, these are earbuds that aren’t designed to sound particularly good. After all,  the whole idea is that they allow you to take calls, listen to music and hear your immediate surroundings in equal measure. By design, sound quality isn’t a priority here - and the results are appropriately unimpressive. In louder outdoor environments, it felt like I could barely hear audio playback at times.

If anything, the Xperia Ear Duo are kind of a polar opposite to what Sony are offering with their WF-1000X earbuds - and the ideal customer for this product seems so on-its-face strange. Someone who doesn’t care about sound quality but is willing to spend so much more than they have to on earbuds seems like a really peculiar niche to target?

The Bottom Line

Again, the Xperia Ear Duo are, fundamentally, a very strange product. Sony have shipped a set of earbuds that don’t sound good. They’re very interesting set of earbuds - but they don’t really sound good. So, if you care about your music sounding good, these are probably not going to be the earbuds for you.

There’s definitely a lot of interesting bets being made here but the Ear Duo never quite managed to sell me on why this vision of different, smarter earbud was better than what I’ve already got. There’s probably an audience and appetite for a smarter kind of headphone out there - but if it means making the sacrifices that Sony are asking for with the Ear Duo, I don’t know If I can really count myself among them.

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Read more on these topics: Xperia, Sony Xperia, Ear Duo
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