Headphones that keep you connected with the surrounding environment


I heard about these headphones from Sony a while back and it got me rather excited, until I saw the price tag:


They are described as follows:

The Xperia Ear Duo offers a new listening experience while staying connected to the world. You can enjoy music, make calls, listen to your schedule, forecasts and more, all while being able to hear your surroundings.

Now, I think this is great. I have tried bone conduction headsets which I find annoying and ineffective. I'm really hoping that this is the way that headphones are headed as, for us blind folk, we want to stay connected but not at the cost of knowing what is around us.

I was wondering about other peoples experiences and opinions ...

Do you think that bone conduction is the way forward? Can you see such features being useful? Have you had any bad experiences that such headphones might have avoided? What other brands have you heard of that do something similar?

Please leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts.


Currently using Sennheiser Ambeo here

Interesting post for sure. So far, the only bone conduction I've experienced firsthand are 3 different sets, two from Aftershokz and one from another brand that currently escapes me. The designs weren't my thing across the board and tbh I can't really say I'm a fan of audio over Bluetooth either, but I grew to like the Afterhsokz Trex Titanium for navigation instructions. Could tolerate listening to podcasts/spoken content on those, but for consumption of actual music, none of the bone conduction sets I've heard have done much to excite me so far. I used to catch myself starting to pull strange faces over time when I was wearing the Trex... who needs social conventions when you've found a way to use your scull cavity to enhance bass response!

For now, I've given up on bone conduction and switched to the Sennheiser Ambeos. They're not perfect, but they sound fairly decent when you just want to use them as headphones, and so far I've been on a few walks/trains/buses/planes with the transparent hearing mode set to amplified and managed to navigate without major inconvenience to myself or fellow passengers. The Ambeos made sense here because there are a few projects happening where being able to record with minimum setup time is a huge plus. If I wasn't going to use them for that though, they'd be pretty pricey just as a transparent hearing device, so perhaps they're not quite what you're looking for either.

Open Back, Over Ear

I like my Koss PortaPro headphones for daily use. They are light, fairly durable, and sound decent. Being open back, over ear, they allow most outside sounds in and allow me to stay connected to the world.

I have tried After Shocks, but even though they worked for spoken word like podcasts and navigation, they were, as noted above, not great for music. Also, I did not find they fit me comfortably, and since they had no adjust ability, it was sort of an all or nothing thing.

The other nice thing about the Koss is their lifetime warranty. For, currently 9 dollars, I can send in a pair and get a new set back.

I use a bluetooth headphone adapter, like the Avontree or Bit Trip, that gives me wireless access to my phone, and full volume and transport controls. They are not for critical music listening, but it's still better audio than the bone conduction sets I have tried.

Have you tried Jabra Sport Elite?

Personally, I think bone conduction is fine for around and about the city. I usually don't listen that much to music while going from place to place, so they serve me fine for audiobooks, podcasts and such. However, recently I've been using some in-ears from Jabra called Sport Elite. They have a mode called hear-through, which probably isn't all that unique, but it works pretty well while I'm walking around inside. I haven't tried using them while walking outside yet, but I could try them on a safe rout some day and report back. They sound great for both music and spoken word, and they aren't crazy expensive for what you get. Also, they get a lot better when used with Comply foam tips.

RE: Headphones that keep you connected with the surrounding …

I never read about or heard of the headphones you mentioned. However, I do have and use the WH-1000XM2 by Sony released some time mid-to-late 2017. I have used literally hundreds of different headphones in my lifetime partly because I am so picky and have what many would deem unrealistic standards. These cans truly satisfy my standards of comfort and sound quality. They are consumer-grade headphones, but they are by far the most impressive in the consumer space I ever used. Firstly, they are low profile and lightweight. The faux leather ear pads enables me to wear them for hours sans fatigue. Secondly, and most importantly, this model actually talks when one of the two buttons are pressed! It actually has a built-in female voice with an American accent that conveys the state of the unit amongst other statuses. For example, she says the battery level in vague terms of high, medium, and low; she says noise cancelling, ambient, or off to convey the mode; she says bluetooth paired when paired to a device, or pairing when querying for a device. She says more but those are examples. I could not believe there exists mainstream headphones which talk, and I think it is too good to be true still. Do I wish the accent was different? Absolutely, but this feature is not marketed as an accessibility feature so I am grateful it exists.

On the outside of the right ear cup is a touch panel which I learnt by accident. Read the manual for the gestures; they are quite useful, and execute different actions depending on the device connected [e.g. a gesture to open iTunes will obviously not work when attached to an iOS or Android device]. With regard to codec support, the WH-1000XM2 pulls no punches. In addition to the obvious low quality SPC, it supports the higher quality aptX, even more high quality aptX HD, and AAC. All these are lossy, unfortunately.

The take-away here is the ambient mode. The headphones can be controlled with an app, but the settings are stored on the headphones not the smart phone. The ambient mode can be customised for music or voice. I highly recommend setting it to voice because it will boost lower-to-mid range frequencies, possibly somewhere in the 250 to 500 hertz part of the spectrum. At the top of each ear cup, approximately 45º, is one small hole per ear cup. These are the microphones used for noise cancelling or ambient modes. The illusion, to me, is as though I am not wearing headphones when ambient mode is enabled – especially when tuned for voice. Sony claims they also adjust to the surrounding environment, and that would not surprise me. Version 2.00 of the updatable firmware will be released soon, and I anticipate the improvements to an already very good and accessible product. The iOS app needs much improvement, but it can be used if one has patience.

I hope this helps anyone who reads. My message to anyone who is interested in the WH-1000XM2 headphones: acquire them if possible, and if you truly appreciate high quality sound with surprising little colour for consumer-grade cans, you should be quite satisfied with them.

That Sony headphone sounds

That Sony headphone sounds amazing! I have had it on my head once in a store but could not change volume. Is that actually possible? and how is the accessibility of the IPhone app? Any other insides you are willing to share?

With kind regards, Mslion

RE: That Sony headphone sounds

WH-1000XM2 is quite impressive, and I am quite hard to impress. I purchased them via eBay auction for much less than their retail price without prior experience with them. I learnt by mistake that a single finger swipe upwards on the flat face of the right ear cup increases amplitude, single finger swipe downwards decreases amplitude, single finger double-tap as I recall pauses and resumes, an entire hand covering the ear cup activates quick attention mode which temporarily disables any mode, double-finger double-tap as I recall launches iTunes [I dislike this gesture]. I may be performing this incorrectly, but it seems a single-finger slide-and-hold either rightwards or leftwards seeks forwards or backwards. I wish gestures could be changed, but that has not been implemented yet. Hopefully Sony will allow this customisation.

The iOS app is accessible, but minimally so. Labels are a mess as is navigation. Anything a sighted person can do a VoiceOver user can do if one has sufficient experience with VoiceOver. Unlike the Beats Studio Wireless 2 I used years back, these have almost no latency when connected to Mac or iDevice via bluetooth. This is important because, for me, latency makes or breaks the experience as a whole.

RE: That Sony headphone sounds

Thanks for your detailed reply. I agree fully with your latency issues. It is however possible to listen by wire if needed right? Also might I trouble you to keep me, and possible others, informed about the development of the firmware? I am highly curious and seriously thinking of getting my hands on one of the wh-1000xm2 headphones.

With kind regards, Mslion

RE: That Sony headphone sounds

Yes, a high quality 3.5mm TRS cable is included. Sony claims it provides high resolution playback, but I never investigated the specifics of the cable. I know higher quality cables can be purchased, and I suggest to use one by Mogami or Jumpers. Jumpers will custom build anything. Both Mogami and Jumpers are of equal quality, so do some research on those names.

The hard shell case is round. Inside the case is a curved divider with an aeroplane adapter accessible from the top of the divider. The headphones are highly adjustable partly because the ear cups swivel quite flexibly. The divider ensures the headphones fit very securely in the case, and it requires some time to make them fit just so for both parts of the case to zip shut. The major flaw in its design is on the bottom where the pocket compartment is found. This compartment, I think, is for both 3.5mm TRS and USB-A to micro USB cables both included. I use the compartment for this purpose because the cables will not fit inside the case. The design is flawed because: [a] the open pocket compartment is on the bottom not the top, and; [b] the aeroplane adapter fits in its own vertical compartment in the divider whilst the cables are relegated to the pocket compartment. The adapter has a cleverly placed compartment, and Sony should have designed such for the cables. Everything should be contained in the same space, and it is illogical to put any pocket on the bottom of the case where it will rest on a surface. I thought this was a nice case until I received my K872 headphones by AKG. The case for those puts _every_ headphone case to shame, and it also doubles as a nice stand. If ever you are in the presence of K872 headphones by AKG, enquire to examine the case at the very least.

I visit daily the software and downloads page for WH-1000XM2. Recently, they linked to a 2.00 version, but on that page they mentioned the update has been delayed. I will try to remember to update this thread with the status of the firmware and procedure of the update, something about which I am not sure as of now.

RE: That Sony headphone sounds

Thanks for the cable advise.
The case sounds a bit illogical but at least it can serve its purpose. I am curious about the Noise Canceling: Is it possible to have a Noise canceling mode but to still hear voices? or is that the ambient more specified for voices? And while voice mode is turned on, can you still hear people around you while you listen to music? I am asking this because one of the big problems I face with overear headphones is using them while traveling. The only solution I have know is putting them in a bag. I prefer either keeping the headphones on or wearing them around my neck for short stretches but wearing them around your neck is until now for me a bit uncomfortable with over ear headphones.

Thanks again for answering all my questions!

With kind regards, Mslion

RE: That Sony headphone sounds

The case serves its purpose well. The pocket compartment on the bottom side is the sole illogical aspect. It also has an annoying strap which snaps to itself and unsnaps, ostensibly to attach it to something such as a backpack.

The noise cancelling technology is superior to possibly anything consumer-grade. The unit adapts when in noise cancelling mode, and actually optimises if the button is pressed and held till she says optimising. Some interesting and nice tones are played, and overall it is a nice little melody followed by her message of optimising finished. There is a difference though subtle. The unit has more than one type of sensor including a pressure sensor especially useful when in an aeroplane at a very high altitude.

The ambient mode is your interest. Press the mode button again until she says ambient mode, and your surroundings become very clear. I will reiterate my recommendation to enable voice tuning via the app because it will modify the frequencies to be more conducive for surrounding speech. The default is set to be tuned for music which is useful if you will be listening to music in a closed area such as an office layout, waiting room, et cetera. Although quite clear, I do not recommend ambient mode be set to music when in an urban area – especially during navigation because the frequencies are a bit tinny for that type of environment.

In essence, the answer to your question is yes. These headphones are safe to wear and use in ambient mode provided ambient mode is set to voice when navigating outside.

You can't go wrong with Koss

I heartily recommend The Koss Porta Pro for iPhone.
It has the three button remote with microphone .
They are open back so allow outside sounds to come in. They do block a small amount of sound but not too much.
These are comfortable to wear all day.
The price is only about $70. They often go on sale on Amazon for less.
They sound extremely good with the iPhone.
Not perfect but for $70 you just cannot beat them. These are wired ,not Bluetooth so there's no latency.
Did I say they sound good? I prefer the sound to many more expensive andpopular headphones. It's slightly warm but not wooly or thumpy. The spacial imaging is very good For headphones. The highs are clear without being a bit harsh. The bass is solid without being overbaring.
You get the thin streight plug that will fit any case.

One realy good feature about any on ear headphones like these is that you can move each ear peace to customize the amount of bass and treble you hear. That is impossible with buds and also hard to do with most around the ear models.
I like that i can adjust the image balance for the slight difference in hearing between my ears. No tone or balance control can do that.

Another good choice is Sennheiser px-100 II iPhone version. However they are not being produced now.

It seems that on-the-ear open back headphones are not very popular. I was sure happy to find out I like the koss Porta Pro iphone model. I even bought a second set. I know they have a lifetime warrentee but it does cost a bit for shipping as well as the cover charge. Still worth it but I like knowing I have another set in case they become rare and or obsolete.

What about those who have Alexa?

Anyone is using the Bluetooth headset that has alexa? Suppose to be good and easy to use and accessible with the iPhone.

Firmware Update Status

I recall on 22 May 2018, you asked me to keep you apprised with regards to the firmware update. I checked today literally minutes ago, and the new firmware, now at version 2.0.1 [not 2.0.0 as was previously with the delayed message] is live. I checked days ago, possibly yesterday, and did not see this. I presume this was released today.

This web page details the instructions for both Android and iOS devices. Navigate to heading level 3 labelled iOS Devices, and below that, activate the + element to reveal the text. You will have access to exact step-by-step instructions. Thankfully, the file is downloaded via the Connect app, which downloads the update, transfers the file to the headphones [the tedious step], and only then is the actual update performed. In other words, this is an over-the-air update similar to how most update their iOS devices.

I have not updated as of this writing because the app alerted me the headphones have a battery with insufficient juice thus I connected it to charge. I knew the battery status was low because I checked via the on/off/pair button, but it is nice the app will prevent an update gone awry due to insufficient battery juice by advising to charge beforehand and not downloading the file.

RE: Firmware Update Status

I updated successfully the firmware from 01.0.5 to 02.0.1 on my unit WH-1000XM2. What follows is a recapitulation of my experience for those interested.

The app is not completely accessible, but those who read the thread know this already. The OK button is accessible, and after activation of that, a pairing request screen appears though the device is obviously paired because VoiceOver is output through the headphones until the transferring step commences. Press the Pair button, and at least for me, the file took literally seconds to download to iPhone X. That screen, the transferring software screen, and updating screens are all accessible. The tedious step was the transferring software step which took thirty-seven minutes – yes, I kept time. The updating step took two minutes – again I kept time. I did not notice the screen when the file was downloading because it downloaded too quickly. Every one of those thirty-seven minutes felt akin to dial-up to me, knowing at any moment the bluetooth connection could fail for any reason. Armed with this paranoia, I made sure to keep the phone awake so the screen would not lock just in case disconnection would occur. This may not be necessary but I chose not to take that risk.

The transferring and updating screens contain warning text which admonishes not to power off the headphones, and to keep the headphones and the device at a close distance in proximity. Followed by this is a progress bar. VoiceOver reports the progress as two elements: the first a simple percentage, and the second the same prefixed by the word progress. This is the one which should retain focus because VoiceOver will speak the updates. The final control is an Abort button which is dimmed on the updating screen. VoiceOver is output through the headphones at the time the progress bar on the updating screen is 100%. The final dialogue that appears is the update complete screen with nothing more than the OK button. Activate that and focus returns to the app’s main screen. I do recommend to check the version of the firmware via the Sony’s Headphones in the About screen in the General section of the Settings app, or activate the incorrectly labelled button in the app, then activate the WH-1000XM2 button. The numbers differ slightly. The app reports 2.0.0 [I think], but iOS reports 02.0.1. The numbers were originally 1.0.0 [I think] and 01.0.5, respectively.

I hope all that helps and provides prospective updaters of the WH-1000XM2 with reassurance the update process is 100% accessible and feasible.

The best headphones for outdoor use is now unobtainable

I think the best headset I ever had in terms of all the different uses was the Here One from Doppler Labs, now sadly closed. I read about the headphones in late 2016 and thought it sounded awesome, so I paid the $299 price tag to try it out. I"m sure had they had the funding they would have continued to update the headset and truly make something revolutionary. What I can tell you is that more than a headset, they were an in-ear computer. OF course as first generations of this sort of thing go they weren't the greatest, but I chose to overlook that. They were truly wireless earbuds like the Airpods, only they sounded better. Not only did they sound better, but they were specifically built to allow you to hear the outside world even while you listened to your music. There were specific filters, for instance, to block out that annoying low jet hum, while still being able to hear the noises around you, so that if you were listening to your music and the stewardess needed to make an announcement, you could hear her clearly even as your music continued to play. Now, I use my Sennheiser Ambeos transparent hearing mode when I'm out and about. Another option I suppose is the Bose Quiet Control 30. They have what's called "aware mode", and I believe you can get that now for $299, the same price as the Ambeo. If you have an iPhone or iPad and are looking to record decent audio, the Ambeos might be the better option unless you want a wireless experience.

Sony update

Thanks for the clear description. I currently also own the sony wh-1000xm2 and am really happy with it.

Thanks for all the sugestions

May I ask, what does the update give for the Sony headphones?

Yes, I read about the hear 1s, I believe Bose have something similar with Hearphones, though they seem to be marketed to people with poor hearing and only available in the states last time I checked.

Since all this, it has been announced that IOS 12 will have a type of hear through using the microphone on the phone, though this has to be done with ear pods, I've got beats x which is annoying, though I'm not sure how useful that might be considering it probably doesn't have a stereo field.

Considering this is included in IOS12, I have a hunch that hear through will be included in the new AirPods, which would fit well with apples development of AR.... Obviously, there is no indication when they will be released and, as I say, it's just a hunch.

RE: Thanks for all the sugestions

According to the web page, the firmware provides support for Google Assistant, bug fixes, and performance improvements. I do not notice a difference, but this does not imply there are none behind the scenes. Many believe an update to anything is not warranted if there are no outwards-facing changes, but this is not true. Firmware is something that should be kept up to date, and that on headphones are no exception.

RE: Sony update

I am not surprised. I am curious to know your experiences and perspective when you feel sufficient time with them has passed.