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iPhone App Review: Ubrain

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Ubrain is a binaural beat application that promises to boost energy, enhance the mind, and change mood while the allowing the user to listen to their favourite tracks on their iPhone.  Binaural beat technology works by transmitting two separate soundwaves into the listener’s ears at two different frequencies resulting in a median third beat.  This stimulates cerebral activity as the brain is encouraged to rise to this third frequency.  Binaural beats have been linked to various beneficial, short-term effects such as enhanced focus, energy, mood, relaxation, wakefulness, and concentration.

When starting to use the Ubrain application, it is a really good idea to follow the instructions properly because, strangely enough, it works better if you set it up correctly.  There is a handy Ubrain tutorial available on YouTube to take you right through the set up. 

You start on the home screen and enter through “users.”  Once you have entered your name and set your voice pitch, you tell the app what you’re doing (for example working, travelling, or going to sleep); how you’re feeling (dead or lazy) and what you would like to do (wake-up or fall asleep).  The app then suggests a couple of programs for you lasting from eight to twenty minutes.  The programs are the frequencies which you then layer over your own music by choosing songs from your playlist.  You will need music on your iPhone to use this app and the app is designed to work with headphones.

So does it work?  The answer is yes.  I listened to a couple of focus and concentration related programs yesterday evening and certainly found my brain responding to the beats.  I felt more alert and able to concentrate for far longer than I usually manage of an evening.

I tried the energy and wakefulness options while commuting this morning, but I don’t think taking caffeine through an intravenous drip would have helped me on this particular morning.  I tried the aptly called “espresso” option and, although the effect wasn’t as definite as it had been last night, I did find that I eventually responded to it and certainly felt more awake and alert by the time I got to work.

I didn’t conduct a controlled experiment, but it does seem that the app works then.  The biggest problem I encountered (apart from user error due to initially glossing over the set up instructions) was the actual sound of the binaural beats.  It is certainly possible to reduce the volume of the program, but what it essentially sounds like is a low-frequency droning noise layered over your music.  It worked better with dance music (I listened to Chemical Brothers and Does It Offend You, Yeah?) but it did not work well at all over indie or alternative music.  The idea would be to switch the volume of the app down while still ensuring that you can still hear it (and experience the benefits).  It helps if you can switch the volume of your music right up, but that is not a very popular option if you’re on a crowded London train.

Another problem I experienced was that the app stops working if your phone auto-locks.  As you are meant to be relaxing while listening to the app and not tapping your screen, this is likely to happen and the only way to overcome it is to disable auto-lock, which is not ideal.

The Ubrain binaural beat has been developed by Digital Reality and was tested by superstar DJ Paul van Dyk.  He had this to say about the app: “That music effects your mood is something we all know – that binaural beats can boost these effects and increase your energy level, help to focus, or calm you down to relax was something I experienced using the Ubrain App.”

Ubrain is available on iTunes for $4.99 or £2.99.  Despite the problems experienced, I’ll probably continue to use it when I really need an energy or concentration boost, but it is not something I could use daily.  It is a pity the droning sound is so prominent because if it blended more with the music, this could be a really ace app.


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About Mandy Southgate

Mandy Southgate is a blogger, serial expat and eternal tourist living and working in London. Aside from writing at Blogcritics, she blogs about travel and London at Emm in London, entertainment and media at Addicted to Media and war crimes, genocide and social justice over at A Passion to Understand. Mandy has continued to write for Blogcritics under the new profile Mandy Southgate.
  • First, thank you for your very detailed and well written article! We worked hard to make Ubrain both ergonomic and fun and it is wonderful to see you have tried it and enjoyed it. We may have overlooked certain details and we will certainly try to correct these. For the volume of the beats issue you mention above, there is a slider below the track you are listening to. It is on the round disk of the player screen. If you slide this down you will lower the beats behind your music. They do not need to be loud to work so please do adjust so you can enjoy your music. As for the phone going to sleep and putting Ubrain on pause, you are correct: the auto-lock needs to be set to never to assure the phone does not go to sleep. It is indeed not ideal, and a work-around solution until we are able to update with this feature soon. Again thanks for your attention to Ubrain and we look forward to hearing how you feel on the website.

  • Emm

    Hi Ubrain! Thank you for your reply. I am glad to see that you’re working on a workaround. That would certainly be an improvement. It is a pity that iPhone doesn’t allow much multi-tasking otherwise that would be next on my wishlist.

  • Indeed its a bit of a bummer, but i hope to have alternative solutions soon. BTW in the work around solution, if you lower the brightness of the screen, you can preserve the battery and not have this lamp on when your trying to snooze.