Bose gets into sleep tech with Sleepbuds - and more audio wellbeing tech to come

We try out the new earbuds and chat to Bose execs about a very relaxing future
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Bose, known for its high-end audio equipment, announced on Wednesday that it's venturing into the sleep tech space, launching its "noise-masking Sleepbuds" at an event in New York.

As you've probably already guessed, the Sleepbuds are basically wireless Bluetooth earphones that have been re-designed so that they are comfortable enough to use while you drift off to sleep. However, Bose's fresh invention isn't just about listening to music while you're in bed. Oh no, they're actually aimed at improving your health.

Read this: The best sleep trackers and monitors

The Sleepbuds work in the same way as a standard pair of earphones but they have been specially designed with bedtime in mind, helping you to get off to sleep without any interruptions from busy city streets or noisy neighbours for example, by masking the unwanted, external noise and replacing it with soothing sounds.

Sleep yourself healthy

Bose gets into sleep tech with Sleepbuds - and more audio wellbeing tech to come

The idea behind the Sleepbuds came after Bose conducted some research that suggested a large part of the world population is suffering from sleep deprivation. The firm found that people are not getting enough proper rest when they go to bed on a night, usually because of external noise.

We spoke with Ken Jacob, a Bose executive in charge of product and communication design, who made it clear that while most people appreciate the importance of exercise and nutrition to overall wellness, "they don't understand that proper sleep is just as important".

He pointed us to a stat from the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, which claims not getting enough sleep is linked with many chronic diseases and conditions that threaten the country's health. He also stated it's quite a big problem, claiming that 60% of adults in the US say they have trouble sleeping or getting to sleep.

"Being more stressed, higher levels of anxiety, slower to react, more indecisive, moodier, and not being able to concentrate are all linked with not enough sleep," he said, adding that the Sleepbuds were developed specifically with this problem in mind. "None of the products available to combat [this issue] work well for a lot of people. But why has noise vexed the multimillion-dollar sleep industry? We think it's because it's a very technical problem, and people have asked us to do something about this for years."

And so Bose went ahead in developing something that could mask common noises that are responsible for preventing people drifting off and causing sleep deprivation. They started by measuring and analysing such noises, for instance dogs, sirens, taxis, and ice machines and elevators in hotels.

"We evaluated every device on the market designed to combat these noises and discovered that the problem with these devices is: managing noise during the day isn't the same as that of the night," he added. "[We found] streaming music isn't the right solution, and neither is our noise-cancelling tech, as it would change the size of the earphones, which would, in turn, change the comfort level as well as use too much battery power."

The result was the Sleepbuds; a completely new product, built from scratch, that includes tech not seen before in existing Bose earphones.

Hands on with the Sleepbuds

Jacob told us the Sleepbuds were a "massive engineering effort" and are made up of six layers to create a product that not only works for blocking out external sounds but is also comfortable enough to wear for long periods, and use while actually lying in bed, even on your side.

Let's work our way from the outside in. Firstly, there's an electronics outer layer, with a high gloss finish, which Bose says allows you to see them in the dark. Next, there's a rechargeable zinc battery that lasts 16 hours on one charge, followed by a microcircuit board to store the sleep tracks, a "miniscule transducer" that plays the sleep tracks, a laser-etched antenna that connects the buds to an external device, lastly followed by a StayHear+ Sleep tip – something you'll recognise from other Bose in-ear headphones - which is noise isolating to block out the environmental sounds.

Bose gets into sleep tech with Sleepbuds - and more audio wellbeing tech to come

Putting the antenna on the outside helped Bose to save room on the inside, while keeping the buds tiny and virtually weightless. Speaking of which, each bud weighs just 1.4g and measures 1cm x 1cm (not including the rubber sleep tip). As a result, I can confirm that the Sleepbuds are super comfortable and you can't really tell you have them in.

They are charged in a brushed-aluminium case, which provides an additional 16 hours of charge when away from a USB port, making them ideal for travel. In true Bose style, the case is really well made and seems like it will be sturdy enough to withstand a good few knocks.

The buds offer a variety of what Bose is calling "soothing sounds" to help you sleep, including nature sounds and other familiar audio. The 10 preset sounds are divided into those engineered for noise masking and those for relaxation.

Bose gets into sleep tech with Sleepbuds - and more audio wellbeing tech to come

We got a chance to try some of these in a bedroom-like environment. The Bose team played a number of "external sounds" into the room, such as "noisy neighbours" and "barking dogs", and played the masking sounds over to the top to show us how well they worked. The relaxing masking sounds covered the external noises very well, to the point where you couldn't hear them at all. However, we'll have to wait until we get the Sleepbuds in for a full review before we can say how well they work in reality, and if they do help you get to sleep, or stay asleep, much easier - as promised.

The app seems pretty straightforward to use and we also like the option of an alarm sound to wake you up in the morning. We'll be interested to see how much you need to adjust the volume for them to mask different sounds, as you can do this to balance how undetectable you'd like the offending noise to be, via the companion app. Here you can also adjust the number of hours you want it to run when you go to bed. Bose said they will also be adding more of these sleep tracks to the app's library over time.

More 'audio wellbeing' tech to come

Bose gets into sleep tech with Sleepbuds - and more audio wellbeing tech to come

Sleep isn't the only area that Bose is looking to get into with the launch of the Sleepbuds. As general manager of wellness, John Roselli, tells us, the launch of Sleepbuds is just the beginning in the company's much bigger plan to conquer the health and wellness industry.

"We believe that we can truly help people live a healthier, more engaged life and that's why we started the wellness division," he said. "Within this, we have two products right now, earphones for people that struggle to hear but aren't quite ready for a hearing aid, and then our new, second product: the Sleepbuds."

He went on to tell us that there are two other areas the Bose teams are looking at within this new division, and that's physical activity and mental wellbeing.

"It turns out that if we can help you get a good night's sleep to start your day, you're more likely to be more physically active. And if we can help you to be more physically active, you're more likely to be less anxious and stressed out, and it's a virtuous cycle, you'll sleep better the following night," Roselli explained, hinting at an upcoming product that could involve audio health or fitness "coaching".

"What we want to do is to be able to provide products that can help you out across the course of your day, all 24 hours," he said, "when you're sleeping and when you're awake during the day and coach you either through audio or an app to help you do that and that's a bit of where we going to be heading."

Bose gets into sleep tech with Sleepbuds - and more audio wellbeing tech to come

Roselli also pointed to lowering stress levels as a focus as well as a potential future product that looks at taking biomarkers from your body to aid this audio fitness coaching feature: "We are about social, mental and physical wellbeing. Socially by connecting with headphones, physically with products that we're going to take the biomarkers off your body and see how you're doing and coach through the course of the day: giving you advice either through an app or audio."

While these things may be a long way off, Roselli made clear that sleep will still remain a key focus for Bose, even after the launch of the Sleepbuds.

"We have other products we are thinking about for sleep right now - while the [Sleepbuds] mask the external noise, in the future, we also want to help you fall asleep and not just by masking but actually controlling some of your bodily functions," he said. "Respiration is really the key to falling asleep, it can slow down your heart rate and slow down your breathing, so those are some of the areas that we are working on developing right now."

When asked if this could be done by influencing breathing patterns with sounds, he replied "that's absolutely right".

The Bose team also told us that it's constantly working to shrink its technology - no surprise for a company that deals with in-ear tech - so that its future products will boast the same features in a much smaller form.

The Sleepbuds are out now in the US, priced at $249. In the UK, they will retail for £229 and will be released in autumn 2018.

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Lee Bell


Lee is a writer and editor for specialised technology publications.

Since 2012, he has been covering London's buzzing tech scene, reporting on the latest innovations in consumer tech, such as apps, artificial intelligence, health tech, the Internet of Things and the smart home, internet security, semiconductors, startups, transport and telecoms.

You can find him writing for publications such as GQ, Esquire, Men's Health, The Times, The Sun, The Mirror, Wired UK, MailOnline and The Metro, covering topics such as health and fitness, entertainment, science, space, and travel.

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