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Muse S Gen 2 review: brain sensing & sleep help

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Erin L

Erin L

Muse S, 2nd gen, review
Ever feel like your brain can’t shut off? Your thoughts are racing, you’re replaying things over in your mind, and you just can’t seem to relax or fall asleep? What if you could know what’s going on inside your cranium? That’s the premise of Muse brain sensing headbands. Muse S is a headband-style device that claims to track your brain activity, and using built-in meditations, to help you relax, or even fall asleep. I recently got a sample of the Muse S to try out and see for myself what it can do. In this review I’ll walk you through how it works, what the experience is like, and whether I recommend it.

Muse S 2nd Gen review

Muse S Gen 2

Summary

This finicky band didn’t track me accurately, and calibrating it every time is tiresome. I also didn’t find readings accurate.

Pros

  • Meditations are enjoyable
  • Handles both meditation and sleep
  • Sleep tracking seems accurate

 

Cons

  • Hard to calibrate; sensors must be perfectly placed
  • Digital Sleeping pill wake up wasn’t working
  • Sensor must be clipped into band perfectly to work
  • Uncomfortable to sleep in band
  • Can’t enjoy sleep stories without using band
  • App seems dated
  • Expensive
  • Mind readings didn’t seem accurate for me

There are many devices out there that track sleep cycles to varying degrees of accuracy, but the Muse S takes things a step further. It’s a device that actually tracks EEG readings and provides feedback that can help you “train your brain.”It’s a combination sleep monitor, sleep helper and a meditation assistant.

What’s New in Muse S Gen 2?

Muse S consists of a soft headband and a removable brain sensing pod that’s rechargeable.
The Gen 2 model improves upon the original version with better signal quality, faster battery charging, and a more accurate battery level indicator, claims Muse.
The most significant change is the updated headband, which uses more spandex to allow more stretch and make the band less likely to tear.
The ear electrodes are also wider to help maintain a strong signal…. Though as you’ll soon see its didn’t do much for my experience.

Muse S, 2nd gen, reviewWhat Does Muse Monitor?

The Muse S is a meditation tool, as it claims to help you focus on meditation, while also monitoring your heart rate, brainwave activity or EEG, and breathing.
You choose a voice-guided mediation and then try to listen and focus.
The EEG readings sense when your brain is working harder and offer meditation options and sounds to help you relax, and give audio feedback when you do. If you’re not at peace, your brain is working harder; the Muse S increases the amount and frequency of certain sound effects, then lessons them as you relax.
When you’re fully relaxed, you’ll hear the chirping of birds.
Muse S also offers Sleep help: you an take one of the digital sleeping pills to help you fall asleep, and it will also do sleep position tracking, give you a sleep efficiency score, and “deep sleep insights.” You do, of course, need to wear the headband to sleep.
If you’re on Apple HealthKit, the Muse S will take over your sleep tracking and report back to your Health app while your phone or watch is charging.

Muse S, 2nd gen, reviewSet up

You will need to download the Muse app and create an account. Next, charge up your Muse sensor and clip it into the headband. The app will take you though an initial demonstration and share tips if you’re not familiar with how to use it.
The thing I found out is that if the sensor isn’t clipped into the dock on the band correctly, it will not work properly. Make sure there’s no gaps between the dock and the sensor, and press to close any you do see. Even a small gap can mean your sensors won’t take readings.
With the brain sensor pod charged, put on the headband and open the app. Tap to connect to your band via Bluetooth. You’ll chose a session and the device will check the sensor contact with your skin. Then just sit back and listen to the audio.

Wearing and using Muse S

The headband has an adjustable strap that should let you get a snug but comfortable fit.
Also, very important is that you need to make sure the Muse logo is facing up; if the band is worn upside down, the sensors, particularly on the ears, can’t connect properly for a good reading.
Before each and every session the band will re-calibrate itself and this take about a minute. Each of the sensors across the front and behind the ears need to make perfect contact with your head of the whole thing will not work; there’s no, “4/5 sensors are working so let’s just go ahead anyway” option.
I can tell you I found this very difficult, particularly getting the ear sensors properly connected was a massive challenge that, frankly, stressed me out most times I used it. You’ve got to make sure no hair gets in the way.. which, for some of us, is a challenge. The coloured bars in the app will light up when you’ve got all your connections made.

Audio plays via speaker

The audio plays over your phones’ speaker and if you’re wondering, the band does not also double as earphones) so you’ll want a quiet place to do your session where you won’t disturb others. You can connect earbuds if they don’t interfere with the band, but didn’t try this myself (too many things on my head).

Using meditations

Muse S, 2nd gen, reviewI tried out several of the guided meditations. They feature some type of spa-like music, tones, nature sounds and some have voice guidance, depending on the option you choose.
Mind Meditations
Heart Meditations
Body Meditations
Breath Meditations Guided Meditations
and simple Timed Meditations
You calibrate the sensor, then sit back and do what the meditation asks; breath, relax, let your mind go blank.

Understanding your brain activity

You can’t see it during the session (no distractions or peeking!) But afterwards you get feedback on your brain activity, heart rate and/or your overall mindfulness, depending on the session you’ve chosen. The app can also compare current sessions to previous progress.
You also score points with your meditation, which might be kind of the opposite thing you should be doing with meditation, but does gameify things for the non-hippies among us. You get Muse Points for every second you meditate. Recovery points are given when the band senses you’ve been able to refocus after a distraction. Birds are issued when your breathing stays in high harmony with the audio guide or when you keep focused on your inner self. You will hear birds during the meditation and they are marked on your graph.
I decided to first set a baseline: I put on a breathing meditation and then proceeded to not breathe deeply, and to read and type at my computer while the meditation was on. My score surprisingly (March 4, 12:52) showed me in very high levels of harmony with my breath guide and I scored 7 bird points. That didn’t seem right.
So I decided to do the test over and this time truly focus on my breathing while sitting completely still.
The results seemed a little more uniform and had fewer spikes. But even so it wasn’t that different from my previous test. I did score 12 birds on the second try.
Next I did two Mind Meditations…
You need about a minute or more to calibrate the sensor before it will scan your brain. As I did, you may need to fidget with the band to get good contact, and the app will show you where you’re failing. When all the pieces of the pie are lit up you can advance to the meditation and brain scan. The Muse S says it’s monitoring your EEG and noting changes in your brain activity during the session.
The first Mind Meditation I took very seriously and tried my best to relax and be still. Even so, I didn’t score so well.
The second time I worked at my desk the whole time… and rather surprisingly I scored waaay more calm. WTF?
So I did them over again. This time, the relaxed session I did scored better and seemingly more accurately.
When I did the working and typing one…same thing; that reading showed me as more calm than when relaxing.
So I dunno… I’m not sure what I should read into this if anything – am I naturally more relaxed when I’m working with purpose, or are the readings just…not accurate.

Digital Sleeping Pills

The Muse S 2nd Gen now has what the company is calling “digital sleeping pills.”
Think of that process like a DJ trying to play the right track to help you fall asleep (and you’re the DJ). It will blend in restful sounds and can lower the audio level when you fall asleep and then reactivate it the brain scanner detects you’ve woken during the night.
Some of the Digital Sleeping Pill options are Sleep Stories where someone talks, Ambient Soundscapes, Sleep Biofeedback Soundscapes, and Sleep Meditations.
This is a nice idea but if you have a sleeping partner who doesn’t want to listen too, you’ve got a problem. I guess that’s where earbuds could come in.
I tried these to fall asleep to. I chose a story version and an ambient sound version.
I liked them both, but they kept fading out too fast, before I was asleep. There’s also supposed to be that setting that will bring the audio back up again if you wake in the night. I had it turned on, but the audio didn’t resume for me.
I do think the sleep tracking was accurate. It seemed to get my sleep-wake pattern right when I laid down for a nap.
In short, I really liked the digital sleeping pills and would listen to them again… but the problem is, you must calibrate and wear your Muse, in order to access these audio files; you can’t just listen to them.
The major downsides to sleeping with the Muse headband on; it was uncomfortable after a while and I woke up and took it off. Plus it left a wicked mark on my forehead that took an hour to go away.
Battery/Charging/App
The rechargeable battery has 10 hours of use and takes about three hours to fully charge via an included micro USB cable.
The app is compatible with IOS and Android and free to use. The app appears to be old, since the graphics in that show you how to use things all show the original metal and plastic Muse headband released several years ago.
While there’s a bunch of meditations that come free with the app, Muse also offers a premium subscription that offers hundreds of different additional meditations, the ability to pair your Muse S with other podcast or music apps, and more in-depth reports about your progress. Muse says they’ll be releasing new curated content each month. The premium subscription is $17.99 per month or just $9.99 for one year for new subscribers. If you end up being a Muse devotee, this might be a lot of fun for you.

Overall thoughts Muse S gen 2

Overall I have mixed feelings about Muse S. I think that having the opportunity to sit down and relax with guided mediations in the app is a good thing and can only be beneficial, but do you need something that costs $400 to tell you your heart rate and supposedly sense your brain at the same time—and judging if you’re relaxed or not?
This device is also not something that is automatically going to calm you down. In my opinion you need to be predisposed to taking part in meditation for this to truly work. You can’t simply strap on the headband and achieve instant zen, it’s not a zen vending machine. That would be a zending machine… You need to commit to listening to the meditations and following the instructions. If you think you’d do that, this is a great meditation app and having the brain scan readings might be a great way for your to track your progress.
Another positive is that I think the sleep tracking was very accurate.
Downsides? I found the band to be a bit finicky when it came to getting it calibrated – sometimes it was a struggle to get proper band-to-skin connections. I also found sleeping in the Muse was uncomfortable and left marks on my face… and I couldn’t get the wake-up feature to work. It’s also not possible that I can see to use the Muse app audio without the band on. I also don’t think the brain sensing was accurate… which is kind of the main selling feature of this device. And at $400 the Muse S is certainly an expensive investment you’ll want to ensure you’ll use regularly.
I think whether or not you’ll like your Muse experience depends very much on your predispositions and openness to meditation, and if you’d be willing to wear it to bed nightly to help you fall asleep. If you already meditate and want something to give you a level up, Muse S might be a great pick for you. If you’re a stressed out person looking for a magical and quick fix… this isn’t it.
In the end, I’m not going to recommend Muse… for me, the cons outweigh the pros here.
The Muse S sells for about $399 US and you can get it from their website.

Erin L

Erin L

I'm a journalist, tech blogger, writer, TV producer, silversmith& jewelry designer, foodie and world traveler. I blog, write for publications, and supply freelance writing services to Calgary, and the world.

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