What Are the Best Choices for Sleeping Earphones?

Audio Gear Gadgets Projects Technology

I very much like having some kind of sounds playing when I go to sleep (right now it’s the Deep Space One channel on SomaFM.com overlaid with a rain sounds iPhone app), but my spouse prefers only the mildest of white noise, so I have slept for many many years wearing a pair of headphones. This has not always been the best solution, what with cords getting twisted around and sometimes pulling the old iPhone I use as the player off the nightstand. I killed a beloved pair of Audio-Technicas just due to the wear and tear of using them for 8 hours a night, every night. So when I was offered a pair of QuietOn 3 active noise canceling (ANC) earbuds, I decided the time was right to go wireless.

I admit I misunderstood something with the QuietOn 3 earbuds to start with, though. They are not Bluetooth earbuds that play audio from your phone along with ANC capabilities. They are just ANC earbuds, meaning that they act like augmented earplugs, tuning out a significant amount of ambient noise to let you sleep/work/whatever in peace.

As you can see, the QiuetOn 3s have a sleek design and small profile. They fit nicely in your ears and are far less bulky than standard earbuds. I suspect this is because the battery requirements for performing ANC without also running a Bluetooth receiver and amplifying audio allows for all-night functionality with a much smaller size.

The ANC functionality is subtle, and since it’s layered onto the passive noise canceling affected by having the foam-tipped earbuds already in your ears, it might seem a bit subjective whether it’s really there at first. However, I realized that the ANC ramps up as the earbuds take in the ambient sounds in the space and then start to deliver the inverse waveform that dampens those sounds. Each night I tested these earbuds, I’d put them in, and initially still be able to hear the low hum of the air purifier we have running in our room. But when I’d wake up later in the night, or the morning, I’d realize the ANC had kicked in, and there was no ambient noise at all. They really work!

To be clear, ANC works great on regular ambient sounds, like the hum of the air purifier or fans blowing away in the background. There is no way it can deal with sudden or random noises (the snoring of a partner could be hit or miss), so you can’t expect these to make everything perfectly quiet. That being said, if you’re looking to improve on just plugging your ears up with earplugs, the QuietOn 3s do an excellent job of delivering a quiet night’s sleep. You can find them for sale here, and they will be $50 off starting November 22nd as part of their Black Friday promotion.

But, as I said at the outset, I prefer actually listening to music and sleep sounds when I sleep, so the first thing I tried out was using the quite excellent Melomania Touch Bluetooth earbuds I carry around with me for day-to-day use. The Touches have some of the best audio from wireless earbuds that I’ve heard, especially at the current price point (under $90). The only issue I ran into is that a full night’s sleep (8 hours) is right on the outside of their single-play battery life. I also had some trouble with their touch controls being activated if I moved my head and they tapped against the pillow. If you sleep less than 8 hours at a stretch, then the Touches may be an excellent choice for you. But I wanted something that would consistently last longer.

I went looking online at battery lives for wireless earbuds and quickly found that you have to be careful with the difference between what a pair of earbuds can deliver on a single charge and what they can deliver if they come with charging cases. The marketing sometimes makes it challenging to sort that out. But when I worked through that confusion and found a pair Edifiers that promised 10+ hours on a single charge, I gave them a try, only to run into some very weird Bluetooth connectivity issues. Most wireless earbuds that are two separate units have to do a strange thing where one earbud connects to your device via Bluetooth, and then the other earbud connects to the first to receive the signal. With the Edifiers, the second earbud would randomly disconnect and then reconnect, which was actually quite jarring when trying to sleep. I’m not linking to them here because they’re not just worth it.

Then I had a forehead-slapping moment: I had an old set of Bluetooth earbuds that were the behind-the-neck cabled style meant for runners. I pulled them out of a drawer wondering if the battery life might be better. I charged them up and tried them one night and they worked perfectly, still going strong when I woke up in the morning. The only problem with them was that they were old enough that after a couple nights, they stopped charging. I think they’d been in the drawer for something like 7 years, so it’s understandable.

So, finally, I picked up a pair of Beats Flex wireless earbuds (less than $50 at Amazon and most other places) and for most of a week now they’ve been working really well, fitting nicely in my ears with no cord problems.

The bottom line of this journey (if you’ve made it this far) is that if you like to listen to music and other ambient noises in the privacy of your own ears while you sleep, I’d recommend trying a pair of runner’s wireless earbuds (either the Beats above or whatever you find that matched your price point), as they maximize battery life for a wireless earbud while allowing for a low in-ear profile for comfort. Here’s to a good night’s sleep!

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