Review: QuietOn 3 sleep earbuds deliver a lovely quiet night but not much else for the high price

If there's a lot of noise pollution around your bedroom, these may be of interest.
If there's a lot of noise pollution around your bedroom, these may be of interest. Photo credit: Newshub

When I first heard about the QuietOn 3 earbuds I was ridiculously excited. As someone who drops off to sleep every night listening to either podcasts or music, I've become used to accepting substandard audio experiences in bed.

So with active noise cancellation (ANC) in a tiny package specifically designed for use while sleeping I couldn't wait to try them.

Then I tried to pair them with my iPhone.

Fast forward around 43 minutes or so and, after watching YouTube videos, reading the website and some random internet searching I had to admit I had completely the wrong end of the stick.

These are ANC earbuds. For bed. But they don't actually play anything. No Bluetooth, not even a selection of calming sounds like the slightly more expensive Bose's Sleepbuds II. Cue bright red face.

No, these are designed for one purpose and one purpose only: To kill as much of the background noise in bed as possible, leaving you with just your own brain for company.

I went from excited to terrified. I use ANC technology all the time, but only when I'm listening to something else. I'm not even sure I like my brain all that much and I'm pretty sure it's not overly fond of me.

So could the latest iteration of QuietOn's earbuds do what they promise and propel me to a decent night's sleep? Could I handle the absence of sound without wanting to jump out of bed screaming?

I've been using the QuietOn 3 sleep earbuds for over a week now and here are my thoughts.

The good

Given the massive brand names associated with earbuds, there's something nice about using a product from what you might class as a plucky outsider.

This Finnish-designed range has been created through crowdfunding with the latest QuietOn 3s raising nearly three quarters of a million NZ dollars on Indiegogo.

That's pretty impressive, much like the small carry case that houses the earbuds as well as keeping them charged for an extended period of time.

QuietOn 3
Photo credit: Newshub

The first real thing of note is the weight of these tiny buds: Each weighs in at just 1.8g. A grey foam tip is already affixed to both, with three sets of different sized tips in the box to ensure a perfect fit.

Getting that fit is pretty easy, particularly if you're used to using the more traditional non-technological foam earbuds you can buy in the local pharmacy for a couple of bucks each.

After squeezing the tip and putting it in your ear, you rotate the earbud until it's in the correct position and as the foam goes back to its original shape your ear is completely sealed off.

Cue silence. Well, almost.

The ANC is very good, but is designed especially for the low-frequency range - think noises such as snoring and neighbourhood traffic. That means higher-pitched sounds may still be heard.

I have some very loud birds that hang out just outside the bedroom window and so have little use for alarm clocks, but they provided the perfect test for the QuietOn 3s.

I was very pleasantly surprised. The cheeps and chirps were gone, all that was left was the merest hint there might be something outside making a sound. It was bliss.

They are also designed to allow you to have a conversation with your partner while they're on, something I can confirm was easy enough to do.

So to the terrifying aspect. How would having no sounds affect my sleep and would my brain let me switch off? Again, I was more than happy with the result.

QuietOn 3
Photo credit: Newshub

The earbuds really do a terrific job of minimising sounds which can disrupt a sleep. They won't cut out absolutely everything, but snoring became so quiet that it wasn't a bother and cars drove past unnoticed.

Given the limited number of nights of use, it's hard to say they definitely improved my sleep; but I did notice less waking up during the nights which is definitely a positive.

That functionality comes with great battery life: The company reckons you can expect somewhere approaching 30 hours on a single charge. I went through three whole nights, returning them to the case the next morning with still more juice left.

The charging is conveniently via USB-C meaning I can't see myself being in the situation where I don't have a spare cable for a couple of hours to top the case up over a three-day period.

The bad

The biggest negative with the QuietOn 3s may be personal rather than product related, so please bear that in mind.

For as long as in-ear headphones have existed I've had discomfort issues with many different types, going back to the early days of the Walkman and the orange-covered round buds I tried to jam in.

Unfortunately, I had some of the same issues with these earbuds. I suspect it's a combination of the hard plastic that accompanies the tip, my predilection for hard pillows, sleeping on my side and my previous discomfort problems.

After a few hours of using them, the ear I was putting weight onto in particular began to hurt. On a couple of occasions, it got to the point where I ditched the QuietOns for my trusty over-the-ear phones and a podcast just for some respite.

QuietOn 3
Photo credit: Newshub

If you've experienced those kinds of issues then that might give you pause, particularly with the $379 you're going to have to work out for the QuietOn 3s.

That price point may be the single biggest drawback of these earbuds. For all the good they do, there's an awful lot of multi-functional products that you can use in the bed, on the go and in the gym with ANC for a much lower cost.

To be fair, QuietOn offers a 14-day money back guarantee; so if you do have issues you are protected. But $379 - even for a good night's sleep - is a decent whack of cash.

The final thing is a mere annoyance. There is no indicator or switch on the earbuds to give you an indication they're on. They automatically switch on when you take them out of the carry case.

As an alternative to a light or switch, you have to put the magnet in the charging case close to your ears and draw it away slowly. If you hear a clicky pop kind of sound then they're active. It looks even weirder than it sounds.

Of course, if they're doing their job then you should notice a drop in ambient noise - but in quieter environments that might not be obvious.

The verdict

There's a lot of positives in using QuietOn's latest earbuds, not least the fact they do exactly what they are designed to do well. 

But that comes at a price, literally and figuratively.

If spending nearly $400 on a set of, essentially, single-use headphones doesn't bother you then you can probably afford to see if they're the right fit for you.

QuietOn 3
Photo credit: Newshub

If you're like me, however, and have had some issues with discomfort from the use of in-ear headphones over the years, that's a heck of a gamble to take.

So am I converted and will I be using them every night in the absence of a podcast or the latest Debbie Gibson album? I'm afraid not.

I do see a couple of great uses for the QuietOn 3s, however - both requiring Auckland, New Zealand and the world to open up a bit first.

Around where I live, loud parties were pretty common before COVID-19 struck, and when they start up again I can imagine using the earbuds to cut that noise to a bare minimum.

The second will be on the day I can step on an airplane to head back to my beloved Scotland for a visit.

Instead of the incessant drone of the aircraft engines accompanying every thought, I'll be able to kick back, sleep mask on knowing I'm going to be alone with my brain and my dreams of Ibrox and the mighty Rangers Football Club.

To me, that's nearly priceless. I appreciate that's not going to be the case for everyone. I just wish I could listen to a podcast or two too.

Newshub was supplied a pair of QuietOn 3 sleep earbuds for this review.