I'm sick of not sleeping well, and sick of worrying about not sleeping well. Some nights I just lay there, unable to shut my brain off. Other times I get up to pee and can't fall back asleep. I'm also bothered by even the slightest noise. (Looking at you, snoring spouse.) So what's the answer? Meditation? Melatonin? New pillow or mattress? Soundcore offers an electronic solution: The Sleep A10 earbuds promise to reduce external noise while playing brain-calming audio. But do they really work? I put them to the test.
Soundcore Sleep A10: Let's talk about fit
First things first: If you're not comfortable with the idea of wearing earbuds to bed, move along. Although the A10s are about as tiny as these things come, barely protruding from the ear canals into which they nestle, they're still in your ears. I get that some folks simply won't like that.
What's more, although I'm a side-sleeper who's accustomed to wearing foam earplugs at times, I had a hard time getting comfortable with the A10s. Whatever side I lay on, that earbud felt mashed into my ear. It wasn't painful or anything, just noticeable. But that added pressure had the unfortunate side effect of muffling or even muting the audio on that side. I found I could shift my head just a bit to compensate, but then I was awake and aware of having to do that, instead of drifting off to sleep.
You may have a different experience; a lot of it depends on your ears, your pillow and how you position your head. It may well take a few nights of experimentation to get the kinks worked out — but you may also find that these just aren't comfortable to wear all night.
Soundcore provides four silicone ear-tip sizes and three ear "wing" sizes to help you achieve optimal fit; plan on some trial and error to determine what that is. Speaking of fit, the A10s don't employ active noise-canceling (ANC) technology like most modern earbuds. Instead, you get noise reduction from the combination of that in-ear seal and whatever audio you're playing. Thankfully, this can be pretty effective, though don't expect to block out the likes of dogs barking or babies crying. It's more helpful against, say, a noisy air conditioner or, if you're on an overnight flight, noisy engines.
The A10 charging case features a sliding top panel, making for easy earbud extraction, and three external LEDs to indicate battery status. You'll need the supplied USB-C cord for charging; this case can't do it wirelessly. Soundcore promises up to 10 hours of audio (in sleep mode) on a charge, but that's at 50% volume. In a room that's already fairly quiet, my preferred volume was around 60%; anything below and I couldn't even hear the sleep sounds. Thankfully, I was able to get my eight hours with a little charge left. As with many aspects of this product, your mileage may vary.
Soundcore Sleep A10: The sound and the fury
These aren't just for nighttime use; the A10 earbuds can play music, podcasts and the like from any app on your phone. While that adds value to the product, I can't say I'd choose them over AirPods or any other ANC earbuds. Although music sounded okay, it lacked range and fullness. Even so, if you like to stream Netflix or the like as part of your bedtime routine, these earbuds can stay put as you transition from Stranger Things to sleep.
But here's where things get confusing. The Soundcore app has two basic modes: Music and Sleep. Pretty straightforward, right? Wrong: Music Mode has nothing to do with music. Instead, it's where you choose a "song" to download to the earbuds. The app's "music library" is home to roughly three dozen looping tracks like white noise, brown noise, sea wave, wind over tree, thunderstorm and so on. The only actual music? A pair of violin and cello tracks.
So what happens in Sleep Mode? That's simply where you play/pause the downloaded track, set playback duration (from 30 minutes to indefinitely) and toggle Smart Volume Control, which detects when you've fallen asleep and automatically adjusts volume relative to the level of external noise.
There's no logic behind separating these functions into two modes, and definitely no reason to label a sleep-sound library as "music" or its contents as "songs." It gets worse: While you're in Music Mode, you can preview any sleep sound for about 30 seconds, but you can't just hit play and stream it to the earbuds. Instead, you have to pick an individual sound and transfer it, a process that takes a solid minute (and not 40 seconds as indicated in the app). That may not seem like long, but if you're already half asleep and want to download, say, white noise, it feels like forever.
Similarly, if I plunk down at my desk and want to listen to the Brainwave-Focus track, why can't I just listen to it? Why do I have to download it to the earbuds? This wouldn't be as big a deal if you could download multiple tracks — even just two or three favorites — and toggle between them. Nope: One at a time. Whenever you want to listen to something different, it means another download.
If your desired track is already in place, you can just pop the earbuds in and double-tap an earbud to start listening. Oh, but you may have to switch to Sleep Mode first, which requires double-tapping the other earbud. See, Music Mode on the earbuds themselves is for listening to music, while Sleep Mode auto-plays whatever track is downloaded. More confusion!
And more hassle: If you want to adjust the sleep-sound volume, you have to grab your phone, fire up the Soundcore app, then wait while it connects to the earbuds. There are no touch/tap volume controls on the earbuds themselves, and your phone's volume controls won't work unless the app is running.
I also encountered reliability problems: On two separate occasions I popped the earbuds in at bedtime, only to discover that one had a dead battery. (First it was the left, then later the right.) This despite the charging case showing a nearly full charge, and one earbud indicating full as well. It's possible I didn't seat the other one correctly inside the case, but I'm pretty careful about that. Ultimately I lost two nights of testing to this curious glitch.
It's worth noting that the A10 earbuds can do sleep monitoring, providing a sleep-quality report that might shed some light on your slumber. While I found this data mildly interesting, it's not very actionable. So I got 5+ hours of light sleep and 3 hours of deep sleep. Good? Bad? What do I do with this information?
There's also an alarm feature you can use to wake up without disturbing your bed-mate, or just to rouse yourself after a short nap.
Soundcore Sleep A10: Should you buy it?
I'm in favor of anything that can help me fall asleep faster or get back to sleep in the wee small hours, and I'll gladly pay a premium for it if it works well. But the Soundcore Sleep A10 is just too much hassle. The app is confusing, the track-downloading a huge pain. And worrying that one of the earbuds won't be charged? That's the opposite of what I need at bedtime.
My advice: If you want white noise to help you sleep, buy a white-noise machine for around $25. If you want to block outside noise, buy some foam earplugs for a few bucks. If you do decide you want to give the Sleep A10 a try, wait for a sale (like the one happening at Amazon right now).
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