Roberts Radio Pillow Talk speaker

About a month ago I bought a pillow speaker, a small, passive device designed to live underneath your pillow, so that you can listen to ambient noise and/or boring spoken word audio in bed without disturbing your sleeping partner. (Confusingly you can also buy a speaker pillow, such as this one, which is the same idea but with the speaker built into the pillow itself. I guess the sound quality might be better, but I decided against this because you can’t wash the pillow without destroying the speaker.)

The model I bought is the Pillow Talk from Roberts Radio. It's inexpensive – £15 plus postage – and well-reviewed. It connects to your audio source via 3.5mm jack. Crucially it does not have a battery or any power source so there is no danger of your pillow catching fire in the night.

It's an ugly, beige, teardrop-shared box with a couple of speaker grilles, on the top and at the fat end of the teardrop. Looks are not too important unless you have a transparent pillow or are bothered by the aesthetics of objects you can't see. The integrated cable is longer than you will ever need, which I appreciate.

You might expect that the audio quality can't possibly be any good when filtered through a thick layer of down, and you'd be right. I find I have to set the volume on my phone quite high to be able to hear voices, and even higher if I want to hear ambient audio, such as thunderstorms or the sound of the sea, in any more detail than a faint hiss. And what you hear is very sensitive to the position of your head relative to the pillow and the speaker. But it is possible to set it at a level which is audible without disturbing my wife too much, and listen to pleasant nonsense while I fall asleep.

There is a rocker switch on the side of the device with three positions, labelled A, B and C. The manual says to choose the position that gives the best audio quality but doesn't give any information about what the three positions actually mean. One review I read said that “there seemed to be no discernible difference between the three”, but I have found otherwise – particularly with lower-pitched voices, it is easier to make out the details in one position than the other two. I haven't carried out any particularly scientific experiments because bedtime is not really the time for that and I don't really care enough to experiment in waking hours, or to dismantle the housing to try to figure out if it is some EQ control, or switching between a series of different speakers, or something else.

As long as your audio quality expectations are appropriately managed, it’s good at what it does.

Thanks to the miracle of modern smartphone design, I also had to buy a dongle to allow me to plug both a 3.5mm audio connector and a USB C charging cable into my phone's sole USB C port. There is really no escaping this regardless of the speaker you buy: you don’t want a battery under your head while you sleep, so Bluetooth is not an option; and I don’t want to buy even more future e-waste to charge my phone wirelessly, so I couldn’t use the USB C to 3.5mm dongle that I already had.

I bought this JSAUX dongle. As long as you are careful to connect the USB C parts first, then the audio jack, it works fine. If you connect the audio cable to the dongle before connecting the dongle to the phone, it sometimes generates phantom volume control button presses, or fails to be recognised by the phone as a headphone adapter, causing you to wake up your partner when the audio blares out of the phone itself.