June 2012 Update: I notice that this app is no longer available–I had wanted to load it on a new device a few weeks back, only to discover that it’s no longer in the app store! The app I downloaded instead, BrainWave, is also great. It is not as customizable, and doesn’t have the “relaxing music” components of ER Ultimate. But, if you’re looking for binaural patterns and white noise, this is the app for you. I’ve been making frequent use of it (I downloaded the 30 program version) and have been very happy with its functionality and with the range of options that are available. I don’t know if I necessarily buy into the binaural theory, but I will say that the headache reliever pattern actually did help me with a mild headache I had, much to my surprise (and it was one of those “it’s not going anywhere” kinds of pains, so this rather impressed me). At any rate, it features several different patterns for different modes, and a few different ambient/white/pink noise options. Enjoy!
[original review below]
Today’s review features Easy Relax Ultimate (or Easy Relax/Easy Relax Lite, and Binaural Beats, which are the cheap/free versions. I started with these, then upgraded to the pay, not because the others were too feature-light, but because I found it so useful that I felt it important to compensate the creator by buying the paid version). I’ve been using this app for years and really love it, not just for relaxing, but also for presenting a wash of neutral sound when I’m trying to work in busy spaces and the nature of the work is such that I can’t concentrate properly while listening to music. In fact, that is one of its primary uses, for me. The other way in which I find it invaluable is as a foil to my procrastination. Permit me to explain.
I love the idea of being productive, but often when faced with the prospect of it, I find facebook intensely compelling and also feel the need to tweet about a variety of things. Enter, Easy Relax Ultimate, and the wonder of a timer. I set myself a bargain: 10 minutes of work, and then if I feel like it, I have permission to do facebook. ERU is timer-based, and so I put on one of its “white noise” tracks (waves and windchimes with a binaural beat of “busy thinking” for instance–more on this latter bit later), set the 10 min timer and go at it. And it works. Either I get 10 mins of work done that I wouldn’t have otherwise done (before losing myself in FB for an hour, instead of just FB-ing for an hour and ten mins!) OR I end up finding the focus I needed and continuing with the work I started, and enjoying a productive morning. Win-win. More or less. ERU is great for this kind of self-bargaining, which I find works so well with my own particular reward-incentive way of thinking.
A Fine and Private Place
I often like working at places like cafes and busy spots because it means that I can’t wander off and get a snack, or check what’s on tv at the drop of a hat (yet another trick I use for trying to get work done). I have my computer etc and don’t want it to be stolen, so I have to sit and work (esp. if I’ve been clever enough to NOT ask for the wifi password for the cafe hotspot). But, this can mean that all manner of oft-bizarre conversations can intrude on my conversation (though the bizarre ones are often interesting enough to be worth the distraction–it’s the blazingly normal ones that are simultaneously intrusive but also not interesting enough to me as a stranger to justify the distraction). ERU’s white noise tracks, esp. in conjunction with my noise-cancelling headphones (sony; on sale at best buy last year. I loathe the design of them which seems to be unfit for most human contours, but they’re fine, functional, and reasonably compact) are just the ticket. I put on the sound of rain or waves or any one of the other options of sounds that go at it. Brilliant stuff!
I’m not totally convinced about whether this actually works or not. The idea is that by playing one pitch of sound in one ear, and a different one in another ear, the [beta? sine?] wave that is created is the same as the brain wave that corresponds to a given activity (memorizing, meditation, etc.) so that by listening to the two pitches, one in each ear, the brain interpolates the wave and moves into that state of being. I’m not totally convinced by this, but play them anyway, amid the white noise because I figure, hey, any help I can get to concentrate/memorize etc. I’ll take. It’s a neat idea, and if you feel it totally works, then this app presents an affordable way to make use of them, while also not having to just listen to the pure pitches themselves (which are quite unpleasant on their own). The app offers a lot of different types of “beats” and so you can move into a variety of modes by playing the right beat (cue echoes of “Do Androids Dream Electric Sheep” here).
The final thing that’s great about ERU is that you can create your own mixes. There are a variety of different sounds and types of white noise, like wind, rain and so on. You can also add in incidental noises from a long list (crows, wind chimes, a Japanese flute, to name but a few). You can create anything from relaxing meditation music or campfire drumming (sans beats) for a quick relaxation break to the sound of being in the eye of a storm, with binaural beats for everything from memorization, to meditation to sleep induction. This is a great feature, though after playing with it a bit, I ended up settling on a few custom made ones, and a bunch of the pre-made ones and not really doing more. I just use my old faithfuls.
I’m not great in this regard. I am using it as a background, secondary function, so I am not all that emphatic about the waves sounding totally real, with no compression artifacts etc. I don’t notice this stuff too much, particularly when I’m using it as background for other work. If you’re concerned, start by downloading the cheaper versions (I think there might be an Easy Relax Lite that is free–unless they have since removed it) and see if it’s okay for you. The other features on ERU are what make it a star for me, and many of the sounds are plenty realistic for me. With some of the sounds, the moment when the sound loops is detectable, but again, this isn’t important to me. It sounds realistic enough to me, and I mainly want neutral sounds to wash out other distractions. I also find that the sound distorts and gets partially blocked when I turn on the noise-cancelling function on the headset (when it’s not super noisy in my environ, but for whatever reason, I want to cancel out some of the surrounding sounds). It also often sounds more artificial when that function is turned on, I assume because the cancellation sounds are blocking parts of the sounds generated by the app. So, be warned. The counter to that is that it’s usually loud enough that the artificiality is not really noticeable and the noise cancelling helps more than hinders.
In all, however, this is one of my most useful, and most frequently-used apps for getting work done and helping to boost my productivity.