Who is this for
If your bedroom isn’t as quiet as it could be, and you think the noise is affecting your sleep, you may want to try a white noise machine. Medical studies have shown that white noise machines can help people stay asleep in noisy environments. If you already use a sleep machine with prerecorded sounds such as waves or rain, consider one of our picks, which produce random, constant white noise. Such invariant white noise is better at blocking sounds and is less likely to itself disturb your sleep.
How we picked and tested
The best type of white noise machines for sleep create noise that is random and meaningless and will block disturbing noises without itself creating noticeable sounds that could wake you. For that reason, we stuck to machines whose primary sound offering was random white noise, dismissing machines that offer recordings of birdsong, rainfall, crashing waves, or other natural sounds.
We eliminated machines that were too large to fit on a bedside table, or had bright displays that could compromise the darkness of the bedroom. After comparing reviews of white noise machines, we narrowed our list down to six machines to test. Using a sound-level meter, we measured the decibel range of each machine, from quietest to loudest. Next we set up recordings of common nighttime nuisances: barking dogs, fighting cats, and snoring. With the recordings playing in an adjacent room behind a closed door, we sat 18 inches behind the sound machine. Starting at the lowest volume setting, we slowly increased the loudness for the machine until we could no longer perceive the intruding noise, noting the decibel level required to block the sound.
We think the LectroFan by ASTI is the white noise machine you’ll want on your nightstand. Our testing showed that the LectroFan’s random, nonrepeating white noise settings allowed it to mask intruding noises as well as or better than the other machines in the group. It’s the second-smallest machine we tested, too, so you can pack it for travel in addition to using it at home. The LectroFan is also one of the easiest models to use, with a simple three-button interface to toggle among 10 random, nonrepeating white noise offerings and 30 volume settings in one of the widest volume ranges we found.
The LectroFan’s 10 white noise settings, ranging from “dark noise” (low frequency) to “white noise” (high frequency), sounded like variations of low rumbles, rushing wind, or static—neither pleasant nor unpleasant, and definitely random and meaningless.
A machine that allows for fine volume control, like the LectroFan, can be at its lowest possible setting yet still block noise. By comparison, some of the other machines we tried had a narrower volume range that we found more difficult to adjust. To be clear, we didn’t notice a huge variation in the sound-blocking performance among the machines, and they were typically within a few decibels of one another for the minimum volume required to mask the offending noise.
With its minimalist, three-button interface, we found changing noise settings and volume on the LectroFan easier than on the other white noise machines. The LectroFan takes up little room on a nightstand, and can fit into your luggage for travel. It conveniently uses a USB cord and wall-power adapter, which you could swap for your USB wall charger to save more space when you’re packing. We do wish it had a built-in battery, which would be helpful for travel or if you don’t have an outlet nearby.
The Marpac Dohm, which the company touts as the original white noise machine, has had a devoted following for more than 50 years. Relying on a fan to make noise, the Dohm DS (the two-speed version) produces a slightly more pleasant sound than the LectroFan, something akin to what you hear when you hold a shell over your ear, or to the sound of wind rushing through a field. In contrast, the LectroFan and other electronic white noise machines produce sound that is more like a soft static or “shhh.”
We found that the Dohm DS performed slightly poorer in our sound-masking tests than the white noise machines that generated noise electronically. We also noticed a slight whining undertone when running the Dohm DS on its high setting. Still, the Dohm has had many thousands of satisfied owners over the years, and it boasts an overall 4.5-star (out of five) rating across more than 9,000 reviews on Amazon.
Apps for occasional use
Although white noise apps aren’t a great choice for nightly use, because the sound quality isn’t as good, they can come in handy for travel or if you need to mask sounds only occasionally.
After testing four iPhone apps, we like myNoise (created by the sound engineer we spoke with for this guide, Stéphane Pigeon). In the “White Noise & Co” setting, you can use a color-coded slider to adjust white noise frequencies to create a customized white noise mix.
For Android, we’d go with Noisli. You can layer multiple white noise sounds and adjust their volumes to create a custom blend. Of the eight Android apps we tried, Noisli has the least-distracting and easiest-to-use interface.
The volume and clarity of the apps will depend on the quality of your smartphone’s speakers, and pairing your phone with a Bluetooth speaker will produce better results.
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