Sometimes a device which goes completely against
expectations crosses our review desk. One such: the Sony Xperia Ear Duo
What are they?
My expectations were that the Sony Xperia Ear Duo was just one more set of wireless earbuds. They are earbuds, kind of. They use Bluetooth to communicate with your smartphone – both iOS and Android. And they come in a disc-shaped case that’s 25mm thick and 89mm in diameter.
The case not just holds them but charges them. It carries enough
charge to refill them three times. The earpieces snap into position with certainty,
pulled by magnets. You charge the case via a USB Type-C socket. As usual, it’s
up to the purchaser to provide the power supply. Also provided is a USB Type-C
So, I figured I’d plug them into my ears and start
listening. But I opened the case and found a rather more complicated story. First,
instead of diminutive buds, they were relatively substantial devices. They each
consist of a largely rectangular block with a bent tube emerging from its end. At
the end of each tube was a ring of silicon, not the usual closed ear tip. Each block measures around 50mm long by 17mm
wide and 10mm thick. Each earpiece weighs 10.6 grams.
There were no apparent controls on the rectangular block.
Putting them on my ears looked daunting. As we’ll see, I did master that later.
Mobile Sony Xperia Ear Duo
I went to Sony’s website and looked under earphones to findout more about the Sony Xperia Ear Duo. And I couldn’t find it. But then Irealised that there are two brands mentioned in that name: Sony and Xperia. Ifound them on the Sony Mobile website, which is where all the Xperia products are located.
It was then that I approached some semblance of
understanding. Most earphones I review are principally for listening to music.
And most of them also have a hands-free function. But the Sony Xperia Ear Duo
are principally supercharged hands-free devices, with which you can also listen
to music and such. They are suitable for wearing
for extended periods and generally not interfere with your life and work while
you’re wearing them. That silicon ring performs the function of locating the
tiny sound transducers over your ear canals.
Actually, the real
mini-drivers are inside the block. The tube is called a “spatial acoustic
conductor”. It seems that this “pipes” the sound into your ears. The sound of
the outside world passes through the hole at the centre of each ring. You can
live life normally, except with the body of the Sony Xperia Ear Duo earphones
tucked behind each ear.
Spare locating rings are
included. One was larger than those pre-installed. One was smaller.
Weirdly, there was only one of each, and
both were in a tiny plastic bag labelled “L”, for what I imagine means “Large”.
I said that the Sony Xperia Ear Duo earphone are “supercharged hands-free devices”. That’s because, in addition to allowing you to manage calls, they work in conjunction with the Sony Xperia Ear Duo app to do much, much more. I used the Android version. They work with both Google Assistant on Android devices and Siri on iOS devices. But the “Daily Assist” function works only with Android.
Daily Assist does things like tell you the time each hour, warns
you of forthcoming appointments and reads
out texts and emails. When you install the app and get it going, be prepared to
grant quite a few permissions so it can read your calendar, contacts, email and
many other things. It also read my WhatsApp messages, I discovered. I’d guess
it would work with any other text-based communications app that you might have.
Of course, it isn’t always very smart. When emails came in
it would read them out to me, including the disclaimers at the foot of some of
them, contact phone numbers and so on.
The app/hardware combination is highly configurable. There are controls on the Sony Xperia Ear Duo earpieces: the surface is touch sensitive. Slide your finger on one for volume control. Tap it to play or pause playback or answer calls. A tap also stops the earphones from reading those interminable emails.
The right earpiece can be configured to respond to different
taps and holds to do things like invoking
“Daily Assist”, reply to a message, warn of upcoming events or simply to announce the current time.
Furthermore, you can use head gestures. These are also
configurable. A shake of the head can say “No” to the Assistant, and a nod can
say “Yes”. The shake can refuse a call, and
the nod can answer it. You can skip tracks by turning your head to the right,
or backwards by turning it to the left. I found
that enabling that last facility led to some unexpected track skipping. Apparently I turn my head more than I thought I
But, in general, that stuff worked surprisingly well.
The voice reading out stuff was clear, not too robotic and
pronunciation was generally okay. You can choose from several languages,
although the English variants are limited to US and UK. Don’t expect an
Putting the earpieces on was initially difficult. The tube
isn’t flexible. If your earlobes are chunky, things might be a bit tight. But
it did get easier as I grew more practised.
And my guess is that people won’t be
typically putting them on and taking them off frequently. You’d likely be
leaving them in place for hours at a time. Or indeed for a full workday for many.
They felt very secure. I had no sense that they may shake loose even though I did a fair bit of driving and walking, and even a little jogging with them in place. On one occasion I thoughtlessly ripped the left-hand unit from my ear and the silicon ring popped off the stalk, remaining in place in my ear.
I used the Sony Xperia Ear Duo with a Google Pixel 2 XL
phone, not a Sony Xperia phone, I don’t
know if that would make a difference. I initially had a problem with using
them, at least with this phone: the volume level was too low.
Now let me be clear: when I was talking on the phone, or
when the app was reading out texts or emails, the level was comfortably audible
so long as I had the volume set to maximum. But when playing podcasts, even
those recorded at relatively high levels could be a strain. Remember, there’s
no isolation from the outside world, so the sound at your ears is competing
with the world outside. Walking along the street with only the modest traffic
levels of south Canberra to contend with, I just
couldn’t hear my favourite podcasts clearly
As for music, well, it was okay in a quiet environment. As I
write this paragraph, sitting in one of my favourite coffee shops, I’ve got
Amanda Palmer’s Who Killed Amanda Palmer
streaming on Spotify from the phone. The Muzak is around the same volume. In
the quiet parts, I can barely make the
song out at all. In the bass-strong parts, there is no sense of bass.
But then I explored the app settings and found a partial solution. First, I tried the “Adaptive Volume Control”, but that actually lowered the playback volume in many cases, so I left that off. But there’s also a “Dynamic normaliser”, which “increases the volume of audio sources with a lower volume”. That helped a lot, bringing up the quieter podcasts to a reasonable level. Amanda Palmer became much clearer too.
But remember, the Sony Xperia Ear Duo earphones are
intentionally designed to let you hear what’s going on around you. They will
always be competing with environmental noise. If you want high-quality music when you’re out and about,
you need sound isolation.
The Sony Xperia Ear Duo earphones are good for up to four
hours of listening on a charge, or for 2.5 hours of talk time. When they run down, you can charge them up three more times
in the case. Seven minutes of charge is enough for another hour of talk time. Standby
time is up to 22 hours.
The Sony Xperia Ear Duo earphones really are a clever design. They
strike me as an excellent solution for
those who rely heavily on their phone’s assistant features, yet need to retain
the use of both hands. They sit reliably in place and work very well in that
If your principal interest is in listening to music, or even to podcasts, perhaps it would be better to look elsewhere. The website for the Sony Xperia Ear Duo is here.