Best Sound Machines of 2018
A sound machine provides calming sounds of nature to help you drift off to sleep with ease. Our shopping guide is here to help you find the best sound machine so you can fall asleep peacefully.
White, Pink, or Brown Noise: How to Find the Right Sound Machine for You
If outside traffic noise, the voices of your stay-up-late teens in the living room, or the loud television of your downstairs neighbor is keeping you awake, a sound machine could be your ticket to a good night's sleep.
Sound machines—sometimes called "white noise" machines—are programmed with a variety of sounds that not only muffle outside noise but also help you relax enough to drift off to the land of Nod.
You'll find a vast array of sound machines on the market, from very simple machines to those full of extras. How do you determine which one is best for you? That's where we come in. At BestReviews, we want to be your go-to source for buying information on all the products that make your life better. We never accept manufacturer perks or free products in exchange for a mention or good review. Instead, we do our own research, talk to experts in the field, and listen to feedback from consumers who own the items in question.
So, if you just want to buy a sound machine and get to sleep, go ahead and check out our three recommendations in the matrix above. They are all good choices that will block out unwanted sound and help soothe your busy mind. But if you'd like to learn more about sound machines and their various features, read on. We'll help you select the right model for your needs.
Why Does Sound Help You Sleep?
Turning on sound to help you sleep might seem counterintuitive. But actually, the reason sound machines work so well is their consistency.
Just because you are asleep doesn't mean your brain shuts down. Your ears are still taking in sound, and your brain is still processing those sounds. But what your brain reacts to most strongly is new or variable sensory information. You've probably experienced the phenomenon of "getting used to" a smell or sound that was quite noticeable at first. After a while, that smell or sound simply drops from your awareness. That's your brain in action; barraged by constant sensory input, it pays the most attention to anything new or sudden.
It's variable or sudden sounds that interrupt your sleep the most: snoring, car horns, barking dogs, television noise. Sound machines work because they produce consistent sound that loops over and over, thus masking the outside noises that draw your brain's attention.
Because we tend to associate natural sounds with relaxation, and because those natural sounds are generally even and repetitive, you'll typically find sound machines with settings for rain, waves, flowing rivers, birds, and similar peaceful tones. But just about any steady, repetitive sound without negative emotional association works well, which is why white noise is so effective.
What Is White Noise?
White noise might sound like a hiss, but actually, it's the sound of a consistent tone from every frequency the human ear can hear playing simultaneously at the same intensity. Unable to pick out individual sounds, your brain interprets white noise as a steady hiss. Television static is an example of white noise.
Pink noise is basically white noise, but the higher frequencies sound at a lesser intensity than the middle and lower frequencies. This gives it less of a hissing sound and more of a soothing sound. In fact, pink noise is common throughout the natural world. Think of the sound of steadily falling rain. That's pink noise.
Several small studies have found that pink noise is conducive to sound sleep. In fact, pink noise may help calm the human brain even more effectively than white noise.
Brown noise takes pink noise even further, with an even greater reduction of the higher frequencies. Brown noise is basically what you hear when you listen to the sound of waves crashing on the shore, a waterfall, or high winds.
Choosing the Right Sound Machine
All sound machines perform the same basic function: They produce sound that helps you relax while muffling background noise. You may choose to use a sound machine when you sleep or when you practice meditation or other peaceful pursuits. But when it comes to choosing the sound machine you'd like best, there are a variety of features to consider.
This is probably the biggest area of distinction among sound machine models. You'll find some true white-noise machines that produce nothing but white noise, but the majority of sound machines have a varied selection of sounds from which to choose. Depending on the sound machine you select, you might have as few as three or as many as 20 sounds to choose from.
The sounds offered typically include rainfall, waves, birds, stream or waterfall, thunderstorm, and similar nature themes. Many sound machines also offer a white-noise setting.
More Complex Sounds
Some sound machines, typically the higher-end models, offer sound choices that are more complex than simple rainfall or wind. These machines tend to have soundscapes that evoke a particular setting, such as meadow, forest, lake, summer night, or park. Some also let you choose from gentle musical settings, including guitar, flute, or Asian-inspired meditation music.
Pink or Brown Noise
Most sound machines have a white-noise setting, but some go further with pink or brown noise, both of which are more soothing to many people.
It isn't relaxing to listen to distorted, fake, or muffled nature sounds. A good sound machine offers clear, high-fidelity sound. If you're debating between a cheaper sound machine that receives few positive reviews about its sound quality and a pricier sound machine that receives rave reviews, we suggest you opt for the latter. Otherwise, the sound machine you end up with might not serve its purpose at all.
Length of Loop
Most sound machines play an audio track that repeats over and over again in a loop. If that loop is very short or not well-edited, it quickly becomes obvious that the sound is a looped track. Many people find that distracting or annoying.
You should be able to adjust the volume on your sound machine. If you can't, you may find the noise to be too loud to relax or too soft to hear. We advise against buying a sound machine that doesn't offer volume control.
No one wants to fumble around with their sound machine in the dark. Large, easy-to-press buttons make it simple to operate your sound machine, even when you're half-asleep.
Many sound machines emit a soft glow that functions as a night-light. If you prefer a totally dark bedroom, however, you should be able to switch the light off as needed. Make sure the sound machine you select offers this versatility.
Some sound machines serve double duty as an alarm clock. If your goal is to cut down on nightstand clutter, this could be a good option for you.
Most sound machines plug into the wall and run on electricity, but some have the option of running on battery power. A battery-operated sound machine is a great choice for travelers and babies who regularly attend daycare and need a bit of soothing during nap time.
Generally intended for children's rooms or nurseries, a sound machine with a projector may have the ability to project light, stars, or other shapes onto the ceiling or wall of the bedroom.
Most useful if you are running the device in a baby's room, a remote control lets you operate the sound machine from a distance.
The majority of sound machines cost between $20 and $50, but some fancier models can cost as much as $100.
Sound Machine FAQ
Q. Could I use a sound machine in my baby's room?
A. Yes. In fact, many sound machines are marketed toward parents hoping to keep their little ones sleeping through the night. These machines usually have a choice of nature sounds, but many also include baby-centric tones such as a heartbeat and gentle lullabies.
Q. Can I program my sound machine to turn off after a certain period of time, or must I let it run all night?
A. If you don't want your sound machine to run all night, opt for one with a timer. The timer will prompt the sound machine to shut itself off after a preset amount of time.
Q. I work the night shift, and I have a tough time sleeping during the day. Could a sound machine help?
A. Yes, a sound machine may help you gain better sleep during a time of day when most other people are awake. But because your situation is unique, you may wish to consider an adaptive sound machine. This type of machine self-adjusts its volume up or down as needed to mask outside noise. While such a "smart" feature probably isn't necessary for most people, you may find it incredibly useful as a person who needs to sleep during daylight hours.