There are some nights when I just want a quiet space where I can drift off to sleep without interruption and remain that way until then morning. Doesn’t sound like much to ask, but sometimes it can be hard to achieve, and that’s when I turn to technology to help me out.
Over the past months, I’ve been using the Bose Sleepbuds II and QuietOn 3 in-ear headphones, which are designed for sleep. Bose uses ambient sound to lull you to sleep, while QuietOn uses silence generated by active noise canceling (ANC). But which one has sent me to the Land of Nod most effectively?
Before going into which one has worked best for me, let’s talk about how they work. On the surface, both seem quite similar — they’re things you put in your ears to help minimize noise while you sleep — but once you start using them, it’s clear they are very different. The QuietOn 3 buds have ANC and work entirely without a Bluetooth connection. They look like traditional in-ear buds and come with a foam eartip, similar to Comply tips included with some headphones.
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The Bose Sleepbuds 2 use different ambient sounds and passive noise cancelation to mask external sounds. The earbuds are small and curvy, with a soft and very compliant silicone tip and small wings to help them stay in your ears. The Bose requires a Bluetooth connection to your phone to operate. Each set of earbuds fits into a custom case, with QuietOn choosing a standard pill-shaped case with a plastic body and brushed metal interior, and Bose going for a very slick puck-shaped case with a sliding top.
Examining the hardware, the Bose Sleepbuds 2 look and feel more expensive than the QuietOn 3. The case is really fantastic. From the dampened motion of the sliding top to the glowing charge indicators, the whole thing is very high-quality. The QuietOn case’s scratchy plastic lets it down, as does the way the earbuds wobble about on the magnets inside, and the tiny buds themselves don’t have the design flair of the Bose. However, the QuietOn 3’s lack of Bluetooth means they are more convenient, and will also satisfy any concerns over wearing signal-emitting earbuds for many hours at a time.
In your ears
I sleep on my side, so was worried about how the buds would feel overnight. It doesn’t matter how much noise they mask if I can’t sleep because they’re uncomfortable. I have no worries about the Bose Sleepbuds 2, which are uncannily comfortable. The silicone tips are so soft that they don’t stretch out my ears, the body is small and barely noticeable, they are snug enough to never fall out, and fit flush, so I really don’t feel them when I lay on my side.
Bose SleepBuds 2 in ear. Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
The QuietOn 3 are different. They fit much like tiny versions of regular true wireless in-ear buds, but without silicone wings to keep them in one place. While they don’t move around, I did find one fell out while I was asleep on a few occasions. The body doesn’t nestle in my ear quite as naturally as the Bose, either.
It’s the foam eartips that frustrate me the most, though. The QuietOn 3 comes with four sizes of foam eartips, which expand in your ear to form the seal. I had trouble getting the fit right/ While the midsize tips isolated sound most effectively, they were much too big, and the expanding foam made my ears ache after a while. The small tips are better, but I don’t feel they isolate quite so effectively.
QuietOn 3 earbuds worn in-ear. Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
The QuietOn 3 take a while to get used to after putting them in, while I can put the Bose in and instantly be comfortable. It’s fairly unnatural to sleep with anything in your ears, so comfort is paramount. For the first 30 minutes wearing the QuietOn 3, I’m considerably more aware there is something in my ear than with the Bose.
Sleeping with the buds
QuietOn argues that while background noise generated by devices like the Bose Sleepbuds 2 are great at getting you to fall sleep, they are not so good at keeping you asleep. Masking noise entirely is the better solution for this, it says. On the other hand, many people already use ambient noise to fall asleep — whether it’s intentional or simply liking the sound of a fan or air conditioner running — making it a familiar and tried-and-tested method.
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I reached for the Bose Sleepbuds 2 or the QuietOn 3 on nights where I simply craved isolation. I alternated between both pairs when the mood for some sleep buds struck me, but it was very rare for me to sleep the entire night through with them in, regardless of which ones I chose. Most of the time, I’d wake up, take them out, and go back to sleep. It was the unnatural feeling of blocked ears that made me take them out rather than irritation, and it happened with both sets.
I use the Bose Sleepbuds 2 with the ambient sound system playing for two hours before automatically shutting off. There’s no such option on the QuietOn 3, so I would just put them in. The QuietOn 3’s ANC is very good, easily masking sounds from outside the house. Using them while awake showed the ANC couldn’t match the Sony WH-1000XM4 or Apple AirPods Pro, but it’s perfectly adequate for nighttime use and, crucially, there’s no pressure buildup in your ears.
I reached for the Bose Sleepbuds 2 or the QuietOn 3 on nights where I simply craved isolation.
Personally, I like listening to white noise when falling asleep, so the Bose Sleepbuds 2 felt familiar right away. They also satisfied another, less-talked-about aspect of blocking out noise at night. If you’ve lived somewhere noisy, you sometimes start to expect noise to happen, leaving you on edge, which isn’t good for sleep. While the ANC on the QuietOn 3 is good, you’re still somewhat aware of your surroundings, and can find yourself listening out for noise that may never come. This isn’t really possible with the ambient sound playing on the Sleepbuds 2.
This, added to the fact that I found the Bose Sleepbuds 2 more comfortable to wear for longer periods of time, meant I would favor them over the QuietOn 3. However, this is quite a personal choice, and it may not be the case for you. Plus, before you think the Bose Sleepbuds 2 have won me over, they will go on to lose serious points when we talk about the battery.
Battery and sound
Bose claims a 10-hour battery life for the Sleepbuds 2, and QuietOn says 28 hours on a full charge. I have been given no reason to doubt either, and both last easily long enough for a full night’s sleep. However, the Bose have an issue with phantom battery drain. Leave them in the case with a full charge, and after a few days, the battery in both th buds and case will be completely flat, even if you don’t use them at all.
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It’s maddening. Worse, charging them takes six hours, so if you’re like me and use them sporadically, often without knowing when you’ll want them, they may not be ready. Yes, batteries naturally drain, but I expect it to be over a few weeks, not a couple of days. You also have to be very precise when placing the earbuds in the case, as it’s easy to connect incorrectly and for it to fail to charge. The battery and charging is a serious problem for the Bose.
The QuietOn 3 don’t suffer in the same way at all. The case and buds have held a charge for weeks without issue. I also like the way you just put them in your ears and they work, while you have to connect the Sleepbuds 2 to your phone and open the app. The initial pairing is sometimes flaky, and that’s not what you want in the middle of the night.
I really like the Bose ambient sound profiles available in the app, though. My preference is the Engine Room sound, but there’s plenty of choice if you want something different, and they all sound really high-quality. The app is also attractive and simple to use. However, all this is only helpful if the Sleepbuds 2 are charged up when you want to use them, and that’s not always the case.
Which to sleep with?
Deciding between the Bose Sleepbuds 2 and QuietOn 3 is as personal as sleep itself. The comfort and fit is going to differ depending on the size and shape of your ears and the amount of sound they block. Whether either one works for you will depend on your surroundings, and the battery situation will only be frustrating if you don’t use the Sleepbuds 2 every day.
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These are both expensive items, too. The Bose Sleepbuds 2 cost $249 and the QuietOn 3 are $269, so you’ll want to make the right choice before deciding to buy. Another thing to consider is how healthy it is for your ears to wear earbuds every night. Ears need to breathe, and if they don’t, you may find issues with earwax manifest. I don’t wear them often or long enough for it to be a major issue, but with more regular use, my inner ear was definitely more itchy than usual. Regular cleaning of the tips is also essential.
So what’s my conclusion after a few months living with both these sleep-inducing headphones? In an ideal world, I’d like a mix of the two. I prefer the comfort and fit of the Bose Sleepbuds 2, but the QuietOn 3 are more convenient and far less of a hassle when it comes to connection and charging. Ultimately, I find myself turning to the Bose Sleepbuds 2 more often, and that comes down to the excellent ambient sound profiles and the exquisite comfort.
But I’ll also let you in on a secret third option if you’re not willing to spend at least $250 on earbuds for sleep: On many nights, I find asking my Google Nest Hub to play white noise for 30 minutes usually does the same job at helping me sleep. My suggestion is to give that a try before splurging on either of these.