It might sound counterproductive to cope with noise by replacing it with, well, more noise.
But playing white noise of your choice can be an effective way to mask disruptive sounds that intrude on your peace and quiet.
I regularly test new white noise machines to see how they compare to the rest. And in this review, I’ll be recommending the ones that have most impressed me.
And since space on a nightstand or office desk is sometimes in short supply, I’ve taken photos of each one around my house to give you an idea of their sizes.
- Research into white noise and sleep
- Using white noise machines safely
- What sleep experts and manufacturers say about white noise
Best white noise machine overall
The latest version of the LectroFan – the LectroFan Evo – was released in 2018. The original was number one in my list for many years. And it’s also long been the top choice of many other reviewers.
The Evo has a couple of excellent additions that focus on usability. The most notable is that it has a headphone jack. After all, not everyone wants to listen to their partner’s white noise in bed.
It also increased the range of auto-off timers from just one hour to incremental hours from one to eight. And you still have the option of continuous play if you prefer.
Finally, they split the white noise and fan sounds into 2 buttons, so you don’t have to cycle through all 22 to find your favorite. Details like these make me think the manufacturer has tried to respond to the user’s needs.
Like the previous model, the Evo excels where pure white noise and fan sounds are concerned. There are 10 of each, so you have everything from deeply relaxing brown noise to standard white noise that will block out all but the loudest of unwanted noise.
They also added an ocean and surf sound, but in my opinion, are not as authentic as recordings. They do provide some variety, but fall short of matching the quality of the Avantek’s nature sounds (see below).
- Headphone jack for personal use.
- 20 white noise and fan variations, including deeper brown and pink noise.
- Dynamically generated sound with no looping or breaks.
- Excellent speaker and volume range – it’s the loudest sound machine.
- Compact design that can be easily transported.
- Auto-off timers from one to eight hours.
- Can be used with AC or USB powered, and includes a long cable.
- Only two nature sounds, which are not as realistic as real-life recordings.
- No internal rechargeable battery, so it needs to remain plugged in.
Overall, the LectroFan Evo is my recommended white noise machine if you’re purely interested in white noise and fan sounds. If you’d like ocean, bird and river sounds etc, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
The addition of a headphone jack and an extended range of auto-off timers in this latest model are welcome features, making it even more versatile than before. On a final note, if having the loudest possible volume is your priority, especially for daytime use, the Evo is the one for you.
Best for nature sounds
The latest version of the Avantek shows that the manufacturer has listened to criticism and done a lot to improve the design.
As well as looking and feeling like a sleek modern device, there are two major improvements that I really like about it. Firstly, it has a headphone jack, so you can listen to it privately without disturbing anyone around you.
Secondly, it has an internal rechargeable battery that allows you to use it for 10 hours without needing to be plugged into the wall or USB port.
There are other machines that have one of those two features, but none that I know of that has both.
And then there’s the enormous choice of sounds. The previous version had 20, while this one has a whopping 30 – the most of any white noise machine. There are 6 white noise, 6 fan sounds and 18 nature and ambient sounds.
As with the older model, there are white noise and fan sounds to cater to every preference. Whether you like deep brown noise and industrial fans, or more intense white noise, you can find a setting that both sounds good to you and importantly, blocks out external noise.
Personally, I thought the nature recordings are all excellent. There are too many to list here, but I like that they give multiple options for some. For example, the ocean with or without added birds. And some of the new additions like bubbling water and echoing frogs are a delight to listen to.
- 3.5 mm headphone jack
- Rechargeable 10-hour internal battery, standard plug or USB powered
- Huge range of sounds – 6 white noise, 6 fan, and 18 ambient/nature sounds
- Auto-off timer from 1 to 7 hours or continuous play
- Great speaker quality, with seamless recordings that sound authentic
- Compact portable size: 4 x 4 x 2 inches
- 30 volume levels, up to a very loud 115 decibels
- 18-month warranty
- So many sounds, it takes time to cycle through them
- No visual display
- Difficult to find the right buttons and settings in the dark as they are subtle touch buttons
The rechargeable Avantek is an excellent sound machine if you’re a fan of nature recordings, and like to have plenty of
My biggest concern is that it’s perhaps not so user-friendly in the nighttime, as the buttons aren’t so clear if you’re fumbling in the dark. But for daytime use, or to just set once at night and leave on while you sleep, it’s a great option.
30 sound variations, responsive volume, and headphone jack
If you like your gadgets to looks shiny and have plenty of features, the Sound+Sleep is one to consider.
It has 10 starting recordings, but then goes a step further with two variations or richness settings per sound.
So if you’ve had enough of the bright white noise, you can try deeper pink or brown. And if the ocean sound is too plain, you can add birds, seals or even foghorns.
The second feature unique to this machine is the adaptive sound. If the noise in your environment increases, the volume also does if you have it on that setting. It’s a genius idea, and works surprisingly well.
It’s also worth noting that it has a useful headphones jack. So if your partner needs silence to sleep, you can keep the ocean sound to yourself.
I also particularly like that the buttons are easier to use than the other machines. The volume is adjusted with a large dial, and the sounds are individually labeled. So unlike the other sound machines, you don’t have to continually push buttons to find the right sound and volume.
- Great variety of sounds – 30 in total.
- Richness settings to create more variety, such as adding birds to the ocean.
- Long 30 minute recordings so there’s no noticeable looping.
- Excellent speaker quality.
- Volume can adapt automatically to changes in external sounds.
- 30, 60, 90 and 120 minute auto-off timer options.
- All button lights can be switched off.
- Headphone jack for private listening.
- Modern and attractive design.
- Most expensive of the machines.
- Only works with a standard plug.
- Large size needs some space on the nightstand.
The Sound+Sleep machine has a rich variety of sounds, a couple of unique features, and that all-important headphone jack for nighttime listening.
So if you have space on your nightstand for a slightly larger machine, and want as much control over the nature sounds and white noise as possible, it’s one to consider.
Has an adjustable internal fan instead of recordings
The Marpac Dohm DS uses an internal fan to create the sound rather than playing recordings.
And fan sounds and simplicity are what it does best: there’s just one button, with three settings: off, and two different speeds.
The fan is housed inside what Marpac call an ‘acoustic casing’. Once the fan is running, you can manually rotate the two moving parts – the top and side panels – to adjust the sound and volume.
The resulting sound is one of rushing air that’s soft and pleasant to listen to. It sounds like a cross between a fan and the comforting ‘shushing’ noise parents make.
It’s great that you can fine-tune the exact sound that comes out. The movable panels don’t move a huge amount, but with the tiniest adjustment, you can change the sound considerably.
My main criticism is that the maximum volume is still comparatively low. So if you need to mask loud external noise, it might not do the trick.
Secondly, it’s larger and heavier than the other machines. It takes up quite a lot of space on the bedside table and has a long lead that can’t be detached. So it’s not the most practical for travel.
- Creates authentic fan sounds with an internal fan.
- It’s relaxing and pleasant to listen to.
- Creates a constant sound that doesn’t change, loop or break.
- You can fine-tune it to create the exact sound you like.
- Feels solid and made from quality materials.
- Easy to use.
- One year factory warranty.
- No white noise or nature sounds.
- The maximum volume is low.
- It’s quite heavy compared to other machines.
- No battery or USB option – only works with the wired plug.
- No auto-off timer.
The Marpac Dohm DS will be a good option for some people, but not everyone. If you know you prefer fan sounds, you’ll probably enjoy the authentic and soothing sound it produces.
But if you’d prefer more variety, need it to mask loud external noise, or want a lightweight machine for traveling, it perhaps won’t be quite right.
Small and ideal for travel, with a rechargeable battery and Bluetooth speaker
The LectroFan Micro is a convenient device for travel, doubling as a white noise machine and Bluetooth speaker.
It has an internal rechargeable battery for wireless use. And it has a respectably long battery life when fully charged: 16 hours with white noise or six hours with Bluetooth audio.
It comes with five white noise and four fan sounds, as well as an ocean sound. Though the ocean sounds more like static white noise fading in and out.
I liked like most of the sounds, especially the deeper versions. And importantly, the maximum volume is loud enough to mask external noise.
Two points to bear in mind are the short cable and the fiddly buttons. It comes with a very short USB cable, so you do need to charge it before going to bed if you don’t have a USB plug nearby.
And it only has three tiny buttons, with the volume and sound choice sharing buttons. Hold to change the volume, and press to change track.
- 10 high-quality white noise and fan variations.
- Bluetooth speaker to play your own audio.
- Very small and lightweight.
- Rechargeable battery lasts the entire night.
- Good range of volume.
- The buttons are small.
- The volume and sound choice share the same button (hold or press).
- The USB charging cable is short.
The LectroFan Micro lives up to its name by being the most compact white noise machine I’ve used.
With high quality built-in white noise sounds, a decent Bluetooth speaker, and a rechargeable internal battery, it’s very versatile for its size.
If you have a problem with finger sensitivity, the buttons could be an obstacle. But otherwise, it’s great for travel, especially if you don’t have much space in your luggage.
Best low-cost white noise machine
The Big Red Rooster has six sounds to choose from, with just one white noise setting. It sounds like intense TV static, which will appeal to those who prefer higher frequency white noise.
The rain sound is good, as is the ocean. Though I would have called it lakeside rather than ocean, as it’s quite gentle. The brook also sounds nice, but is on a short loop if you listen out for it.
The thunder option is predominantly light rain with occasional thunder. And again, it’s on a relatively short loop of a few different thunderclaps.
I’m not sure why, but the summer night has a faint white noise in the background. I think the nature sound would have been pleasant enough on its own.
The plus side to the limited sounds is that they have their own buttons and label, so you can quickly select the sound you want. It’s also easy to find the large volume and auto-off timer buttons.
But the simplicity also applies to the overall build and speaker quality. The plastic casing feels flimsy, and it has a light speaker with an underwhelming maximum volume.
- Low cost.
- Easy to use, with individual big buttons for each sound.
- A couple of the nature sounds are pleasant to listen to.
- Has auto-off timers of 15, 30 and 60 minutes.
- Lightweight, so good for travel.
- Can be powered by USB plug, or with four AA batteries (not included) for wireless listening.
- A limited number of sounds.
- Some of the nature sounds are on a short loop.
- The maximum volume might not be enough to mask external noise.
- The plastic casing doesn’t feel robust.
If you’re on a budget, and just want a simple sound machine that’s easy to use, the Big Red Rooster is probably the best of the lower priced devices.
If you prefer nature soundscapes and aren’t too worried about a bit of looping, you might like the sounds it offers. But if you do get frustrated by looping, or need more variety, one of the previous machines might be better for you.
White noise is known to be a helpful way of masking other sounds. But can replacing one type of noise with another actually help you sleep?
The scientific evidence suggests that white noise can indeed help you sleep better. However, there are some concerns regarding young children listening to white noise too loudly and too often.
Let’s take a look at five research studies that have shown how white noise can help both adults and children sleep.
I’ll also discuss what sound machine manufacturers and sleep experts have to say about white noise, and how to use it safely.
There have been several interesting studies investigating the potential for white noise to help people sleep better.
They tend to focus on specific groups, such as newborns and adults in noisy hospital environments. Still, the results are usually positive.
Adult patients in a critical care unit
In 2016, researchers in Iran undertook a study to see if white noise would help patients in a critical care unit sleep better.
They split patients into 2 groups, playing white noise of 50-60 decibels to one group, while the other group would have the normal sounds of the hospital ward.
They found no difference in reported sleep quality between the groups when they were admitted. But after 3 days, the group listening to white noise reported significantly better sleep than the control group. They concluded:
Sleep disorders are more common among patients in intensive care units. Environmental factors like noise is a common cause of sleep disorders. Based on the findings of this study, the use of white noise is recommended as a method for masking environmental noises, sleep induction, improving sleep, and maintaining sleep in the coronary care unit.
Adult patients recovering from heart surgery
In a similar study in 1992, a researcher at Huntsville hospital in Alabama looked at the effects of white noise on the sleep of patients recovering from heart surgery.
In this study, 30 patients were played ocean sounds through a white noise machine, while 30 would just have the normal sounds of the ward.
They found no difference in the time it took to fall asleep. However, the group listening to white noise reportedly had better overall sleep. This was based on better results for ‘sleep depth, awakening, return to sleep, quality of sleep, and total sleep scores’.
The author concluded that:
The use of ocean sounds is a viable intervention to foster optimal sleep patterns in postoperative CABG patients after transfer from the ICU.
White noise reduces the effect of changing noise levels in an intensive care unit
In a study in 2004, researchers looked at whether it was the volume of environmental noises or changes in volume that disrupted sleep more in an intensive care unit. And also if white noise would help reduce this disruption.
Interestingly, they used Polysomnography – the gold standard of sleep monitoring – rather than subjective or observational measures of sleep.
They found that white noise helped by reducing the difference between the normal background noise and louder noise:
Peak noise was not the main determinant of sleep disruption from ICU noise. Mixed frequency white noise increases arousal thresholds in normal individuals exposed to recorded ICU noise by reducing the difference between background noise and peak noise.
This is a particularly useful study, as it supports one of the main claims made about white noise – that it helps prevent sudden external sounds from waking people up.
Perhaps the most famous study of white noise and newborns took place in 1990.
In the study, researchers at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital in London looked at the effects of white noise on newborns between 2 and 7 days old.
They split the newborns into 2 groups of 20. One group was observed in silence in their cot to see how long it took them to fall asleep.
The other group was played white noise through a standard white noise machine (placed next to the cot, 30 cm from the head).
They found that 16 (80%) fell asleep within 5 minutes when listening to white noise. In contrast, 5 (25%) fell asleep in that time without white noise.
In addition, they made two interesting observations. Firstly, lower frequency noise worked better, similar to the frequency of a vacuum cleaner.
And secondly, that white noise didn’t help them settle if they were hungry, but did once they’d been fed.
This study didn’t look at the effectiveness of white noise, but I think it’s useful to go off on a brief tangent to look at the safety advice arising from it.
In 2014, a study by researchers at the University of Toronto made headlines around the world.
They tested a range of white noise machines, finding several that have a maximum possible volume that could be damaging to a child’s hearing.
However, the point being made by the researchers was that manufacturers should be clearer about how to use white noise – not that white noise is a bad tool for parents to use per se.
ISMs (Infant Sleep Machines) are capable of producing output sound pressure levels that may be damaging to infant hearing and auditory development. We outline recommendations for safer operation of these machines.
Recommendations for the safe use of white noise
As well as recommending that manufacturers reduce the maximum output, print safety warnings, and include auto-off timers, they had these helpful suggestions for parents:
1. Place the ISM as far away as possible from the infant and never in the crib or on a crib rail.
2. Play the ISM at a low volume.
3. Operate the ISM for a short duration of time.
What these few studies show then is that there is scientific evidence that white noise can help some adults and newborns sleep.
However, if you use it to help children sleep, it’s important to do so in a safe way. Don’t play any white noise at a loud volume or for extended periods of time, and avoid becoming dependent on it to help them sleep.
The National Sleep Foundation says that noise at night can wake you briefly, especially during the lighter sleep stages. So they suggest that white noise can help ‘mask activity from inside and outside the house’.
They also report that in their large sleep survey in 2012, 74% of Americans rated a quiet bedroom as being important for sleep.
Writing on her website babysleeppro.com, Dr. Rebecca Kempton, M.D., who is a pediatric sleep specialist, recommends white noise to parents.
She believes that babies are used to loud noise in the womb – that ‘the whooshing sounds they were exposed to in the womb are almost as loud as a lawnmower’. So white noise can be more comforting than silence.
What do manufacturers say?
As you’d expect, the companies that make white noise machines all speak highly of the potential for white noise to improve sleep.
On the LectroFan website, there’s an explanation that reflects research study 3 above:
When a noise wakes you up in the night, it’s not the noise itself that wakes you up, per se, but the sudden change or inconsistencies in noise that jar you. White noise creates a masking effect, blocking out those sudden changes that frustrate light sleepers, or people trying to fall asleep.
They also explain why it can be helpful for babies. They point to the ‘shushing’ sound that parents naturally make to calm their babies, explaining that white noise is a way of ‘outsourcing’ your shushing.
The company behind LectroFan also believes that white noise creates a safe environment by blocking out noise that can be overstimulating.
It reduces the number of sudden disturbances from siblings, TVs and music. And that it can help babies stay asleep longer by extending how long it is before they experience natural arousals.
Marpac says on their website that white noise can help if snoring keeps you awake, or if you live in a loud environment.
They suggest that it provides a ‘consistent sound environment that is especially soothing to infants, but also for adults’.
They also propose the interesting idea that parents can continue normal activities without tiptoeing around the house.
My personal experience
I have to admit that I tend to sleep best when I have absolute silence. My solution is usually to use earplugs and shut the world out as much as possible.
However, earplugs don’t always do the trick – they can only reduce so much noise. So on occasion, I’ve played pink noise (I find the lower frequency more relaxing), as I find it does a great job of blocking out noise.
But I have to play it on as low a volume as possible, so as not to find it more disturbing than the original noise. And recently, I’ve discovered that white noise in the form of natural sounds, like rain and waves, also helps me relax and fall asleep.