Few people have heard of it, yet many consider John Blankenbaker's KENBAK-1 to be the first commercial personal computer.

Koss introduced these headphones over 40 years ago, and they remain affordable favorites to this day.

Somnus 5 Sleep System Mystery


There was a time in the late 70's when my parents joined the health food craze that was spreading across the U.S. Not only was the pantry stocked with unusual food (I distinctly remember canned celery that was preserved in some kind of seawater – you'll never need Ipecac again), but the mail brought tons of catalogs with strange gadgets. The microchip revolution didn't just make computers and personal electronics possible, it also enabled crackpot pseudo-scientific devices that made outlandish and unverified claims.

Conx I don't know if the Somnus 5 falls into that particular category because so far I haven't figured out what in the heck it is. It's a “sleep system”, and my knowledge of Latin tells me that the “somn-” prefix is also sleep related. There is a single AC plug, and then two cords with Molex-type connectors on the end - all three have screw-type fuses. I'm purely guessing here - perhaps these led to speakers? This is “Somnus 5”, so I guess that Somnus 1 through 4 were keeping the developer up nights until he figured out number five here...

The bottom bears date stamps from 1980 and '81, and the rest looks typical of electronics of the era. The front panel is a piece of red plastic so you can sight the electronics inside. There is a clock/alarm/timer setup that's easy enough to figure out, as well as a “snooze” button that no sleepy person is ever going to be able find, but that's still not the mystery.

Knobs Six knobs on the right size of the cabinet are divided by “Pulse Control” (complete with blinking LED) and “Pulsewave Design”.  “Design” has knobs for frequency, contrast, symmetry, and interval. “Pulsewave Control” has two knobs to control frequency and intensity. Sounds like the edit controls on a synthesizer, and I'm guessing that the sound you create is what the countdown timer is for. Do these controls let you manipulate white noise or maybe a sine wave? The timer gives you an hour of operation – perhaps the custom sound you create is supposed to help you fall asleep?

I haven't been able to coax any sound out of the unit, though I can get the little pulse control light to oscillate at different speeds, so I'm guessing that something is going on in there. I've got to imagine that this was part of a very spendy system with “special” speakers and everything. Of course we don't really have a Federal Board of Sleep that I know of, so these guys probably could have made whatever claims they wanted.  I don't know about you, but having a machine hissing at me next to my bed is unlikely to help me get a good night's sleep.


Anyone out there have any ideas what this could really be for?

Update: The mystery is solved thanks to our reader Kim Perry "My parents had this device. It was connected to their water bed mattress. The water bed had these round circular baffles and the pulse was supposed to help you get to sleep because of the rhythms of the pulse. Sorry if I'm not explaining it perfectly, but as soon as I saw this on the site I remembered my parent's bed." Thanks to Kim for even more proof that we have the best readers in the world.

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