Sony's Xperia Ear Duo Lets the Outside World In

Photo Credit: Adam Ismail/Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Photo Credit: Adam Ismail/Tom's Guide)

BARCELONA — Most wireless headphones are built to block out the world around you, but Sony is taking a different approach with its Xperia Ear Duo.

The Ear Duo, announced during Mobile World Congress on Monday (Feb. 26), is the evolution of Sony’s Xperia Ear Open Style Concept Bluetooth earbuds, which were previously demoed but never slated for production until now. They look quite unusual compared to conventional headphones, as the buds themselves have been made hollow to allow outside noise in.

MORE: Best Wireless Earbuds

The whole focus is to blend environmental noise with the music you love, or the notifications you don’t want to miss. The Ear Duo automatically adjusts the volume of what’s coming through the headphones based on the world around you. So when you walk outside onto a busy street, the Ear Duo will boost your tunes to compensate.

I had a chance to use the Ear Duo while speaking to a Sony representative, and I was able to carry on the entire conversation while listening. It’s an odd sensation, and you shouldn’t expect the same kind of clarity as you’d get from even standard headphones that don’t support active noise canceling. It was almost like I was in a room where music was playing, but I was the only one who could hear it. It serves a purpose, though it's definitely not something I’d want on my flight back from Barcelona.

Image Credit: Sony

(Image credit: Image Credit: Sony)

Sony isn’t pitching the Ear Duo as a fitness-minded wearable, but there’s clearly a use case here for bicyclists and runners who prefer to workout to music, but can’t afford to completely block out their surroundings in the interest of safety. Although it’s not entirely water resistant, the Ear Duo is rated IPX2 splash proof.

Beyond music, the Ear Duo’s Daily Assist feature has been developed to serve you relevant information depending on the context. So when you arrive at the office, you’ll be reminded of your next meeting. Additionally, gesture support means you’ll be able to accept and reject calls by simply nodding your head. You can skip songs by shaking from side to side, and tap and swipe on the device to play, pause, adjust volume and so on. And of course, there’s support for virtual assistants, like Google Assistant and Siri.

Given its versatility, Sony expects customers to wear the Ear Duo all day long, so it helps that you can get several charges out of the Ear Duo’s case. The device itself lasts four hours on a single charge, but their batteries can fill up again three more times in the case. And thanks to fast charging, it only takes 12 minutes to get another two hours of listening.

The Ear Duo will retail for $279 and begin shipping in the U.S. in late May. Pre-orders will go live on Amazon later today.

Adam Ismail is a staff writer at Jalopnik and previously worked on Tom's Guide covering smartphones, car tech and gaming. His love for all things mobile began with the original Motorola Droid; since then he’s owned a variety of Android and iOS-powered handsets, refusing to stay loyal to one platform. His work has also appeared on Digital Trends and GTPlanet. When he’s not fiddling with the latest devices, he’s at an indie pop show, recording a podcast or playing Sega Dreamcast.