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Editor's note, Oct. 3: Bose has discontinued Sleepbuds due to battery issues. In an email to customers, Bose General Manager John Roselli said buyers would be able to return their Sleepbuds for a full refund by Dec. 31, 2019.
I normally don't have trouble sleeping, but that changes every summer after my husband and I begrudgingly install our bedroom air-conditioning unit. When it's running at full blast, the thing sounds like a lawn mower, and it wakes me at least once every night. (I long for the days when I had central air.)
Bose's new Sleepbuds, a pair of $249.95/£229.95/AU$379.95 noise-masking earphones designed solely to help you get a better night's rest, would seem to be just the cure. I tried them during a hot week when my AC was working overtime and I was recovering from jet lag after a trip to Japan.
Unfortunately, at the end of my weeklong experiment, I felt more like a zombie than a well-rested, productive member of society.
How They Work
Bose's Sleepbuds are notable for one particular reason: They don't play music. They pair to your smartphone like a normal set of earbuds would, but you don't use them to stream songs or play MP3 files; instead, you use the Bose Sleep app to choose a soothing soundtrack.
You get 10 preinstalled sounds to choose from, ranging from relaxation boosters like Downstream (a babbling brook) and Swell (crashing ocean waves) to noise-masking sounds like Altitude (a plane cruising at 30,000 feet) and my personal fave, Warm Static (the ignorable sound of a fuzzy TV).
Before going to bed, you remove the buds from their silver, puck-shaped charging case and put them in your ears. Then, you choose a track and select the volume and duration you want for the night. If you adjust the volume past a certain point, the app warns you that you might not be able to hear surrounding noises, like alarms. I set the volume above that mark to disguise the sound of my AC, but I could still hear my iPhone's default alarm to wake up in the morning.
The Sleepbuds have a built-in alarm, which you toggle on in the Bose Sleep app. Because I kept waking during the night to take out the earbuds, I used my iPhone alarm as a backup. The one night that I managed to keep the Sleepbuds in my ears all night — or, in reality, took them out but sleepily put them back in again so I would be able to test the alarm — the Warm Static playing in my earbuds faded out and the alarm kicked on, nudging me awake.
The Sleepbuds come with a pair of wings and silicone tips in three sizes: small, medium and large. The Bose team sized me at a press event in June, and I found the medium tips to be a comfortable, secure fit. But the fit isn't the problem.
Why Wearing Earphones to Bed Just Plain Sucks
If you're accustomed to wearing earplugs to bed to block out noise, Bose's Sleepbuds might offer a more comfortable experience than the cheap, awkwardly fitting foam plugs you can find at any drugstore. I've always disliked the feel of earplugs, but I figured it was the material that bothered me, not the concept.
After using the Sleepbuds for a week, I've realized something about myself: Sleeping with anything in my ears fills me with rage — the rage of someone who hasn't slept well in days.
The Sleepbuds are comfortable to wear and, as Bose promises, they don't shift while you sleep. I tend to flop around, starting on my stomach and rolling over to one side and then another throughout the night. Despite my tossing and turning, the Sleepbuds never fell out.
But every night, I found myself waking at an ungodly hour to deal with a strange sensation: There were objects in my ears that needed to be removed ASAP. In the morning, I opened my eyes to find the Sleepbuds crammed back in their case or tossed haphazardly on my nightstand, and I was left with vague memories of discomfort. This happened every night, no matter which track I selected or how long the sounds played. It was the sensation of the Sleepbuds, not the sound, that made them impossible to wear all night.
And it only got worse as the nights went on. At first, I found the sounds soothing and fell asleep almost instantly, waking to remove the buds during the night and then falling back to sleep. The last night I wore them, the sound of a bud touching my pillow as I shifted to find a comfortable position made me so angry I almost took them out before falling asleep. But for the purposes of this review, I left them in. Reader, I'm not saying I blame you, but ... look, I'm just really tired today.
The Sleepbuds don't even sport sensors that can analyze the quality of your rest, which is what I've come to expect from a sleep-focused device.
It's Not All Bad
Bose knows how to build noise-cancelling headphones that make music sound amazing. I hope the Sleepbuds represent a first iteration for an incredibly lightweight pair of truly wireless earphones, like a pint-size version of Bose's SoundSport Free.
I also love the charging case, which has separate compartments on the left and right side for each earbud, with magnets to pull them into place. LEDs alert you that the buds are indeed charging, and five lights in the center of the case tell you how charged the case itself is. There are thoughtful touches, too, like the case's rubber bottom, which prevents the container from skidding across your nightstand when you flail your arm into it while sleeping (yes, this happened to me).
The buds last 16 hours on a charge, good for two nights of sleep, while their charging case has its own battery, which can provide an additional 16 hours. You could use these buds for nearly a week before needing to plug them back in, though it makes more sense to just keep the case plugged in on your nightstand and tuck the buds back inside when you're not wearing them.
I really love the way Sleepbuds look and fit. It's too bad I can't stand to wear them while sleeping.
I took a break from wearing these earbuds one night during my tests to see which approach made it easier to fall asleep: wearing Sleepbuds with Warm Noise playing or listening to my air conditioner. The AC won.
If you have no issues sleeping with earplugs and if more-conventional approaches to noise masking, such as white-noise machines, just don't work for you, maybe the Sleepbuds will do the trick. But for $249.95/£229.95/AU$379.95, I want a pair of earphones that can do more.
Credit: Tom's Guide
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Caitlin is a Senior editor for Gizmodo. She has also worked on Tom's Guide, Macworld, PCWorld and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. When she's not testing out the latest devices, you can find her running around the streets of Los Angeles, putting in morning miles or searching for the best tacos.