I recently spent some time with Bose's Noise-Masking Sleepbuds. When I first wrote about them, I admitted to not being the the target market for these little guys. I'm fortunately blessed with the ability to sleep pretty much anywhere, anytime. It's okay to hate me.
But these landed in my hands while I was experiencing the most hellish jet lag of my life. There had never been a better time for me to put something like these to the test.
Update: This article was originally published on October 29, 2018. Since then I've tested one of the new features and included my experience before the 'Should You Buy Them?' section. Keepm in mind that prices may have dropped since then!
WHAT IS IT?
Earbuds designed to help you sleep
They're comfortable, have great battery life and are good at blocking out noise.
You can't play your own tracks and they're expensive.
What Are They?
They're wireless earbuds that have been specifically designed to help people sleep. They use 'sleep tracks' that can be selected from the accompanying Bose Sleep App (available on Android and iOS) in order to mask surrounding sounds like street noise, snoring and annoying neighbours.
What's interesting about these is that you can't play your own music, podcasts or sounds. On the plus side, this means that They won't kill your phone battery because the tracks are stored on the buds themselves, as opposed to streaming via bluetooth all night.
The app is also minimalist and easy to use. You can use it to select your track (including the amount of time you'd like it to play for), your preferred volume and an alarm if you're so inclined.
What Are They Good At?
Blocking Out Noise
Before we get into this, it's important to note that these aren't noise cancelling earbuds - so loud sounds are still going to filter through. But I found that general night time noise from the street was masked well and faded away once I had the sounds playing. And when partner spoke next to me, his voice became incredibly muffled.
I got these results from having the earbuds at 50% loudness. I also bumped them up to 75% and 100% when loud cars went past (we live on a main road where people love to blast their tunes and drag race) and I could still faintly hear them.
So why not have them set to 100% all the time? Because it was uncomfortably loud for me personally. I definitely would not be able to sleep with even the most relaxing sounds blasting at that level. That being said, the tracks are designed to not cause hearing damage and having them that high may be fine for other people.
Battery And Charging Case
One of my favourite things about the Sleepbuds is its charging chase. Not only is it sleek and incredibly lightweight, it provides the buds with 16 hours of power before it needs to be charged up again. This make its perfect for long haul flights and business trips.
You can see how much charge the case has left by its lights, and the buds magnetically snap into place when you want to juice them up. You can also check how much charge the buds themselves have left via the Bose Sleep app.
The downside to the truly impressive battery life is that it comes at a cost, but we'll get to that.
This may seem like an odd inclusion. After all, every phone is capable of this functionality. But they don't deliver those demonic sounds directly into your ear holes. The sleepbuds do.
I adore this feature - it's great for anyone with a partner who doesn't get up at the same time as them. My fiancee and I are both journalists and usually get up around the same time... Except during hardware launch season.
These were awesome when I had to get up at 2am for the new iPhone launch, as well as the Google Pixel 3 and Huawei Mate 20 announcement. They allowed me to be woken from my peaceful slumber that without blasting an alarm throughout the entire bedroom.
Like the tracks, once you set the alarm its stored within the buds themselves, not on the phone app, so it won't drain your battery if you don't have it plugged in over night.
I was really impressed by the level of comfort offered by the Sleepbuds. They don't stick, I was able to lie comfortably on my side and they were secure enough that they stayed in all night. While you can of course still tell that you're wearing something, they're far more comfortable than most earplugs or ordinary earbuds that I've tried to sleep with before.
The Sleepbuds set also comes with three different sized ear tips to choose from, which helps with personal comfort and ensures that the ones you choose aren't too small, as that would allow for sound to leak out.
I don't want to say that these will definitely help you sleep - because there are some many variables - from environment to the individual using them.
But I will say that they helped calm my anxiety-addled brain that was ravaged by jet lag. And that's what enabled me to sleep. The relaxing sounds of crackling campfires and crashing waves helped to quiet my mind and not think about all of my loved ones dying one day.
When I first used the Sleepbuds, I fell asleep quite quickly for the first time in over a week - and I stayed asleep. That being said - I'm a heavy sleeper. Once I'm out I usually stay that way. That's why I didn't have to worry about a track cutting out thus being woken by a loud noise that was no longer being blocked.
In fact, on subsequent nights I set the track to only play for a couple of hours. For me, the Sleepbuds were being used to achieve sleep, not stay there. For other people with more serious sleep issues, it may not be as simple.
What Are They Not So Good At?
The Sleepbud tracks have been specifically designed to help with noise masking and sleep promotion. They also have a maximum dB level of 50 in order to protect against hearing damage. Furthermore, the limitation means the tracks can be stored on the devices as to not drain your phone battery. I understand why these engineering choices have been made, and can see the positives.
However, I still think that these limitations could turn off people who want to listen to their own music and podcasts, or even ASMR and meditation tracks. Not to mention anyone who would like to use such an expensive device as their daily earbuds as well.
While Bose does plan to release more sounds over time, I don't think that's going to be enough. I'm hoping that the next generation of the Sleepbuds will find a solution so users can get a little more bang for their buck and enjoy the best of both worlds.
On the flip side, the sounds they do have are great.
My go-tos are Campfire, Shower and Swell. I suppose that fire, rain and waves are obvious choices, but they've been incredibly relaxing they've been for me. And this was important for the way I was approaching the earbuds. These sounds calmed me.
Interestingly, there is also an 'Altitude' track which emulates the sounds of a plane. The hum of the engine aspect, not the screaming children, clinking cutlery and toilet flushing.
Long-haul flights are one of those times where I would want to use the Earbuds the most - to block out he sounds of a flight - so I found it surprising that some people might enjoying the persistent hum. But hey, each to their own. We all have our own version of bliss.
Update November 11 2018:
As Bose promised, several new tracks were added to the sound library a few weeks back, and I've now had a chance to test the process of downloading them.
As we talked about earlier, the files aren't played via Bluetooth - they're actually stored on the buds themselves. Transferring new ones across is a whole process that is more difficult than it should be.
There are over 10 new sounds, all of which you can preview before transferring - which is quite cool. I liked quite a few of them and wanted to download all of my selections onto the sleepbuds.
As I quickly discovered, you have to transfer each new track individually. Not only that, the app warns you that it can take up to a few hours and that the buds need to be out of the charger while you transfer.
Due to this very particular process, the app also recommends that you transfer overnight, while you're already using the buds. So I resigned myself to waiting another 24-hours to fall asleep to the dulcet tones of 'Shoreline'.
When I woke up the next morning, only 2% had transferred. I was not pleased.
On my second attempt I transferred the track at work while the Sleepbuds were next to me playing zero sounds. The track transferred with no issues within 37 minutes. My third attempt in the same environment was also done in under an hour.
I was much happier with these results and hope that the first failure was merely a glitch. That being said, I could do without the app telling me how to transfer tracks...
Every. Single. Time. I. Go. To. Do. It.
I think this annoying process is yet another example of first generation niggles with the Bose Sleepbuds. I still quite like them for what they are, and fully expect the process to be more streamlined and convenient in the future. But for now they could still use some work.
Should You Buy Them?
While I enjoyed my experience with the Bose Sleepbuds, I find it difficult to get past the price tag. The lack of versatility is likely to be a sticking point for prospective buyers, regardless of the engineering and reasoning.
There's also no getting past that this is a first gen product that is far from perfect. It can't cancel noise entirely, if a track cuts out you might wake up anyway, you can't play your own content and the comfort could be further improved. And on top of that, there is no guarantee that it will actually work for you until you've tried it.
There's a lot to like here, but $380 is still a lot to ask for a product with such a singular function that will have varying results from person to person.
But as I said in my initial hands on - I'm someone who doesn't have trouble sleeping outside of jet lag situations. I don't know what it's like to deal with long term sleep deprivation or any other sleeping issues. If these buds could potentially improve someone's quality of life, they may very well be worth it.
But with such a distinct lack in guarantee due to subjectivity, perhaps try to borrow some first. Or if you're willing to take a punt, you can get a 30-day risk free trial through the Bose website. Make sure you keep your receipt though!