Human cognition is continually under the influence of technological innovation. One of the more recent developments in this sphere is neurofeedback, an exciting subset of biofeedback.
Neurofeedback devices connect your brain activity with digital technology capable of decoding it, creating a seamless loop of monitoring, analysis, and feedback.
This can help you understand what your brain is doing and link that activity with your inner experience, but with home neurofeedback training, it also offers you the chance to alter your brain activity.
How Neurofeedback Works
Neurofeedback devices translate the intricate symphony of signals generated by your brain into a digital signal that can be displayed in real-time on a screen for your interpretation.
The devices are embedded with sensors that record brainwave patterns, usually with electroencephalography (EEG). The sensors record the activity of an area of the brain, the collective activity of millions of neurons.
Usually, the activity will be displayed as a line that jumps about like those you find for sound waves, heart monitors, or seismographs.
Among the somewhat chaotic-looking peaks and valleys, you’ll often find a baseline or fundamental frequency, a signal in the noise that reflects the general state of your mind.
That signal (measured in Hz, or cycles-per-second) can scale from the low delta waves (0.5 – 4 Hz) when you are in a deep sleep, all the way up to gamma waves (30 – 100 Hz) suggestive of intense mental effort and attention.
Some devices will display the detailed waves of activity while others will go straight to the underlying frequency or some other summary. Either way, the goal of neurofeedback is to take that signal and shift it towards an ideal state.
The Benefits of Neurofeedback
Based on the feedback you’re getting, you can employ different mental exercises or techniques to encourage desirable brainwave patterns.
From assisting in the management of ADHD and anxiety to enhancing cognitive performance and facilitating meditation, neurofeedback devices have a wide spectrum of applications.
A number of studies have highlighted the potential of neurofeedback to help alleviate cognitive disorders.
With regard to enhanced cognitive performance in healthy individuals, studies have shown that neurofeedback can help improve mood, memory, and attention. There is also some evidence that it could help in sports, art, and cognitive performance.
With training, neurofeedback will put you in greater control over your mental state, so that you’ll experience the benefits of better memory, attention, and control, long after you’ve taken the device off.
Home Neurofeedback Devices Compared
Clinical neurofeedback systems used by healthcare professionals offer more comprehensive treatment and expertise, however, there are a growing number of home neurofeedback devices designed for personal use, and that can also provide general wellness benefits and basic brain training.
Here’s the current range of the best home neurofeedback devices:
Muse is a comfortable headband designed for neurofeedback training at home. It features EEG sensors to record brain activity, but also measures heart and breathing rate to give you a more complete analysis.
It’s designed to help you meditate by providing audio feedback, playing sounds of nice peaceful weather when you’re calm, and stormy weather when you lose focus. It can also be worn as you sleep to measure your sleeping patterns.
It connects to your smartphone where using their app you can find a detailed analysis of your brainwaves. You can also unlock over 500 guided meditations with a premium subscription.
To help you on your meditative journey, the headband Muse can also integrate with the Myndlyft platform, which includes an extra electrode and calls with a professional neurofeedback coach for more personalized care. You can start with the Muse and upgrade down the line if you want more systematic training.
$400 USD for the device only, or $420 for the device coupled with a one-year premium subscription. The subscription becomes $50 per year or $13 per month after that.
The BrainTap headset is designed to be an immersive experience, with headphones for surround sound and an LED visor for pulsing visualizations. It’s aimed at helping everything from insomnia to stress and weight loss.
The multimodal approach means you can couple neurofeedback with brainwave entrainment, which is a special method of getting your brainwaves to synchronize with an external stimulus.
In BrainTap’s case, you can use light therapy and binaural beats or isochronic tones of different frequencies, which generate similar patterns of brainwaves.
You can use the app via Bluetooth with regular headphones if you don’t want to splash out for the BrainTap headset, but you will miss out on the added impact of the visual therapy.
$797 for the device and a one-year subscription, $647 for the device alone, and $15 per month thereafter for the annual subscription.
Neurosity Crown is a sleek black headset that comes with 8 sensors to pick up on your brain’s electrical signals, as well as 2 haptic motors and an accelerometer for motion detection.
It’s specifically aimed at increasing your productivity and focus, which it does with the help of custom music. By increasing gamma brainwaves it shifts you into a state of flow faster—claiming that the average time shrinks from 25+ minutes to 5.
Neurosity also has an app to keep track of your brainwave activity and offer insights like a ‘focus score’. The device also has an onboard processor and storage to help analyze data quickly.
You can integrate the Crown with Divergence, a neurofeedback training project that can offer more personalized programs and a professional coach.
Buy the device outright for $999, or join for $99 per month to get a device with other benefits like free upgrades, electrode replacements, and a travel case. If you decide to buy the device from the subscription, you will get a discount based on how long you’ve been a member.
BrainBit offers both a full headset named ‘Flex’ and a headband, each with 4 EEG sensors to record activity from the brain regions above each ear and at the back of the head.
Like Muse, the headband is comfortable enough that can be worn as you sleep, but is also designed to help with meditation and focus for daytime activities like esports.
Where BrainBit really distinguishes itself is the versatility of the device and platform.
For starters, they offer white labelling, meaning you can repackage the devices under your own brand and become an entrepreneur in the neurofeedback business yourself.
But they also offer several toolkits for software developers who want to build their own applications with the raw EEG data.
As with the Neurosity Crown, you can integrate BrainBit with the Divergence platform to take the analysis and personalized treatment to the next level.
The headband with the software development kit costs $499 USD, the Flex headset costs $750.
Still in development, Sens.ai is looking to become one of the best devices for neurofeedback training at home. It will measure both your brainwaves and your heart rate for more comprehensive feedback.
It will measure everything from how long you spend in a flow state, how coherent your brain and heart are, and the phase relationship between the front and back areas of your brain.
You can engage in two different types of training sessions—stand-alone 20-minute programs, or missions that offer a more personalized, structured course that takes around 8 – 12 weeks to complete.
The sessions involve both audio and light components that adapt to your brainwaves and heart rate to help guide your mind towards an ideal state.
At $1,195 it is one of the most expensive devices on the list. It’s been delayed nearly a year, though they are now expecting to ship in July 2023. Even so, quantities are likely to be limited which could mean you’re waiting for longer.
Flowtime is a lightweight headband designed mainly to be used during meditation. It’s a more affordable version of Muse and has improved with the release of the second generation.
The headband is installed with two brainwave sensors as well as heart rate monitors, which can measure your heart rate variability, attention, relaxation, stress, time in a flow state, and breath coherence.
The app offers over 110 beginner-friendly lessons to help users understand the basics of meditation, as well as both guided and unguided meditations. You can also listen to your own meditations or music while Flowtime records data.
If you sign up for a subscription you’ll get even more premium guided meditations, though this isn’t required as you can use the headband with your own audio.
$188 USD will get you the device and a 3-month gift card to be applied towards membership. After that the membership costs $99 per year.
Stockholm-based Mendi was crowd-funded through Indiegogo and Kickstarter, and like Muse and BrainBit, it’s a comfy headband. Where Mendi sets itself apart is in how it measures your brainwave activity.
Rather than EEG sensors, Mendi uses optical sensors with their own proprietary technology called fNIRS (functional near-infrared spectroscopy), which detects changes in blood flow and oxygenation using near-infrared light.
The sensors pick up the activity in your prefrontal cortex, the area just behind your forehead. You use that activity to play games on the Mendi app, controlling the movement and trajectory of a ball on the screen.
The device costs $299, making it one of the more affordable options.
NeurOptimal is a full system, including either a laptop or tablet, sensors, earbuds, a paste for applying the sensors, a flash drive or Micro SD card, and a few cables among other things.
It’s not just a ‘home neurofeedback device’, it essentially turns your office space into a clinic. While the gear is more clunky than the other headsets and requires applying a gel, you get a medical-grade system.
During a NeurOptimal session you wear clips on your ears and two sensors on your head, as you watch a movie or listen to music. When your brain activity displays an “instability”, the movie or music will briefly pause, cueing your brain to adjust.
This a very expensive option—the tablet bundle starts at $7,495, while the laptop bundle costs $10,495. They include 3 months membership, but after that membership costs $89 per month or $995 a year.
FocusCalm is another headband, which was developed by Harvard’s Innovation Lab by a team of engineers and neuroscientists. It’s aimed at athletes and those looking to stay calm under pressure.
Through a selection of games and guided meditations, you’ll practice controlling your mind and attention, while the headband records your brain activity through EEG sensors and gives you a score representative of your calmness.
At $250, this is one of the more affordable devices, but you’ll need to grab a lifetime membership for $150, making the final price $400.
From MindPlace, the Kasina DeepVision doesn’t actually record brainwave activity, but it is something known as a ‘mind machine’ which seeks to generate brainwaves based on brainwave entrainment.
The system comes with earphones and a visor to produce both sound and light patterns. It comes with an MP3 player reminiscent of an iPod, where you can store your own music or listen to their soundscapes embedded with binaural beats and isochronic pulses.
The visor will map the music onto different light patterns, adjusting to the music you play. So you benefit from both auditory and visual entrainment, helping nudge your brainwaves more efficiently.
The whole bundle costs $399. This is more immersive than most of the other options, but as it doesn’t record brain activity you lose some of the detailed feedback and analysis present in other options.
What Does Your Brain Say?
In the emerging landscape of home neurofeedback devices, the products covered here offer the potential to understand and regulate your mental states, manage stress, enhance focus, and improve your overall well-being.
As with any new technology, there’s a learning curve involved, and the effectiveness of these tools will depend on your consistency and commitment—they will need to become a habit to get the best results.
Looking towards the future, the growth and innovation in this field is on an upward trend. We’re likely to see new devices that can peer further into the brain, offer deeper analyses of the activity, and do even more for our mental health, wellness, and cognitive performance.