Sleeping to Music – Sleep Headphones and Accompanying Soundtracks for Slumber

Recently I had an idea to explore the market and technology of “sleep headphones” – that is, headphones designed to wear all night while the listener sleeps. As my readers know well, the ambient segment of my archive comprises over 60,000 ambient tracks from nearly 5,000 artists’ discographies. My bedroom is set up with a dedicated amplifier and a tablet wirelessly patched into my server on my home network which plays ambient music through a vintage pair of Advent One speakers my late father passed down to me for 10-12 hours each night while I sleep.

Unfortunately, as the albums must be played at a minimal volume for sleep, the environmental noise of rainfall, passing cars, and my furnace drown out much of the nuance and delicate sounds of the music. This is why I decided to explore an alternate solution.

A quick search on Amazon returns a product named as Amazon’s Choice for the category of “sleep headphones” – called MUSICOZY Sleep Headphones Bluetooth Headband Wireless Music Headband Headphones. The product has 12,698 ratings and an average of 4.3 stars and is priced at just $19.99. The headband is lightweight, breathable, pairs wirelessly over Bluetooth, and the lithium ion battery lasts for ten hours on a single charge.

I carefully read through the product details and was seriously considering clicking that big “buy” button, but I took some extra time to read through all of the customer reviews as well as the question-and-answer section from those who purchased the product. This revealed an undesirable property of the model – notably that the speakers emit a loud “low battery” warning every time they are in need of a charge. A few customers complained that this is jarring and wakes them up from a sound sleep.

So I searched Amazon again, and found something intriguing. I discovered a very similar model from a different manufacturer, called Perytong Bluetooth Sleep Headphones Wireless, Sports Headband Headphones. These were curiously also named as Amazon’s Choice, but this time for the nearly-identical category of “sleep+headphones” (that’s with a plus symbol between the search terms). This product has 39,919 ratings – more than three times that of the former model, and matches its average of 4.3 stars. Both devices offer Bluetooth pairing and a battery life of ten hours with an approximate two-hour re-charge time. This model was priced at $39.99 marked down to a deal price of just $19.99, and it is available in a variety of colors.

I carefully read through the question-and-answer section and other buyers confirmed that this model has no low battery warning sounds. I surmised that other customers had viewed and compared the same products that I had.

The most promising review came from a customer named Joshua B who said:

These headphones have become my go to for night listening and sleeping, for these reasons…

The headband feels lightweight and doesn’t heat up, even during summer nights with windows open.

As long as my head is on something soft like my pillow, the round, hard plastic speakers inside the headband do not get in the way or introduce much discomfort or pain. This makes side, back, or stomach sleeping and listening comfortable. I can turn to any side and the headband remains in reasonable position on my head, and speakers in reasonable position at my ears. I make small adjustments to the speaker positions, but this is not a hardship. If I’m on my side, sometimes I can feel one of the round speakers pressuring my ear. So far it hasn’t bothered me.

While both left and right speakers need to be adjusted/positioned within the headband each time I put it on, this is a minor inconvenience for comfortable listening without discomfort.

The battery life easily lasts all night and into the next morning. It lasts two nights. I find myself charging the headphones either once a day or once every two days, just to be sure they’re fully charged. Charging is fast.

The plug-in side of the USB-C cable is actually tucked into the back of the headband. I can easily locate it, pull it out, and plug in. Surprisingly, it’s not uncomfortable tucked back into the headband, while wearing. Do the plug and the two round, plastic speakers feel a little clunky? Yes they do. I envision this design being refined over time.

Conclusion:
Overall, this is my favorite sleeping headphone set. Battery life is great. Comfort is fine. Easily better experience than earbuds or a headphone form factor.

I did a bit of Googling outside of Amazon before finalizing my decision and found that the latter model was also the Editor’s Pick on Sleepopolis’ article showcasing the best Headphones for Sleeping. For under $20 it seemed like a safe bet.

They arrived just a few days later. Exploring the modest packaging and reviewing the included instruction guide, they seemed like a very straightforward product. No USB charging brick is included, but thankfully I had a spare. And evidently the headphones only accept a charge when used with the short charging cable included with the device. The product touts a lifetime warranty, while customer service is provided via a personal gmail account address included in the manual. Hopefully the manufacturer will be around long enough to honor it. (But hey – it was only $19.99.)

There were a few key functions to note. When the headband is fully charged, (in approximately two hours), the charging light on the front of the headband turns solid blue. To connect to Bluetooth, the user presses and holds the Play/Pause button. The headphones will enter pairing mode. Turn on the Bluetooth of your device and connect to the headphones. That was a snap.

Short press the minus button to advance to the next song. Long-hold the minus button to lower the volume. Short press the plus button to reverse one song. Long-hold the plus button to raise the volume. And long-pressing the center play/pause button powers the device on and off.

And yes – the headphones work with Bluetooth phone calls.

After a brief acclimation with the product I queued up a seven-hour-long album on my tablet and scanned through the tracks adjusting the volume to make sure I wouldn’t be disturbed by a spike in sound in the middle of the night. I found I was able to rest comfortably on my back or on my sides without any pressure from the speakers. The headband was fairly comfortable and breathable like the other reviewers had described.

Of course, these are not audiophile speakers by any stretch of the imagination. They’re just small, efficient speakers for yoga, workouts, or sleep. As most of the albums I’ll be playing in them will be minimal drones at a very low volume, the music isn’t going to be pushing the limits of the speakers, and I’ll be asleep for most of the listening sessions, so I am fine with that. Once again – they were under $20.

The music was enjoyable with the Perytong headphones I selected. I did notice that a lot of the subtle detail of the raindrops in the recording were lost with these speakers, but that was to be expected. It still sounded pleasant and relaxing which is just what I need to sleep.

Unfortunately, due to a combination of my excitement at acquiring new audio tech for my favorite genre coupled with the novelty experience of my first-listen, I remained awake for nearly the entire seven-hour duration of the album. But that was a consequence of my overactive mind and not a fault of the product. I just need to get accustomed to this new listening dynamic. In time I hope to experience a more restful sleep with them on. So far, I’m pleased with the purchase.

Now on to my promised Accompanying Soundtracks for Slumber. I took a quick look and put together a brief list of highlights. Forgive me – I can do much better when I have time to dedicate to the task. But at a quick glance…

There are a few noteworthy long-form sleep albums, including:

Max Richter’s Sleep (8 hours)
Robert Rich’s Somnium (7 hours) – this was the album I employed for my first-listen
and Perpetual – A Somnium Continuum (8 hours)

Larger catalogs and archives for ambient listening include:

Hearts of Space (1327+ broadcast library)
Ambient Music Guide Podcast series (55 mixes)
A Strangely Isolated Place (62 mixes)
Brian Eno (the ambient portion of his 410 major releases)
William Basinski (23 albums)
selections from 36 (22 albums)
Mathias Grassow (149 albums)
Robert Rich (72 albums)
Deuter (89 albums)
Klaus Wiese (100 albums)
Harold Budd (82 albums)
Steve Roach (162 albums)
Music For Sleep (29 albums)

As well as a few sleep album favorites – 

Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster, Panaiotis ‎– Deep Listening
The KLF – Chill Out
Jimmy Cauty – Space
This Is Not What Space Is About
This Is Not What Chill Out Is About
Peter Broderick – Float
Lawrence English – A Colour For Autumn
John Foxx – Cathedral Oceans Vols I-III
Moby – Calm. Sleep.
Tom Middleton – Sleep Better

And additional albums from artists including:

Stars of the Lid
A Winged Victory For The Sullen
Deaf Center
Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto
Marconi Union
Eluvium
The Album Leaf
Tapes and Topographies
Loscil
Liquid Mind
Jóhann Jóhannsson
Ólafur Arnalds
and Nils Frahm

To supplement and introduce new content into my library for sleep accompaniment, I compiled album data from various sources around the web. I’ll share a few of those chart and list sites below for my readers to join me on my journey of exploration for quality ambient soundscapes for sleep.

The first is Atmospheres and Landscapes: 600 Greatest Ambient Releases from data on RateYourMusic.com:
https://rateyourmusic.com/list/Carbon_Fields/atmospheres_and_landscapes__600_greatest_ambient_releases/

Then I found a second chart on the same site from a user named wilczur for 750+ Ambient Essential Albums Ranked: https://rateyourmusic.com/list/wilczur/%E2%80%A1-ambient-essentials-%E2%80%A1-650-albums-ranked/1/ 

Next I compiled a database showcasing highlights of ambient drone artists’ catalogs. Below is the introduction from the accompanying documentation I authored:

Methodology:

Artist names were sourced from music-map.com entering Stars of the Lid as the core artist value and pulling favorites from the most similar (proximate) artists in the cluster.

Each artist/composer was then run through rateyourmusic.com and all of their releases were then sorted from highest to lowest overall score from the userbase’s ratings.

Albums I’ve already exhausted from my own library were omitted so that the list would comprise new or lesser-experienced releases of the genre.

The resulting LPs were indexed for future listening.

From that list, I assembled a roster of examples of “bleak and haunting yet beautiful music, like the emptiness of a barren and gray wasteland (Ambient, Minimal, Drone).”

Then I constructed a chronological survey of Minimal Ambient Modern Classical Music from other articles around the Web.

For more quality content, I compiled ambient titles contributed by members of the SteveHoffman music forum at the links below:

Any ambient recommendations?
http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/any-ambient-recommendations.649771   
and 
Top Five Ambient: Your Choices?
http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/top-five-ambient-your-choices.457661/  

And I wrapped up my research refining various incarnations of an ambient music introductory guide I’d authored and shared with friends over the years. The present iteration of my Introduction to Ambient Music (Revised Edition) was incorporated into the book I published.

There are also a variety of sleep music streaming sites and apps, including:

headspace.com/sleep/sleep-music 
ambientsleepingpill.com 
calm.com/music (the same as meditationoasis.com)
http://www.ultimathule.info/listen.html 
sleepbot.com
and ambient-sounds.com

I’ve additionally bookmarked each of the generative music apps showcased at Brian Eno’s generativemusic.com but haven’t yet tried sleeping to them.

I’m definitely interested in continuing to expand my library of sleep music. I’m always interested in exploring more non-sequencer based, beatless ambient minimal tone poems such as Indo-Tibetan music for meditation, generative soundscapes, etc. I enjoy veteran minimalists like Harold Budd, Steve Roach, and Robert Rich who are regularly featured on transmissions of Hearts of Space. I have a complete HOS archive, as well as all the essential artist discographies, from Popol Vuh to Klaus Wiese, and their contemporaries like Music For Sleep and Stars of the Lid. 

I also have complete vinyl and digital archives of foundational ambient kosmische musik discographies such as those of Cluster and Harmonia and other forebearers of the genre. I’m looking for quality catalogs beyond the common threads. Neo-classical composers like Max Richter are welcome as well. As I mentioned the ambient segment of my library clocks in at over 60,000 recordings, but I’m always interested in new discoveries. I’m ideally looking for soundscapes for work and sleep to quiet an overactive mind. I invite my readers to share any music they find well-suited to sleep-listening, or if they find any value in the selections I’ve noted above.

Forgive me for any glaring omissions in my own offerings. Happy sleeping!

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Have you heard the album Balm by DJ Olive?

    https://djolive.bandcamp.com/album/balm

    I’m not part of his street team or anything, I just think this album is perfect for falling asleep to, but every time I try to recommend it to anyone it gets dismissed because the artist didn’t have a publisher/agent as savvy as Marconi Union or the listener is one of those people who loves to fall asleep to Sigur Ros or Radiohead (how!?).

    Been reading your blog for years, I don’t think I’ve commented before this but I hope you read this comment and check it out. DJ Olive was investigating this space for years with long pieces meant to be listened to at low volume (releases like Sleep, Buoy and Triage) and in this collection he expands that to a longer experience that’s super relaxing for short naps or longer sessions.

    As long as I’ve got your attention I’d also point you towards this track by Kids Indestructible, which closes out one of my favorite lesser-known releases from the early 00s and captures a specifically haunting but tranquil mood that I especially love: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0_lS_Mn_qQ

    • My sincerest thanks for taking the time to read and to respond to my entry! I’m so honored that you’ve been following my content for years!

      The works you recommended are precisely the sort of material I am looking for; thank you!

      Kids Indestructible’s “Distant Freight” from their 2003 album, Trans-Pennine Express is elemental dark ambient minimal drone music. I enjoyed how slowly-unfurling the properties were throughout the track so that my mind isn’t actively tracking the changes. That frees me to reach a state of slumber more easily. Just what the doctor ordered.

      DJ Olive’s 4.5 hour long-form Balm compilation you so kindly recommended showcase exquisite dark ambient drones as well, much in the spirit of the better-known composers of the genre like Moby’s 4-hour Long Ambients 1: Calm. Sleep. album. Olive’s albums Sleep, Buoy, and Triage are lovely as well. I’m going to secure copies of all four. I always appreciate being introduced to under-the-radar artists like these so I can enjoy something new. Thanks again!


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