Best Sound Machines of 2018

Billy Bommer ·
Audio & Travel Writer
Updated
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We spent more than 30 hours researching and testing the best sound machines under $90 to safely and effectively help you sleep. The Avantek sound machine is our pick for the best overall sound machine because it has a diverse selection of white noise and nature sounds. It performed above average in our sound masking test, and we couldn’t hear any noticeable looping during our audio quality tests. It doesn’t run on batteries, but the compact and durable design make it a worthy travel companion.

Best Overall
Avantek Sound Machine
The Avantek Sound Machine has a great selection of high quality white noise and nature sounds. It’s twice as expensive as some of the budget-friendly sound machines we tested, but it’s built to last.
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Best Value
HoMedics Sound Spa SS-2000
The HoMedics Sound Spa costs less than $20 and has a good selection of sound profiles, including white noise. The compact design and optional battery operation also make it a good travel companion.
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Best White Noise Machine
LectroFan
The LectroFan only has white noise and fan sounds, but it was one of the best performers in our sound masking test. It is easy to operate and has a sleep timer.
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Product
Price
$37.99Amazon Marketplace
$49.95Amazon
$14.99Best Buy
$44.17Wal-Mart
$18.99Amazon Marketplace
$17.9Amazon
$79.98Wal-Mart
$69.95Amazon Marketplace
$24.99Groupon
$46.98Amazon Marketplace
OVERALL RATING
8.2
8.1
8
7.9
7.8
7.7
7.5
7.4
7
6.8
Sound
9
9.5
7.5
10
7.5
7
7.3
9
7.5
8.3
Settings
10
10
8
9
8
8.5
9
8.5
8
2.5
Design
4
14
6
6
6
6
10
6
4
4
Noise Masking
B
A
C+
A
C+
C+
B-
B+
C+
B
Sound Quality
A-
B+
B-
A
B-
C
C
B+
C+
A-
Volume (decibels)
40-99
49-95
40-97
45-95
50-96
47-95
45-95
41-97
42-94
68-84
Total Number of Sounds
20
20
6
12
6
10
12
10
6
2
Timer Duration (minutes)
1, 2, 4, 7 hours
60
15, 30, 60
30, 60, 90
15, 30, 60
60
30, 60, 90
30, 60, 90, 120
15, 30, 60
No Timer
Continuous Play
True
True
True
True
True
True
True
True
True
True
Headphone Output
False
False
False
False
False
False
True
True
False
False
LCD Screen
False
False
False
True
False
False
True
False
False
False
Battery Backup
0
0
4 AA
0
3 AA
4 AA
4 AA
0
0
0
Best Overall
The Avantek Sound Machine has 20 white noise and nature sounds, and the most adjustable range of volumes we tested. The buttons and case design are durable and compact, making it an appropriate choice if you want to travel with a sound machine.
Its noise masking capabilities aren’t quite on par with the most efficient sound masking machines we tested, but the Avantek is more cost effective. This sleep machine has six white noise options, six fan sounds and eight nature tones to choose from. There isn’t an LCD screen to see which sound and variation you are listening to, but it has a memory function that saves the last volume and tone setting you used. It also has a sleep timer for 1, 2, 4 or 7 hours, which is a longer timer than on the other sound machines we tested. The one-hour should be sufficiently brief, but we prefer sound machines with short timers as well. We tested the audio quality of each sound machine by intently listening for obvious loops in the sound profiles, and taking note of how realistic the nature sounds are. The Avantek sleep machine was one of the best performers in this test. The nature sounds don’t have any startling noises, and we couldn’t hear any obvious loops. It has 30 volume settings, so you should have no problem finding the perfect sound, and the perfect volume, to help you fall asleep.
Pros
  • Good selection of quality sounds
  • Compact and durable design
  • Great range of volumes
Cons
  • No headphone output
  • No battery backup
  • No short timer options
$37.99Amazon
Read the full review
Best Value
The HoMedics SoundSpa doesn’t have the noise masking capabilities of the best products we reviewed, but it’s less than $20 and has most of the important sound profiles. The compact design and optional battery operation also make it a good travel companion.
We have some concerns about the durability of this sleep machine compared to others we tested, but in this case the trade-off is value. We tested the sound masking abilities of sound machines by playing the white noise setting while a reviewer in the adjacent room made normal household noises. The white noise setting on the SoundSpa sounds like a soft television static, which is not obtrusive to fall asleep to, but our reviewers weren’t impressed with its ability to mask external noises. The other audio performance test we conducted was a sound quality test. For this test, we played all the available sounds to see how accurate they were and surveyed a panel of reviewers to assess if they could hear where the audio loop restarts. The SoundSpa’s soothing nature sounds were better than average, and the audio loops were more than 20 seconds long. More than half of our survey panel couldn’t hear any discernable audio looping. We weren’t impressed with its ability to mask external noises though.
Pros
  • Affordable
  • Portable
  • Good variety of sounds
Cons
  • Below average sound masking capabilities
  • Poor bass response
  • Not durable
$18.99Amazon
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Best White Noise Machine
This sound machine only has white noise and fan sounds, but there are a wide variety of tones within those two categories. The LectroFan was one the best performers in our sound masking test, which is the primary use for the white noise setting on a sound machine.
The compact and simple design is easy to operate and makes a good travel companion and have a hard time sleeping with traffic and other external noise. The loudest sounds in our sound masking test were from a blender and a vacuum. The LectroFan blocked those noises out better than any other sound machine we tested. It masked the high-pitch blender noise well enough that none of our reviewers could hear the initial shock of the blender turning on. Instead, they reported hearing it as a gradual increase as the blender ran after a few minutes. There are 10 different fan sounds and 10 different white noise sounds, so you should have no problem finding one that satisfies your particular preference. The downside of this sound machine is the lack of convenience features. It doesn’t have an LCD screen to show which sound profile you are using. It is also missing a headphone output, which can be an important feature for someone with a bedmate that doesn’t enjoy the sound of white noise. The one important feature it does have is a sleep timer. The timer is a useful feature for those who have trouble falling asleep, but prefer silence once they do.
Pros
  • Excellent noise masking
  • Wide variety of white noise and fan sounds
  • Portable
Cons
  • Only white noise and fan sounds
  • No battery backup
  • No headphone output
$49.95Amazon
Read the full review

Why Trust Us 

We spent more than 30 hours in our testing lab blasting the loudest household devices we could find while our reviewers relaxed behind a door listening to white noise machines to see if they could properly mask external noises. We purchased all ten sound machines from authorized retailers, to see what they look like and make sure they work as described right out of the box.

Our goal is to evaluate all the sound machines in hands-on tests that simulate the experiences of a typical consumer. Our sound masking and sound quality tests were conducted in a real-world scenario with real-world external noises, like a vacuum, blender and music playing through a stereo. The final grade for each product was assigned based on the cumulative scores contributed by our panel of evaluators.

I spoke to Dr. Michael Grandner, the Director of Sleep and Health Research at University of Arizona, about the potential advantages and disadvantages of using a sound machine to help you sleep. He suggests using more constant sound profiles, like white noise and fan sounds, and avoiding profiles that have high-pitched noises. “The more varied the sound, the more likely it will result in shallower sleep.” 

How We Tested 

We performed three audio attribute tests to help make recommendations: the sound masking test, sound quality test and minimum and maximum volume tests. We conducted the volume tests to make sure you can tailor the volume level to your preference. Products with the widest volume range received higher marks because they are more dynamic. We found that sound machines with built-in fans had less volume variation than those with speakers.

To test the sound masking capabilities of each product, we had our reviewers take one sound machine at a time into our test lab, while another reviewer created various noises, like a vacuum cleaner, blender or music playing on a stereo, in the adjacent room. The sound machines were all set to transmit white noise at 85 dB for this test, which is the proper audio setting and volume for masking external noise. The reviewers inside the test lab then recorded each occurrence and volume level of any outside noises they heard. Our final grades were issued based on how well each sound machine was able to mask those external noises.


We determined the sound quality grade by listening to the rainfall sound profile from every sound machine. The sound machines that only have white noise sound profiles were judged on the same criteria, but while listening to the available white noise profiles. Our survey panel judged the sound quality of each product based on realism, the softness or soothing quality of the profile and whether they could tell the sound profile was a loop. The best ones had realistic sounds that are soothing and audible looping was not noticeable.

Key Features to Look For When Buying a Sound Machine 

Sleep Timer
Sound machines are designed to help you fall asleep, but once you are asleep, sleep timers turn the sound off so you can sleep in silence. The best sound machines give you multiple timer options. Some have options ranging from 15 to 90 minutes, and the best machines we tested have timers that last up to 7 hours. We recommend using the continuous setting for masking noise, rather than allowing the machine to turn off while you’re asleep.

Headphone Output
When you plug headphones into sound machines that have this output selection, the speaker turns off. That is a helpful feature if you have a bedmate that doesn’t share the same need for calming noises. It can also be helpful for someone who works in a noisy environment and doesn’t want to bother other employees.

Battery Backup
All the sound machines we tested plug into a wall socket, but some use batteries as a secondary power source. Battery operation is handy if you want to travel with your sound machine, especially somewhere that doesn’t have a readily available wall socket, like a campground. Battery operation also keeps the sound machine running during a power outage.

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