Muse S (2nd Gen) review: A brain-sensing meditation motivator

Advantages

  • An extensive series of guided and unguided meditations
  • A brain sensor and an app come together to make normal thinking
  • Detailed sleep tracking data

Cons

  • Setting up a long connection every time
  • A premium subscription is required to leverage all the technology
  • False positive brain detection

We all know that meditation has a range of benefits: physical, mental, and everything in between. But meditation is a practice, not just a “quick fix.” Being the antithesis of today’s instant gratification culture, it’s definitely hard to keep your mind and body still, especially when the results aren’t immediate.

InteraXon’s Muse (2nd Gen) headband is fixed; integrates a combination of electroencephalography (EEG) technology employed for built-in brain sensors that provide post-medical feedback. Combined with the app’s goal-based meditation exercises, the accessory has the ability to turn the abstract practice of meditation into a more concrete one. I’ve been testing the wearable for the past week and while I have no doubt that the Muse has kept me accountable, I wonder if the sensors are legit or simply an expensive placebo.

Specifications

Content

nylon

Head sizes

46-63 cm diameter

Sensor type

EEG, PPG, Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Pulse Oximetry, and Smart Grading Wearable Technologies

Battery life

10 times

Charging

Micro USB port; LED indicator

Compatible Devices

Smartphones with iOS 12.2 or higher and Android 8 or higher

Connectivity

Bluetooth 4.2

Color

Midnight Blue

Price

$399


Design and fitting

The Muse S is soft and light, which is great considering there’s a brain-sensing pod in the middle. After adjusting the straps and clamping the magnetic buckles together around my neck — like a necklace, I slipped the band up to my forehead. To my surprise, the sensor pod didn’t dig into my forehead. And while the headband is similar to a headlamp, I found the materials to be quite flexible when I needed to make adjustments.

Muse S 2 meditation headband

The Muse S’s slimline appearance makes it a suitable device for meditation.

Christina Darby/ZDNET

Before I get into the meditation practices, it’s worth noting that the Muse S also has sleep tracking technology, making the headband just as applicable for all-night wear. While I’m no stranger to wearing technology to bed, I gave up on the pressure building up on my forehead and behind my ears after a few hours into my sleep. Sleeping with an eye sleep mask is similar to sleeping with a Muse headband but with a thicker fabric that goes deeper behind the ear. Loosening the headband makes augmentation easier, but also renders the sensors useless.

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situated woes

The headband has six sensor points responsible for tracking your heart rate, breathing and brain activity. Once the headband is in place and you’re ready to start your meditation, you simply pair your smartphone with the app and select the meditation you want. What’s not so simple is making sure the headband is fitted in the right place for the sensors to function properly.

Check Muse brain sensor signal

Before each meditation session, you must perform a Signal Quality Check to ensure that all six sensors are connected. This process often takes time and is a game of trial and error.

screenshot by Christina Darby/ZDNET

Unfortunately, each meditation session began with a “Signal Quality Check” that took as long as five minutes to calibrate the sensors. The unfortunate part is that not all checks are guaranteed success, especially with the ones behind your ears. If you use meditation as a natural remedy when you are in a flushed state, I don’t expect the constant readjustment here to make things better.

I’ll say, once all the sensors are in place and pass the signal check, you’re good to go. As long as you don’t touch the headband once you start your workout, the sensors will stay in place and track accurately.

More: Best meditation apps

Muse App: Basic vs Premium

Once you get the green light to start using the headband, there are over 500 different unguided, guided and experiential meditation routines to choose from. You can choose a meditation based on your mood or a specific area (breath, mind, heart, etc.) you want to focus on.

Despite its extensive suite, the app’s interface is simple and easy to navigate, saving your previous thoughts to your library so there’s less perusing after you’ve found your personal favourite.

However, be warned that there is no Muse Premium subscription $3.99 monthly, you will only be able to access 39 options with the basic account. Although the free version is quite extensive, especially if you are just starting to meditate, the premium plan is a great option for those who like more structure in their routines and/or want the audio feedback from layering the app with another. For example, maybe you prefer the white noise playlist from Spotify and want that running in the background.

Meditating with the headband

While wearing the Apple Watch That doesn’t make you permanently better at working out, the thought of closing your rings is enough to push you to finish that last sprint or lift. The same phenomenon is true when meditating with a brain sensor headband.

Knowing that the Muse S was monitoring my vitals during a meditation session encouraged me to stay still, take a deep breath, and try to relax. After a few sessions, my relaxation became a habit.

Muse details from meditation

The interface of the Muse app is quite navigable. Although the graphs are detailed, there can be false positives.

screenshot by Christina Darby/ZDNET

Still, looking at my data at the beginning of my use (image on the right), I was surprised how much my mind wandered and how low my relaxation levels were when I started to do the first meditations. But with more practice, my numbers reflected my efforts to stay still, physically and mentally.

Unlike other wearable apps, you can also access the app without the headband attached to your phone. So, you can look at the well-organized graphs to see your physiological trends at any time.

The only real issue I had with the app experience was that even when I took my headband off, there were times when the headband would continue to track and log data. Of course, the false positives are impractical and affect my overall health metrics, but at least I know more about the stress on my bed sheet now.

For the media content within the app, there are both guided and unguided reflections. I mostly chose the former, which made it easier to stay present with someone telling. I understand that each instructor’s voice had an honest, calm tone rather than a theatrical or robotic sound.

If you’re more comfortable with unguided meditation, there are plenty of unguided meditations that play relaxing soundscapes instead, like those you’d find on a white noise machine. I tried the Crystal Cavern track and found the flow of water peaceful for the ears and mind.

More: This wearable actively helps you relax and sleep better

Muse S 2nd Gen Headband with Blue Background

The Muse S (2nd Gen) is malleable and soft, with light colored sensors around the ears and a sensor bump in the middle.

Christina Darby/ZDNET

Sleep with the headband

Like its predecessor and much of the wearable market, the Muse S incorporates sleep tracking data. These insights include the start and end points, as well as the duration of your sleep states (light, deep, and REM). Of course, users can take these points and modify their sleeping habits accordingly.

My favorite sleep feature, however, is the digital sleep pill. The “digital hole” refers to how the headband coordinates your meditation sounds – whether that’s music, storytelling or soundscape – to the different stages of your sleep. For example, the sound will lull you to sleep at the beginning of your sleep by gradually decreasing in volume. And in the middle of the night, if you suddenly wake up and wake up, the headband sensors will detect the response and play the sound again to lull you back to sleep.

Also: The best air mattresses to aid your sleep

As someone who sometimes relies on actual sleeping pills, I was reasonably skeptical and intrigued by the feature. Much to my surprise, my doubts were quickly dispelled. With the digital sleeping pill in use, I fell right to sleep – and a deep one at that, according to the tracking feature.

The Muse S (Gen 2)

There are two felt bars accented on either side of the headband.

Christina Darby/ZDNET

Even if I took the headgear off in the middle of the night, I felt much more relaxed in my new bedtime ritual. If you are someone who often lets the worries of the day go to bed with you, I would highly recommend using the digital sleeping pill. It is not meant to replace your prescriptions, but I can confirm that it is an effective natural relaxant.

Battery life

As far as battery life goes, while I was able to get a full night’s sleep with the headband on a single charge, the charge itself takes almost the entire day. So, I need to prepare the Muse S an hour before I’m about to go to bed. Also, using MicroUSB instead of the more modern USB-C is disappointing. It’s 2022!

Base line

The IS Muse S (2nd Gen) it turns a traditionally abstract practice into a performance-based culture. Although it can be a bit difficult to read the sensors under command, using the headband itself feels natural enough to not interfere with your meditation or sleep. As for the app, you’ll want to opt for the premium subscription for the strongest and best experience, though I’d like to experience the first batch of 39 meditation routines first before you commit.

Other options to consider

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