A baby monitor is an ever-present, all-seeing guardian that you trust to relay your baby's condition and needs. A good baby monitor blends into the background while your child sleeps. Parents seek different things from these products. Some simply want to hear their dear one's cries. Others want a high-res, multi-angle, night vision, NSA spybot that lets them see their infant’s every blink and twitch.
Inspired by recent advances in wireless audio and video, today's market offers some terrific baby monitor options for parents. Dated devices still linger on the market, too, but these are buoyed only by familiarity and brand legacy. In this round-up, we look at five of the best-selling baby monitors that meet our baseline quality standards. We tested them side-by-side to discover which products deserve your money and trust.
We gathered our five products in the new home of the BestReviews audio/visual expert, who just happens to have recently gone through the process of buying a baby monitor himself.
In order to ensure consistent data collection, all “test” babies were synthetic. No babies whatsoever were disturbed, prodded, or poked for the purposes of this review.
Regardless of whether you prefer an audio-only monitor or a video system, audio quality is a top concern in this product category. After all, your baby communicates primarily through sound. As a parent, you quickly become fluent in the cadence and meaning of your child's screams and gurgles. Clarity, background noise, mic sensitivity, and speaker quality are all important considerations when choosing a baby monitor.
The best devices allow you to feel as though you're in the room with your child. The worst devices make it sound as though your baby is calling you from a broken payphone alongside a superhighway as traffic whizzes by.
All baby monitors consist of two pieces: a transmitter and a receiver. The transmitter captures images and/or sounds in the baby's room. Parents watch and/or listen to the receiver to keep tabs on the baby.
To test audio quality, we set up our test baby – a speaker box playing a loop of baby noises – in an isolated room of the house. We placed the monitor's transmitter on a table next to the test baby.
In another room, we stationed the receiver. Two feet from the receiver, we set up a professional-grade Zoom H4n field recorder to capture the results. By reviewing the recordings side by side, we were able to subjectively evaluate audio quality both during and after the tests.
We also looked at signal discretion. Some parents want to hear their child's every noise, gurgle, and coo; others prefer to receive alerts only when the child is clearly distressed. One parent told us that it's important that the “quietest volume setting is loud enough to hear and quiet enough to sleep with.” Another said, “I don't trust a monitor that automatically mutes, because then I can't trust that it's working.”
Many of the monitors we tested address the concept of signal discretion with an adjustable noise threshold, or “sensitivity” setting. The ideal monitor provides a solution that gives parents and caretakers control over when and how they receive alerts.
The promise of a video camera baby monitor is that you can virtually peek at your baby without physically entering the room. If shoddy camera or screen resolution renders your baby indistinguishable from his teddy bear, however, the point is moot. For this reason, we evaluated each video monitor's camera quality, display resolution, screen size, and night vision performance.
Some parents are dismissive of video monitors. One told us, "they invite too much obsessive watching." Others swear by them.
We tested signal range inside a two-bedroom, single-family home. All monitors were tested initially at 50 feet (the distance between the living room and furthest bedroom); this included one closed door and two interior walls with open doorways. For our second test, we walked from the backyard to a standalone garage to test the signal over 100 feet. In this scenario, three closed doors and five walls stood between the transmitter and receiver.
A panel of parents with whom we discussed these products confirmed that signal range is a key factor in selecting a baby monitor.
No parent wants a stranger listening to or watching their baby by intercepting the wireless signals from their baby monitors. The security site The Parallax evaluated the claims our five top baby monitors' manufacturers made about their products. A key quote: “Most of the monitors . . . make at least some security claims,” but, the story says, “None provide any sort of validation, third-party security assessment, or any other method of substantiating the validity of those security claims.” Read the detailed report at The Parallax: Is that wireless baby monitor really ‘hack-proof?’
None of the products in our top five use your home's WiFi networking signal, which is a good thing. WiFi-based monitors have been hacked, and there have been Web sites "dedicated to broadcasting video from exploited cameras, " according to The Parallax. The point-to-point communications methods used by the products we tested are less vulnerable to global hack attacks.
The best baby monitors are easy to install and set up. A half-asleep, semi-conscious person should be able to operate the device in the dark without problems.
We took into consideration the clarity of the included instructions and the helpfulness of any additional menus or settings on the unit. We wanted to know how easy it would be for an exhausted, sleep-deprived parent to use each baby monitor on our list.
The parents on our panel warned us to evaluate ease of use carefully, as even the most technically adept parents may have caregivers (nannies, grandparents) who don't intuitively understand fancy features.
In this review, we avoid arguing the merits of additional baby monitor features such as temperature readout, talk-back, night lights, and built-in music. That being said, we do note where some features work particularly well compared to others.
A baby monitor is an investment in your peace of mind. For some, the added expense of a video system is a necessary cost for sanity's sake. In this review, we don’t weigh in on the sensibility of video monitors versus less-expensive, audio-only systems. Parents have their own opinions on this matter. However, we do consider whether comparable products offer more or less value for the price.
Seth is editor of The Parallax, a cybersecurity and privacy news site for consumers. He has worked in online journalism since 1999, including an eight-year stint at CNET where he covered security, [read-more] privacy, and Google. Based in San Francisco, he also writes about connected technology and pop culture.
The Good: First-rate sound quality and range. Users can choose from a broad menu of notification options.
The Bad: Some owners complain about problems pairing the monitor and transmitter.
Bottom Line: An affordable audio monitor with plenty of positives and few negatives. The best deal for the lowest price.
VTech’s baby monitor is in a class of its own when it comes to sound quality. Gone are the brittle, overdriven, walkie-talkie characteristics typically associated with baby monitors. Using this unit feels like you're sharing an intimate, noise-free phone call with your infant.
VTech’s monitor also passed our range test with flying colors, making it 100 feet to the detached garage with no interference and no connection drops.
This product uses the DECT 6.0 cordless phone standard for wireless communication, which VTech says means that "only you" can hear your baby through the monitor. However, Harrington says in The Parallax's story that, "In theory, an attacker could register another handset to the Safe&Sound base and eavesdrop on the baby monitor."
Ironically, the VTech is also a great choice for parents who’d rather not listen to their child directly. With this product, you can receive an alert when noise is detected. The monitor features vibration and sound alerts which can be used together, separately, or turned off completely. (The sound alert is a relatively pleasant beep.) In addition, an array of five LEDs above the display provide an unmistakable visual indication of your wailing baby. (This would be an excellent monitor for caretakers who are hard of hearing.)
A few extras worth noting include a belt clip, a low-key night light that can be switched off, and a talk-back button on the side that allows you to communicate directly with your baby.
One feature we found only on the VTech was a large “page” button on the front of transmitter that triggers an audio alert on the receiver. The page button could feasibly be used to send a subtle signal to a partner that you need reinforcement or a trade-out.
Verified VTech buyers are overwhelmingly enthusiastic about its sound quality. Several point out that the unit’s paging and talk-back features make it ideal for elder care as well. Unfortunately, many negative reviews echo the complaint that, after a few months of use, the units become un-paired and unable to reconnect. A good portion of these owners successfully invoked VTech’s one-year warranty for replacement units, but it’s frustrating nonetheless.
The Good: Excellent sound quality and range. User-friendly features include temperature monitor and charging cradle.
The Bad: Monitor is difficult to read at certain angles. "Noise elimination" feature requires some fiddling. Only one receiver.
Bottom Line: A thoughtful audio monitor with a dependable range and quiet operation.
With “angel wing” switches and a “halo ring” night light, there’s no mistaking the Angelcare for anything other than a baby monitor. Despite the fact that it costs less than the Graco set we tested, the Angelcare bears many subtle and practical features that make it a superior choice.
The LCD screen displays the temperature of the nursery and a meter for detected noise. Unfortunately, the limited viewing angle of the screen can make it hard to see this information. The inclusion of a mute button that automatically unmutes after two minutes was a unique feature we found only on the Angelcare. Also unique was the receiver's convenient drop-in charging cradle. Tired parents will most certainly appreciate not having to fumble around with a charging cable in the middle of the night.
The Angelcare's sound output, though quiet overall, is above average in terms of both clarity and dynamic range. A sensitivity control on the back of the transmitter allows you to literally dial in the level of detail you’d like hear on the receiver. Set at its default middle position, background noise in your child’s room (sound machine, street sounds, and so on) doesn't typically make it through to your end. It’s as though your baby is politely on mute until she has something urgent to say. This may sound like a parent's dream, but the unnatural silence actually led us to double check that the unit was working correctly. You can minimize or increase this effect by fiddling with the sensitivity knob.
The Angelcare fared well on our range tests. Its sensitivity extended all the way to the back wall of our detached garage without a single hiccup. The unit uses two bands of digital transmission, both 900MHz and 2.4 GHz, the channels for which can be toggled easily on the receiver.
Angelcare does not address security in its product documentation. The Parallax respects that the company doesn't make claims it can't keep, but would prefer if security were at least addressed by the manufacturer.
Customer reviews of the Angelcare are overwhelmingly positive, with sound quality and range receiving high praise. On the negative side, the poor visibility of the Angelcare's LCD screen garners frequent complaints. Another common gripe, even in positive reviews, is that the manufacturer doesn't appear to offer a two-receiver package.
The Good: Reception is decent, especially under 100 feet. A helpful belt clip and vibration alert mode are included.
The Bad: Our testers experienced some problems with sound quality, dynamics, and range.
Bottom Line: A simple audio monitor designed for smaller homes, this unit is somewhat pricey when you consider its limited sound quality and range.
Graco is a trusted brand for baby-related products. If nothing else, this baby monitor would match the dozens of other Graco-branded items in your nursery.
This particular unit comes with one transmitter and one receiver, though it can be expanded to support multiple receivers. The transmitter draws power from the wall via an included power adapter or by way of three AAA batteries (not included). The receiver runs from a supplied rechargeable battery (included). This battery can be recharged by plugging the transmitter into the Graco's power adapter.
Around the edges of the receiver, you’ll see buttons for power, volume, and “vibe.” This last button is used to raise or lower the sensitivity of the Graco's vibration alert feature, which buzzes the unit much like a cell phone when your child makes a sound. When set low, even the slightest peep (or passing car) tends to trigger a vibration alert. At a high setting, only loud events trigger a vibration.
Here's one problem we had with the “vibe” button: when set on low, the feature acted only to provide an extra layer of buzzing over the already-annoying event of a child screaming. Your mileage may vary. For those who prefer it, the vibe alert can be turned off entirely.
Of the audio-only units tested, we found that the sound quality of the Graco left the most to be desired. It was tinny and brittle with an ever-present background noise.
The system had the range to reach from the closed bedroom to the family room (approximately 50 feet). However, the signal dropped out right at the edge of our maximum testing challenge of 100 feet (with multiple intervening doors and walls). The unit employs a digital transmission method that broadcasts in the relatively uncrowded 900MHz frequency band. But technology notwithstanding, it's best-suited for smaller homes.
Notably, this product is titled the "Graco Secure Coverage Baby Monitor. However, The Parallax notes that the company "does not back up its claims to provide 'secure digital technology for optimal clarity, performance, and privacy.'"
Buyers who praise the Graco frequently mention its simplicity and small, portable design. Even in positive online reviews, however, noise and sound quality are common complaints. We also noticed that many online reviewers found the brightness of the Graco's LED lights to be distracting at night.
The Good: A well-built audio-visual monitor with an appealing menu of user-friendly options.
The Bad: Audio and video quality are passable but not stellar. Wide-angle lens is not included with purchase.
Bottom Line: A solid, affordable video monitor solution with easy set-up an useful extras.
Like the Samsung video monitor we tested, the Infant Optics DXR-8 includes both a video camera and a tablet-like receiver. The components communicate directly with each other over the 2.4GHz radio frequency, allowing them to work out of the box with no networking set-up.
Unlike the Samsung BrightVIEW, the Infant Optics receiver doesn’t use a touch screen. Instead, it combines a 3.5-inch LCD with an array of physical buttons. In this way, it shares more features with your old iPod than your iPad. The screen is relatively bright, though the 320x240 resolution is a far cry from the HD displays seen in many of today’s smartphones and tablets.
A generous array of LEDs located to the left of the Infant Optic's screen act as a persistent noise monitor. These lights allow parents to “see” any noise that occurs in the child's room, even when the screen is in sleep mode. Because the screen automatically goes to sleep after five minutes of inactivity, the LED display is a necessary backup.
The audio quality of the Infant Optics is acceptable (and preferable to that of the Samsung), but it's still not great. No noticeable audio delay occurred between the transmitter and receiver during testing, which helped the Infant Optics avoid the echo chamber effect we noticed on the BrightVIEW.
Transmission range for both audio and video made it all the way out to our furthest test point – 100 feet – with five walls and three closed doors between the camera and receiver. A flip-up antenna on the back of the receiver is designed to help with range, but the unit performed fine around the house with the antenna down.
Infant Optics has grand claims about its product's security, claiming it is "100 percent secure." The company says, "We specialize only in non-WiFi baby monitors. Our products are hack-proof.” Unfortunately, according to The Parallax's story, "Nothing is 100 percent secure and hack-proof. That claim... will lull consumers into a false sense of security."
Video quality was adequate. Like the Samsung system, we suspect that the low resolution of the screen contributed to this more than the resolution of the camera itself. The night vision feature worked as advertised. The ability to swap out the standard lens for an optical zoom lens is a handy feature for situations in which you would need to mount the camera further away from the crib. We were curious to see what the wide-angle lens would look like, but it is sold separately.
The Infant Optics system is rated for 10 hours of battery life on standby (screen off, audio on) and six hours with the screen on. Charge time is seven hours.
The Infant Optics is an Amazon Best-Seller with thousands of buyer reviews to its credit. To our surprise, these reviews often praise the system for its superior video quality. A large portion of the negative comments made about this product pertain to its bulky charging cable and low-signal alarm noise. Notably, the company fixed this problem as of March 2015. We're impressed by the fact that company representatives have replied to nearly every legitimate complaint voiced on Amazon.
The Good: Five-inch touch screen. Rotating camera with night vision.
The Bad: Considering its higher cost, this audio-visual monitor includes a surprisingly outdated LCD tablet with sluggish touch screen technology. Broadcast range is also limited.
Bottom Line: Although this monitor offers a big screen and plentiful features, the overall package lags behind the competition.
We had high hopes for the pricey, name-brand Samsung BrightVIEW, but there are just too many drawbacks to ignore.
The BrightVIEW is comprised of a rotating, wall-mountable video camera and a rechargeable tablet receiver. The two components communicate with each other via a 2.4GHz radio frequency. This is the same frequency used by some WiFi network products, but the BrightVIEW's components connect to each other with no network set-up. Just pull them out of the box and they're ready to go.
The Achilles heel of this system is the tablet receiver. As a display, it uses an outdated 800x480 resolution LCD. This means that the HD-capable video camera advertised on the box is shackled to a much lower-definition display. As a controller, the sluggish touch screen interface is weighed down by an equally ancient screen technology typically seen only on off-brand ATM machines. Furthermore, as an audio receiver, the sound quality is the thinnest and most brittle of the bunch, made worse by an echo chamber-like delay in the system. If your baby yells, you're likely to hear it through the walls before you hear it on the monitor.
Samsung has thrown in a handful of features, though. Additional cameras can be paired with the system, allowing parents to monitor different views simultaneously via toggling, automatic rotation, or a grid view. This is a plus if you have more than one baby to monitor or want to see your child from multiple angles. The BrightVIEW's talk-back feature allows you to transmit your voice through a speaker in the security camera. And, if you wish to soothe your child from afar, any of five pre-programmed instrumental lullabies can be piped into your baby's room via the camera.
Unfortunately, the BrightVIEW's broadcast range falls behind the competition. It was able to pass our first test (50 feet) from the bedroom to the living room, but it only extended 80 feet in the harder test out to the detached garage.
Samsung makes an odd claim about security in its materials: "The Pure Digital Signal utilizes a 2.4GHz frequency to provide secure and interference-free rechargeable battery.“ Over at The Parallax, Harrington notes that, "This claim does not make sense. The [radio] frequency, battery, and security of the system are not related in this context.”
Satisfied owners praise the BrightVIEW monitor's superior screen size and video quality. Detractors unanimously agree that Samsung's touch screen responsivity is poor. Parents have also pointed out that the built-in lullaby music feeds back into the monitor in an unpleasant way. We noticed this quirk in our own lab tests as well.
We tested one popular video monitor system that uses your home's WiFi network. The inexpensive Creaker 366 HD is a WiFi security camera that's marketed as a baby monitor solution. However, we found set-up to be far more complicated than any of the other products we tested. Audio quality was poor and suffered from persistent system noise. With these and other marks against it, we’ve omitted the device from our comparisons and would not recommend it as a baby monitor solution.
If you want eyes and ears on your baby, the Infant Optics DXR-8 provides a solid plug-and-play solution at a good price. It delivers clear audio and video across your home with no noticeable latency or interference. Additional features such as interchangeable lenses, talk-back, LED volume meter, and temperature display help push it over the top. Buyers praise the DXR-8. One owner said the range was “really good, even outside the house and down by the pool.” And despite our criticisms regarding picture quality, the vast majority of customer reviews we’ve read on the product consistently praise its video clarity, especially when compared to others on the market.
When the best-sounding option is also the lowest in price, it’s a slam dunk. The crystal-clear fidelity of the VTech Safe & Sound DM221 stood out distinctly from the other products we tested. This product offers a rich set of alert features. The transmission range was excellent, and the built-in belt clip made it a breeze to carry around. Owners express similar sentiments. One in particular appreciated how the vibrate alert is “awesome if you’re doing something loud (vacuuming or working in the garage).” Another owner commended the monitor’s unique sensitivity for being able to “filter out the white noise and still detect when my child is crying.”