Sony Xperia Ear Duo review

Perhaps the strangest headset we've ever tested

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Our Verdict

Sony's Xperia Ear Duo is one of the strangest audio products we've ever tested. More hearable than headphones, the Xperia Ear Duo is an odd device built for a particular person. The design is strange, but the smart features will suit some distinct people.

For

  • Innovative concept
  • Can hear the world around you
  • Strong battery life with charging case

Against

  • Strange design
  • Limited use cases
  • Expensive considering competition

The line between headphones and hearables is blending together now more than ever, and Sony’s Xperia Ear Duo is one of the most innovative products we’ve seen on the market that tries to push those two ideas together.

Hearables are devices that can offer similar functionality to a smartwatch, such as giving you notifications from your phone, updates from apps and other functionality, but this all comes directly into your ear through audio rather than on a display as on a watch or phone.

The Xperia Ear Duo follows on from 2017’s debut product in this category for Sony, which was the Sony Xperia Ear open-style and which wasn't a particularly popular product and which we didn't get to test properly. This new product brings two hearables to the mix in one package.

The Xperia Ear Duo is similar to true wireless headphones we’ve seen in the past, such as the Apple AirPods, where there’s no wire between the two Bluetooth earpieces.

This looks different though as it hooks around your entire ear and looks more like a Bluetooth headset from the late noughties rather than offering a stylish and distinctive look.

Here’s our full verdict on the Sony Xperia Ear Duo and whether it’s worth picking up to hear your notifications and listen to music.

Sony Xperia Ear Duo price and release date

  • Announced at MWC 2018, released in May 2018 in Australia and in June 2018 in the US and UK
  • Price set at $279.99 / £249 / AU$399
  • Quite expensive considering competition

Announced at MWC 2018, the Xperia Ear Duo was one of few wearable devices announced at the show and it was particularly eye-grabbing as it’s such as strange idea to begin with.

Those in the US and Australia can buy the Xperia Ear Duo, but it’s not particularly cheap with an RRP of $279.99 / £249 / AU$399. The Xperia Ear Duo is hard to find online in the UK right now, but you can buy it from select retailers in store and we hope it will appear at more online retailers soon.

In terms of compatibility, the Xperia Ear Duo will work with any phone that's running Android 5.0 or higher, while those with an iPhone will be able to use it if their phone is running iOS 10 or later.

Design

  • An outright odd design that's difficult to put into your ear
  • Hook around your earlobe with touchpads on the sides to interact
  • Comes in a wireless charging case that's large but portable

There’s no getting away from the odd design Sony has chosen for the Xperia Ear Duo, so we'll start with that. This is a headset that looks unique, but also reflects a lot of what we’ve seen change in recent years with the introduction of true wireless headsets.

The Ear Duo is made up of two earpieces that aren’t connected by a wire, which is what true wireless means. These both sit within a wireless charging case – more about that later – so you can carry them around and ensure you don’t lose one when you're walking around.

Unlike Apple AirPods and most other true wireless headphones we’ve used, the Sony Xperia Ear Duo actually looks more like the Bluetooth headsets you used to see wrapped around the ears of business people.

There’s a thick piece of tech that houses the battery, the touchpad to interact with it and a variety of other sensors. That sits behind your ear, then a small metal band bends around your ear and provides the earpiece so you can hear the audio.

When we first took the Xperia Ear Duo out of the box we were a little confused by how to wear them. There’s a handy guide in the box to demonstrate the way you’re meant to put them in, but it’s inherently a problem that they’re so confusing looking that the company has to include that message.

We asked other people to try and wear them in the TechRadar office, and often people found them uncomfortable to put into their ears even when they knew how to do it. We've been wearing the headphones for over a week, but we still struggle to put them in our ears.

Once you’re used to how the headphones work, it’ll still take you around 10 seconds to hook each one around your ear. Perhaps we have particularly long earlobes, but we often found ourselves struggling to get the earpiece around the bottom of our ear comfortably on the first go.

It’s an odd feeling to have this large piece of tech sitting behind your ear, but it's not particularly uncomfortable. Each is light, so they sit in your ear well and won’t weigh down either side of your head.

As it’s such a complicated thing to explain, we’ve shared this video that may help you understand exactly how the Xperia Ear Duo sits around your ear. 

You have three choices of inner ear pieces with small, medium and large being the options. We took some time to figure out that medium was the perfect size, but so far the inner part of the headset has been comfortable. We’ve also never felt like they could fall out of our ears, which is something that can’t be said of Apple AirPods.

To access the smart features, you use your finger along the sides of the bits that sit behind your ears. This is easy to reach and works well.

You can adjust the volume (by running your finger up one of the touchpads) as well as pause and play your music by tapping on them. One interesting quirk is that you can only pause by tapping on the left earpiece, so you have to wear both earpieces to be able to use the headset properly.

You can change the volume on both, but if you’re only wearing the right one for some reason it means you’ll lose the ability to quickly pause the music. Instead, you can long press on the right one to open up Google Assistant, while a quick tap on this one will offer your notifications.

There’s no getting around the fact the Xperia Ear Duo headset looks silly. That said, we also don’t particularly love the look of Apple AirPods, but those have become a popular choice for iPhone fans so it may be that the Sony Xperia Ear Duo is a look many begin to adopt.

If you do plan to buy the Xperia Ear Duo, you can buy it in either black (pictured throughout this review) or in a gold color. When we originally tested the Xperia Ear Duo we saw them in silver too but it looks like Sony decided against that color for the full release.

The charging case that comes with the Xperia Ear Duo is large, but it’s easy to slot into a small bag or even your back pocket. It’s thin, and while the round design is large it's not an oversized case.

This isn’t as slim and easy to carry around as Apple AirPods and its charging case though, so if you’re looking for an easily portable device this may not be right up your street.