Sony Xperia Ear Duo

Sometimes you pick up something and you have no idea how to use it. If you’re the editor of a big technology website, that can feel a little troubling.

That’s how the Sony Xperia Ear Duo make you feel – you’ve no idea how to use them, or what they’re for… but then you realise they could actually be pretty nifty.

The premise is cool: you can both hear music and other people at the same time, as small rings pump the sound into your ear canal, but leave enough space for other audio, like people talking or cars about to smash into you, to get in.

We’re still waiting on price and release date information for these new earphones though, and we’ll update this when we hear a little more on that. Such as what they actually are.

Design

This is where we fall for the first time in our testing – the Xperia Ear Duo area hard earbuds to put on.

They look like they should slot over the top of your head-shells, but apparently this isn’t the right move in terms of design, we’re told by Sony.

So instead you’ve got a weird situation where you have to slip them under your ears, locking them in by hanging them by your ear-holes. It feels really strange, and you’re certain they’re going to fall off at any point.

However, shake your head around and you’ll see that this isn’t going be the case – they cling on pretty tightly. We wanted to see if the same would be true for running – as the open nature would be pretty good for that – but we didn’t want to do a quick jog around the demo area, really.

The longer design around the main body of the earpiece is shiny and neat, and you can slide your finger up and down or tap to interact with the headphones, changing tracks or the volume. 

While the design is innovative, we can’t say that we’re massive fans just yet – but this is such a new concept that we’d have to spend longer with them to reserve judgement.

Sound quality

Like the design, it’s hard to assess the sound quality of these headphones as it’s like nothing else we’ve tried so far.

The sound feels, initially, like it’s terrible as it feels too quiet for what you want to do. But after a few seconds you realise that you’re able to hear the music pretty well, and you’re still having a conversation with someone else – it’s just the dual focus you’re struggling with.

The closest effect would be having a chat with someone while music plays from a speaker on your desk – it’s distracting, but you can easily hear what’s happening from both sources.

We’d need to try these in a range of scenarios to really try them out – plus we had a lot of issues with working out how to actually make the volume go up and down easily. That’s before even thinking about the fact we’d have to actually talk to someone in real life wearing these things.

App and function

Anyone that remembers the Sony Xperia Ear will have an inkling of how these headphones actually work – the Xperia Assistant is supposed to be in your ear at all times, working out what you need to know, reading your messages to you… that sort of thing.

It was never a brilliant system, and while it’s still available here, there’s also the option to have Google Assistant on board instead.

The app is capable of setting up a number of things, such as being able to adapt to your surroundings and altering the level and style of the sound going into your ears depending on the environment you’re in.

There’s also the option to control the Xperia Ear Duo with head gestures – annoyingly, this is actually pretty accurate.

We say annoyingly, because it makes you look a little bit crazy to shake and nod your head to make the music skip forward and backwards, but it does work.

We didn’t get a chance to try out the Xperia Assistant properly, nor discern whether Google Assistant is capable of hearing when we want to ask it something.

However, the overall quality and the abilities of the app aren’t to be sniffed at, as at least there are a lot of things you can do with them.

Early verdict

We’re not sure how to feel about the Sony Xperia Ear Duo. On the one hand, these headphones feel odd for the sake of it, the brand showing off that it still has something alternative up its sleeve and the Deep Learning capabilities it has developed are worth having.

But then again, there’s some genuine innovation on offer here, with something that actually works pretty well and doesn’t fall out. You’d have to face the fact you’d get around 42 million questions per hour as people wonder what you’re wearing, but if you’re a tech early adopter, well, you might be into that.

Until we have a definitive price, it’s hard to properly rate the new Ear headphones… but at least they’re proof Sony is still trying to innovate in a very tried-and-tested area.

MWC (Mobile World Congress) is the world's largest exhibition for the mobile industry, stuffed full of the newest phones, tablets, wearables and more. TechRadar is reporting live from Barcelona all week to bring you the very latest from the show floor. Head to our dedicated MWC 2018 hub to see all the new releases, along with TechRadar's world-class analysis and buying advice about your next phone.

Gareth Beavis

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