Happy, snoozy lady

Hands-on review: Soft-Tones Pillow Speaker

If there’s one easy win we can all make to improve our health and wellbeing, it’s to get more sleep. Drink more water; get more sleep.

The concept of ‘wellness’ is a booming concept and opportunity for technology companies, with myriad products vying for our attention, offering specific and ever-more complex solutions to soothe our troubled brows and apply balm to our weary modern souls. Sometimes, though, all we need is something simple to calm us down, to help us relax and gently float us down the river of sleep.  

Refreshingly straightforward, the Soft-Tones Pillow Speaker from US company Resperate is one such case in point. Designed to facilitate restful, relaxing audio consumption in bed, it is purposefully designed to be practically invisible. This is not a premium pair of headphones - but then, who really wants to wear headphones in bed?

Frankly, there’s no significant technology in this product: it is simply a pair of stereo speakers embedded in an ergonomically shaped memory-foam pillow. The shape and design is inherently flexible, so that the pillow naturally curves around your head and thus aims the speaker located at each end inwards, firing the sound directly towards the ears on either side of your head.

The idea is that the user can enjoy listening to decent-quality stereo audio without the need to wear headphones or earbuds of any kind. You can fall asleep to your favourite music, TV show, film, audiobook, podcast or any sound source, without disturbing your bedtime partner of choice.

That’s pretty much it. The machine-washable velveteen outer fabric is hypoallergenic (the speakers are not machine-washable, obviously) and it’s an exceptionally ‘green’ product, as no batteries are required and it needs no power supply - ever. It is a passive audio system, the volume output driven and controlled by whatever device you attach to the 3.5mm jack and 1.5m stereo cord.  

This simplicity is actually Soft-Tones’ main attraction. Place it behind your neck, on top of your regular bed pillows, and you barely notice it’s there. The sound quality is good and the volume is loud enough to be heard by the individual without being domineering in a quiet room - we tested the pillow listening to music and also watching BBC iPlayer content for several hours - and even with the fluctuating sound levels of a TV documentary, speech content was always intelligible.

Obviously, it works best if you lie on your back or sit up facing forward, so that you have a 2:1 ‘surround’ experience with the speakers firing either side of your head, but even when you inevitably shift position and roll slightly to one side, skewing the stereo picture, the sound remains distinct. The memory-foam pillow and soft outer covering are always comfortable - you don’t suddenly feel the internal speakers digging into your ears if you roll completely on to one side.

One of the neater aspects of the Soft-Tones pillow is that you can move freely away from the speakers at any moment because you’re not ‘wearing’ anything, as such. Sit up or lean forward to respond to a conversation and the pillow - and your sound source - remain behind. It’s like a natural ‘mute’ button. If you want to jump out of bed, or become more active for any other reason, there are no headphones to take off or earbuds to take out. You’re never cut off from your surroundings, yet you can still immerse yourself in your chosen audio. It’s a pleasing balance.  

The Soft-Tones pillow speaker also makes a suitable companion to Resperate’s 2breathe product, designed to harness “the therapeutic power of breathing & sounds to induce sleep”, according to the company.  

2breathe is a patented smart device that helps you sleep better by reducing pre-sleep tension, the main cause for broken sleep patterns. By following the guiding and sleep-inducing tones, which are composed specifically for you in response to your own breathing, neural sympathetic activity is reduced, relaxing your mind and body and encouraging sleep.

The tones, composed in real time, gradually guide you towards prolonged exhalation and slower breathing. Every inhale and exhale movement is wirelessly sent to your smartphone using low-energy Bluetooth, where the whole breath-by-breath session is captured. The app provides a sleep diary, sleeping tips, tutorials and a meditate mode.

Practiced for 10 minutes a night, the body-worn sensor belt, secured around the abdomen, can either be left on overnight or removed at the point of sleep. Either way, the 2breathe belt shuts off automatically once sleep is detected.

This might all sound like new-age, airy-fairy nonsense to some people, but there is no question that practicing slow breathing techniques is a fail-safe technique for relaxation. Breathe slower and more deeply and your body will instinctively relax, whether you choose to fight it or not.

When you’re also lying in bed, your head resting on a memory-foam pillow that is piping soft, melodious tones into your ears, the likelihood of neural sympathetic activity being reduced and being able to disassociate yourself from external and internal stimuli is high. Repeated over the course of a few weeks, your sleep patterns should almost definitely change for the better, as the positive effects accumulate.

We began this review out of curiosity about the Soft-Tones Pillow Speaker. It turned out to be precisely as much no-fuss fun as we anticipated. It’s not a thumping, powerful, rechargeable, force-feedback vibrating sound cushion device, like the Flexound Humu we reviewed earlier this year. The Soft-Tones’ primary appeal is in its name: it’s a comfortable, gently effective audio solution that subtly slips into bed with you and keeps things personal.

As a side-story, we also ended up testing the 2breathe sleep inducer and app, too. This product is that bit more expensive - and in no way required to enjoy the Pillow Speaker - but it does do what it sets out to achieve, namely improving the quality of sleep of the subject. If you feel that could use some help relaxing before bedtime, and you wish you slept better through the night, 2breathe could well be worth a look.

Soft-Tones: Pillow Speaker: $49.95

2breathe: Sleep inducer: $179.95


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