Off the charts in terms of quality and featues. Constantly monitors ambient noise levels and automatically adjusts itself to the environment.
On the higher end of the pricing spectrum. An early product from Adaptive Sound Technologies
Popular with parents of infants. Additional sound cards are available.
Some repetitive loops. Several settings can be distracting. Batteries drain quickly.
Powerful noise blocking. Suitable for larger spaces.
No pre-recorded nature simulations.
Constant, unobtrusive fan sound. Frequently used in office settings. No audio loops.
No pre-recorded sounds.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
For individuals who use them, sound machines are invaluable. The right model can help you fall asleep, block out distracting sounds, ignite your creativity, or even help with tinnitus. Finding which is right for you greatly depends on your needs, but there are a number of desirable features that all the best models have.
If you just want to sleep, a unit with a real fan inside that can produce natural background noise might be all that you need. However, if you will be using your sound machine to help you work, a wide variety of sounds such as rainstorms and ocean waves that you can remix into endless non-repetitive soundscapes is the best option.
We've listed some incredible sound machines and are confident that anyone would be a great choice. However, if you're new to sound machines and are curious about what they offer, read on.
If you're not yet well-versed in sound machines, let's learn more about what they're for and some of the reasons why users love them.
Sound machines either emit noise (white noise, brown noise, or pink noise, etc.) or a range of relaxing recorded sounds such as a rainforest or crackling fire – or both.
Some sound machines emit recorded sounds, whereas others have a real fan inside to create a natural sound. Notably, sound machines with a fan will only produce white noise and other colors of noise.
Some sound machines are adept at masking other noises, such as the sounds of a construction site or heavy traffic.
Many people find that sound machines – especially those that produce white noise – can help them fall asleep faster.
Sound machines can help office workers concentrate, as they can help block out chatter from neighboring cubicles.
Certain sounds may help with meditation and/or simple relaxation. If you often find yourself stressed or tense, a noise machine could benefit you.
The Ecotones Sound + Sleep Machine offers basic sounds like "Rainfall," "Ocean Waves," and "Meadows." It also includes tracks such as "Train," "City," "Meditation," and "Fireplace," all of which are conducive to sleep. One important consideration with any sound machine's library is the length of track recordings, as frequent repetition can disturb the user. The Sound + Sleep Machine uses longer natural recordings and has the ability to mix those individual sounds "on the fly," eliminating the possibility of repetition. Enhancements such as distant music or chirping insects are added organically, not as part of a sound loop.
Ease of use is especially important for less tech-savvy folks who might be put off by a sound machine that takes too much time and effort to learn how to operate.
Some sound machines have a timer so you can control how long it will run before automatically switching off.
This is particularly useful for people who run their sound machine at bedtime but might be disrupted in the night if the machine were to play continuously.
One of the most important features of a sound machine is the selection of sounds it offers.
Some sound machines produce white noise and other colors of noise only, whereas others focus on a range of noises from birdsong to rainfall to ocean waves and more in between. There are also sound machines that produce both.
There's no right or wrong choice here. You can base your sound selection on the types of sounds that you prefer. If in doubt, opt for a sound machine that can produce both colored noise and nature sounds.
Sound machines play natural recordings or digitally produced sounds, but the way they do this differs between models.
The best units tend to have long recordings, along with the ability to mix different tracks and add background noises. In this way, the track is unique all the way through.
Basic sound machines, however, use looping to create a long track. They simply repeat, or "loop," the same recording over and over again. Depending on the length of the recording, this can end up sounding repetitive.
The Marpac DOHM-DS uses a real fan to generate different frequencies of white, brown, and pink noise. This fan blade is asymmetrical, which allows the two-speed motor and adjustable housing to create numerous fan sounds at any desired pitch and volume. Because it's strictly a fan sound/white noise generator, it does not contain the pre-recorded nature sounds found on some other sound machines. However, it does provide an authentic analog fan sound that works in real time. Other sound machines with digital fan sounds and white noise settings can develop unpleasant audio loops, but the Marpac's background sounds remain constant and unobtrusive.
Look for a sound machine that's easy to use. Some have buttons on the body of the machine for each sound offered; others have a digital screen where you scroll through the different noises available.
Some configurations might be easy to use for one person but tricky for another, so we advise potential buyers to stick to their own comfort zone.
There's no point buying a sound machine you’ll never use because it's too tricky to select the sounds you want.
While some sound machines are designed to provide a background noise only, others are intended to mask ambient noise in the vicinity. Decide whether you do or don't need noise masking, and choose a sound machine accordingly.
Decide whether you want a sound machine that plugs into a power outlet, is powered by batteries, or has the option to run either way.
Some sound machines give you the option of purchasing extra sound cards featuring additional noises.
The Sound Oasis Sound Therapy System is designed primarily for "sound conditioning." This means that the unit will fill an otherwise quiet bedroom with enough ambient noise to create a peaceful atmosphere for sleeping, but it won't necessarily mask the sound of a construction crew or a noisy office machine. (However, some satisfied Sound Oasis owners do report success with extraneous noise masking.) Some users who suffer from tinnitus, a persistent ringing in the ears, report improvement after installing a sound conditioning system like the Sound Oasis.
The price of a sound machine depends on a number of factors, including the range of sounds it offers and the quality of the sounds produced. For instance, a sound machine with heavy looping will be cheaper than a sound machine with a long, unique track of sounds all the way through.
A basic sound machine producing white noise and nature sounds can cost as little as $20 to $40. In this price range, however, you will find feature-looping which can become annoying and repetitive.
A white noise machine featuring digitally produced or recorded colored noise typically costs between $20 and $50.
A white noise machine that produces natural white noise with the use of an internal fan costs roughly $30 to $50.
A high-end sound machine that uses long natural recordings and mixes in other sounds so you don't get loops and repetitions generally costs from $70 to $100.
The Conair Sound Therapy Machine’s dial volume control can get surprisingly loud for an appliance of its size, and it is capable of masking a fair range of typical ambient noises. The white noise and white noise-friendly sound channels ("Ocean Waves," "Running Stream," and "Waterfall") do the best job of noise-masking, though not necessarily at full volume. The unit does not adapt automatically to ambient noise levels, so users must make volume adjustments manually as needed.
If you intend to use your sound machine to fall asleep, a model with a timer would likely be beneficial.
Many tinnitus sufferers find sound machines help reduce or alleviate the ringing in their ears. Whether the noise brings about physiological changes in the hearing centers of the brain or simply provides a distraction is still debated by experts.
If you're sensitive to repetitive sounds, avoid a sound machine that uses obvious looping.
If you want to use your sound machine while you travel, a battery-powered option offers greater portability and convenience.
Some sound machines need to be placed outside the room you're in to mask ambient noise, but others can stay in the room as normal. Check the instruction manual of your chosen model for information about ideal placement.
Q. Should I choose a sound machine with a real fan inside?
A. If it's only white or other colored noise you want, you may prefer the natural sound of a real fan instead of a digital sound. Many users do. What's more, there's no looping, so you won't get an earful of annoying repetition.
Q. Are there any other features I should look for in a sound machine?
A. Some sound machines have added extras, such as an FM radio or alarm clock. However, we believe these features are unnecessary in most cases, and we wouldn't particularly seek them out – unless we liked the sound machine on its own merits, anyway.
Q. What kind of sounds do sound machines produce?
A. This depends on which model you opt for, but some popular sounds that seem to be featured on many machines include rainfall, bird sounds, rainforest, ocean waves, flowing river, thunderstorm, train, city, fireplace, and heartbeat.
That said, if you opt for a white noise machine over a more versatile sound machine, you'll only get white noise and other colors of noise rather than the above kinds of sounds.
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