Sleep is vital. Few things can affect our day to day existence in the same way as an extreme lack of shut eye. A recent study even proved that sleepless nights can affect our ability to walk. But for most of us to actually drift off, we need a semblance of quiet, something that 21st century life really isn’t great at. And something that I discovered immediately upon moving to a new flat and being kept awake by all kinds of new noises.
It’s not foolish to assume that tech has an easy fix. With so many active noise-cancelling headphones out there, you’d expect the market to be packed with ANC sleep aids of all shapes and sizes. Bose has a set of Sleep Buds that will pump soothing noises into your head but that’s no solution at all if you actually need quiet to sleep. There are gadgets around to help you snooze (T3's best sleep headphones guide is a good place to start), but ironically, when it comes to ANC devices for snoozing, the tech world is practically silent. Except for the QuietOn 3 sleep buds.
QuietOn was founded by two ex-Nokia engineers who spotted this sizeable ear-shaped gap and started developing sleep buds with noise-cancelling tech small enough to be comfortable to wear to bed. The first buds were released back in 2015 and the QuietOn3s are the latest iteration that started shipping in March 2021 after a successful Indiegogo campaign. They’re not cheap at £229 but, at a third of the size of your average Apple AirPod, they’re the tiniest ANC capable earbud.
But do they work? Is QuietOn’s website promoting ‘Nordic Quietude?’ actually selling dreams or just crushing them? I can honestly say that I have never been more desperate to test a piece of tech and the good news is that not only do the QuietOn3s work, but they feel like a genuine miracle for those hungry for peace and quiet.
The buds come in a slick pill-shaped case not unlike a regular set of earbuds. Inside is a shiny brushed aluminium coating, a week’s worth of charge via USB-C, and the two buds themselves. Each one has a small plastic body with an R and L to keep you right (and left) and a foam tip that must be moulded between your fingers like a regular ear bud before inserting into the ear.
This is the most vital step to make sure the QuietOn3s work correctly and four different sizes come in the box to make sure you find the right snug fit. The first time I tried them on, I made sure to do as QuietOn suggested and pull my ears back gently while inserting the bud. They take 30 seconds or so to decompress and secure firmly into your ear canal and then it’s easy to swivel the plastic into a more comfortable position inside your ear.
I was surprised by just how solid the seal was and how well the QuietOn3s immediately dampened all sound. The sensation is similar to a set of over the ear noise cancelling headphones before you put your music on. There’s a gentle feeling of quiet pressure but nothing too overwhelming or uncomfortable. And importantly, for all fellow side sleepers out there, the QuietOn3s rest inside your ear and therefore don’t make it feel like you are lying with your head on a rock. You still feel that the bud is there but it’s perfectly comfortable.
Turning off the light to drift off is an odd experience as you can still hear the light switch. In fact, you could still have a conversation as the QuietOn3s are specifically designed to mute low and mid frequency noises. This tends to be what we hear through walls when neighbours cough, walk around or have the television on. On my first night wearing the QuietOn3s they don’t just cancel out every noise that’s plagued me since I have moved in but they also stay in all night. If, like me, you’ve been despairing at the way silicone earbuds eject themselves from your lugs like rats jumping from a sinking ship, these are a wonderful surprise.
It’s important to repeat that the QuietOn3s don’t make you deaf and, if you strain, you still might be able to make out the excess noises. Passing traffic is entirely muted and neighbour TVs are gone but some noises will be present at a much lower volume. The biggest test for me was as I gleefully hurtled to bed when I heard a Halloween party ramping up in the flat below just after midnight. Without the buds, I could hear loud conversation, the low thrum of bassy music, squeals and yells but the QuietOn3s made it feel like these were a million miles away. It was as if there were a small army of very solid clouds between my ears and the party, leaving me in a noise-cancelled cocoon ready for sleep.
I didn’t manage to test the QuietOn3’s on a snoring partner but TechRadar can confirm that the volume is turned down on that too. “The earplugs... also muted a partner's snoring, though we were still able to wish them a good night without removing them.” This leaves the QuietOn3’s feeling like a small miracle, if an expensive one.
If you’ve been despairing with regular earbuds and just want the world to disappear, it’s easy to recommend the QuietOn3 sleep buds. It might seem steep for a set of earbuds that don’t play music but your brain will definitely thank you after a good night’s sleep.
QuietOn 3 sleep buds: price and availability
The QuietOn3s are available from the QuietOn website for £229 for one pair. There’s also a couple’s pack for £379 if you both need the world to disappear. Each set has a 1 year warranty and, importantly, a 14 day money back guarantee if the buds don’t work for you. QuietOn do suggest trying all of the included foam earplugs though and making sure you follow the insertion instructions as chances are, it won't be the buds that aren't getting it right.