Just when you thought there wasn’t much left that hasn’t already been gadgetized, along comes the Bluetooth pillow …

Dreampad is a modern take on a very old idea: a speaker designed to be heard through a pillow, so you can listen without disturbing your partner. But it’s not just a Bluetooth speaker embedded in a pillow – it uses a form of direct-transmission sound known as intrasound. This is the technology used by bone-conduction devices sometimes used to allow profoundly deaf people to hear.

The use of intrasound technology is at once Dreampad’s greatest strength and biggest weakness, as we’ll see …

Look & feel

Unlike conventional pillow speakers, Dreampad is supplied as a complete unit: pillow with embedded speaker. The pillow is currently available in firm and slim forms – aka thick & fluffy and thin – with a medium support one expected to be available in the next month or so.

All three versions are hypoallergenic, with 100% poly fill and 100% cotton shell.

I’m a slim pillow man, but only the thick & fluffy version was available at the time I received it. For this reason, I won’t talk much about feel, as I don’t find thick pillows comfortable, but I will say that the pillow both looks and feels much like any other. I’ll also note that you can’t feel the embedded speaker at all through the thick pillow I tried.

The only thing to give away the presence of the speaker is a short 3.5mm jack emerging from one corner. You can, if you wish, plug this directly into an (older) iPhone or iPod, but with the iPhone 7 lacking a headphone socket you’ll need the Bluetooth receiver – and this is in any case a more convenient form of connection.

The Bluetooth receiver is a white plastic unit around 5.5 x 2.5 x 1cm (2.2 x 1 x 0.4-inch). It has a single combined button and LED light to power it up and pair to your phone. Tucked into the bottom of the pillow, you can’t feel it at all.

In use

If you’ve ever tried a conventional pillow speaker – or your partner has – you’ll be aware that practice differs significantly from theory. The person lying next to you in the bed can definitely hear some of the sound.

Intrasound relies on transmitting sound via body tissue and bone rather than sound waves through the air. Vibrations are passed through the head to the ear, where they can be heard by the person resting their head on the pillow but not, in theory, by anyone else.

The approach isn’t perfect, but very nearly so. At 50% volume, the person next to you literally can’t hear a thing. At 100% volume, there is the tiniest amount of sound leakage that you can just about make out, but even at full volume it’s unlikely to disturb your partner.

This is the greatest strength of the Dreampad: it’s a pillow speaker system where the reality lives up to the promise.

The problem with intrasound, however, is that it intended for use with audio tracks created specifically for this form of sound transmission. When used with the sleep-inducing tracks in the companion app, the person using Dreampad can hear the sound clearly. But as soon as you switch to conventional audio sources – like the Music or Podcast apps – the sound quality drops dramatically.

Music is almost painful to listen to, and podcasts are both muffled and quiet even at maximum volume.

So intrasound tech is also the Dreampad’s biggest flaw: it barely works at all unless used with an audio source specifically designed for it. And the range of intrasound tracks supplied with the app – with a few more available for free download – is extremely limited.

The app

The app comes with seven audio tracks. It has a sleep timer and alarm so that you can fall asleep to any of the music as well as wake to it. It’s very limited, and very easy to use.

You can also use the pillow as a conventional Bluetooth connection with other apps, but – as described above – more in theory than in practice.

Health & sleep claims

Dreampad claims that listening to its specially-tailored tracks reduces stress and improves sleep. The company’s website prominently links to a clinical study conducted by Columbia University. However, the comparative study was an incredibly small-scale one, with just 29 participants in all, only 10 of whom were using Dreampad – and the stated benefit was small.

Other companies make rather grander claims for the technology.

The Dreampad Pillow group experienced statistically fewer nighttime awakenings than the iRest meditation (p < .04, d = −1.53) and sleep hygiene (p < .004, d = −1.43) groups.

Pricing & conclusions

Dreampad isn’t cheap. The pillows range from $149 for the slim pillow without the Bluetooth receiver to $174 for the thick one with the receiver. When you consider that you can buy very nice down-filled pillows from under $40 and conventional pillow speakers from under $10, that’s a sizeable premium for the technology.

However, unlike conventional pillow speakers, this one actually lives up to the promise that you can hear it while your partner can’t.

The killer for me is that it’s all but useless with conventional music and podcasts. If it worked as well with the Music and Podcasts app as it does with the supplied app, I’d consider it a great product for anyone who likes to listen to audio content while their partner sleeps. As it is, it’s still a decent solution for someone who finds that an audio track helps them fall asleep, but the limited application makes it a pricy proposition.