Could these earbuds designed for sleep be the answer for a good night's rest?
In the end, Bose's Sleepbuds II just aren't versatile enough to justify their steep price tag.
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Sleep and earbuds don’t really mix. Can you imagine trying to doze off with your Airpods Pro in? Unless you’re a motionless back sleeper, they’d wind up lost in the sheets or on the floor, and with a dead battery by morning.
That’s where the Bose Sleepbuds II come in. The sleek, small earbuds are designed for all-night use to mask external noise and help you sleep better—but those promises come at a cost. Can they live up to the $249 price tag?
In one word: Nope. The Sleepbuds have one fatal flaw that makes them a terrible investment as earbuds: They're strictly limited to sounds loaded to them from Bose’s app, which only offers an audio library of white noise tracks for the Sleepbuds II. So unless you want to listen to soft ocean waves or the rainforest in your waking hours, these earbuds will only be useful when you’re primarily unconscious.
Still, as Reviewed’s sleep writer, it’s my duty to review them on their own merits (however limited they may be). Here’s my take on how you’ll snooze and lose with Bose’s Sleepbuds II.
What are Bose Sleepbuds II?
The Sleepbuds II are the second generation of sleep-specific true wireless earbuds from Bose. They’re similar in size to a quarter (in width, not depth) and tuck flush into your ears, with no parts extending outward or downward (think: a bit bigger than Airpods, and without the little microphone stems). They come in a case that’s about the size of and similar in appearance to a large, circular mint tin. The earbuds themselves are white and cream, and the case is dark gray with a silver Bose logo. Like other wireless earbuds, the Sleepbuds II charge from the case.
When you remove the Sleepbuds you can see the two components they’re made of: the electronic earpiece itself, which contains the speaker and battery, and a silicone cover that fits into the ear canal and has a wing that snuggles into the concha (the recessed space in the cartilage just beyond your ear canal). The product comes with three sizes of silicone covers to customize the fit for your ears.
Instead of thinking of the Sleepbuds as the wireless earbuds they so closely resemble, you’d be wise to consider them as an in-ear, personal white-noise machine in miniature. The earbuds’ sound-machine programming is designed for sleep and controlled through the Bose mobile app on your smartphone. The app has a selection of just shy of 40 sounds—ranging from rainforests to ocean surf—that were all engineered by Bose for the Sleepbuds and are intended to muffle or mask outside noise all night long. The tracks “play consistently at just the right mix of frequencies to make unwanted noise less perceptible.” Once you make your selections, the app stores the audio on the earbuds themselves, a design feature that Bose claims optimizes their battery life to the up to 10 hours some folks sleep, says Audrey Regillo, a company spokesperson. But it also means that you can’t stream anything to the earbuds, as all the audio is stored locally. The buds themselves don’t have any on-device buttons for changing the volume or starting/stopping recordings nor can you control the sound with a couple taps, as with Airpods, for example.
The Sleepbuds II aren’t noise-cancelling, rather they are “noise-masking,” according to Bose. The silicone covers provide passive noise-blocking as well, by sealing the ear canal to limit how much outside sound can get in. If you’re looking for something to dampen the sounds of a partner snoring or a nearby highway, these could be your answer.
How did I test the Bose Sleepbuds II?
I tested the Sleepbuds like anyone would: I used them. I slept with them multiple nights to see how comfortable they were to wear for hours on end, if they stayed in my ears and didn’t shift when I changed position, and how well they did all the functions Bose claimed. I listened to a variety of sounds from Bose’s library and considered the earbuds’ audio quality and efficacy at masking outside commotion in my bedroom, like the clattering of my plastic blinds that flap about with any breeze and hit the windowsill, or my cat crying in the morning to be fed now. I also set the alarm feature on the app, which switches from the white noise to a chime or music to wake you up.
What’s good about the Bose Sleepbuds II?
I was very skeptical of the Sleepbuds stay-put claims because I move a lot at night while I sleep. As of late I’ve been falling asleep like anyone, parallel and on one side of my queen-size bed, and waking up diagonal. I’ve never been able to keep simple foam earplugs in place for the duration of a night—at least one is always sacrificed to the black hole that seems to exist beneath my bed. If anyone was going to lose a Sleepbud from aggressively active sleeping, it would be me.
But Bose’s clever design came through, night after night. The earbuds are remarkably good at staying put. They have a smooth surface and low profile with nothing protruding to get caught on sheets or pillowcases. I never woke up with them so much as shifted in my ear. The silicone piece that props against the concha is soft and malleable, so I think most people will find it comfortable, and maybe even unnoticeable.
The batteries on the Sleepbuds II proved impressive as well. While playing the preloaded sleep sounds, they lasted the full eight to nine hours I was in bed each night and still had charge to spare come morning. For reference, Airpods only have a lifespan of five hours streaming audio or music, and three hours when you're using them for audio and as microphone on video or phone calls. Plus, I found I got multiple charges from the fully juiced case before I had to plug it in. That said, I used the Sleepbuds II on basically the lowest possible volume because I have sensitive ears and out of fear of ruining my hearing with extended audio exposure, something the app reminds you about the first time you use the Sleepbuds. The low volume likely prolonged the battery life.
I never kept the earbuds in all night (which I'll get into below), but they have a well-rounded morning alarm function, which is a perk if you’re worried about your phone alarm being muffled by the earbuds. Alarms can be faded in, so that the white noise decreases before it chimes. Moreover, alarm volume is separate from the white noise volume, so if you need a louder burst of sound to rouse you, Bose has you covered. The app offers four alarm sounds that range from chimes to more staccatoed musical tracks. You can set alarms to repeat for certain days, say you want to be up at 7:30 on weekdays, but 8:30 on weekends.
Though I didn’t test the first iteration of Bose’s Sleepbuds, after reading about the updates in the second generation Sleepbuds, I can say that I didn’t experience any of the issues of the first iteration. For one, I never had problems getting the IIs to connect to my phone. I also never heard squeaking when I slept on my side with one ear pressed to my pillow, a common complaint about the first gen product.
What’s not great about the Bose Sleepbuds II design?
The Sleepbuds’ design itself has a few clear flaws. While I appreciate that the Sleepbuds come with different sized silicone tips for a more custom fit, there are just three sizes that combine a different sized fin that nestles into the concha, with a mushroom-like insert that sits in the ear canal. For me, the fin on the medium size was slightly too big, but the fin on the small size didn’t feel secure enough. Both stayed in my ear overnight, so I could’ve written that off to being a little too Goldilocks. My bigger issue was with the feel of the part that goes in the ear canal, which did not seem to significantly vary in size relative to the fins (except on the largest size, where it appeared slightly bigger). It felt as though they were pushing on my tragus (the little bit of cartilage that juts out past the opening of your ear canal). Every night I slept with the Sleepbuds, I woke up at some point to remove them. Maybe I just have a really small ear canal and was unlucky with the fit. The forgiving silicone seems like it should mold, after all. Still, it’s tough for me to endorse a device that’s supposed to improve your sleep but wound up interrupting mine.
In addition, you really need your phone on-hand to make any adjustments to the audio that’s playing—a downside considering the light that phones emit disrupts sleep. The Sleepbuds have a “phone free” setting wherein they play a prescribed sound upon being removed from the case, but when you use this mode, alarms and alerts are disabled. This is a huge flaw, in my opinion, as it only makes sense that a sleep device should also help wake you up, without needing a blue-light emitting phone on-hand.
Charging also requires a bit of planning. Unlike some headphones and earbuds with quick charging features like my Beats Solo 3, the Bose Sleepbuds need to be plugged in and in the case for six hours prior to use when they’re fully drained. The first night I tried to use them, they’d been plugged in for only three hours or so and got up to only about 35%. The Bose app warned me that they may not have enough power to get through the night and, sure enough, one of the earbuds was dead when I woke up around 3 a.m. to take them out.
What’s not great about the Bose Sleepbuds II audio?
As the Sleepbuds II only work with the Bose app, I expected a broad selection of audio—but it’s just white noise and the options are limited. The sound library includes 39 tracks in total, ranging from natural sounds to soft synthesized music. The company plans to periodically add content to the Bose sleep app, according to the rep I spoke with, but it doesn’t sound like users can anticipate new content on a regular basis.
Bose could have dramatically improved user experience by diversifying its audio options to include nighttime meditation sessions, guided breathing, and/or sleep stories. Maybe I’m unrealistic, but I’ve come to expect these features from devices that provide sleep audio. The Hatch Restore—a white noise machine, clock, and nighttime routine device all wrapped into one—offers users the option to build a sequence of audio and light that can include a meditation and white noise. Headspace, our favorite meditation app, has a larger library of sleep audio than the Sleepbuds II. If Bose made the earbuds compatible with outside audio, it wouldn’t have to expand its audio offerings and I’d be able to listen to my favorite Headspace Sleepcast on the Sleepbuds II, which would be a dream. To be fair, even Bose hasn't been able to create earbuds that are small enough and long-lasting enough for all-night wear, with the option of streaming audio. I'm hopeful it's something we'll see in the future.
Then there’s the sound itself. Bose has a reputation for making devices that are high quality, as evidenced by its Quiet Comfort headphones and earbuds, which performed well in our testing for noise-cancelling headphones. But the sound on the Sleepbuds II just wasn’t up to par with what I expect from Bose. It’s hard to determine whether it’s the audio tracks themselves, or the earbuds’ speakers, but the effect was the same: I was underwhelmed.
For example, the “Window Seat” track is described as rain pattering down on a windowpane. But it didn’t really strike me as rainfall. It had a synthetic quality to it and sounded more like a tinny, crackly sound. The Rainforest track was better—though it seemed to me as if the same two bird calls were repeating. It felt like a short loop of audio, and as with “Window Seat,” the rain still didn’t quite sound like rain, though it was an improvement. As I listened to the “Swell” audio, which loops the sound of ocean waves, it clicked—I noticed a constant, underlying grainy white noise. For me, at least, the layering is what gave the nature-derived tracks the synthetic quality I’d noticed. Bose confirmed my suspicions: “We layer, mix and process them to achieve the desired soothing and noise-masking qualities that work best with our hardware,” Regillo says. Some might find it unnoticeable or even think it improves the audio, but it wasn’t my cup of tea.
Are Bose Sleepbuds II worth it?
I wanted to adore this product—I think it’s a phenomenal idea and sleep-friendly earbuds are something I think many people, including myself, would use. After all, many American adults don’t sleep alone. What do you do if you want to blast white noise or a meditation session, but your partner can’t stand it? I’d hoped the Bose Sleepbuds II would be the definitive and absolute answer to this question. In terms of their design for sleep and ability to stay in your ear, they are—it’s just that they lack versatility, especially in terms of audio, which is a total buzzkill. Compound their limitations with a steep $250 price and synthetic-sounding tracks … for me, they’re impossible to justify.
But for all the critiques I give many swear by Bose Sleepbuds, and they're really the only sleep-friendly wireless earbuds that are currently available. The second generation has 1,000 plus ratings on Amazon and 4.2 stars. It’s clear that the product has its place—it’s just not on my nightstand.
If you’re on the edge about whether to fork over the big bucks, know that Bose offers a 90-day satisfaction guarantee. If they show up at your door and you have the same fit problem that I did, or you’re not pleased with the Sleepbuds’ performance for any other reason, the company will pay for you to ship them back, and doesn’t charge a restocking fee.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.