The best sound machines help you relax before bed by generating soothing nature sounds (think rainfall and ocean waves) or white noise to mask external noise disturbances, making them a great addition to your Sleep Awareness Week purchases. White noise sound machines are a little more specific and generate sounds such as the low hum of a desk fan. You program the machine to play a noise for as long as you want, whether you’re falling asleep, trying to relax, or you’re working from home and need help focusing. You can even buy white noise sound machines that create tinnitus-masking sounds similar to those used in apps for the best hearing aids. Clever, huh?
Most sound machines are simple to use and aren’t that expensive, but if you’re a light sleeper or someone who needs white noise to drift off, the best sound machines are worth experimenting with. For the most part they are small devices that sit on your bedside table or home office desk, so they don’t take up much room yet the sleep benefits of using one could be high. We have been using white noise sound machines for years and, with quite a few light sleepers on our team, we can honestly say that beyond getting the best mattress online and some great pillows for your body, a sound machine is an essential sleep product.
When choosing a good white noise sound machine for you, think about what types of noises you find relaxing – or irritating! There’s zero point buying the best sound machine for nature sounds when you focus, relax or sleep better to the sound of a whirring fan, right? And as for the brands to look out for, the top nature and white noise sound machines are made by the likes of Hatch and HoMedics, which also makes one of the best sunrise alarm clocks. Parents rave also about the sleep benefits of a sound machine, and you’ll find the most popular sound machine for babies below. For more soothing sleep sounds, also take a look at our guide to the best meditation apps.
The 10 best sound machines to buy now
1. Marpac Dohm Classic: Best sound machine overall
This straightforward mains-operated white-noise machine is also a true original, based on a design from way back in 1962. And in keeping with the era, the Dohm Classic Sound Machine offers an analog solution with the sound coming naturally from an internal fan (minus the blast of air), rather than relying on the digitally created sounds used by other devices.
The tone created by the fan can be adjusted by twisting the device. As simple as the premise is, the Dohm Classic Sound Machine offers a surprising variety of continuous smooth sound, and most people will find one that suits them. Meanwhile the adjustable volume reaches levels high enough to mask noises in larger hotel rooms for instance.
Even though this is the simplest sound machine on the list, we guarantee it will be enough to relax or mask annoying background noise. And, such is the belief in the Dohm Classic, that the company offers a 101-night trial so you can hear for yourself just how effective this device is. Truly the best sound machine you can buy right now.
2. HoMedics SoundSpa: Best portable sound machine
Sleeping away from the comfort of your own bedroom means it can often be difficult to get a good night’s sleep, with noisy hotels or unfamiliar surroundings making it tricky to rest. But using a sound machine provides an excellent way to mask sounds, offering soothing tones to help you stay relaxed.
Detroit-based family-run company HoMedics leads the way when it comes to wellness innovation, with its range of devices including essential oil diffusers, back massagers and foot-baths. And, needless to say, this best-selling sound machine also delivers.
The HoMedics SoundSpa Portable Sound Machine is a great lightweight travel option for traveling as well as for taking to the office, should you need to focus on the task in hand. It will also take batteries as well as mains power, giving full versatility for when you’re on the move. With just six natural sounds, there are only a handful of options on offer here, but it’s more than enough to help you or your little ones relax away from home.
3. Hatch Restore: Best sound machine with night light
We love this dual-purpose device designed by Hatch, a husband-and-wife team based in the US. The sleek shape of the Hatch Restore Sound Machine looks just the part on the bedside table, and the subtle light colors offer a soft glow that’s ideal if you want to read before bedtime. There is also a sunrise alarm that simulates the natural light cycle of dawn as you awaken.
The Hatch Restore Sound Machine Restore works with a free companion Hatch Sleep app (iOS, Android) so you can customize your sleep routine and set the hue of your light, as well as the sounds (which include white noise, rain, chimes and birds) to help you wind down at any time, day or night.
The company also makes the Hatch Rest with a design aimed at younger members of the family. This device enables parents to control sound and light settings via the app to make sure the little ones get a good night’s sleep.
4. Douni Sleep: Best sound machine for sleeping
The Douni Sleep Sound Machine has 24 soothing sounds on offer, and also looks the part with a stylish woodgrain-effect design that will suit most décors. The sounds include ocean waves and thunder, as well as lullabies and fetal tones to help younger members of the family settle at bedtime too. That means is the best sound machine if you want something that could help your child too.
There are also seven white noise settings to suit your mood. Other sounds include crickets, campfire and a pendulum. A timer can be set to run your chosen sound for up to 30, 60 or 90 minutes or you can also let it play continuously. The timer is also handy as a meditation aid or to help you focus on a work or creative task during the day.
There are plenty of positive reviews for this device on Amazon and YouTube, with satisfied customers expressing how effective the Douni is for insomnia and other sleep problems. The Sleep Sound Machine also includes USB charging and a headphone port.
5. Magicteam Sound: Best sound machine on a budget
This smart-looking sound machine has plenty to offer for its impressively low price. Whatever sounds you need to relax, sleep or mask noise, there will be something to cover it with 20 non-looping noise options that include ocean waves, birds, log fires, and rain.
The Magicteam Sound Machine also has a timer that sets the device to run up to five hours or continuously throughout the day or night. There is also a handy memory function that enables you to store the settings from the previous use. The option to store more settings would have been convenient, but for the affordable price this is only a minor complaint.
This device not only sounds good and looks good, but it is lightweight and portable too, and with the option of power by mains or USB, it’s a no-brainer when it comes to helping you relax for sleep.
6. LectroFan Evo: Best sound machine for white noise
White noise has a frequency range that encompasses 20 to 20,000hz and includes the sounds created by whirring fans, radio static and air-conditioning, in other words, the types of non-distracting background noise that is easy to tune out – ideal if you need to focus, relax or mask other sounds. White noise is also effective for helping babies get to sleep.
The LectroFan Evo has 10 different white-noise settings with a precise volume control to help you get exactly what you need for a peaceful environment. There are also other 10 fan noises available, as well as two natural additions of ‘ocean’ and ‘surf’.
This sound machine is rated highly by existing users on Amazon, with customers stating that the LectroFan Evo is ideal for apartment living, and for masking sounds from noisier neighbors. Other existing user reviews raved about the number of white-noise options on offer.
ASTI, the company who makes the LectroFan Evo, is no stranger when it comes to technology with an HQ based in Silicon Valley, and a mission of “adapting sound to improve lives”.
7. Reacher R2: Best sound machine for older children
The Reacher R2 Sound Machine combines sound with light to make bedtime, playtime or just relaxing extra-fun for older kids. There are 31 sounds to choose from including white, brown and pink noise, as well as seven different fan sounds, and 17 natural sounds, which include gentle waves, crickets, thunderstorms and heartbeats.
The light functionality is ideal for anxious sleepers, with an easy-to-operate dimmable night-light to hand. But the fun is in the color change – keep it on white or choose red, blue, yellow, pink, green, orange or purple, or set it to cycle through all the colors!
The sound and the light on the Reacher R2 noise generator can be set via a timer to turn off automatically in one, two or three hours, meaning your child can drift off to sleep naturally without the device running throughout the night. The best part of R2 is the variety of sounds and color on offer meaning there’s plenty of fun involved while still creating a relaxing atmosphere.
8. Big Red Rooster: Best sound machine with rain sounds
Different sounds affect the brain in different ways – loud sounds such as car alarms, can put the brain in a state of high alert, while natural sounds, such as flowing water are more calming because they are not perceived as a threat. These natural water sounds are also easier to ignore, while masking other more distracting sounds, even at louder volumes.
The Big Red Rooster Sound Machine might only have a small selection of sounds but they will have broad appeal with natural water sounds that include standard rain, gentle ocean, a pleasant brook (ideal for meditation), and a favorite with many – including us – thunder. There is also a white noise and ‘summer night’ option with crickets.
The Big Red Rooster Sound Machine is easy to use and has a minimalist design with clearly laid-out buttons on top. It is lightweight and small enough for travel, with power that comes courtesy of mains, USB or battery. There is also a sleep timer for 15, 30, 60 or constant play.
9. HoMedics SoundSpa Recharged: Best sound machine with alarm clock
HoMedics delivers again with theSoundSpa Recharged Sound Machine, with a built-in alarm clock to help you rest peacefully before waking up more refreshed. Choose from eight soothing relaxation and nature sounds, and play around with the adjustable timer to suit your sleep style. Meanwhile, set an alarm with the sounds, radio or beeps to wake you in the morning.
Sleek and stylish, this device won’t take up much room on your nightstand and it even comes with a holder for your smartphone, should you need to have it close to hand in your bedroom. As ever, when it comes to your wellness, HoMedics has your back, as the SoundSpa Recharged also includes a built-in indoor temperature sensor so you can guarantee your bedroom is the optimum temperature for a great night’s sleep.
What we really love about this device though is the cool time display, which can be projected onto any surface in your bedroom. Another option to consider for a gentle rise and shine is a device that simulates the sun to help you wake naturally.
10. Baby Shusher: Best sound machine for babies
It’s no secret that getting little ones to settle can be hard work, but natural shushing noises have proved to be effective for helping newborn babies calm down during a crying spell. Husband-and-wife team Chad and Katie Zunker devised the Baby Shusher with the concept of ‘rhythmic shushing’ in mind, after they realized how difficult it was to sustain the shushing themselves with their own newborn.
The Baby Shusher, which recreates a parent's 'shushing', is consistently touted as a ‘miracle worker’ by parents, and the best sound machine for babies. This award-winning, portable noise generator helps babies settle at home in the crib, when they're in the car, or out and about in the stroller.
The Baby Shusher is powered by two AA batteries and has two timer options for 15 to 30 minutes, as well as an adjustable volume. It's well made too, and exceeds safety standards by being BPA, latex, lead and phthalate-free.
Today's cheapest prices on the best sound machines
Best sound machines FAQ
What is a sound machine and how do sound machines work?
Sound machines are devices that output natural noises such as lapping waves, rustling trees or more mechanical sounds like fans, air-conditioning units and even washing machines and hairdryers. They also produce ‘white noise’, which has a frequency range of 20 to 20,000hz as heard in radio and TV static.
Many people are comforted by these sounds and they are particularly effective in helping babies and children settle. The machines provide a non-distracting consistent background noise to make other more intrusive noises less noticeable to you. This is ideal if you have a partner who snores, you live in a noisy neighborhood or are just easily distracted when you work. Sound machines are also effective when it comes to masking tinnitus and can provide instant relief.
Machines vary in style, with many offering more than 30 sounds to choose from, with the ability to adjust the volume and set timers too. They mainly play digitally recreated sounds, some of which are on a loop. However, devices such as the Dohm Classic use an internal fan to recreate the noise, without the need (or the temperature) of having an actual fan in the room.
Do sound machines help you sleep?
Many people use sound machines to help them and younger members of the family, including newborns, fall asleep. As well as providing a less distracting environment in the bedroom, sound machines are great as part of an evening bedtime ritual, with the sounds acting as a trigger for the brain to relax and fall asleep quicker. We cover relaxation before bedtime more in our feature looking at why is sleep important for humans.
Another huge benefit of sleep machines is that many are lightweight and portable, making them ideal for taking with you when you travel. This can be indispensable if you are sleeping in a noisy hotel.
If choosing a sound machine specifically to help with sleep, a timer can be a useful function as it will switch off the device automatically after a set period of time once you are asleep, this is particularly ideal for children. Some people prefer to have the sound machine on throughout the night, which is useful if you have a snoring sleep partner, noisy pets or live in a loud neighborhood.
The lack of interruptions in your sleep, will contribute to a more restful night’s sleep, which will improve your mood and brain functionality well into the following day. If sleep is affecting your wellbeing then why not also check out the best light therapy lamps, which are designed to help you function better and brighter, especially in the shorter winter months.
How long should you use a sound machine with a baby for?
Many parents and guardians rely on sound machines to help little ones settle and fall asleep quickly. But, bear in mind, that these devices might not work with every baby. It's recommended that the machines should be placed as far away from the crib as possible (at least 30cm away from the baby’s head) and at a volume that does not exceed 50db, a standard set in hospital nurseries.
50db is approximately the sound of ‘moderate rainfall’ (as a comparison, normal conversation is approximately 60db, while a quiet library is 40db). It's recommended to start off as quietly as possible until you find a volume that suits your child. Machines with timers are handy to switch the device off after a period of time, say 30 minutes, once the child has fallen asleep.
As for the tones, you might not get it right the first time, as it will vary from infant to infant, but ideally you are looking for steady tones at a lower pitch. As for how long to use the machine for, this will also vary. Some parents prefer to eventually ‘wean’ their child off them, as they worry about the child’s reliance on the sounds to get to sleep. Typically, parents will use them until their child is around 18 months, or before, if the child can learn to sleep fall asleep on their own.
Sound machines vs white noise machines: Is there a difference?
In a word, yes. White noise is the term for the sound produced by all frequencies from 20 to 20,000hz at the same amplitude. This includes the sound given off by fans, air conditioning or old-fashioned TV/radio static.
White noise is ideal for creating background noise to mask out other distracting sounds at bedtime or in noisy offices for instance. Play around with volume, distance (many people like to place the machine at the other end of the room) and duration until you find a combination that works for you.
Sound machines, on the other hand, also offer other types of noises, which are different to white noise. This includes ‘pink noise’, which is stronger at the lower frequencies and includes rustling leaves, and ‘brown noise’, which accentuates more at the very lowest frequencies and is particularly ideal for noisy environments. Brown noise includes sounds such as waterfalls and thunder.
Meanwhile, other sound machines may also include musical extras and nature sounds such as chirping birds and crickets too. As ever, see what works for you.
Who could benefit from a sound machine?
People working in noisy environments
Researchers from the University of British Columbia conducted scholarly research on the effects of noise masking with white noise machines in a noisy office environment. Their conclusion: “Masked noise subjects performed better than those in the unmasked condition on both complexity and a simple attention task.”
If you are having a hard time concentrating in a noisy office and want a sound machine with a white noise profile and headphone output, we recommend the Adaptive Sound Technologies Sound + Sleep. This sound machine is a simple, cost-effective way to mask noise and minimize distraction associated with audio sources like music and podcasts.
The American Tinnitus Association lists sound therapy as a masking and distraction solution for Tinnitus symptoms. There are multiple sound therapy options, including hearing aids and sound and sleep apps, but a traditional sound machine with a wide range of sound profiles is less invasive and easier to operate.
The ATA suggests that “The noise generated by sound machines can partially or fully mask a patient’s perception of tinnitus, providing relaxation and temporary respite from the condition.” Sound machines don’t cure the condition, but they significantly reduce the perceived ringing and help tinnitus sufferers fall asleep.
Irregular work schedule
Employees who work a rotating schedule or night shifts often have trouble aligning their body’s internal clock with external distractions. External stimuli, such as light and noise, send signals to the brain that trigger natural reactions like the release of sleep-inducing hormones and changes in body temperature and digestion.
A sound machine helps regulate your internal clock by masking external noises and allowing you to sleep for a full seven to eight hours during the day. We recommend sound machines with a continuous play feature if you need to mask external noises the entire time you sleep.
How much do the best sound machines cost?
The sound machines we tested range in price from $20 to $50. There are a wide range of free white noise apps available for smart phones, but you’d have to connect your phone to a $30 Bluetooth speaker to get the same volume range as the machines in our comparison. You can also use a sleep machine as a supplement or replacement for expensive sleep medications, which could save you hundreds of dollars annually.
Best sound machines: What to look for
Sound machines are designed to help you fall asleep, but once you are asleep, sleep timers turn the sound off so you can slumber in silence. The best sound machines give you multiple timer options. Some have options ranging from 15-90 minutes, and the best ones we tested have timers that last up to seven hours. We recommend using the continuous setting for masking noise, rather than allowing the machine to turn off while you’re asleep.
When you plug headphones into a sound machine that has this output selection, the speaker turns off. That is a helpful feature if you have a bedmate who 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.
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.
Is white noise damaging over time?
A study conducted by researchers from the Posit Science Corporation and University of California San Francisco addresses the long-term effects of white noise for people suffering from tinnitus. They concluded, “Noise exposure therapies offer a seductive short-term solution for relief but, in the long term, undermine the functional and structural integrity of the central auditory system and the brain more generally.”
Although the research suggests that long-term use of non-traumatic noises can impair hearing, we couldn’t find any evidence cited by the authors that white noise, specifically, is linked to negative effects for tinnitus sufferers. It is worth noting that the Posit Science Corporation markets an app called BrainHQ that the aforementioned researchers suggest as a potential treatment.
We found conflicting research conducted by scholars from two university medical centers in Germany. Their research focused on the differential effects of white noise in cognitive and perceptual tasks. Although the experiments were conducted on healthy patients instead of tinnitus sufferers, the conclusion was, “These results suggest that white noise has no general effect on cognitive functions.”
We also found a study of white noise effects on mice that suggests, “Exposure to white noise of moderate intensity for seven days … decreased the proportion of mice with tinnitus symptoms from 51% to 12%.” There isn’t much evidence that suggests white noise is a permanent or long-term solution for completely relieving the maddeningly annoying ringing associated with tinnitus, but there also isn’t any evidence that long-term exposure damages your brain.
Noise colors: What’s the difference?
During testing, we used the white noise setting on all the sound machines to see how well each product masks external noise. However, there are other colors in the noise spectrum that might be more soothing and effective at masking external noises in your environment.
White noise has an equal amount of all the audible frequencies, and the frequencies are transmitted randomly to create an unpredictable mixture of sound. Here are some other noise colors and how they differ from white noise.
Pink noise is one of the most popular noise colors on most online noise generators. It has a more robust bass profile than white noise and sounds less harsh because each octave has equal power. The ubiquitous shushing sound of pink noise is more like a rainstorm than the high-pitched hissing sound associated with white noise profiles.
Brown Noise doesn’t have an official definition on the federal telecommunications’ glossary of terms, but it is one of the most popular noise colors. It sounds like an intense, low-pitched wind storm and has a more pronounced bass sound than pink noise. The brown designation comes from the term “Brownian motion,” which describes the random movement of particles in liquid. Brown noise is a good option for those who need to mask low-frequency noises like the rumble of a train in the distance.
Blue Noise is the opposite of pink noise. This noise color profile concentrates most of the energy at the high end of the spectrum. It sounds like a hissing snake or spraying water and doesn’t have any bass tones. This high-pitched, shrill sound is mostly used as a treatment for tinnitus sufferers because it masks high frequencies well.
Looking for extra ways to make falling asleep easier? Learn how the best handheld massagers can relax your body for sleep, or how the best cooling mattress and bed toppers can reduce your chances of waking up due to feeling hot and stuffy.