Review: Kokoon nails a Bluetooth earbud design for side sleepers
London company Kokoon is all about sleep audio. Back in 2020, we took its EEG-enhanced sleep headphones for a test drive, and found them pleasant bedmates – provided you sleep on your back and don't roll over on them. Clearly, that doesn't work for everyone, so Kokoon has now released a set of "Nightbuds" designed to work for side sleepers and roller-overers alike.
Just 5.4 mm (0.2 in) thick, these miniature earbuds are connected by springy, wiggly wires to their main module, a cigarette lighter-sized piece, curved to sit neatly against the back of your head. This is where the all-night-and-then-some battery and the very basic control buttons live, and while it looks pretty weird when you're up and about, there's no way Kokoon could make the earbuds this small if they were true wireless designs. On the positive side, they're not going to fall out and get lost in your belly button.
Comfort is paramount if you're going to wear these things all night – the buds themselves need to be minuscule. So yes, the looks are compromised as a result, and to my ear the audio suffers too – particularly at the bottom end. That's not to say they sound awful, but they're definitely no contest for personalized, music-centric gear like my current go-to set of Nuratrue earbuds.
So how's the comfort, then? Good, I'd say. The back part is certainly noticeable every time you move, but it doesn't really get in the way, and while the earbuds aren't as tiny as something like QuietOn's ANC earbuds, they're definitely suitable for sinking into a pillow if you're a side sleeper – and remember, those QuietOns don't play audio, they're solely for noise cancellation.
I still struggle to keep the Nightbuds on all night; they stay in securely enough, but my ears start to feel a bit sweaty and irritated after a while – and it stresses me out not being able to hear the house, when I can't quite make out which sounds are the burglars and which are the kids tromping to the bathroom. This is a personal issue – I have the same problems with foam earplugs. Such is life, no technology can fix me.
The MyKokoon app offers a range of audio environments that sit in behind whatever other sound is playing on your phone. We're talking soft rain on the roof, campfire sounds, wind rustling through trees, waves, that sort of thing – as well as a couple of strangely aggressive white and pink noise settings.
There's also a library of other audio files you can play over the top, from slow musical soundscapes to mindfulness meditations and my personal favorite, a gravelly-voiced gent reading out an incredibly boring list of European shipping forecasts that makes me wonder how ships aren't banging into each other all over the place, their captains slumped over the wheel and drooling.
This audio is a nice inclusion, but as anyone who's tried finding just the right ASMR video knows, this stuff can be incredibly personal and specific. You can probably best treat it as a starter set; there's a ton of other such content available elsewhere that'll probably get you closer to sleep quicker.
The other attraction here is the Nightbuds' sleep smarts. These tiny earbuds can't carry the equipment to run the EEG measurements that the over-ear headphones offer, but Kokoon has fitted them with optical heart-rate sensors for sleep analysis.
Thus, the Nightbuds can be set to bookmark your audiobook and gently fade out audio, or fade in white noise, a certain length of time after they detect you've fallen asleep. It's a nice touch, but I can't really tell you how well that's worked the times I've fallen asleep with them on, because as it turns out, I was asleep at the time. On the other hand, I believe I've had a few false triggers that faded out music while I was awake and listening to it. Maybe I just need to listen to more exciting music.
As for the sleep analysis itself, well, the app does its best to interpret the heart rate data and work out how much time you've spent awake, in light sleep, deep sleep and REM sleep to give you a "sleep efficiency" figure and build a picture of your night. You'll get a readout of how long it took you to drop off after turning the headset on, as well as a total sleep duration figure in hours and minutes. Over time, this builds up into a series of "insights" that you can keep an eye on, as well as personalized tips.
To be honest, the main value I found in having this information shown to me was to have a concrete figure I could add to my daily complaints about not getting enough sleep. I don't know what a fella's supposed to get done on 3 hours, 34 minutes – even if that might not be the full story given that I pulled the headset off sometime just before dawn.
If you're serious about improving your sleep and willing to track things like diet, caffeine intake, device usage, exercise schedules and whatnot against your total sleep length and quality, this data would come in handy. It's hard to judge how accurate it is, but the figures feel pretty close to what I experience overnight.
Personally, I'd consider most of the Kokoon app's features neat but not entirely necessary. I prefer getting my sleep sounds elsewhere, even if it sometimes results in me being blasted awake with pre- and post-roll ads, and while I can see the value of tracking stats, I typically wake up 20 minutes late for some thing or another, with little time to pore over the numbers and get sleep-coached.
To me, the Nightbuds are most valuable for the simple fact that they're a set of earbuds you can wear comfortably while lying on your side, with a battery that lasts a whole night, or sometimes two. They could probably sound better, although this is a personal thing. They could offer active noise cancellation, although white noise does a pretty good job of masking the kind of snoring I have to deal with. They could certainly do better with their built-in mics for phone calls, which muffle your voice somewhat, but then these are really built for the single purpose of taking to bed, and I'm surprised they offer a mic at all. Could they improve on these things and still fit in your ears comfortably while you're lying on your side? I doubt it, at least with today's tech.
If you sleep on your side, or roll around during the night, and you'd like a set of audio earbuds that'll stay in comfortably however you lie down, Kokoon's Nightbuds are certainly worth a shot. I haven't found them a magical solution for my crappy sleep of late, but I have found them very useful and reached for them often.
At US$224, they're in the mid to high pricing tier for earbuds, more expensive and far less flexible than some really nice sounding gear. But they offer a solid solution to a simple problem faced by a lot of people, and unlike the QuietOn, Amazfit and Bose sleep buds, you can actually play your own audio through them.
Check out a video below.