I’ve never been one for pharmaceuticals to help me sleep. And, yet, I find sleep earbuds to be a soothing and natural way to lull myself to bed — especially if I need to pass out earlier than I otherwise would, or when I’m on a plane, where I always struggle to hold a sustained snooze.
Whether you’re like me or you need help to pass out when it’s bedtime, Anker dove right into the sleep earbuds space to tackle this with the Soundcore Sleep A10. I wore them consistently to find out if they truly are an effective digital sedative, and worth the asking price.
Anker includes three pairs of ear tips, from small to large, though beyond just finding the right fit, the tightest seal is arguably just as important. Three sets of wings also come in the box to help with stability and maintain that seal, so you have options in figuring out the best combination.
The Sleep A10 are as much about comfort as they are about what they actually do, and with good reason. Great features don’t mean much while sleeping if the earbuds are uncomfortable, especially given how many hours you’d have to wear them. It may seem like a no-brainer to just wear any other pair of regular wireless earbuds to do the same job, but when they get this small, sleeping on your side becomes a lot easier. The lack of cables also makes these far more diminutive and adaptable than something like the Kokoon Nightbuds, for instance, which use a primary module linking the two earbuds by cable.
While the case looks and feels like a Soundcore product, given the similarity to Anker’s other earbuds, the Sleep A10 buds are tiny by comparison. That doesn’t guarantee comfort for all ears — something I believe is almost unavoidable because of the variances in how people like to sleep — but it still improves the odds they’ll eventually be old hat to wear in bed. Anker recommends softer pillows to reduce friction and pressure with your ears, so your preferences there may also be a key factor in whether these feel good or not.
For me, the earbuds never felt weird or intrusive while laying on a pillow. Whenever I woke up, my ears didn’t feel sore or otherwise irritated by the Sleep A10, so they passed my own personal test for comfort. It’s hard for me to be certain whether they will for you too, but I do think they have a good chance due in large part to their size.
It’s not a deep learning curve to figure out how to set them up and make them work, either. They pair to your iOS or Android device seamlessly, with the Soundcore app serving as the primary source to configure the earbuds. Things work a little differently here relative to Anker’s other earbuds, meaning there are no settings for active noise cancelation (ANC) because that feature isn’t available to begin with. No ambient mode to hear your surroundings, nor special modes for much else.
Despite that, Anker clearly chose to treat the Sleep A10 as something of a hybrid pair, given that the app presents two distinct modes aptly called Music and Sleep. The fact these earbuds even play music is a big plus compared to the Bose Sleepbuds II, which offer no avenue to listen to any audio outside of their own sleep content.
That kind of access probably is why you can tweak how music and spoken word content sound by going through the EQ and the 20+ presets available. Or create your own, much like you would with other Soundcore buds. By default, the Sleep A10 don’t get as loud as other earbuds, and for understandable reasons, as it’s not good for your hearing health to blast audio into your ears during hours of slumber. Anker tries to remedy that with the Smart Volume Control toggle whereby the earbuds will lower volume after they’ve detected you’re actually asleep.
Anker keeps things pretty simple in the app under Sleep mode, though you have to tap Music mode to make changes to what you’re actually going to listen to. For instance, the “built-in music” section takes you to a library of natural and ambient sounds, like wind, river, rain, and crickets, among others. The All section doesn’t show you everything, as the Rest and Focus sections offer different sounds, like a small fire or sounds from a park, for instance. You’ll find more under Music in the bottom menu as well.
Some of these are musical, with harmonies, whereas others are purely relevant sounds. To listen to any of them, tap on the headphone icon to sample a 10-second clip, or the plus icon to download the sound directly to the earbuds. Notably missing at launch were standard white, brown, and pink noise options, though Anker eventually added them — including gray noise — in a subsequent firmware update, so you’ve got more flexibility now if that’s what you want to hear to help you sleep.
A lot of this is a matter of preference from the outset anyway, even if you’re encouraged to try out the different choices. Anker is thinking also about times you’re awake, which explains why some sounds are there ostensibly to help you rest or stay focused on a task, presumably before you’re actually trying to sleep. If you’d rather listen to your own tunes to lull you into dreamland, the Sleep A10 and Soundcore app will oblige. It’s not hard — you only need to play content from another source, switch to Sleep mode in the app, and that’s it. That way, you can play ambient sounds or music from, say, Spotify or Apple Music, if that’s the route that works for you.
These aren’t special earbuds, as far as sonic performance goes. Music will sound fine, and passive noise isolation is quite good. But I wasn’t blown away by the overall soundstage here. More bass-heavy, with slightly elevated highs and flatter mids. You’ll enjoy listening to some music with them, but I couldn’t recommend the Sleep A10 as primary earbuds for music. The music part is the ancillary feature, not the primary one, which is saying a lot for a pair of $180 buds.
Controls are limited, but you can do a couple of things. Double-tapping the left earbud switches between the two modes, whereas doing it on the right bud is for play/pause. You can rearrange the two if you prefer to play/pause on the left side, but that’s it. Anker understandably couldn’t put single tap controls onto these buds given the number of false positives likely to happen just laying down on your side with them. There is no way to skip tracks, adjust volume, or access a voice assistant under the current control scheme.
Set an alarm within the app and it will pop off at the set time, regardless of whether there’s audio playing or not. The only caveat is putting the earbuds back in the case before wearing them for the night disables it, so you need to manually go back into the app to actually activate it. For those reasons, I always set the alarm as the last thing to do after choosing the audio before bed.
An alarm in your head
The earbuds aren’t exactly graceful when it comes time to wake you up. Rather than an incremental process to help bring you out of your sleep, the buds progressively beep as a standard bedside alarm clock might. While effective enough, I found it a bit jarring, probably because I personally don’t use alarms like that to wake up every day. You might find it totally natural, which again, is why these earbuds are more subjective in how they may work for every individual.
Anker also plays up the sleep-tracking abilities in the Sleep A10, though you can only get to them if you create a Soundcore account and log in. I get the reasons why because it’s easier to keep the data accessible, especially if you’re switching phones, for instance, but it would’ve been more helpful to users for Anker to explain why this particular feature necessitates that. In any case, the in-ear tracking will look for sleep duration and quality above all else, letting you know how long you slept and how long it took for you to actually fall asleep. You can then see breakdowns for each day, week, month, or year. Under Settings, it’s a good idea to turn on “smart switch” as that enables the earbuds to sense when you’ve fallen asleep, even in cases where you haven’t switched to Sleep mode. When it thinks you’re out like a light, it stops any other audio you were playing, switches to Sleep, and plays the ambient sound you last chose. Leave the smart switch off if you prefer to listen to tunes from other sources, though you may get skewed or incomplete sleep data if you don’t go to Sleep mode first.
Buy at Best BuyAll of this affects battery life in a couple of ways. If the Sleep A10 aren’t fully charged to start, you run the risk of them dying while you’re passed out, creating a whole other potential pitfall if that’s the alarm you’re relying on. Anker claims they can last up to 10 hours at 50% volume per charge, but 50% volume here is not the same as it is in standard earbuds. Raise the volume and that number goes down. Even with Music mode, six hours at 50% is the ceiling, which may not cover you for a full night’s sleep. That’s where smart switch can help mitigate battery loss but you’d have to experiment for a few nights to see how far they can go. The case can recharge the earbuds seven times before it needs more juice itself. You’ll have to plug in for that (it takes two hours to fully charge), as there is no wireless charging support.
The novelty of sleep earbuds, and the specialty they’re supposed to provide, puts them in a sub-category unto themselves right now. That’s also why they cost what they cost when options are so limited. At $180, the Soundcore Sleep A10 are as expensive as some of the best wireless earbuds available right now, like the Jabra Elite 7 Pro and Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro. Whether you can sleep soundly with either of those two pairs is hard for me to say, but the point is that getting help to pass out consistently every night through your ears will cost you more right now.
Anker’s pair is a bargain relative to the $250 Bose Sleepbuds II, which neither track your sleep nor let you listen to your own tunes. I recommend looking at the Sleep A10 as serving one purpose, which is to help you sleep and provide some insight into how you slept. That they can play any other audio is a bonus.