Struggling to get a decent night's sleep? Problems concentrating on work due to constant distractions? Trying to relax, but background noise ruining your chill? A white noise machine could provide the perfect solution.
White noise machines have been around for over half a century, but their popularity has soared in recent years, as a practical way to drown out the noisy distractions of modern day life, and allow everyone from babies to adults to eat, read, study, relax and sleep more peacefully (as you can see for yourself with a sleep tracker).
The basic idea behind a white noise machine, aka sound machine, is to emit a constant and consistent sound environment. This makes random and sudden bursts of noise, such as a car horn or people shouting in the street, less jarring and more manageable. And that allows our brains to better focus, relax or drift into a deep sleep, as well as aiding specific conditions such as tinnitus.
What is white noise?
White noise is produced by randomly generating noise across the entire sound spectrum, and sounds similar to radio static or an untuned TV. In fact not everyone find this sound relaxing, so many so-called 'white noise machines' also produce other sounds like pink noise and brown noise, which are similarly random but less harsh on the ears.
With pink noise, lower frequencies are louder than the higher frequencies, so it sounds less gentler, and more akin to leaves rustling. Brown noise, meanwhile, is even more low-frequency, so closer to something like rumbling thunder. Some models of white noise machine also offer other sounds considered soothing, such as ambient recordings of weather or wildlife.
Best white noise machine 2020: at a glance
Let’s face it, everyone’s different and so are the sound environments we find ourselves in. And until you start using a white noise machine, you’re not going to know which kind of noise works best for you. So we love that the LectroFan offers you 20 unique sounds to choose from.
These neatly divide into 10 fan sounds (including 'Industrial Fan', 'Circular Fan', 'Oscillating Fan' and so forth), along with 10 noise sounds, including white, pink, and brown noise. As you’d expect, the former 10 sound more mechanical, while the latter 10 are gentler and more ambient. Play around with the different options for a while, including the excellent volume control, and you’ll soon find the perfect sweet spot for you. Most importantly, you’ll find that all of these sounds are excellent at masking background noise, particularly conversation.
The controls on this device are very simple to use, even in a darkened room. And we particularly like how, as long as the power stays on, LectroFan will remember the last Noise and Fan setting that you made when changing modes. This lets you switch back and forth between your favourite Fan Sound and your favourite White Noise sound without any fuss.
This device can be powered via a USB cable or an AC power adapter (both included), and as long as it’s switched on, it will play continuously, unless you choose to set it on the 60-minute timer. It’s a shame that it can’t be powered by batteries, and there’s no headphone jack. But otherwise this reasonably priced device is a real winner.
Dohm is the O.G. of white noise machines. In 1962, its founder created the very first Marpac sound conditioner in his garage out of an aluminum dog bowl, as a way of combatting tinnitus and insomnia. Nearly 60 years on, the present-day version of its Classic White Noise Machine remains a global best-seller.
Rather than generating noise electronically, this device, which is powered by a standard AC adapter, uses a physical rotating fan set within an acoustic housing. This produces a rush of air that generates the soothing sound of wind.
Producing sound naturally, rather than via a digital file, obviously means there’s no chance of the sound repeating, as with the other models on this list. The fan has two speeds, plus there’s a tuning knob that lets you choose between a high and low pitched tone. And that's essentially your lot: this is pretty basic stuff. But for its many admirers, the sheer straightforwardness of this device is a positive, along with the fact that, quite simply, it ‘just works’.
White noise isn’t the only type of sound that people use to relax or go to sleep to. So if you’re looking for a device that supplies both white noise and other ambient sound recordings, we’d highly recommend this budget-friendly device.
Firstly, the range of different sounds is very impressive. Avantek’s White Noise Machine offers 20 digitally-produced sound recordings, including six variations of 'white noise' (including a deeper pink noise), six fan sounds and eight nature sounds: namely Ocean Waves, Rain, Wind, Stream, Birds, Campfire, Cricket and Clock. That’s a lot of variety, and while the recordings do repeat, there are no jarring edits to distract you unduly.
Secondly, the machine offers you a high level of control over how you use it. You can just let the device play continuously, or set the timer to switch off any time between one and seven hours. When you switch it on again, it automatically restores your previous volume, sound and timer settings. We also like that there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack, so you can privately listen to white noise in places where you don’t want to disturb others.
On the downside, while the devices can be powered via a USB cable (included) or a power adapter (not included), there’s no battery option. And of course, if you’re only looking for a white noise machine, and aren’t interested in other ambient sounds, then much of what’s on offer here will be irrelevant to your needs.
Another white noise machine/sound machine combo, this one is even cheaper than the Avantek, above.
The Big Red Rooster offers both white noise and six sleep sounds: Rain, Brook, Ocean, Thunder, Noise and Summer Night. Each of these sounds has its own big round button, so it couldn’t be any simpler to operate. You can let it play continuously, or set a timer to switch it off after 15, 30 or 60 minutes.
In terms of its white noise, it’s much more limited than the Avantek, with just one option. Also note that there’s no memory function, so if you’re sensitive to volume, then you’ll have to carefully reset it each time you use it.
On the plus side, the Big Red Rooster does offer the advantage of being powered via three AA batteries, as well as the standard AC plug, making it an excellent option for using while travelling or out-and-about. And broadly speaking, at such a low price this device offers very good value indeed.
Many people buy a white noise machine specifically to soothe their baby to sleep. If you're among them, we'd highly recommend Marpac Hushh for Baby.
The device offers three sound options which have been designed to contain less high-frequency content, making it soothing to infant ears. Bright White Noise is similar to the drone of an airplane; Deep White Noise is reminiscent of the whirring of a fan; while Gentle Surf echoes the soothing sound of crashing waves. Despite the titles, these are not technically white noise but all pink noise, which is much more suitable for infants.
Weighing less than 4oz (105g) and just 3.5in across, this little device is chargeable via the included micro-USB cable, and comes with a baby-safe clip so you can attach it to a pram or car seat while out and about. If you’re using it for bedtime, meanwhile, it’s been designed to operate all night on a single charge.
The interface is super-simple to use with one hand, which is a feature busy parents will appreciate. As is the child lock, which will prevent your little ones from messing up any of the settings.
As well as being a white noise machine, the Marpac Hushh doubles as a night light. The rays it emits are nicely subtle: providing just enough light to see by – during a nighttime feed, for example – without making your baby unnecessarily wakeful.
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