I know what I want from a sleep gadget. I want something that will help me drift off to sleepland, mask my husband’s snoring, wake me up on time and tell me how good I slept. So far, most of the sleep tech I’ve tested falls into two categories: health trackers meant to track your sleep quality, and audio devices meant to help you fall (and stay) asleep. sleeping. I have yet to find a single device that merges these two categories well. So I was cautiously optimistic about looking for the $249.99 Kokoon Nightbuds – a pair of headphones that promise to do all that, with a few added perks like adaptive audio and the ability to choose your own content.
In a nutshell, the Nightbuds are what you’d get if you crossed the Calm app with the Bose Sleepbuds II and the Oura Ring – a chimera of existing sleep tech and everything I’ve ever wanted. They are headphones, however, and after years of testing a hodgepodge of sleep devices, wearable sleep gadgets struggle to get the right mix of comfort and battery life. That includes wrist trackers, but headphones have their own set of challenges. Without a slim profile, you end up with uncomfortable pressure in the inner ear, annoying noises from rubbing, and buds dropping randomly in the middle of sleep. When it comes to battery life, what good is masking the noise if it shits when my dog decides to fight the cat during his 3 a.m. bedroom patrol? I can’t tell you how many mornings I woke up groggy, searching under the bed for a missing AirPod Pro with zero percent battery.
The Nightbuds surprised me in terms of comfort. The buds themselves are thin at 5.4mm and fit your ear perfectly. It also comes with a variety of ear tip sizes, and I had no trouble finding the right size for me. The choker design raises a few questions though: should I detangle the wavy strands of my hair? Would the control box feel strange against my neck? I was pleasantly surprised that neither was a problem. That said, there is an adjustment period. The first night I found the Kokoons at the foot of the bed under the covers, probably because I ripped them off while sleeping because they felt weird. After a few nights, I no longer had this problem.
Battery life was less impressive. The Kokoon is rated for a minimum of 10 hours per charge. In practice, it lasted me about two nights. The Bose Sleepbuds II have similar battery life, but the case doubles as a charger, so you don’t have to plug anything in for at least 4-5 days. A similar case would have been nice here.
Content can make or break audio-based sleep technology. This is a big reason why apps like Calm and Headspace are so popular. This is where the Kokoon Nightbuds both shine and disappoint. MyKokoon’s app library is slim, and the programs I listened to weren’t exceptional either. They do the job, but I’ve seen better versions on a ton of apps, other sleep gadgets, and on YouTube.
Audio content is divided into four categories: going to sleep, feeling anxious, disturbed sleep, and brighter mornings. Brighter Mornings is supposed to get you buzzing when you wake up, but there are only two options, both under three minutes. I listened to both before I even finished brushing my teeth and washing my face, and I’m not going to listen to the same sessions every day. There is better selection in the other categories, but too much overlap. It didn’t help that a session in the sleep section required me to find and focus on an object in the room while lying in the dark with my eyes closed.
This session was probably intended for daytime use, but the Nightthe buds are not good daytime headphones. You can use them like normal headphones – it even has a mic for calls. However, it wasn’t worth it. You have to charge more frequently, and the volume controls are awkwardly placed on the back of your neck. As for sound quality, it’ll do in a pinch, but that’s not what I would achieve if I wanted to have crystal-clear sound on calls or really enjoy my music. Also, I would feel less comfortable using it in an office or outdoors.
Ultimately, the lack of content isn’t the worst part because Nightbuds allow you to play your own audio. I can open the Calm app and play one of their sleep stories while playing a soundscape I like from the MyKokoon app. I can even listen to my own playlists! This was one of my biggest frustrations with the Bose Sleepbuds II. While the Bose also has a flat profile and a better library of sleep sounds, they don’t actually pair with your phone for audio, so meditations or audiobooks are out of the question. All sounds are preloaded, which means you’re limited to everything in the Bose Sleep app.
But my favorite feature is that the Nightbuds fade your audio after detecting that you’ve fallen asleep. This is a feature of many sleep apps, but what sets it apart is that once you are asleep, the MyKokoon app will switch to one of three colored noise options. (pink, white and brown, to be precise). In-ear noise masking is more effective than regular white noise machines, and if you want to go a step further, you can also program the device to wake you up. In practice, it’s more convenient than tinkering with multiple devices to do the same thing. But while the audio fade worked for me, the alarm wasn’t helpful. In all of my testing, not once did these buds manage to wake me up when they were supposed to.
That brings me to the buds’ most disappointing feature: sleep tracking. Several nights of sleep were not tracked or synced to the app. Kokoon CEO Tim Antos said The edge in an email that the company is aware of these issues and plans to release a fix in the coming weeks. However, the data from the nights that were tracked were also not helpful. It’s a shame because it has an optical heart rate sensor in the right earcup. Theoretically, this should allow you to track your heart rate more accurately, as the ear is one of the best locations for optical sensors. But, the app doesn’t use the fact that it tracks heart rate or heart rate variability, a popular recovery and stress metric, outside of sleep stages.
Take my most recent results. The MyKokoon app says I got 90% sleep efficiency and shows me a pie chart of my sleep stages. Which corresponds to the Oura ring, corn the ring also gives me additional context that my preparation is low since I was hard in a race later than usual. I received the same advice from the Garmin Fenix 7S, which also rated my sleep as “restless” and “fair”. The last two are much more useful for planning my day.
There’s another “Insights” tab that looks at your sleep over time, but again, the data is oversimplified and I can’t see my history beyond two weeks. It would be nice if you’re just looking for an overview of your sleep habits, but it’s too simple if I want to see how my long-term habits are affecting my sleep.
I could overlook the flaws of the Nightbuds if it weren’t for the price. At $249.99, the Kokoon Nightbuds are too expensive for the overall experience to be so mixed. The Bose Sleepbuds II are just as expensive and don’t do as much – but at least they offer a fine product and do their main job extremely well.
I so wanted this Voltron of a device to deliver on all of its promises. However, I ended up with a device with a great concept and poor execution at a price I don’t want to pay. Maybe a future version of the Nightbuds will alleviate all the problems, and I’ll get this legendary all-purpose sleep gadget. But, for now, the hunt continues.
Photography by Victoria Song / The Verge