Three ex-Bose employees are resurrecting the Sleepbuds

Three ex-Bose employees are resurrecting the Sleepbuds

I’ve been writing about earbuds long enough to understand that there’s a large contingent of people who use them as sleep aids. I often see questions about how comfortable buds might be for side sleepers or if they’re viable to wear overnight in the first place. Me? I’m perfectly satisfied with a white noise machine on my bedside table, but that doesn’t do the trick for everyone. For them, the hunt continues.

Five years ago, Bose introduced its original set of Sleepbuds. These tiny earbuds didn’t play music, and they lacked active noise cancellation. Instead, they were designed to comfortably sit in your ears during sleep and produce masking sounds to reduce disturbances and help people quickly fall into a peaceful slumber. And some owners really came to love them as part of their nightly routine.

But Bose ran into some complications with the Sleepbuds; the first-generation pair was discontinued because of battery reliability issues. To the surprise of some, the company gave it another go in 2020 with a redesigned set of Sleepbuds. But within a few months, perhaps owing to low adoption — Bose is a private company and doesn’t share sales numbers — the Sleepbuds II met an abrupt end.

Companies like Anker have since thrown their hat into the ring, but the Sleepbuds were (and have remained) a unique product, which led some customers to lament their discontinuation. But it turns out all isn’t lost: three ex-Bose employees were adamant that they had something special and weren’t willing to let it go. They saw what seemed like an enormous opportunity that spans both consumer tech and personal health.

And so N.B. Patil, Charles Taylor, and Brian Mulcahey decided to form a new startup, Ozlo, and eventually acquired the Sleepbuds trademark from Bose. They effectively now own the product, with one minor exception being the ear tips, which still closely resemble Bose’s proprietary “StayHear” design — at least for this initial hardware release.

An image of Ozlo’s sleepbuds in a sleeping person’s ear.

The lightweight Sleepbuds are designed to sit flush in your ear and be comfortable no matter what position you sleep in.

Image: Ozlo

The revamped Sleepbuds will immediately look and feel similar to their predecessors, and battery life is still promised to last through a typical night’s sleep (around 10 hours). But Ozlo wants to get more ambitious than where Bose left things. The new buds include “biometric sensing technology to monitor your movement and respiration while you lay in bed to determine when you’ve fallen asleep and help understand your sleep stages.” Patil told me that Ozlo has carefully rearchitected the Sleepbuds with new batteries and other components to avoid any snags or hardware faults that Bose previously encountered.

And the charging case, which also looks identical — aside from Ozlo’s logo replacing Bose’s — has also gotten more sophisticated. It now includes sensors for light, sound, and temperature; Ozlo uses this data to understand your sleep environment and what factors might be robbing you of a good night’s rest. All of this insight gets pieced together in the company’s mobile app for a morning breakdown of how well you slept. The data processing is done locally and doesn’t transmit any of your health info to the cloud, but you can opt in to sharing your measurements with Apple Health or Android Health Connect.

An animation of the Sleepbuds case sliding open.

The case now includes sensors to analyze how light, temperature, and sound might be impacting your sleep.

GIF: Ozlo

Perhaps the biggest functional upgrade is that the Sleepbuds v3 can now play regular music in addition to a whole range of reimagined masking sounds. They’re no match for premium earbuds in terms of audio fidelity, but they also didn’t sound anything that I’d call bad during a demo in Manhattan last week. This play-whatever-you-want flexibility also means you can load up whatever white noise sound you’ve decided is the perfect one for you — people can be very particular about this sort of thing. Just ask Google, which found itself on the receiving end of customer outcry when it decided to randomly change Google Assistant’s default white noise audio.

Bose’s stance on the new Sleepbuds

It’s not every day that you see one company taking the reins of a product from another, so I asked Bose for comment on what led it to agree to this arrangement.

“We discontinued Sleepbuds earlier this year because, despite their passionate following, they didn’t reach the level of adoption we hoped they would,” Bose spokesperson Joanne Berthiaume told The Verge by email. “We made the decision to focus our efforts on what matters most to our customers. This includes continuing research and development on our most popular products such as headphones, speakers, soundbars, and car audio, as well as on our critical technologies such as noise cancellation, hearing augmentation and astounding audio experiences.”

Bose’s position as a privately held company allows it to take some risks and release unconventional products like the Sleepbuds and even a neck speaker. (I maintain the latter would’ve found more success had it been released during covid lockdowns.) But there’s evidently only so much runway that Bose will give these products before casting them into history if they don’t find a sizable audience.

As for Bose’s business dealings with Ozlo, Berthiaume said, “They acquired and licensed certain proprietary technology from Bose, including the StayHear Plus tips. We aren’t sharing more specifics beyond that.”

Ozlo’s founders envision a long buildout of software capabilities for the Sleepbuds (and beyond) that could include personalized sleep therapy; maybe you’d start with one masking sound to fall asleep but then the earbuds would automatically transition to another in the middle of the night to keep you in the most beneficial sleep stages. The company plans to introduce an API for both Android and iOS and hinted to me that while Bose’s design made for an excellent foundation, it has big ideas for where completely reworked Sleepbuds could go in the future.

Ozlo has already raised over $10 million in funding, according to Fast Company, but it’ll be turning to Kickstarter to help bring the Sleepbuds to consumers — for roughly the same $249.99 that Bose was last charging. Eventually, the buds will also be available via Amazon and from the company directly.

So the Sleepbuds are back. If you owned one of Bose’s past iterations and have been feeling their absence over the last few years, this is your chance to give them yet another lease on life. Whether Ozlo’s Kickstarter finds success should be a good tell of whether it was worth bringing them back from the brink or if the Sleepbuds should’ve been left in their permanent hibernation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *