More than a year into the pandemic, my coping mechanisms are losing steam. It feels as though my stress levels are only getting higher as my ability to focus diminishes by the day. So when I learned about productivity-enhancing Endel, an app that creates personalized soundscapes for a number of wellness benefits, I jumped at the chance to try it.
The Endel app uses artificial intelligence to design custom soundscapes that help you focus, relax, and sleep. It pulls data from your smartphone to learn about factors like your environment, activity level, and more to optimize the noises to best support what you need at that moment — for instance, if it’s a cold, rainy day, the app might produce more energizing sounds to help you overcome the dreary weather. Think of it as a smart and more pleasant take on white noise.
Endel’s mission to harness sound to improve your mental wellbeing isn’t new. Ambient noise has long been used to facilitate tranquility — research even shows that relaxing music can help prevent stress, anxiety, and blood pressure spikes, according to a 2001 study in the Journal of Music Therapy. But though the premise is simple, Endel takes those benefits to the next level by customizing the experience, which sets it apart from common soothing sound treatments like white noise or synth music. Oh, and the platform recently partnered with singer Grimes to create an “AI Lullaby” soundtrack... and that’s not exactly a feature you’ll find on a regular ‘ol white noise app.
I’m all for trying anything that says it can reduce stress and enhance productivity, so I tried Endel for a week to see if it made a difference. Read on for how the app works and whether it boosted my WFH game.
How Endel Works
You can download Endel (which runs $6/month, $50/year, or $90 for a lifetime) from the app store, and use it on your phone, Apple Watch, Alexa, or your computer (it’s even got soundscapes available to stream on gaming platform Twitch). Once you’ve got it, you input some basic personal info and, if you choose to, can integrate your weather app and phone activity tracker.
Endel’s AI technology then harnesses data like the time of day, your activity, the weather, and physical feedback like your circadian rhythm to constantly evolve the soundscapes to suit the moment, like playing increasingly lulling sounds as you wind down for bedtime. It can even sync the music beat to your heart rate or footfalls, which can boost your physical performance (like during a run, for example).
Think of it as a smart and more pleasant take on white noise.
You can also choose from general soundscapes like “Focus” or “Sleep,” which play indefinitely. If you’d like to get more specific, you can pick from short-term soundscapes called Scenarios designed specifically for activities like exercising, meditating, studying, or doing chores — just set the app’s timer for your desired length, and bask in the ambiance. There’s a visual component too — if you want, you can interact with the mesmerizing black-and-white graphics by tapping the screen, which adds chime to the noise.
What It’s Like
For starters, you should know that I am extremely sensitive to sound. I have misophonia, a condition where certain everyday noises trigger a stress response — needless to say, stewing in these household sounds for the last year of lockdown hasn’t been pleasant. I’ve relied heavily on white noise to cancel out background sounds, but you can only blast your ears with static for so long before that wears on you, too.
Trigger sounds irritate and distract me most while I’m writing, so I chose to use Endel as a stand-in for white noise and my usual focus playlists during the workday. And... I loved it. I typically listened to the “Focus” or “Deep Focus” soundscapes, then occasionally went with the “Deep Work” or “Create” Scenarios when I really needed to buckle down.
These soundscapes are less like a playlist and more like a never-ending track of ever-evolving beats and noises. A bassy beat is often at the core, with synthy sounds built around it. It’s more like a sound bath than a song — if the ambiance of spa music and background noise-reducing benefits of white noise had a baby, this would be it.
My soundscapes changed based on the time of day, my activity levels, and the weather. For instance, I noticed that they featured higher-pitched and faster noises on a rainy day to help boost my energy levels versus chiller beats on a sunny day when I felt more naturally awake. Similarly, the sounds were more peaceful during my early morning walks compared to the more intense, driving beats I noticed during my mid-afternoon work session on the same day.
My favorite part? How effective the soundscapes were at masking background noise. Ordinarily, little household sounds interrupt my focus every few minutes. But with Endel, I was able to concentrate on work for much longer stretches and take intentional breaks when I wanted, rather than having external noise take me out of my flow at random. And so, that enhanced ability to concentrate not only benefitted my work, but also decreased my stress.
Should You Try It?
If you’re dealing with stress or trouble focusing, then Endel is absolutely worth a try. The soundscapes made a noticeable difference in my ability to concentrate — they’re captivating enough to distract from irritating background noise, but low-key enough to let you zone in on your work, all of which help increase productivity. Personally, Endel is now a mainstay in my work-from-home setup.
Knight, W. (2001). Relaxing Music Prevents Stress-Induced Increases in Subjective Anxiety, Systolic Blood Pressure, and Heart Rate in Healthy Males and Females. Journal of Music Therapy, https://academic.oup.com/jmt/article-abstract/38/4/254/894542