A selection of six tried-and-true white noise generators. Choose a sound machine system that fits your purpose.
White noise generators are a popular and effective tool for masking unwanted sounds, both at home and at the office. When you're trying to get to sleep, the background noise they provide "smoothes out" the sound in your environment, masking intrusive noises that otherwise keep your brain and body on alert. For babies and toddlers, white noise machines work like magic, calming them so they can relax and fall asleep. In the office, a white noise maker can give more privacy to conversations.
The machines shown here were selected because they are well regarded for their quality and reliability. Each one has a different mix of features. What kind of white noise system is right for you?
The Marpac Dohm Sound Conditioner (formerly called the Marpac Sleepmate or Sound Screen) is the original white noise machine, a classic product invented in 1962 that remains a bestseller today. The machine produces its sound mechanically, using a rotating shell that makes a whirring sound as it spins, powered by household current. Because of its simple design, it is reliable and long lasting.
Besides its reliability, another reason you may prefer a mechanical machine over an electronic device is that the white noise it generates is genuinely random. This means that unlike most electronic sound machines, it doesn't use repeating loops of sound that can mar the soothing effect and become annoying.
The standard SS (single speed) model is about $50 (US dollars). The DS (dual speed) model has a lower speed in addition to the standard speed, for the option of a quieter hushing sound, and costs about $60. On both models, the sound's tone and volume are adjustable.
If plain white noise seems just a tad boring or artificial, several machines have a variety of other sounds to choose from. A good choice here is the Marsona DS-600A Sound Conditioner ($90 to $100), which offers six digital sounds: surf, thunderstorm, babbling brook, lake shore, crickets, and standard white noise.
The DS-600A can run on batteries or on household current, and is louder than the Marpac Dohm (though of course the volume can be adjusted as low as you want). It also has a timer option, to shut off automatically after 60 minutes.
If you want a high-end white noise sound machine, check out the Ecotones Sound+Sleep Machine. It comes with ten high-quality sound profiles, including different nature sounds, meditation, and even city and train sounds, in addition to white, pink, and brown noise. The sounds are dynamically mixed as they are played, to avoid any repetitive loop effect. A three-level "richness" setting varies the sound more if you choose. A timer lets you set the machine to shut off (gradually) after 30 to 120 minutes. It has an audio-out jack so you can play the sound through headphones or speakers.
But here's the part that makes this brand unique: It has a feature called adaptive sound technology, which monitors the ambient noise level and automatically adjusts its own volume accordingly. With this technology, it continues to mask noises throughout the night with louder sound as noises become more disruptive, lowering the volume again when noises are softer.
An excellent compact unit designed for traveling is the Marsona TSCI-330 Sound Conditioner ($70 to $90). You can choose rain, waterfall, or surf sounds, and customize the tone. At the maximum volume setting it puts out a lot of sound. It comes with a dual-voltage power supply and three plug adapters, ready for international travel.
With its solid-state sound technology, the TSCI-330 is a favorite with people who are sensitive to hearing loops in recorded sounds, even if they never need to travel with it.
The Sound+Sleep Nomad is a smaller, one-pound version of Ecotones' deluxe Sound+Sleep Machine (described above). The Nomad has six sound profiles instead of ten, but otherwise includes most of the same features, including the adaptive sound technology that automatically adjusts the volume as the ambient noise level rises and falls. It can run on AC power (with its dual-voltage power supply), batteries, or a USB cable (included). Instead of having an audio-out port, it can interface with your MP3 player, laptop, or smartphone to play your music or other audio through its own high-quality speaker. $90 to $180.
The sounds from any of the above white noise generators work just as well for children as they do for adults, of course. But for kids who like to go to sleep hugging a favorite stuffed animal, Cloud b makes sound machines in the form of plush toys:
For all models, the sound box runs on batteries and is removable. The sound quality is nothing special and the options are minimal, but the Cloud b stuffed animal sound soothers are well loved both by kids and by their parents, especially for the reasonable price ($20 to $40).
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