Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Tiny package, big payoff

If you are anything like I am, when the slightest noise or bump can wake you out of your sleep, you’ve probably been told a thousand times to just get ear plugs. Especially when it comes to those interminable international flights, or for catching some shuteye during long layovers at the airport.

I have probably spent more money on various ear plugs than most folks have spent on several months’ of a home mortgage.

The biggest problem with ear plugs is that they only reduce some of the noise. The ear bone itself translates base, and base thump is part of what can keep me awake. Among other things. But plugs themselves, even the kind that you heat up and shape to your own unique ear canal, are useless. All you gotta do is look at the drawer full of expensive attempts that ended in failure.

Since I travel a lot, one of the biggest problems is sleeping on airplanes. Not only are the chairs brutally uncomfortable, the ambient noise is awful. Whether it’s just the folks banging up and down the aisle, people talking or folks who don’t have the courtesy to turn their own music down so that only they can hear it, those long, long international flights are a bear to bear.

In the interest of sharing a good thing once in a while, I stumbled on something that apparently works. To be clear with you up front, I do not work for these people, I am not being paid by them, and they have no clue I am writing an article about their stuff. I just was on two long flights from America to Africa, and I have fallen in love with one of their products. Since I do gear reviews every so often, I like to share what I find that solves a problem.

I should also warn you that there are some challenges with it. It’s called the world’s smallest sound machine, and it probably is, and it’s black, and those are problems. If you’re anything like me, and you lose shit in your seat all the time, like your glasses, which I do ALL the time, and you need your goddamned glasses to find your glasses, well. If you have a heart attack every time your black phone disappears into the unfathomable depths of your black purse and you spend ten agonizing minutes throwing everything hither and thither trying to find the goddamned thing…..Join the club. Stay with me here.

The Sound Oasis sound machine really is tiny. It weighs a fraction of an ounce. It fits snugly in your hand, is very simple to operate. You charge it in a wall socket (or portable charger). The unit comes with 24 set and up to about 150 available sounds to purchase if you’re picky. I didn’t have the need. I like white noise, and when I am at home, I listen to crickets and birds that are played in my bedroom right next to my bed. That’s like mother’s milk to me. On the flights to Dar es Salaam, two long ones, I used this tiny device (which I clipped to the inside of my shirt pocket, which was easier once I’d lost my eyeglasses down between the two seats) to block out all the noise. I set it on a gentle white noise and hardly heard a thing.

In fact, when I woke up with a start, I didn’t even remember that I was winging my way to Doha. That’s when I know I’ve really been out for a while.

I like that the instructions are simple, the operation is simple, and you can set the time for 30–60–90 minutes. That’s enough for me to get enough of a head start to blast off into sleep outer space. Once I’m really gone it’s harder to wake me up so easily. It also has a 15-hour rechargeable battery.

This was the acid test: on my particular flight to Qatar, there were at least five children, all of whom screamed with the magnificent volume of the very young repeatedly during the flight. The only reason I was aware of that fact was when I was having a meal, and briefly removed the ear plugs, which I promptly re-seated. Oh, blessed quiet.

This thing is right around sixty bucks. If you’re a veteran like I am you get a discount, so I ended up paying closer to $50. For my money, that’s a very small price to pay for knowing that I can get some sweet shuteye on an international flight. And, even better, that I can also sleep in my tent on the occasion that the surroundings don’t allow me to pitch well away from the communal fire on my adventures. Most folks don’t hit the sack at about 7 pm like I do, which is driven by my body’s propensity to wake the hell up at 3 am whether or not I’ve had adequate sleep.

If I can pitch far enough away I don’t need this thing. Wind, the sound of rain on the rain fly and natural sounds are enough. Human sounds, mechanical sounds are what force their way into my sleep and pry me out. Being able to listen to thunderstorms or crickets, even recorded, which can mask the typical late night loud laughter around a campfire can save a trip for me.

Photo by Şahin Yeşilyaprak on Unsplash

I had at one point seriously considered an extravagance by Bose. They made (but have since discontinued) a set up of excellent ear plugs which played a whole series of sounds for you. Bose of course make terrific equipment, and I was tempted. That is until I found out that they only worked if you had a phone with a wi-fi signal. Bose required that you download the app to be able to get your sounds. At that point, and since the price point ranges on Ebay quite a bit (figure around $135 to 300 or more) it kinda lost its luster. You can still get them, and Bose still services them, but given that most of the places I go in the world to tent don’t have either power or a signal, that’s a useless investment. The reviews were mixed enough for me to have second thoughts.

I can pack out a small recharging lithium system to keep the Sound Oasis system working in the wild. In most international flights there’s a plug next to the seat if you overstay your 15 hours of use. I haven’t yet.

The tiny (1.6" by 1.8" by .75") Sound Oasis machine’s biggest drawback is its biggest advantage, too. You don’t even know it’s there. And, you also don’t know when you’ve lost it, as I did in Ethiopia. Damned thing is so light, so tiny, and so black that it easily gets gone. Especially if you have also lost your glasses. Which I do regularly. Imagine trying to find a tiny circle of black, in the dark, in dark spots, without your glasses. Then you try to find your phone, also black, also in the dark, to use the flashlight.


Which is why, and here’s another traveler tip, I have learned the hard way to always pack a small flashlight in my onboard bag. Forget the damned phone. The flashlight is easier to find by feel.

And, I’ve also learned to zip this tiny thing into my shirt’s passport pocket, with only the earphone cords coming out. I don’t think it comes in a Bluetooth version, but even if it did, I wouldn’t have a clue how to operate it. I bought a set of Bluetooth headphones three years ago that are still sitting unused on my mantle, an investment in frustration if there ever was one.

The Sound Oasis folks make a bunch of things, most of which I haven’t investigated, but I did notice that for those who have tinnitus, they have the same tiny machine but with sound frequencies specifically designed for the some twelve million folks who have this kind of annoying problem.

For me, crying kids and loud campfires are annoying enough. If you deal with the frustrations of being an uber light sleeper, this might work for you. So far, so good. I’m on my second (having lost my first in Ethiopia, were I am convinced some enterprising baboon is sleeping peacefully using my headset, at least until the battery dies) and doing my best not to lose it between the seats while I get comfy between the proverbial sheets.

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