The best sound machines for sleep work by generating a soothing sounds and white noise. Nature sounds are the most common, and include rain, thunder, ocean noise and bird song. You can buy sound machines for babies, kids and adults, and many double as white noise machines to mask the sound of others in a busy office. Sound machines can also help mask tinnitus to an extent.
White noise machines and nature sound machines are simple to use, and are usually mains powered, though some can also be battery powered (good for travel). HoMedics sound machines are among the best-known – HoMedics also makes some of the best sunrise alarm clocks – but the Marpac Dohm Classic is our top pick. It offers just one type of noise, which is unusual for a sound machine, but it’s very effective for sleep.
When choosing the best sound machine for sleep, think about which sounds relax you the most. After all, there’s zero point buying a pure white noise machine if you can’t stand the sound of fans. Next, think about functionality. Does your sound machine need to double as an alarm clock or night light?
You’ll find plenty of sound machines for babies too, as these are brilliant devices for helping little ones settle more easily. Experts recommend placing the machine at least 30cm from your baby, and starting off with a quiet volume. We’ve been using sound machines for years and, as light sleepers we can honestly say that aside from getting the best mattress online and some great pillows for sleeping, a sound machine is a true sleep essential.
The 10 best sound machines to buy now
1. Marpac Dohm Classic: Best sound machine for sleep overall
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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 rain sounds
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 décor. The sounds include rain, 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. The Douni Sleep Sound Machine has a headphone jack for private listening, plus a timer that can be set to play your chosen sound for 30-90 minutes. You could also let it play continuously.
The timer can also help you focus better during work. And if you haven't downloaded a meditation app, the timer plus a nature sound could also help you meditate.
There are plenty of positive reviews for this device on Amazon and YouTube, with satisfied customers expressing how effective the Douni is for easing insomnia and other sleep problems. However, we would recommend speaking with your doctor about sleep issues rather than relying on a gadget.
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 kids
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 them all.
Sound and light on the Reacher R2 can be set via a timer to turn off automatically in one, two or three hours. The best part of R2 is the variety of sounds and colors on offer, meaning there’s plenty of fun involved while still creating a relaxing atmosphere for sleep.
8. Big Red Rooster: Best sound machine for nature 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: 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 15-60 minutes, or you can let it play constantly.
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.
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Best sound machines FAQ
What is a sound machine and how do they work?
Sound machines are devices that output natural noises such as lapping waves, rustling trees, or mechanical sounds like fans, air con and hair dryers. 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 at helping babies to settle. Sound 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 you're distracted by the noise of others during work. Sound machines are also effective when it comes to masking tinnitus and can provide a degree of relief.
White noise machines vary in style, with many offering more than 30 sounds to choose from. They mainly play digitally recreated sounds, some of which are on a loop. However, sound machines like the Dohm Classic use an internal fan to recreate noise, without the need for 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 fall asleep. As well as providing a less distracting environment in the bedroom, white noise machines are great as part of an evening bedtime ritual. That's because the sounds act as a trigger for your brain to relax and fall asleep quicker. We cover relaxation before bed in our feature looking at why is sleep important for humans.
Another huge benefit of sleep machines is that they are portable, so you can pack one for travel and holidays. This is handy if you're sleeping in a hotel with potentially noisy guests.
When choosing a sound machine for sleep, a timer is useful as it will switch off the device automatically after a set period of time. Some people prefer to leave their white noise machine running throughout the night. Reasons include masking the sound of a snoring sleep, traffic on the road, or dogs barking outside.
A lack of interruptions to your sleep will contribute to a more restful night, which will improve your mood and brain functionality the following day. If broken sleep is affecting your mental health, check out our guide to the best light therapy lamps, designed to alleviate symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, including low mood.
How long should you use a sound machine with a baby for?
Many parents rely on sound machines to help little ones settle and fall asleep quickly. But these devices might not work with every baby. It's recommended that white noise machines should be placed as far away from the crib as possible (at least 30cm away from baby’s head) and played at a volume that does not exceed 50db. This is the standard set in hospital nurseries.
50db is approximately the sound of ‘moderate rainfall’ (as a comparison, normal conversation is approximately 60db). Start off as quietly as possible until you find a volume that suits your baby. Sound machines with timers are handy, as you can set them to automatically switch off after a specific period of time.
Typically, parents might use a white noise machine until their child is around 18 months, or when the child has learned to sleep fall asleep on their own. Every baby is different though, so this is just general guidance.
Sound machines vs white noise machines: Is there a difference?
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 produced by fans, air con, or old-fashioned TV and radio static.
White noise is ideal for creating background noise to mask other distracting sounds at bedtime or in noisy offices. Play around with volume, distance and duration until you find a combination that works for you.
Sound machines offer other types of noises in addition to white noise. This includes ‘pink noise’, which is stronger at the lower frequencies and includes rustling leaves. Sound machines also produce ‘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. The very best sound machines also include musical extras and nature sounds, such as chirping birds and crickets.
Who would benefit from a sound machine?
People working in noisy environments
Researchers from the University of British Columbia conducted 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.”
The American Tinnitus Association lists sound therapy as a "masking and distraction solution for Tinnitus symptoms". There are multiple sound therapy options, including 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 people with tinnitus fall asleep easier.
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.
A sound machine can help regulate your internal clock by masking external noises. We recommend sound machines with a continuous play feature if you need to mask external noises the entire time you sleep.
Best sound machines: What to look for
Sound machines are designed to help you fall asleep, but once you are asleep, timers automatically turn the sound off after a period of time. The best sound machines give you multiple timer options.
Some have options ranging from 15-90 minutes, but some 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, otherwise you may wake up again.
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 for periods of travel use, especially somewhere that doesn’t have an available wall socket, like a campsite.
Looking for more sleep content? 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 or uncomfortable.