Kokoon began life as a Kickstarter project in 2015 – billing itself as ‘the world’s first sleep sensing EEG headphones’. The campaign was a runaway success, raising nearly $2MM in crowdfunding pledges. In the years since, the journey from concept to production has involved quite a few redesigns and revamps, and some delays along the way.
But in 2019, Kokoon is a reality. Orders are finally being fulfilled and we’ve finally got our hands on a pair of the headphones to bring you a full review.
Kokoon is a headphone and smartphone app combination which features a range of audio programs and smart features designed to help you with relaxation, falling asleep, and travelling. Kokoon also features EEG and movement sensors to monitor how you respond to audio and how you slept.
The Kokoon app contains a library of relaxing audio and music tracks, plus a range of sleep exercises based on clinical therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBTi). Over time, using machine learning, Kokoon’s ‘intelligent’ audio will adapt, according to the sensor data from your headphones.
Kokoon headphones have been designed from the ground up for comfort and for wearing in bed, but you can also use them like any other wireless Bluetooth headphones.
Note on sleep tracking functions
Kokoon Technical Specifications:
Audio: 32Ohm premium 40mm electro-dynamic driver
Noise cancellation: active noise cancellation (ANC), white noise, patented audio seal
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0 (low energy) & 3.5mm cable
OS Compatibility: iOS and Android
Sensors: active EEG (brain activity), accelerometer
Battery: 500mAh Lithium Ion, 11 hours
Materials: silicone ear cups, natural fibre fabrics, no animal products
Other features: In-line microphone, carry case, washable ear cushions
- Supremely comfortable pair of headphones
- Dual purpose: sleep/relaxation and everyday use
- Extensive ‘intelligent’ audio library of relaxation/ sleep programs
- Can be used wired even if battery is flat
Not So Good:
- May not suit everyone for all night side-sleeping
- Microphone (for calls) only available with external audio cable
- Not the lightest pair of headphones in the world….
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4.6/5 Editor Rating
Price & Availability
Kokoon is available for pre-order now from their website and ships internationally.
Price is $339 USD/ €339 EUROS/ £315 GBP
Kokoon have put together a nice little package for customers. Inside the box there are a few accessories, a branded sleep mask, a 3.5mm audio cable for wired use, USB Micro B charging lead and a hard-shell carrying case for travelling which seems strong enough to withstand knocks or bumps inside your carry-on luggage or suitcase.
At 350g the headphones are not light at all, but they don’t feel overly heavy or unbalanced. Kokoon definitely feels like a well-engineered product, unsurprising considering the founders’ backgrounds in mechanical engineering.
In terms of aesthetics, Kokoon has an understated design ethos with a mainly monochrome colour scheme highlighted by a few touches of gold trim for the logo and connector ports. There are two colours to choose from, utilitarian-esque Black, and Grey for the more fashion conscious.
The earpieces themselves have a very low profile, which gives your head shape a rounder profile than other large over-ear headphones. The product designers achieved this by relocating the headphone electronics from the ear cups to the headband. This, along with the cushioning materials is one of the design secrets that makes Kokoon such a comfortable pair of cans.
Design and Ergonomics
Most of the headband’s surface is covered in fabric, apart from the moving swivel joints and the lower part of the headband where the buttons and connectors live. The earpieces themselves have a slightly ‘squidgy’ feel about them, providing a nice amount of compression when you lean your head sideways.
Most of this is down to the patented Flexmould design, which moulds to the shape of your head. But also the headphones feature folding ear cups which have the ability to swivel as you move your head around, as well as a generous amount of adjustment for the length of the headband.
Kokoon’s folding earcups and swivel adjustment
Like most headphones these days, Kokoon is a closed-back design, and indeed this part of the whole idea of creating a comforting ‘cocoon’ of sound. Breathable, natural fabrics are used throughout and there are no animal products used. The ear cushions are also washable.
Connections and Interfaces
In terms of physical connections there are just two buttons, a Power button above the the left-hand earpiece and the Action above the right-hand earpiece. There’s also a 3.5mm jack socket for using an external audio cable, a Micro USB B socket for charging and an LED indicator for power and Bluetooth connectivity.
Although there’s no internal microphone, the 3.5mm jack cord included in the box has an inline mic so you can use Kokoon to make phone calls. A minor gripe is the position of the jack socket on the headphones. For my liking it sits too high and would have been better underneath one of the earpieces if the design had allowed.
What is a bonus however, is that with the external audio cable, you can use Kokoon even when the battery has run completely flat. Very handy when you get caught short on long journeys – just plug in the cable, continue listening, and when you get to your destination or layover you can recharge the battery.
Battery life and charging
The website doesn’t give a hard and fast figure for battery life, but according to Tim Antos, Kokoon CEO, who I interviewed at the Somnex Show last October, it’s around 11 hours, but that figure is expected to go up with ongoing upgrades and code optimization etc.
In practice the 500mAh battery performed really well for my needs. Because I’ve usually got so many sleep gadgets lying around, it’s hard to keep on top of which ones are charged. And rather than constantly checking battery levels of each device, I tend to just recharge them instinctively when I consider they might need topping up.
Only once did Kokoon run out of charge, so subjectively I was very happy with battery performance. You can of course, check the battery life within the app. But you can also get an approximation of the battery charge by pressing the power button again and the LED will glow different colours to indicate the following:
- Green: Battery more than 75%.
- Amber: Battery less than 75%. Charge before sleeping.
- Red: Battery low. Charge immediately.
Kokoon also senses when you’re actually wearing the headphones off and there’s a setting to power them off automatically. This is a great power-saving feature, but fixed at a 5 minutes automatic shut-off. In my liking it would be better if this was switchable to a longer interval, say 10 minutes.
Finally there’s an auto-power off mode when you’re in bed and the EEG sensors detect you’ve fallen asleep. This was not yet available in version of the app I was using but is expected to be released in a few months.
Kokoon features two types of on-board biosensors to track and measure sleep. There’s an accelerometer in the headband, plus electroencephalography or EEG (electrical brain activity) sensors embedded in each ear-piece. Yes, you heard right , Kokoon tracks your brainwaves via your ears.
EEG is often referred to as a ‘gold standard’ in terms of ‘measuring’ sleep. A clinical sleep study, known as a polysomnogram (PSG) uses EEG sensors (‘wet’ electrodes placed on the scalp) to measure tiny fluctuations in electrical current inside the brain.
Kokoon’s EEG electrodes are placed directly in the ear-cups. This relatively recent innovation is the result of researchers looking at less invasive ways to measure the brain. Here’s some more information about the research behind EEG measurements from the ear.
Because the app’s sleep tracking features weren’t ready at the time of publication I was unable to test Kokoon’s sleep monitoring abilities. Needless to say, we’ll update the review accordingly as soon as the app is ready.
Handily Kokoon have printed a quick-start guide on the inside of the box, so the setup process was pretty straightforward; i)charge the device fully until the LED is solid green, ii) disconnect and power up iii) hold the Action button for 3 secs to initiate Bluetooth pairing, iv) pair Kokoon with your phone, v) download the Kokoon Relax app. Thankfully there were no hiccups and setup was a smooth process throughout.
‘Disturbance Protection ‘ ie noise cancellation and masking
Disturbance protection is the term the company uses to describe the 3-tiered noise cancelling/masking system, designed to guard against sound disturbances when you’re trying to relax and sleep. Examples may be a snoring partner at night or airplane cabin background noise. Kokoon claims that it can reduce snoring noise by up to 20dB.
The first tier is what’s often termed ‘passive noise cancellation‘ or simply ‘noise isolation’ ie how the headphones act as a physical sound barrier. Kokoon has put a lot of design efforts on this and has a patent pending for the audio seal built into the ear-cups.
Kokoon performed pretty well in terms of blocking out sound, but not as good as my Beyer Dynamic DT 770 headphones, which have larger ear cups and a lot more cushioning. That said, there’s absolutely no way I’d be able to fall asleep wearing my bulky Beyer’s.
The second tier of protection is the active noise cancellation (ANC) system. ANC has been around for a long time, the technology pioneered by Bose who also manufacture headsets for the aviation industry. Bose, in my estimation still lead the field in ANC tech, and are still the benchmark in this respect. However, there are now countless other manufacturers, including Kokoon that offer active noise cancellation in their headphones.
With Kokoon, the ANC is by default on, evident by a mild ‘shush-ing’ background noise. You can however disable Kokoon’s ANC by pressing the power button twice. Kokoon’s ANC doesn’t quite have the same ‘magical’ effect that my now battered pair of Bose QC15s has, but it’s still pretty good, and definitely makes a marked difference.
To my ears Kokoon’s ANC works better on the lower frequencies, such as the hum of traffic, or indeed a snoring partner. I haven’t had the chance to test this on a plane, but I imagine this would also work well in an airplane cabin.
The third and last element of the disturbance protection is the Active White Noise. This feature is completely optional and is set up with the app. Essentially, the headphones detect when you’ve fallen asleep and will fade out the music and introduce white noise, to act as a masking agent to protect your sleep.
White noise machines are hugely popular, but I’m lucky enough to live in a quiet neighbourhood, so I rarely have the need to use one. However Kokoon’s active white noise is a neat addition to round off the triple whammy sound protection.
>> Learn more about white noise: The Definitive Guide to White Noise and Sleep
What’s the sound quality like?
I had no complaints with the audio quality. If I was to critique the sound, I would say that Kokoon has a little less detail in the high-end from some higher end phones I know well, but the mid-range and bass is very well balanced. Plus, the phones certainly don’t have the artificially boomy bottom-end that you get from a pair of Beats.
Interestingly, the company recently announced that the next firmware update will include tweaks to the AAC codec and equalization profile that will improve the sound quality further, but overall if I was to throw some adjectives around I’d say Kokoon’s sound is ‘smooth’ and ‘contained’, which is quite fitting for the main purpose of relaxation and promoting sleep.
How comfortable is Kokoon?
So, we’ve established there’s lots of clever tech going on inside Kokoon, but what about the comfort factor? What are the headphones actually like to sleep with?
Well, as a standalone pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones for general use, Kokoon excels in terms of comfort and breathability but there are a couple of caveats to mention.
For relaxation and travelling Kokoon scores a big comfort victory. I often find it really difficult to sleep on planes as the only way I can nod off in the air is in a window seat, leaning up against the cabin wall. I’ve tried to do this technique with noise cancelling headphones many times in the past, but always failed because what happens is that your headphones touch the side of the cabin, but your head is two inches away. It’s not very conducive to getting some zzz’s.
Kokoon, however, with its ultra-low profile, allows you to doze off whilst ‘side-leaning’ up against a wall, window, or whatever, which feeling like your head is floating inches away. I haven’t tried this in a plane yet, but I have some flying to do over the next couple of months so I’ll be sure to update the review when I have more to report.
Wearing Kokoon in bed, I found Kokoon to be more of a mixed bag. Back sleeping is no problem whatsoever. Kokoon is designed to create an immersive experience and the comfort features, audio seal, and noise cancelling really help to create an intimate environment suitable for relaxation. I gave my missus (a back sleeper) the headphones to try out and she had no problems drifting off at all.
However, as I tend to start off my nights in a side-sleeping position, I found it took some getting used to get really comfortable. Kokoon recommends a deep pillow if you’re a side sleeper. Perhaps if I upgraded my pillows, my experience may have been different.
On the plus side, the breathability factor works really well. I’m what you may call a ‘hot sleeper’ (ie I sweat a lot) but I never found the headphones make my ears or head too hot, or sweaty, which was a pleasant surprise.
All in all, taking into account the limitations of the form factor, and the fact that it’s a full-size pair of headphones, Kokoon have does a stellar job in the comfort stakes.
At the time of publication the Kokoon app is still awaiting some key aspects of functionality, most notably detailed sleep metrics, and the algorithmic ‘intelligent audio’ recommendations. The good news is, updates are rolling out regularly. The software was last updated to V2.5 in May 2019. Version 2.6 will also be released soon, addressing many of the missing features, plus a smart alarm, audio codec improvements, and the launch of an API and software development kit (SDK) to enable further integration with other software products and smart devices. Read a summary here.
Despite the fact there are features yet to roll out, there’s still a lot going on in the app. Right now, the bulk of the app is dedicated to Kokoon’s extensive audio library, which can be broadly split into music, soundscapes, sleep education programs, and sleep/relaxation exercises.
Walkthrough of the Kokoon app audio library
Because there’s so much audio content available, when you first browse the library you’ll see a cloud icon, meaning the track isn’t available locally on your smartphone. Once, you’ve downloaded the track, the cloud turns into a play button icon, indicating the track is available for instant playback at any time.
Another neat feature is that for any piece of audio content, you can ‘mix’ in any background soundscape. So for instance, you might want to listen to a guide breathing exercise, with the sound of ‘Babbling Brook’ in the background, or do a Body Scan set to the sound of a crackling fireplace.
The Kokoon roadmap includes regularly introducing new audio content to the library over time. And the more you use Kokoon to fall asleep, the learning algorithms will be able to recommend new audio for you, based on how you’ve responded in the past to existing content.
So let’s take a deeper look at the different types of audio in the library.
There are currently two multi-part programs designed to introduce you to the Kokoon experience and also teach you more about the foundations of sleep, and introduce different techniques to help you sleep better. Currently the two programs are:
Meet Kokoon: a five-part introductory session to explain the Kokoon experience, how the headphones and app works, and a taster of different tools/techniques to help you relax, rest and fall asleep
Sleep Foundations: an eight-part program that combines sleep education with a range of practical exercises to give you a thorough grounding in the types of strategies you can use to improve your sleep
There’s quite a body of research linking music with sleep improvements so it’s good to see that Kokoon has a wide selection of music tracks, designed to cater for most tastes. Many of the tracks have been specially commissioned and are listed under the name of the composer. The lengths vary from around 10-25 minutes long and include piano-led pieces, ambient drone-scapes, and Eastern-inspired compositions suitable suitable for mindfulness and meditation. Whoever is curating the music library has done a good job as all the tracks are high quality, soothing, and if music is your thing to fall asleep to, you’l undoubtably find something to suit your preferences.
Spotify, Youtube, podcasts
Even if you can’t find something in the music library, Kokoon can also integrate with external sound sources and apps. So you can also use Kokoon to fall asleep to your Spotify playlist, an ASMR Youtube video, or an audio book from Audible. This means you can also benefit from Kokoon’s EEG sensors which will automatically fade out your audio when you fall asleep, and introduce active white noise as well if you want it to.
Over the years, Kokoon has been working with staff from Guy’s and St Thomas, one of the largest sleep disorders clinics in Europe, to incorporate a variety of audio techniques based in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which is increasingly becoming the first line treatment for insomnia.
Find out more about CBT for insomnia (CBTi) in the Sleep Junkies podcast:
Hence the guided exercises in the app are inspired by clinical methods used in CBTi but also in meditation and mindfulness practice. The exercises are broken into two categories:
These are vocal-led exercises designed specifically to help you fall asleep at night. Each of the programs lasts around 20 minutes and you can choose from:
- Body Scan
- Guided Imagery
- Breathing and Non-Reactivity
- Breathing and Body Scan
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation
- Body Scan and Resting Awareness
- Breathing and Guided Imagery
Guided Relaxation Shorts:
These are shorter (around 10 minutes) exercises designed for moments when you need to wind down or create what Kokoon calls the ‘Buffer Zone’ , a period of calm and rest before bedtime. The exercises listed at present are:
- Gentle Breathing
- Release into Sleep
- A Perfect Escape
- Relax and Release
- Resting Awareness
If you don’t want to listen to music or a vocal-led program while you’re falling asleep, you can also choose one of the built-in soundscapes. These include:
- Ocean Swell
- Beach Waves
- Purring Cat
- Cosy Cottage
- Summer Meadow
- Flowing River
- Gentle Stream
- Babbling Brook
- Autumn Rain
Out of all technology sectors, arguably, hardware startups meet the most challenges. Kokoon is no exception in this regard, having had to face down many obstacles in getting the product out of development and into production.
Although the Kokoon experience has not yet come to full fruition, the hardware alone is a great achievement. At $300 you would expect nothing less than a premium product and thankfully Kokoon feels like well-engineered, polished product and delivers in terms of build quality, materials and comfort features.
If all you’re looking for is a simple pair of headphones to play music all night, then there are undoubtably cheaper, simpler options for sleeping headphones out there, including headbands, earbuds, and products like Bedphones which will probably offer more comfort for side-sleepers.
However Kokoon is a different beast, and in a product class of its own, offering active sleep-promoting functions, an extensive research-based audio library and the ability to double-up as a premium pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones for everyday use whether you’re listening to music at home or on the move.
I look forward to seeing how the EEG sensing, intelligent recommendations and upcoming API integrations will add to the appeal, and hopefully this will happen in a short timeframe. But for now, if you’re looking for a slick pair of headphones to fall asleep in, travel with, or wear on your daily commute – with the added benefit of smart, AI-based sleep improvement programs, there’s nothing else like Kokoon on the market. Highly recommended.