Review: how well do the new Bose Sleepbuds actually work?

By David Flynn, November 13 2018
Review: how well do the new Bose Sleepbuds actually work?

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.


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

13 Nov 2018

Total posts 1

When I saw these launched I was really excited. I often fall asleep to a podcast or something to take my mind off work, life etc. The thought of headphones which would block out external noise and sit comfortably in my ear to sleep (compared to my current headphones) sounded ideal. Then I read that they couldn't actually play streamed podcasts/music etc. To me it was the difference between being completely sold and not being interested at all. If 2.0 includes the capacity to play tracks like a normal set of headphones I'll be back onboard

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

08 Jun 2018

Total posts 91

Yup. Expensive for what they are. I often fall asleep on planes with my Bose headphones on without any music / audio but simply the noise cancelling function. Without the ability to stream your own audio these seem extremely pricey.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 May 2016

Total posts 33

I also use my Bose noise cancelling headphones without any music etc and find them to be excellent. Equally, sometimes I have soft music or Katherine Jenkins as beautiful sleep supporters.

28 Mar 2018

Total posts 3

Agreed. I will be waiting until they're capable of playing your own audio.

19 Jan 2018

Total posts 6

What foam or silicone earplugs do you find best for blocking background noise?

10 Aug 2017

Total posts 3

Mack's Pillow Soft Silicone Ear Plugs

24 Dec 2013

Total posts 4

The Bose Sleepbuds are priced & noise cancelling similar to the QC20 that also fit in your ears but can play your own choice of music.

Has anyone compare the two ?

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2555

I've got a pair of QC20s and would rate them as better value than the SleepBuds. Of course, each device has a very different purpose, but for most travellers I'd suggest the greater utility of the QC20s will win out.

Etihad - Etihad Guest

16 Apr 2019

Total posts 1

I purchased the sleepbuds through a rewards and I'm not happy with them. I did research the product and was looking for the most comfortable headphones to sleep with and to mask my husband's snoring. I find the majority of the Sleepbud sounds irritating (not relaxing) and monotonous and they're uncomfortable if I need to wear them for more than an hour. I tried to return them knowing of Bose's return policy. Apparently, that's only if you purchase directly from Bose. The product is way too expensive when the sounds are so limited. The Relax Melodies ap has a much better selection and you can set the volume on each sound you save to a mix. I'm very disappointed.

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