Bose is best known for its noise-cancelling headphones, but the Sleepbuds take a different twist – they’re designed to entirely block out noise.
Instead of noise-cancelling, think snore-cancelling and just-about-anything-else-cancelling, with the sole purpose of helping you get to sleep and stay asleep.
While Bose’ QuietComfort cans use ‘active noise-cancelling technology’ to immediately intercept and muffle ambient sound, from the low thrum inside an aircraft cabin to the background buzz of an office, the tiny Sleepbuds work more like earplugs on steroids.
They aim to block everything out by sitting super-snug in your ear canal (there’s a choice of three soft silicone eartip sizes to get the right fit for both comfort and soundproofing).
That’s the first stage in Bose’ two-step plan to help you get a good night’s sleep.
The second is that the Sleepbuds partner with a smartphone app to play ‘white noise’ designed to lull you to the land of nod.
The 10 sleep tracks run a predictable gamut of soothing sounds from gentle rain to rivers, waterfalls and ocean waves, with one odd exception: a track of airplane cabin noise (the engines, not screaming kids and meal-service clatter), which struck me as mildly ironic considering this is precisely what the QuietComfort headphones are intended to stop you from hearing.
The tracks are looped and stored in the Sleepbuds themselves – Bose intends to release new tracks over time – which maximises battery life because there’s no actual streaming involved.
However, you can’t play music over the Sleepbuds – you can’t pair them to your phone to wind down to your favourite snooze-inducing album or playlist.
The companion Bose smartphone app merely selects the track and then adjust the volume, how long you want the track to play, and set a wake-up alarm.
This sees the Sleepbuds good for a solid 16 hours, and they recharge once nestled into their compact puck-like case which also doubles as a USB power bank for topping up other low-drain devices.
I tested the Sleepbuds at home, at a few hotels and during Singapore Airlines’ 18-hour flights between Singapore and New York.
At 1cm wide and weighing just 1.4 grams, they’re small enough and light enough to let you sleep on your side, and with a little experimentation you can find the right track – and the right volume setting – to suit your taste or even to suit the soundscape of the outside world.
I found the noise-masking worked exceptionally well on its own, but not much more so than a good-quality foam or silicone earplug: and with the Sleepbuds priced at a whacking $379, that’d buy a lot of conventional earplugs.
As to the sleep tracks, they definitely relax you. The ‘warm static’ loop was well-suited to countering all sorts of noise inside the cabin of Singapore Airlines’ already-quiet Airbus A350, including the snoring of two nearby passengers. In fact, the Sleepbuds swatted away the background noise more effectively than my own pair of Bose QuietComfort headphones.
I’ve recently started practising meditation in short mindful bursts and ‘swell’ and ‘shower’ proved to be perfect for helping me zone out, which in turn lead me into blissful sleep.
But I couldn’t manage to stay asleep for too long, because despite their button-like size and weight, the Sleepbuds feel like you’ve nodded off while wearing a tiny Bluetooth earpiece.
(It should go without saying that if you don’t like to have things sitting in your ear, the Sleepbuds are definitely not for you).
At least it wasn’t any external noise that was waking me, which says that the Sleepbuds were doing their job just fine.
This is where assessing the Bose Sleepbuds becomes highly subjective, because sleep turns out to be a very personal thing. Some of us can nod off anywhere and anytime, others will slowly drift away but quickly wake to almost any sound.
That’s precisely the reason why my own experience is likely to be different to yours, and why I suggest that if the ideas of the Bose Sleepbuds appeals, you should buy a pair and take advantage of Bose’ 30-day ‘satisfaction guarantee’.
As a concept at the very least, Bose is into something – albeit a very expensive and arguably over-engineered something. I’m hopeful that Bose will refine the Sleepbuds to a 2.0 version which are even less smaller and obtrusive (yes, I realise that sounds like quite an ask) and can store your own selection of MP3 tracks.