Former Bose employees are reviving the Sleepbuds

I can not remember A piece of modern-style hardware that I wanted to like more than the Bose Sleepbuds. This made them even more frustrated. In recent years, I’ve been on a bit of a mission to find a suitable pair of sleep headphones. As an awful sleeper, I love the idea, but the reality just isn’t quite up to the mark yet. Ultimately, however, no pair came close to Bose’s.

The form factor was great. They fit comfortably. When I can sleep, I usually do it on my side. The buds are small enough to lie flat and not create any pressure between your ear and the pillow. The sound quality was also quite good – certainly enough quality to get a good night’s sleep.

But there was always one glaring problem: the lack of live streaming. It seems like a glaring flaw. Adding insult to injury is Bose’s marketing insistence that you’ll never need more than the pre-loaded audio clips that ship with the speakers. Everything in the chatter tables is very good, but falling asleep at the hands of little Alice Coltrane is my most speed. Ultimately, the whole exercise left me wondering how closely the company’s line was an accurate assessment of Bose’s feelings on the subject and how much it was a way of avoiding addressing the fact that the technology just didn’t exist.

After all, the defining characteristic of sleep headphones is their size. It’s all a compromise. For example, adding a Bluetooth radio would mean making the battery smaller, and most people would likely require an overnight charge. One thing is clear, however. I was not alone in my thinking. Other product reviewers have echoed this sentiment, as have customer reviews.

Bose’s canned support response to the latter is as follows:

Sleep Headphones plays specially curated relaxation content that is downloaded locally to your Sleep Headphones. This greatly extends audio playback and battery time in this small form factor. This means your sleep headphones won’t stream your music, audiobooks, or podcasts.

We have other earbuds available that allow for your media streaming.

It seems likely that the world will never see the perfect, platonic Bose Sleepbuds. This particular dream seems to have died. However, I will say this to the company: Bose doesn’t shut down its IP to collect cobwebs in some trademark attorney’s filing cabinet. In an unusual turn of events, the headphone maker sold the Sleepbuds to three former employees for an undisclosed sum.

The founders of Ozlo come from Bose. CEO N.P. Patel has been with the company for 23 years, ending his tenure as Senior Director of Emerging Businesses. Chief Operating Officer Brian Mulcahy has spent nearly 20 years with the company, culminating in his tenure as Managing Director of Bose Development. Chief Product Officer Charlie Taylor spent three years with the company, last leaving in April 2022 — not coincidentally the same month Ozlo was founded.

Image credits: Brian Heater

They told TechCrunch that the company was founded before securing the IP from Bose. It was definitely a gamble. Had his former employer not agreed to the sale, they would have had to re-engineer the sleeping buds from scratch — with differences significant enough not to spark a judicial backlash. However, once the deal was done, Ozlu had a better story to tell the backers. And so the startup It has now raised $10.1 millionLed by LifeArc Ventures and ARTIS Ventures.

During a meeting last week in Manhattan, the company laid out its new hardware on the desk in front of me. Very little has changed at first glance. Ozlow even kept the Sleepbuds name. Hey, if you’re actively reviving a product, you better keep the brand, right? Associations with this line are pleasant enough, after all.

The biggest complaints are the loss of features. There is the aforementioned broadcast to start. Biometrics was the other big request, Ozlow adds. Sure, it makes sense to add sleep tracking to the Sleepbuds. The upcoming headphones, which are targeting a pre-holiday release, arrive with both.

When the company called me for the first time, I asked them about the first. When they confirmed that he had been added, I immediately held the meeting. I didn’t have sleep tracking at the top of my list, but I understand why others do. After all, this is one of the big reasons some people choose an Oura ring over an Apple Watch — no one wants to sleep with something around their wrist. Sleeping headphones with this ability could be less of a risk for many.

Ozlo didn’t tell me about the onboard sensors, only that they detect motion and don’t require direct ear contact. Deductive reasoning tells me we’re looking at a gyroscope and/or accelerometer here. The product can identify sleep cycles through the user’s moment and detect the respiratory system. However, there is no pulse detection on board. Such an optical sensor would likely require contact with the ear. There is also the issue of space.

Image credits: Brian Heater

One of the smartest things here is the inclusion of sensors in the charging case — namely, light and temperature. The idea is to sync your sleep patterns with environmental data to see how your environment affects you. All this information is collected in a special application. The company will also offer an application programming interface (API) for integration with Apple, Google, and other health apps. The company also plans to open up access to content developers, as meditation apps seem to be a given here.

Preloaded sounds are still there. You pick one of 10 from a list that includes things like running water and white noise (I’m told it’s actually brown noise, but South Park may have killed that term for good). There is only enough storage space on board for one person. It also means that you cannot store audio – such as an audiobook – locally. You’ll need to download things to your phone before a long flight.

Active noise cancellation is also on the list of potential future features, but the current iteration instead relies on passive cancellation (through the seal formed by the silicone add-on) and “sound masking,” which is pretty much what it sounds like. The Sleepbuds use a hearing aid battery, which the company says will give you about 10 hours on a charge. Meanwhile, the case contains four full charges, which are significant numbers, if true.

The footprint is imperceptibly thicker than the Bose versions – likely due to the additional functionality. The silicone wingtips are also slightly different, but other than that the headphones are largely unchanged. As for the name, the company tells me it’s a reference to the slightly differently spelled city and the northern lights. When I pointed out that Oslo was too far south to see this phenomenon, they corrected me – apparently you can get a view now and then. I think Tromsø does not have the same ring.

The headphones will be made available through Kickstarter at launch. Ozlow says this is less about funding than about community outreach. She has $10.1 million in her coffers and looks like she’s not looking to fundraise again anytime soon. It will be available to pre-order for $249 and you will get another $50 at launch. It’s still quite expensive, but it seems to have been fully realized this time around.

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