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The 6 Very Best Sound Machines

“I can now peacefully snooze through the garbage truck arriving bright and early.”

Photo: Marcus McDonald
Photo: Marcus McDonald

In this article

The best sound machine is one that “effectively masks environmental noise,” says Suzanne B. Gorovoy, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Arizona College of Medicine’s sleep and health research program. “Environmental noise” can refer to your neighbors, your partner’s snoring, or the traffic outside your window — so the best sound machine needs to be able to tackle a range of audible frequencies, through white noise, brown noise, or pink noise. I spoke to an audiologist, a sleep scientist, and several seasoned sound-machine owners to find out the best sound machines for all noise types. I then cross-referenced their picks against our existing database of recommendations to find the best sound machines for kids, for people with tinnitus, and more.

What we’re looking for

Sound type and variety

Sound machines come in two broad forms. Mechanical noise machines — as the name suggests — use actual mechanical parts to make their noise: so a fan-like structure within the machine mimics the whirring of a fan. An electronic machine synthesizes that sound, playing audio files that sound like whatever it’s trying to mimic. Ben Thompson, an audiologist at Treble Health, also says that the sound you choose to play matters enormously. “I would recommend people have a variety of sounds,” he says. There is no “best” sound for any issues, but he suggests avoiding any sounds that have any repeated sections that the brain can latch on to and try to decipher. Instead, steady sounds are good choices.

Power source

Some sound machines have an internal rechargeable battery or will run on standard AA batteries. That makes them much more portable for travel or convenient to move into different spaces throughout your home (though you can also often plug them in on your nightstand or dresser for more stationary use). Others are more old-school and must be plugged in at all times. We’ve indicated whether each machine below has a rechargeable battery or an option to use standard AA batteries and what type of plugged-in power it can use (typically AC and/or USB). Gorovoy also says that would-be buyers might want to consider whether they can turn the machine on or off via a smartphone app or if the machine has an integrated sleep timer so that it doesn’t have to run the whole night once you enter a deep sleep.

Best overall sound machine

Sound type and variety: 10 fan sounds, 10 white noise variations, 2 ocean sounds | Power source: AC or USB power

We like this sound machine so much, it features in our Sleep 100 — a guide to our most stood-behind sleep products. Celebrities are also effusive — Eva Mendes and comedian Samantha Irby both own a similar model. Irby says, “It feels almost like a cocoon around your eardrums. I think it’s the white-noise machine that has kept our marriage intact.” It can produce both fan-like sounds and electrical noise, plus it has a sleep timer. It’s small enough to travel with (Mendes says she takes “two everywhere I go”), however, it’s worth noting that it has no internal battery. This means that it needs to be plugged in at all times — though you can hook it up to a USB port as easily as a power socket.

Best mechanical sound machine

Sound type and variety: Mechanical noise, adjustable tone | Power source: AC power only

The Dohm has been in production since 1962 and has a devoted cult following including several Strategist staffers, former U.S. presidential candidate Andrew Yang, and actress Emma Roberts. The Dohm uses a motorized fan to produce a continuous, soothing whir that made New York Magazine deputy editor Alexis Swerdloff sleep “immediately … sounder and deeper.” Meanwhile, Lauren Ro, a writer at the Strategist covering home, design, and parenting, says, “I own one and use it in our 1-year-old’s room, and it’s just loud enough to mask background noise without being overwhelming.”

Though this noise machine is a good all-rounder, the reason it doesn’t secure our best overall slot is its design. For some, mechanical sound is not as useful at drowning out background noise as electronic sounds. You do need to turn it on before going to sleep and off once you’re awake, but it’s a good option for sleepers who prefer the sound of a real fan over ocean noises. It also comes in black, pink, tan, gray, or RealTree camouflage print.

Best sound machine for kids

Sound type and variety: Electronic noise, 11 sounds including white noise, ocean, and 3 lullabies | Power source: AC power only

“I decided to invest in the Hatch because it promised to grow with my daughter Olive,” says Claire Jopson, parenting blogger at Twin Perspectives. “I also liked that it didn’t look like another brightly colored baby product and would look nice around the house.” As well as a sound machine, the Hatch has a nightlight, which can be customized to any color of the rainbow using the associated smartphone app. The app also acts as a remote toggle for other tools, including on and off times and sleep-training light signals for toddlers who tend to rise while it’s still dark out. “The touch-tap function makes it easy for her to use and although she doesn’t use white noise anymore, we still use it as a nightlight and are starting to use the time-to-rise function so she knows not to come into our room at 5 a.m.,” says Jopson.

The Hatch is only powered using AC, which is one drawback, but the device’s dependability and its multipurpose use make it worth it. For about $20 more, the Hatch Rest+ includes a digital clock, a battery backup, and Wi-Fi connectivity (over the original Hatch’s Bluetooth). It also contains a two-way audio monitor, which put it on our best baby monitors list.

Best portable sound machine for kids

Sound type and variety: 3 white noise variations | Power source: USB power and rechargeable battery

A smaller option is this portable noise machine by Yogasleep (which makes our best mechanical sound machine). Ailbhe Malone, senior editor at the Strategist, says, “We are never without this dinky noise machine. We’ve used it in Airbnbs, hotels, and guest rooms to mask a cacophony of noises.” Malone adds that though there are only three noise variations, her 1-year-old daughter likes the general “white noise” setting the most. Swerdloff — who gifted Malone the Hushh — agrees, calling it “extremely lightweight.” Attorney Samantha Shipp Warrick likes that there’s a carabiner on the machine so she can clip the sound machine to her stroller, car seat, or travel crib. The battery life is enough to last one full night, and it’s easy to recharge via USB. There is a small nightlight function, but it’s not enough to illuminate a room.

Best adaptive sound machine

Sound type and variety: Electronic noise, 10 white noise and environmental sounds with 3 “richness” layers for each | Power source: AC power only

Sound machines try to drown out background noise. But background noise doesn’t stay at the same volume. The Sound+Sleep solves this problem with its adaptive feature — if your background noise environment suddenly gets louder, so does the machine. One Amazon reviewer (who lives in an apartment with a lot of intrusive noise) says: “The function that makes sounds become louder or quieter depending on the noise level around the machine has been particularly useful.” The ten sounds to pick from get multiplied when using the “richness” function, which layers individual sounds on top of each other to give a more rounded soundscape — some may like. At 2.6 pounds and 7.5 inches by 5.5 inches by 4.5 inches, it is a little larger than some others on this list — but if that’s an issue, pick up the cut-down, rechargeable travel version.

Best sound machine for tinnitus

Sound type and variety: 288 nature sounds with sound mixing | Power source: AC power and battery

By far the most expensive sound machine on this list, the Sound Oasis is designed for those with hearing problems. Thompson recommends Sound Oasis’s devices for his tinnitus patients because of their high-quality audio, which has more in common with a professional speaker system than a cheap, tinny product. “This is the one that we can recommend to our patients who come in asking questions about sound machines for the evening and sleep,” says Thompson. The S-6000 is the Rolls Royce of sound machines, featuring more sound options than all the others on this list combined, as well as the ability to tether your phone to it using Bluetooth if, inexplicably, you’re unable to find a sound to your taste.

Some other sound machines we’ve written about

Our experts

Suzanne B. Gorovoy, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Arizona College of Medicine’s sleep and health research program
Claire Jopson, parenting blogger at Twin Perspectives
Ailbhe Malone, senior editor at the Strategist
Lauren Ro, a writer at the Strategist covering home, design, and parenting
Hannah Selinger, product testing journalist
Samantha Shipp Warrick, attorney
Alexis Swerdloff, New York Magazine deputy editor
Ben Thompson, an audiologist at Treble Health

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The 6 Very Best Sound Machines