- Well built, soft headband
- EEG brainwave feedback teaches you to meditate
- Digital Sleep Pill will lull you into sleep
- Accurate sleep tracking
- Battery life excellent for daytime mediation
- Less comfortable for sleep tracking
- Needs charging every day if used for sleep tracking
- App needs to be open during sleep tracking
Toronto-based InteraXon has recently announced a new meditation and sleep gadget. Muse S (2nd generation) is a headband-style wearable that uses something called smart fade technology. This enables it to play your favorite sounds to lull you into slumber and then switch off when you are asleep. The feature is also available to owners of the first generation device.
I reviewed Muse 2 back in 2019 and found it to be an excellent meditation aid. The company is one of the pioneers in this area and it is only recently that there are other entrants. Muse 2 has a bunch of sensors that monitor your heart rate, body movement and breath in addition to your brain. For the latter, the headband is lined with EEG sensors which are positioned along a user’s scalp.
The gizmo definitely makes meditation more interesting. The changes in mind and body are instantly reflected on the smartphone display. It is an eye opening experience on just how easy it is to become distracted and lose focus.
Now I had the chance to review Muse S and the new smart-fade technology. Is the meditation and sleep gadget worth it? Read on to find out.
Muse S headband review: Design & hardware
- Can be worn day or night
- Breatheable material and stretch fabric for a comfortable fit
- 3 LED indicator lights
- 10 hour battery life
Look & feel
Muse S is nothing like Muse 2 in appearance. While the predecessor devices are oriented exclusively towards enhancing your daytime meditation, Muse S can also be worn when you go to bed. To this end, a more versatile, softer form factor was necessary.
To use simply adjust the strap until Muse S has a comfortable and secure fit around your head. There’s a clip mechanism in the back and an elastic section and soft fabric which allow you to tighten or loosen the band. The minimum head circumference it will fit is 20 inches (51 cm) and the maximum is 24 inches (61 cm).
The little pod that houses the heart rate sensor and other tech snaps into a plastic enclosure in middle of the band. This is held securely in place by strong magnets an either side.
I found the headband to be very easy to put on, much easier and more comfortable when in place than Muse 2. This is important as the sensors need a precise fit for good signal quality. Muse S is definitely a smoother and more trouble-free experience, in this sense, than Muse 2.
As far as controls, they come in the form of a single physical button on the side of the pod. This is used to switch the thing on or off. The button is very small and doesn’t protrude much so is a bit difficult to manipulate. But there is a good reason for this.
Something that you have the option of wearing at night can accidentally switch off when you toss and turn. A button that is out of the way reduces the chance of that happening.
On the opposite side of the pod is a line of 3 orange LED lights. These are used for various purposes, such as an indicator of battery status, to show whether the Muse headband is connected to the app and more. If you are wearing the band at night, the LEDs will switch off. But there is a tiny light on the inside which you will only be able to see only if you take the headband off. This surves the purpose of letting you know wheather the gizmo is switched on or off.
It is worth noting that Muse S can and should be cleaned from time to time. But that goes for the headband which you can hand-wash with a mild, scent-free detergent. The pod itself should not be cleaned with chemicals. But you can wipe it carefully with a dry cloth.
All things considered, I much prefer the design of Muse S to Muse 2. Apart from being more comfortable and easier to use, the headband folds away nicely so is easier to carry around with you. The whole thing just feels very nicely made.
Under the hood
Think of Muse S as an improved version of Muse 2. It comes with the same sensors which can be utilized to enhance your daytime meditation. This is what Muse devices are best known for. But on top of this users of the S range get access to sleep tracking, the signal quality is improved and they will benefit from longer battery life (10 hours versus 5 hours).
As mentioned, the gizmo has a variety of sensors onboard. This includes five EEG sensors along the front strip to gauge the state of your mind. There’s a PPG sensor (in the pod) next to them which monitors heart rate and blood flow in your forehead. Finally, the accelerometer and gyroscope are also in the mix to monitor your body movements and breathing.
The battery life might sound like a lot. Ten hours of daytime meditation will last most people a long time. However, if you use Muse S during the night, you will need to charge via the micro-USB pretty much every day. And charging can take a few hours.
I tested the first generation Muse S. But there’s also a second generation device. That one was released in early November. There isn’t a huge difference between the two. It comes down to enhanced signal quality for improved accuracy on the new version, longer battery life and 50% quicker charging time. Plus, the device now fits an even wider range of head sizes (48-62cm). My guess is that InteraXon will now slowly phase out the first generation device.
Muse S headband review: How to use for daytime meditation
Just like Muse 2, you can use Muse S for daytime meditation. Because the signal quality is better and the fit is more comfortable, this is easier than before.
Daytime meditation is still for me the highlight of the device. The functionality is unchanged between Muse 2 and Muse S. I have written about this extensively in my Muse 2 review so won’t go into too much detail here. The duo uses the same app so there’s no difference in the way this works – it is just the hardware that is different.
Before first use, you’ll need to download and install the iOS or Android smartphone app. Everything is controlled from there. Set up your account, pair the device and you are good to go. This is an easy enough process and I had no bluetooth connection or pairing issues during my two weeks of testing.
The app is nicely made. Along the bottom tab are three shortcuts: Meditate, Sleep and Me. The first and default one leads you to the section for daytime meditation.
In there you’ll be presented with further options. These come in the form of Mind Meditation, Heart Meditation, Body Meditation, Breath Meditation and Timer. All of these allow you to choose length of session, the soundscape and some offer exercise instructions.
My favourite is the Mind Meditation. That one uses the EEG sensors to gauge the calmness of your mind. The gist of it is that the smartphone app will play sounds. The louder the effects the more cluttered your mind. You want to aim to lower the sound volume by calming your mind. Bird chirping noises are an indicator you are doing well. If you’ve put in a great performance, you’ll be awarded with badges after the session. For example for staying calm for a certain period of time, or triggering lots of birds.
It is magical to be able to control something with your mind only. Use it a few times and you’ll notice just how easy it is to lose focus. It really is a skill to be learned.
After doing Mind Sessions for a few days I tried out an experiment. The soundscapes and bird chirping noises thought me how to quieten my mind. I then turned down the sound volume of my smartphone entirely – and found that I managed to improve the score on some occasions by meditating in total silence with a pair of industrial-strength noise isolation headphones.
In that sense, you can use Muse S as part of your regular meditation session, with the volume of the sound turned way down. But after the session you will get an objective analysis on how calm your mind was. In addition to teaching you how to calm your mind, it is a tool that allows you to track progress.
The heart meditation is the same, only instead of gauging your brain waves it keeps tabs on your heart. The aim here is to lower your heart rate. Body Meditation does this with body movements, Breath Meditation counts the number of breaths and the Timer doesn’t utilize any sensors – it simply times your session. All of these can be used as per your preference.
I do wish though there was an option which combines all of this into one all encompassing session. So getting a score on the state of your mind, heart rate, stillness, breath in one go is something that would top my wish list. Muse S uses the combination of all these sensors to track your sleep so surely it can be done. My other wish is for the ability to see raw brain wave information in a visual form in the Muse app.
Also worth a mention is the Guided Meditation option. This one requires a Premium Subscription to access. For $12.99 per month ($23.75 per year – down from $94.99 at the time of writing) you’ll get access to 500+ guided meditations, in addition to the ability to feed the EEG signal into third party apps and more.
The good news is that you don’t really need a Premium Subscription. Most of the functionality is available for free when you purchase the hardware.
What is evident to me is just how much easier it is to use Muse S than the predecessor generations. Beyond comfort, the app is quicker to secure a good signal quality. This is required before each use and consists of a brief calibration period where the software tests whether all the sensors are aligned properly against your scalp. Sometimes the band would required a slight adjustment but it was fairly easy and quick to ensure a proper fit.
Muse S headband review: How to use to enhance sleep
As its name implies, Muse S goes over and beyond daytime meditation by tracking your kip time. You can use it to monitor naps during the day or an overnight session. This is not something that I would envisige wearing every night, but it is useful to check up on the quality of your overnight rest on occasion. InteraXon suggests you use Muse S to track your sleep session about three times per week.
For starters, you will get detailed sleep analysis data. As someone who is obsessed with health tech, I have been tracking my sleep for years with fitness trackers, smartwatches, strips that go under your mattress, radar-like devices and more. Compared to all of those, Muse S is probaby the best at tracking sleep stages. This is because it goes inside your mind to track brain waves. These are used along with your heart rate, breathing and movement data to detect whether you are asleep and what stage of sleep you are in. A device sitting on your wrist can’t really compete with that.
Most people know there are five stages of sleep. The first is where your mind is still a bit active, you might twitch as you transition into the second stage. This is called Light Sleep and your breathing and heart beat slow down, your brain waves are less active. Next we get stage three or Deep Sleep. This is where everything slows down further. Your brain waves hit their lowest levels. The phase is also known as the healing stage where your body and mind repair. Finally, there’s also REM sleep (where you dream). In this stage your brainwaves are similar to someone who is awake.
Muse S can follow all of this in detail thanks to the combination of sensors inside. And all of this will be presented in easy to understand charts in the app, along with a Sleep Score. The negative is that the smartphone app needs to be open in order for sleep tracking to work. As the app is power hungry, it is a good idea to keep the smartphone plugged into a power outlet.
The other negative is that Muse S is not really that comfortable to wear at night. The pod sticks out so you will feel it against the pillow. When I was tossing and turning one night, the pod was knocked out of place. Which ended the sleep session prematurely. The following nights I was more careful so there was no repeat performance.
As someone who doesn’t suffer from sleep issues I do not see myself using it most nights. Perhaps on the odd occasion. But I can see that it would be useful for those suffering from sleep disorders.
Beyond plain sleep tracking, Muse S also offers meditation experiences to get your mind to switch off so you drift into slumber. The Go-to-Sleep Journeys respond to your brain activity (EEG), heart rate (PPG), body movements and breathing to bring biofeedback soundscapes and soothing voice guidance. Just close your eyes and pick from experiences such as “Enchanted Forest” or “Underwater World.” Once you have completed your sleep journey, Muse S will automatically switch off. The length of time it will play can be set in the app.
Muse S headband review: Digital Sleep Pill
Finally we get to something called the Digital Sleep Pill. This is the next step up. The functionality was announced a few weeks ago along with the launch of the second generation Muse S.
The Digital Sleep Pill uses something called smart fade technology. The difference between this and the Sleep Journies is that the Digital Sleep Pill is more intelligent. Not only will it phase out the sound when it determines you have fallen asleep, it is also capable of figuring out if you’ve woken up during the night.
At that point it will gently start to play sleep stories again, ambient sleep soundscapes, biofeedback sound soundscapes or guided sleep meditations – depending on your preference. Sleep content likes vary from person to person.
You can customize a few things such as the volume, the length you wish the content to fade out and fade back in over, and more.
In practice, this is a very interesting experience. If you are a light sleeper or just taking a short nap, you will feel like the soundscapes are inter-mixing with your dreams. Because as soon as you start to wake up the content will kick in. It is a unique feeling where, at times, you are not sure if you are awake or asleep! It is definitely something that I can see being helpful to those struggling with insomnia and other sleep disorders.
InteraXon says the “Digital Sleeping Pill” feature is also coming to the first generation Muse S free of charge. I actually used the original product to test it out. The company was kind enough to provide me with access slightly early. Other users should look for a firmware update to land in December 2021. When it does, make sure to refresh the firmware of your device.
Muse S headband review: The bottom line, is it worth it?
I am pretty good at meditating most days, but was never sure if it was done correctly. Muse S gives me feedback telling me if I am on the right track. It is great to understand your mind and body’s response in real-time. The device also acts as a motivating factor as it makes meditation more fun. And anything that helps in grounding me and giving me some more peace gets a thumbs up.
For me, this is still the highlight of the device – the meditation practice part. Muse S adds a baseline of data that will help you track progress. The huge variety of meditations makes it easy to find the right one for your specific need.
The sleep tracking, on the other hand, is more a nice-to-have than a must have. Maybe this is because I do not have any trouble falling asleep. The problem is, while I found the design to be extremely comfortable for daytime meditation, the device is a bit awkward to wear at night. But I did appreciate the detail and accuracy of the sleep tracking data and do see myself using it from time to time.
Having said that, those with sleep issues such as insomnia will appreciate the new Digital Sleep Pill functionality. It sends you into sleepy-town. Then it kicks in if needed with soundscapes and other content if it determines you have woken up during the night.
The flexible headband style and modular construction approach is another major improvement over Muse 2. The app is great, full to the brim with information – so definitely lots to explore. All of these things make for a very versatile and calming product.
The original Muse S typically sells for $349.99. There’s currently a 20% off deal for the holidays on Amazon. Muse S (2nd gen) is available at at choosemuse.com for $399.99. Presumably, the company will now phase out the first generation device. You also have the option of purchasing Muse 2 at $199 (holiday deal down from $249.99). This one is a good option for those who do not need sleep content and do not mind the rigid plastic frame design. You can check out my full review of Muse 2 on this link.
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