Sony's New Buds Have Holes in Them for Your Own Good

Illustration for article titled Sony's New Buds Have Holes in Them for Your Own Good
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

How many times have you seen this: A guy or gal walking down the street with one earbud in, while the other hangs loose around their shoulders and neck like some ridiculous techie bolo tie. If you’re like me, it’s a daily occurrence, and a sad symptom caused by design that doesn’t quite work.

Advertisement

Sure, you want to listen to your music, who doesn’t? But in the city, there’s other things you need to hear too. The noise of a bike coming up behind you, or a siren from a police car racing down the road; these are the kind of sounds most other earbuds often block out. That’s why Sony created the Xperia Ear Duo wireless earbuds, which uses a special ring-shaped acoustic conductor so that let earbuds pipe music into your head, but without blocking outside sounds, and unlike something like Apple’s Airpods, the bud actually fits snugly in your ear.

See that big gap in the middle? That lets you hear normal environmental sounds and music at the same time.
See that big gap in the middle? That lets you hear normal environmental sounds and music at the same time.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

Now, you can walk into a shop and order a coffee without forcing the barista to wait while you fumble around to remove an earbud so you can hear them. No more stupid dangling wires or worrying about losing the second bud when you take it out to talk. And if you’re a biker, the Xperia Ear Duos might be a lifesaver, because drowning out traffic noise when you’re on the road could get you killed.

When I got to try Sony’s new earbuds at Mobile World Congress, I was surprised how natural things sounded. It was more like adding a personalized soundtrack to your daily doings than trying to decipher from two different audio sources. The music was definitely there in the background, but not distracting enough to stop me from holding a conversation.

Illustration for article titled Sony's New Buds Have Holes in Them for Your Own Good
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

But on top of featuring innovative audio tech, the Ear Duos also have some enhanced smarts built in. Not only can you use the touch sensitive panel on the earbuds sides to answer calls and adjust your volume, you can go full hands-free by using head gestures like a nod or shake to skip tracks.

Advertisement

Sony has even included support for both Google Assistant and Siri via its Ear Duo companion app, so users on either side of the smartphone OS divide can have easy access to their favorite digital assistant. Meanwhile, the bud’s’ “Daily Assist” feature will help you keep track of the time and your location, and will even offer helpful reminders or news based on your calendar or current events. And because the Ear Duos sport four mics with built-in noise cancellation, Google, Siri, or whoever is on the other end of a call should be able to hear you loud and clear.

Illustration for article titled Sony's New Buds Have Holes in Them for Your Own Good
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)
Advertisement

That said, the Ear Duos do come with a few drawbacks or at least some traits that take a little getting used to. Unlike a lot of other wireless earbuds, the Duo’s audio driver sit behind your ear. instead of on the bud itself. While they felt relatively secure when I tried bouncing my head around, putting them on and getting them to sit inside your ears properly was a bit finnicky. I also noticed that max volume seemed somewhat limited compared to standard buds, which seems like a side effect of projecting sound out into the open, rather than directly into your ears.

Illustration for article titled Sony's New Buds Have Holes in Them for Your Own Good
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)
Advertisement

Thankfully, the Ear Duos come with three sizes of ear cups to ensure a snug fit, and IPX2 splash-proofing so that a little sweat won’t short out your audio. And while I clearly haven’t had time to test their longevity, Sony claims the Ear Duos should last about four hours on a charge, while the included battery case holds enough juice for another three refills.

And for all you nay-sayers out there exclaiming that the whole point of headphones are to block out sounds, Sony already makes some pretty nice regular buds. These things aren’t for you.

Advertisement

The Xperia Ear Duo should be available sometime in late may for $280, with pre-orders available on Amazon today.

Senior reporter at Gizmodo, formerly Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag. Was an archery instructor and a penguin trainer before that.

DISCUSSION

The pitch for why someone might want to buy these sort of comes off like a bad infomercial that over-exaggerates a problem to make the solution seem like a “Shut up and take my money!” scenario.

Let’s start out with the obvious... they are $280 USD. Immediately your average purchaser is going to need some good friggin’ reasons to toss $280 out the window on a pair of headphones, especially if they already own some.

So let’s look at the problems these headphones purport to solve:

No need to walk with one headphone off so you are more aware of what’s going on around you.

I’m sorry but did someone reboot the Fashion Police? Is there some immaculately-bedazzled drag queen out there accosting people on the street going “Oh Henny no! You did not just walk out that door with one bud dangling off your head like you forgot to wipe off your latest tricks facial!”

No awkward moment while you fumble at removing your headphone to communicate with your barista

... I’m sorry what? Exactly how complicate is removing headphones that I could possibly be convinced that $280 is worth spending because of the inconvenience associated with taking an ear bud out of my ear?

We are not infomercial actors. (Link goes to Buzzfeed GIF article on ‘38 Stupid Infomercial People and is well worth a morning chuckle)

And if you’re a biker these could save your life...

If you’re biking down congested streets with music blaring to the point that you cannot hear or react to traffic issues I’m just going to go ahead and say it: You deserve whatever happens to you. You’re a distracted driver at that point and the fact that your bicycle is less-deadly than the taxi zooming past you is inconsequential.

————

... I mean let’s just pause for a moment and imagine the kind of person for whom these headphones seem designed for: The fashion-worried klutz too uncoordinated to remove headphones who also happens to ride a bicycle in heavy traffic, who wants the convenience of wireless without the quality of sound associated with you know... actually wearing headphones. That’s fucking niche.

Then we make out way to the tech comparisons. An early burn at the fit of Apple’s air pods seems like a zinger, until you read all the fit concerns associated with this device. Doesn’t seem like you’re really trading up so much as swapping out fit issues.