One of the more unique pairs of earphones we’ve ever reviewed, the Bose SleepBuds II are unlike anything else. Rather than play your music, the focus is on getting you to sleep. Does it work, and is it worth the high price of admission?
Getting to sleep isn’t easy for everyone, and once you have kids, you can be all too easily reminded of just how hard sleep is. New parents will know the feeling better than others, not just because they’ll adopt a fairly regular pattern of sleeping poorly due to the little one, but because they can see just how hard it is to learn to sleep.
For those who’ve not experienced it yet, self-settling and falling asleep is something we have to learn to do. Babies may fall asleep naturally through exhaustion, but when they’re overtired, falling asleep is something they gradually have to learn to do, and it’s the sort of thing we as adults can struggle with as well.
All grown up, sleep can be hard at the best of times, and the activity of our brain can do that thing where it prevents us from falling asleep. Is the noise of the world preventing you from going to sleep? Does the prospect of no noise make you shudder, and just make your insomnia levels rise a little more? You may know the feeling, and you might even have tried to fix it by doing anything you can, from reading a book, having a warm bath, or just having an aperitif before bed.
Trying to relax yourself is one of the ways adults attempt to self-settle before bed, but it doesn’t always work, and it’s why we may turn to sound. It might be the relaxing sound of rain, the slight drama of a light thunderstorm, the drone of an aircraft cabin during flight, or just the ocean waves rolling back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. It might even just be noise.
There’s no shortage of sounds you can play to lull your brain to sleep, and you can do this through headphones or speakers, but the latest pair from Bose tries to do this in a gadget designed specifically to help get you to sleep. Small, light, and made solely for one thing, the Bose SleepBuds II are what happens when a sound company tries to solve a sleeping dilemma within sound.
Are they successful? Are the Bose SleepBuds II the very thing you’ll want to wear at night to calm you down and help you sleep, or are they just another pair of earphones with a fancy design and case?
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What are the Bose Sleepbuds?
Different from your regular earphones, the SleepBuds sit in the ear, holding using Bose’s special wing tips, and feeling about as light as we’ve ever felt an earphone to be. Granted, they’re not your conventional earphone, not by a long shot, but they also manage to feel so different, you’ll never confuse them for being another earphone.
Rather, the Bose SleepBuds II are an ultra-light earphone made solely for the listening of relaxing sounds and nothing else. They have a cute metal case to hold them inside, complete with lights to tell you how much charge there is, supporting three additional charges for the earphones on top of the ten hours for the earphones themselves.
In real-life terms, that means the Bose SleepBuds II can handle about three to four nights of sleep, though that might change based on how much you sleep. We saw roughly four nights of charge, though we also used them at one point in the day to try relaxing with, because they can be used for that, too.
What do they do?
Relaxing is the name of the game with the SleepBuds II, and the idea of masking what’s happening around you by using specific sounds and repeatable drones to have you focus on that and tune out.
Designed solely to work with the Bose Sleep app on iOS and Android, you’ll actually have to run the app if you want to go to bed with them and have an alarm. If you don’t want the alarm and are okay with one specific sound, you can set up a mode that makes the SleepBuds work without your phone, but you’ll lose the alarm feature, which might bring you out of your slumber in a timely way.
Getting you to your slumber is mainly the point of these, however, with you throwing the SleepBuds in your ears, opening the app, and then selecting your desired sound to keep in your ears, as well as the volume. Once you have your sound, it’ll be played in your ears until your alarm goes off, or until you put the earphones back in the charging box, whichever comes first.
Do the SleepBuds II sound good?
Listening to the SleepBuds II is the whole point of these earphones, if you can call them that. They’re not like other earphones, though, because they only play the sounds delivered by the Bose Sound app, so they’re made just for the sounds Bose offers.
As to whether they sound good, the SleepBuds II sound good enough, though the tracks on offer aren’t exactly the calibre we might throw your way from the Pickr Sound Test. Rather, they’re repeating sounds, ambient sounding musical soundscapes, and just something for you to throw to the back of your consciousness and not have to think about.
You’re not hearing high-def rain or high-resolution ambient aircraft noise, because that’s not really the point, so don’t go looking for clarity. They’re just for specific type of sounds to lull you into a slumber.
Simply put, the Bose SleepBuds II sound as good as they need to, and as good as the sounds need to in order to keep your focus away from awake, and more to being asleep. We found we didn’t need much more than 50 percent volume, but you can make them louder if you need to.
Can the SleepBuds II help you sleep?
With the whole intent of the SleepBuds II being about getting you to sleep, you may be surprised to learn that they achieve their goal, though it’s dependent on the person.
Essentially, Bose SleepBuds are a white noise system that goes directly in your ears, so if white noise, rain, the hum of traffic, the waves of the ocean, wind farms, or the sound of a mid-flight are examples of sounds that can get your eyes to close and your brain to shut off, the Bose SleepBuds II have the potential to work for you.
This journalist typically sleeps with the sound of rain, though not through earphones. Rather, he has it running through speakers, allowing the sound of rainfall to reverberate in the bedroom, entering his ears that way, compared to with little earphones. For him, white noise works as a way to lull him to sleep, but you may be different.
If white noise doesn’t work for you — if it’s something you’ve previously tried — the Bose SleepBuds II are unlikely to change that, as they’re just a slightly different take on that. Basically, they’re a more direct take on the white noise generator, where you plunge them into your ears, and let specific sounds mask the world, helping you to fall asleep.
What do they need?
While the Bose SleepBuds 2 definitely do the job, the concept is very much only good at one thing, and indeed just one app.
As it is, you need to use the Bose Sleep app with the SleepBuds II, because nothing else will connect. Bose does offer a reasonably wide variety of tracks for you to use — roughly 40 — made up of sounds that last several hours, plus ambient music called “tranquilities”, which are kind of what you’d expect if you turned up to a meditative healing class of sorts. I’m fairly sure I’ve been to a yoga class with something similar.
Bose’s SleepBuds II can store a select amount of these tracks, too, and you can assemble your favourite choices, though it does take a few minutes to transfer them, and you have to do it one at a time. We’d love it if Bose would fix that, and make managing the sounds a little easier.
But more than that, it would be nice to see support for other calming apps, because Bose Sleep isn’t alone in what it provides. Calm, Endel, plenty of others do something similar, and yet only Bose Sleep communicates with the Bose SleepBuds II. If you want Calm or Endel, or any of the others to work, you’ll need to bring your own earbuds, not the SleepBuds, sadly.
There’s also the lack of hard volume control, with the SleepBuds II really needing you to set the volume at the app level, and just leave it there. Do this before you go to bed, because you can’t reach over in the dark and use your phone’s physical volume keys to change the volume, nor is there a volume controller on the earphones, either. It’s app only, or nothing, with Bose Sleep needed for that.
Are the SleepBuds worth your money?
And yet at near $400 in Australia, the Bose SleepBuds 2 are incredibly hard to recommend. Priced at $379.95 with a street price not far from the RRP, the SleepBuds 2 are basically a splurge for people who love the idea of a noise machine that only impacts them, and that they can take with them on the go.
Keep in mind that this is all the SleepBuds 2 do. These are the very embodiment of having one job. I almost want to scream “you had one job” at them, but they actually do their one job well. They do get you to sleep, provided you respond to the stimuli of white noise and relaxing sounds.
The problem is that’s all they do. In this day and age, an age where convergence has become normal and everything does more than one thing, doing one thing is a problem, especially when they cost as much as some noise cancelling earphones.
In fact, they’re $20 off the cost of Bose’s own QuietComfort Earbuds, a slightly larger pair of earphones that blocks out the world using a different approach: noise cancellation technology.
The Bose SleepBuds 2 do not block the world out, mind you; they simply mask it, replacing your own music and podcasts and calls with relaxing sounds. But the price is so close, it’s really hard to find value at all in what Bose is offering in the SleepBuds.
Basically, they’re a pricey gadget for people who can afford to spend it on a single use piece of technology.
Yay or nay?
The value is the hardest part of the Bose SleepBuds, and then maybe the battery life. There’s a good idea here, though it’s one that feels like it’s easily tarnished by a battery that could be better and price that feels like it needs to be.
Even at $250, we feel we might struggle to come to grips with the value of what Bose offers in the SleepBuds 2. At $380, it just feels weird, and we’re not sure who it will make sense to.
Not helping it is the fact that you can get white noise on pretty much any speaker and music service pretty easily, and there are other truly wireless earphones that include support for white noise, too. Jabra’s 75t supports it in the Jabra Sound+ app and we expect the Elite 85t will, too, though they may not last as long for wireless playback, working for maybe four to five hours, but not necessarily your entire run of sleep for a night.
We think the biggest problem with the Bose SleepBuds 2 is just how single-focused they are. For near $400, you’re being asked to buy a pair of earphones that doesn’t play any music, that won’t hear a single podcast, and that can’t be used to talk to anyone. They’re not even noise cancelling. All they do is mask the world for sleep, and play noise and light music. That’s a really hard ask for $400.
That’s not to say the Bose SleepBuds 2 are bad, because they’re not. They’re just oddly placed, and in a world where convergence exists, the SleepBuds feel extravagant, almost unnecessarily so. For people who move around a lot, we can probably see the appeal, but wish the compatibility was there for other apps, because right now, the Bose SleepBuds II are a pricey sleep.