Sony Xperia Ear Duo review

Perhaps the strangest headset we've ever tested

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Sound quality

  • Open design that means you can hear audio and the world around you
  • Not suitable for loud environments, could be louder
  • Beneficial if you want to be able to hear in an office but still listen to music

Perhaps the most unique feature of the Xperia Ear Duo is the fact you can hear the world around you when you’re using the headset. This isn’t going to block out everything in your surroundings like big wired headsets or noise-cancelling headphones will.

That has both benefits and negatives. While we'd never recommend riding a bike with headphones on as you can't hear traffic approaching, with the Xperia Ear Duo, it isn't an issue. 

We took the Xperia Ear Duo with us on a road ride and it was possible to happily listen to music while still being aware of our surroundings. At no point did anything take us by surprise as we were overtaken by passing cars as we could hear these approaching. We would happily use these on a training ride out of town, though we still reckon no headphones is the safer option if you're going to be commuting in heavy traffic. 

We also tried the Xperia Ear Duo at London's Olympic Velodrome in the run-up to the London Six Day race, where they really came into their own. However, rather than listening to music, a track-based coach could provide feedback as we cycled, as well as relaying live updates to help us gauge our efforts. 

They might have a little less appeal for runners though, unless you're going to be regularly road running, where you still need to be in tune with your surroundings while listening to music. 

It sounds similar to bone conduction audio headsets like the ones you’ll get from AfterShokz and some other sports-orientated brands.

It’s worth bearing in mind these headphones won’t work in every situation though. When writing this review, we were wearing the Sony Xperia Ear Duo on a long-haul flight, a situation we often want noise-cancelling or at least loud headphones for to concentrate on work, watch entertainment and drown out the surrounding plane noise.

That’s one of the situations the Xperia Ear Duo doesn’t particularly work well for. The maximum volume isn’t enough to drown out that ambient noise, and it doesn’t have a switch to turn off the feature where you can hear around you.

While it’s useful to be able to hear around you, we missed the opportunity to fully immerse ourselves in the audio without the background noise around us in some situations. If you're in a loud environment, the Xperia Ear Duo is nigh on useless. 

If you don’t think you’ll want headphones that can kill noise, this may be right up your alley, but if you want a headset you can wear on the subway or for walking alongside busy roads, this isn't for you.

As for actual sound quality, the Xperia Ear Duo delivers okay audio and is around what we’d expect from a mid-range priced pair of true wireless headphones. It’s not stunning and won’t impress audiophiles, but the audio sounds similar to what we’ve heard from other products at around this price.

We could have done with the maximum volume being a bit louder, but that seems to be a limitation of this technology rather than a particular idea Sony has installed in the headset.

There's adaptive volume control here, so when the headset hears noises around it the volume will automatically increase and when there's nothing around it won't be as loud.

We found it wouldn't make the volume loud enough though and we often found it working slowly to up the volume. You can turn this feature off in the settings so you have a standard volume level, and we found ourselves doing this quite often to stop the feature.

Smart features

  • Standout feature of the Sony Xperia Ear Duo
  • Reads out notifications, shares updates and connects to your phone's AI assistant
  • Head gestures allow you to interact with your phone without touching it

The smart features are where the Xperia Ear Duo succeeds. As well as functionality to pause and change the volume, the right earbud is where all of the smart features can be controlled. 

A quick tap on it will read out your notifications with Sony's own voice assistant doing the honors directly into your ear.

When you’ve got the headset in, you’ll also be read your phone notifications as soon as they come through. It means if you get a WhatsApp message from a friend, you’ll hear “John McCann says hello” rather than the more robotic “new WhatsApp message from John McCann: hello” that some headsets provide.

The Sony Xperia Ear Duo app where you can alter the smart features settings.

The Sony Xperia Ear Duo app where you can alter the smart features settings.

This will read out all of your notifications though, as and when they appear on your phone. It means if you have a notification from your phone saying you can optimize battery life… you’ll also get that read into your ear, and we didn't find that particularly useful.

It will also immediately read your messages, which if you're part of a group chat that's constantly being updated can get annoying. But it's useful when you're out running and you feel your phone vibrate, as it's read straight to you.

You can pick and choose which apps are going to be read out within the Sony Xperia Ear Duo mobile app. Here you can also easily switch off all notifications, but there’s not a quick gesture to be able to turn them off and that would have been a useful addition.

With a long press on the right earpiece you’ll be greeted with the default AI on your smartphone. If you’re using an Android, it will likely be Google Assistant, so you can directly ask a question or change features on your phone right away.

We found the headset understood our requests and it works speedily. If you’re desperate to know a query without opening your phone you can quickly use this, but having these in your ears won’t remove the stigma of talking to your phone.

The headset also comes with head gestures, so you can answer or decline phone calls, skip tracks and stop messages by moving your head.

How head gestures work on the Xperia Ear Duo.

How head gestures work on the Xperia Ear Duo.

We found this worked quickly and easily, so if you nod your head when getting a phone call it will answer the phone.

Often you forget what the particular head gesture for each thing is though, so this isn't going to particularly make it easier for you to interact with your phone.

Battery life

  • Lasted for around three hours from a single charge
  • Charging case will add up to three more charges as well, which is useful

If you're taking the charging case with you, you'll find the battery life on the Xperia Ear Duo is quite impressive. Aside from the charging case, we found the headset would last for around three hours from 100%.

That was with us playing around with lots of the features of the Xperia Ear Duo as well as listening to audio throughout, but that's not stunning battery life considering the larger design of the earbuds.

The charging case adds up to 16 hours charge to the headset, according to Sony, and we found that snapping them into the charging case for half an hour was enough to get them back up to 100%.

That's useful, but it's not going to blow you away and you shouldn't buy this headset if you're looking for stunning battery.

James Peckham

James is the Editor-in-Chief at Android Police. Previously, he was Senior Phones Editor for TechRadar, and he has covered smartphones and the mobile space for the best part of a decade bringing you news on all the big announcements from top manufacturers making mobile phones and other portable gadgets. James is often testing out and reviewing the latest and greatest mobile phones, smartwatches, tablets, virtual reality headsets, fitness trackers and more. He once fell over.