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Best sound machines: white noise and soothing sound devices to help you sleep

Best Sound Machines: white noise and soothing sound devices

We spent more than 30 hours researching and testing the best sound machines under $90 to safely and effectively help you sleep. This nifty devices produce a range of soothing sounds and white noise, all to help you sleep better by either masking other noises that may be waking you up, or by lulling you into sleep faster. 

A high quality sound machine can be an effective tool in helping you sleep better more consistently, along with the best mattress for your particular postural needs or sleep style, and the best pillow for boosting your in-bed comfort and support.

The Avantek Sound Machine is our pick for the best sound machine 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 makes it a worthy travel companion.

Best sound machine right now

Avantek Sound Machine

Avantek Sound Machine

This is the best sound machine today

Good selection of quality sounds
Compact and durable design
Great range of volumes
No headphone output
No battery backup
No short timer options

The Avantek Sound Machine has 20 white noise and nature sounds, as well as the most adjustable range of volumes we tested. The buttons and case 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 one, two, four or seven hours, which is a longer timer than on the other sound machines we tested. One hour should be sufficiently brief, but we prefer sound machines with shorter 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.

Best value

HoMedics Sound Spa SS-2000

HoMedics Sound Spa SS-2000

A great value sound machine

Affordable
Portable
Good variety of sounds
Below-average sound masking capabilities
Poor bass response
Not durable

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 creates 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 isn't distracting, 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. 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 discernible audio looping. We weren’t impressed with its ability to mask external noises though.

Best White Noise machine

LectroFan

LectroFan

If you need white noise, this is the top pick

Excellent noise masking
Wide variety of white noise and fan sounds
Portable design
Makes white noise and fan sounds only
No battery backup
No headphone output

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 of 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 for those who have a hard time sleeping with traffic and other external noise.

The loudest noises in our sound masking test were from a blender and a vacuum. The LectroFan blocked those noises better than any other sound machine we tested. It masked the high-pitched blender noise well enough that none of our reviewers could hear the initial shock of the blender starting. 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 who 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.

Best for sound profiles

HoMedics Deep Sleep HDS-2000

HoMedics Deep Sleep HDS-2000

This pick offers a fantastic range of sound profiles

Natural and realistic sound profiles
Expensive

The HoMedics Deep Sleep has the most accurate and soothing sound profiles and its white noise tone produced the best results in our sound masking test.

It’s also the only sound machine we tested that comes with a remote control, which allows you to switch between the different sound profiles and control the volume without leaving the comfort of your bed.

This sound machine has 12 total sounds in three different categories: white noise, nature and water. The nature and water tones are calming, and change based on the volume you play them. For instance, if you play the thunderstorm profile at a loud volume, the thunder is the most prevalent sound, but as you turn the volume down, the rainfall comes to the forefront and the thunder fades to the background.

Best for travel and portability

Big Red Rooster BRRC107

Big Red Rooster BRRC107

If you want to take a sound machine away from home, this is the one

Inexpensive
Subpar noise masking

This sound machine costs less than $20 and runs on 3 AA batteries, making it a great option for traveling with a familiar sound to help you fall asleep in unfamiliar surroundings.

It has five nature sounds and a white noise profile. Its noise masking capabilities aren’t on par with the best sound machines we tested, but also we didn’t notice any obvious loops. It also comes with a power adapter if you have access to power outlet.

The sleep timer has 15, 30 or 60-minute intervals, and all the controls are clearly marked and easy to toggle from the top panel. The design isn’t as durable as some of the white noise machines we tested, but its low price makes it easy to toss in a carry-on bag or camping pack without feeling guilty about breaking it.

Why trust our sound machine reviews?

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 10 sound machines from authorized retailers to see what they look like and make sure they work as described right out of the box.

We evaluated 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 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 the 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 sound machines

We performed three audio tests to inform our research: a sound masking test, a sound quality test and a minimum and maximum volume test. We conducted the volume test 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 made 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 a 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 didn't have any audible looping.

Sleep Tracker Apps

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one-third of adults in the U.S. report getting less than the recommended amount of sleep. Insufficient sleep is linked to chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Sound machines offer a subtle, but effective, distraction from external noise, but it’s hard to tell how efficient your sleep schedule is. Here are some apps that track your sleep habits, and in some cases, wake you up at the optimal time.

Sleep Cycle
Sleep Cycle is a free app for iOS and Android devices that uses the accelerometer in your phone to record your sleep habits. You choose a window of time to wake up, and the app analyzes your sleep movement and triggers an alarm at the best possible time. The app's premium version costs $30 per year, and it provides data about long-term sleep trends and snore trends and includes a heart rate monitor. The developer’s website has real-time data about sleep patterns for users all around the world, in case you want to compare your sleep habits to people from Europe and Asia.

Pillow
This sleep tracker app is most effective when paired with an Apple Watch, but it also tracks and archives your sleep patterns with an iPhone or iPad. The free version includes a detailed sleep stage diagram with information about the length of REM, light sleep and deep sleep. Pillow also allows you to record sounds during sleep, so you can prove to your bedmate that he or she snores or exhibits signs of sleep apnea. The app's premium version has a $5 one-time fee and adds unlimited sleep history tracking, nap modes and personalized sleep tips.

Who Can Benefit From a White Noise Machine? 

Noisy Work Environment
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. 

Tinnitus Sufferers
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 does a Sound Machine 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.

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 slumber in silence. The best sound machines give you multiple timer options. Some have options ranging from 15 to 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.

Headphone Output
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.

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.

Sound Machine Mobile Apps 

There is a growing amount of scholarly research that recommends removing your phone from the bedside table. A phone-free night time routine removes a constant distraction, which in turn leads to falling asleep faster and staying asleep longer. The sound machines we tested allow you to distract your brain with white noise and nature sound profiles. However, there are situations where you need a more portable solution. White noise apps, in conjunction with headphones, a Bluetooth speaker or the built-in speaker on your phone can also help you fall asleep.  

White Noise Lite
White Noise Lite by TM Soft has 40 sound profiles, including nature sounds and a variety of noise profiles. You can also use this app to record customized sound profiles if you enjoy the sound of a city park near your home. The paid version has more alarm settings and full stereo sound, but you still get access to the free downloadable sounds from a seemingly endless library with the Lite version. White Noise Lite is available for Android, Apple and Amazon Alexa-enabled smart speakers.

Rain Rain
Rain Rain is a free app available for iOS, Android and Amazon devices. It has more than 25 nature sound profiles, including rain, cat purring and thunderstorms. You can even mix profiles to create a custom soothing sound. There are pre-built custom profiles, like the beach bonfire that mixes ocean waves with a crackling campfire sound. Rain Rain has a timer you can set for up to 25 hours and the pulsating effect gently fades the volume of the sound profile up and down. This app can also play in the background while you use your phone to play games or read emails on the bus.

Using a Smart Speaker as a Sound Machine

If you don’t take issue with an active listening device near your bed, one of the best smart speakers is a great way to play soothing nature sounds or noise profiles while you fall asleep. Each smart speaker manufacturer has an compatible music streaming service with sleepy sound profiles, or you can use a third-party service like Spotify.

Google Home
The Google Assistant plays noise and nature sounds without downloading a skill or using a music streaming service, but the list is limited to 15 sound profiles. That list covers the most popular profiles, including white noise, ocean sounds and an oscillating fan sound. Unfortunately, the Google smart speakers only play these sounds for a maximum of one hour, and there isn’t a way to set a sleep timer. You can broadcast longer sleep sounds from YouTube or Spotify, but that method requires using a smartphone.

Amazon Echo
Amazon’s smart speaker lineup doesn’t sound as good as the corresponding Google speakers, but the list of available music and audio Alexa skills is much more comprehensive. The Relaxing Sounds skill by Invoked Apps has more than 45 nature and noise profiles, including fan sounds, rain profiles and three colors of noise. Once you add the skill using the Alexa app, say, “Alexa, open Relaxing Sounds” and choose a sound profile. The speaker will loop the profile by default, or you ask Alexa to stop playing after a designated amount of time.

Amazon Echo Dot with Clock

(Image credit: Amazon)

Can White Noise damage your brain?  

A recent 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 recent 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 percent.” 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. 

White Noise as a Treatment for ADHD 

A recent study conducted by researchers at Stockholm University sought to find out if students with attention disorders could benefit from white noise. The researchers concluded that “exposure to white noise resulted in a task improvement that was larger than the one with stimulant medication.” Dr. Soderlund also points out that students who were treated with ADHD medication showed no signs of improved test scores, which leads him to conclude that using auditory noise, like white noise, is a possible non-pharmacological treatment for cognitive ADHD symptoms.

The researchers didn’t make any concrete assumptions about why white noise had a noticeable effect on inattentive children, but it is noted in the report that people with ADHD lack adequate dopamine levels. Dr. Soderlund speculates children with ADHD are easily distracted because of the reduced availability of dopamine, which results in fidgety behavior, like restless foot movements that “translates into a kind of neural-noise in the brain.” The introduction of white noise as an arousal and attention stimulus replaced that fidgety behavior in this study.

It’s worth noting that the students were listening to white noise at 78 decibels, which is about as loud as a vacuum and nearing the threshold of permanent hearing damage. Dr. Soderlund is currently experimenting with different volume levels, but he suggests ADHD students interested in trying white noise treatments wear headphones to reduce the distraction for other students.

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
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
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
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.