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Anker's latest Soundcore Sleep earbuds improve sleep for under $90

Anker's latest Soundcore Sleep earbuds improve sleep for under $90

“Sleep when you're dead” was the cry of my youth. But now, in the soft haze of fading middle age, I feel like I'm going to die without enough sleep. That's why I was interested in the new Sleep A20 earbuds from Anker's Soundcore brand, which promise “low-pressure comfort for side sleepers.”

I, like many people, fall asleep listening to podcasts. Either that or I let a three-pound mass of fat and neurons settle into my skull and pester me about the future. But my Apple AirPods Pro, like most true wireless earbuds, are too big for comfortable side sleeping, so I just wear one and switch them around all night while I toss and turn in bouts related to some undiagnosed sleep disorder.

Since they're designed as sleep aids, the A20s offer plenty of sleep-focused features like “unparalleled noise blocking” and noise masking to “silence common disturbances like snoring,” according to Anker.

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It's important to understand that Anker doesn't offer any active noise cancellation to silence snoring or talkative neighbors. The Sleep A20 headphones passively block out all external sounds by fitting snugly inside the ear, just like regular earplugs. That's partly why the company was able to charge just $89.99 at launch and still claim up to 14 hours of continuous white noise to drown out voices or 10 hours of audio listening before needing a recharge.

The app lets you switch between two listening modes: Bluetooth audio and sleep sounds. The former is for listening to podcasts, music, or whatever else you want to stream, while the latter gives you access to dozens of vibrant sleep sounds grouped by water, nature, life (trains, planes, and the like), and meditation—I especially like rain on the tent. You can also double-tap one of the buds to switch between listening modes and configure it to continue playing audio throughout the night or until you fall asleep. This is done manually (via a timer) or automatically, which I found to be very unreliable.

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The A20 buds also include a variety of compelling sounds. You can play with several sliders to mix the white noise with seven other colors and two types of snoring masking tracks. It didn't really work when I tried to mask a variety of snoring sound effects playing on a nearby speaker. Although it reduced snoring by adding less annoying sounds, it certainly did not live up to its claims. Silencing Common disorders. Nor did I silence the barking dogs or the drunken boys passing under my bedroom window, I came to find out.

The Sleep A20 buds inside and outside of their case. They come with multiple ear tips and wings to dial in the correct volume.

In my side-by-side testing, the AirPods Pro with noise cancellation enabled and music playing did a noticeably better job of neutralizing those disturbances than the Sleep A20s that also played music. But I can't sleep on my side wearing Apple's AirPods Pro (they also cost more than twice as much as the A20s during Anker's discounted launch period).

For my needs, these buds are a game changer.

However, I have to say that these buds are a game-changer for my needs. Although I experienced some mild discomfort the first week of wearing them, sleeping with the A20s on my side now feels second nature – as does inserting them with a push and twist and then taking them out again every morning (it's comfy!). I have to fine-tune the angle of the pad to the ear from time to time to get optimal comfort, and the bud facing the pad often muffles its sound due to pressure, which means hearing the sound from only one ear. But the end result is that I sleep longer and wake up less. Anecdotally, I feel better rested.

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According to sleep data measured by Apple Watch Ultra, I now average 7 hours and 14 minutes of sleep time over the two weeks I've been testing the A20, up from 6 hours and 50 minutes in the previous two weeks (wearing AirPods Pro), with a slight improvement In deep sleep. Other sleep tracking data is about the same.

Screenshots from the Soundcore app showing (left) the available noise masking sounds and (right) data collected by Anker's sleep algorithm showing me tossing and turning over 45 times… my poor wife.

Anker also offers sleep tracking data in the Soundcore app, including updates like position (left or right side) and roll (times you switched sides). Unfortunately, the data is only available to view when my iPhone is paired with the headphones in my ears. They say I sleep mostly on my left side, away from my partner, which makes sense. But many nights there are 40 to 50 renewals, or up to Six times an hourwhich probably means I need an exorcism.

I've found the battery to be excellent when listening to a few hours of podcasts each night, waking up with between 50 and 75 percent of charge remaining. (The Soundcore's built-in alarms are surprisingly loud and not recommended.) They performed much better than my three-year-old AirPods Pro, which couldn't make it through a single night.

Dropping the buds into the charging case takes some practice at first due to the amorphous shape of the buds, but can be mastered after a few uses. The case can keep the battery charged for up to 80 hours, according to Anker, if you just listen to its collection of soothing sounds in sleep mode downloaded to the speakers themselves. This comes with the side benefit of no Bluetooth audio alerts to interrupt your slumber.

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Other than that, the earphones feature a device search feature, which sounds as loud as the alarm on an old Timex watch (read: not very). You can also configure double and triple taps on each earbud independently to switch between sleep sounds or Bluetooth audio, volume up or down, next, previous, play/pause, or nothing at all. The Anker app offers a lot of flexibility to connect the A20 headphones to your exact taste.

It is good for listening to music if you need an adjustable equalizer. But I wouldn't buy these small, lightweight earbuds if music appreciation is your primary goal.

However, as a side sleeper who listens to podcasts every night at bedtime, I'm pretty sold on the $149.99 Anker Soundcore Sleep A20 headphones, especially for the early bird price $89.99 when it goes on sale today via Kickstarter.

All photographs by Thomas Ricker/The Verge