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‘White noise’ is a catch-all term for any type of random sound signal that masks louder background noises. In most cases, white noise takes the form of soothing natural or ambient sounds. White noise is considered a sleep aid because it drowns out other, more disruptive sounds that prevent people from falling and/or remaining asleep.
Many adults rely on white noise machines to fall asleep each night, and some models are designed specifically for young children. White noise machines are also a popular travel accessory that can be used on airplanes and other forms of public transport, and in hotels, guest rooms, and other places with outside noise potential. A wide range of white noise machines are currently available at different price-points; some newer models are equipped with additional, high-tech features.
This guide will explore how white noise machines work, provide shopping tips, and list a few of our top-rated models. First, let’s look at the science behind white noise.
Every sound we hear has two distinct components: the frequency, or the number of vibrations the sound wave produces per second (measured in hertz, or Hz); and amplitude, which measures the size of the sound waves. Whenever a frequency is halved or doubles, this is known as an octave.
Noise is categorized by colors that represent different audio signals and textures. Some of these colors — such as pink, blue, and brown — refer to sound waves that increase or decrease in volume, depending on changes in the frequency. White noise, on the other hand, maintains the same volume regardless of frequency and randomly combines every possible frequency that is audible to the human ear. The result is the telltale ‘shh’ sound that is commonly associated with white noise.
Technically speaking, most instances of ‘white noise’ are actually ‘pink noise.’ White noise matches any frequency, meaning that it may sound extremely high or extremely low. As a result, white noise on its own is too harsh for most human ears. Pink noise, on the other hand, gradually decreases in volume (measured in decibels) per octave, creating a more balanced listening experience. Most describe pink noise as white noise with a lower, bass-like quality.
Additionally, ‘brown noise’ (also known as ‘red noise’) is a deeper variant of pink noise, decreasing in volume at a faster per-octave rate. ‘Blue noise’ and ‘violet noise’ are the exact opposite, increasing in volume as the frequency rises. ‘Grey noise’ is a bit more complex; it increases or decreases in volume depending on the frequency, and sounds equally loud at all frequencies as a result. Black noise, as the name implies, refers to complete silence.
The table below includes a detailed breakdown of the five most common noise colors.
|Noise Color||How Frequency Affects Volume||Examples|
|White||Volume remains constant regardless of frequency||High-pitched static|
|Pink||Volume decreases by 3 db per octave||Thunder|
|Brown/Red||Volume decreases by 6 dB per octave||Waves or low wind|
|Blue||Volume increases by 3 dB per octave||Hissing or high wind|
|Violet||Volume increases by 6 dB per octave||Kettle whistle|
|Grey||Volume decreases between 100 and 1,000 Hz, and increases between 5,000 and 10,000 Hz||Static with volume that remains constant|
|Black||No volume whatsoever||Silence|
Despite these technical specifications, the term ‘white noise’ is generally used to describe any soothing natural or ambient sound that is used to drown out distracting background noises, such as vehicles on the road or noises from elsewhere in the house. This allows people to focus less on exterior sounds and fall asleep more quickly.
Three common examples of white noise include:
In addition to aiding adults, most white noise machines are also designed for babies, infants, and young children. Some models feature softer, more soothing sounds as well as lullaby melodies, that specifically cater to young ears. White noise machines are also a popular travel accessory, and some models are designed for mobility with more compact sizes and dual-voltage capabilities.
Although specs vary by brand and model, most standard white noise machines sold today are designed for the following:
With few exceptions, white noise machines cost $100 or less when purchased from the original manufacturer or authorized retailers. Some white noise machines come with warranties that cover up to five years, while others do not come with any warranty coverage.
When shopping for a new white noise machine and comparing different brands and models, here are a few important factors to keep in mind:
Now, let’s look at the white noise machines that have earned the highest ratings from owners and customers. The first table features our top-rated low-cost white noise machines; each model is priced at $40 or less.
|Brand||Big Red Rooster||HanPro||Homedics||Pure Enrichment||Sleep Easy|
|Model||BRRC107 Sound Machine||White Noise Machine||SoundSpa||Wave Sleep Therapy Sound Machine||Sleep Easy Sound Conditioner|
|Machine Size||4D” x 4.4W” x 2.6H”||4.5D” x 4.5W” x 2H”||6.5D” x 6L” x 2H”||5.5D” x 5.5W” x 3.3H”||6.3D” x 6.3W” x 6.4H”|
|Machine Weight||6 oz.||9 oz.||8 oz.||1 lb.||4 lbs.|
|Sound Selection||White noise|
|White noise only|
|Looping Quality||Good||Very Good||Good||Excellent||Excellent|
|Travel-friendly||Excellent||Excellent||Good||Excellent||Fair to Good|
|Timer Settings||15, 30, 60 minutes||30, 60, 90 minutes||15, 30, 60 minutes||15, 30, 60 minutes||No timer|
|Power Source||AC or batteries||AC and USB||AC or batteries||AC and USB||AC|
|Warranty||No warranty||No warranty||1 year||5 year||No warranty|
|Customer Satisfaction Rating||89% (4,209 customer reviews)||88% (68 customer reviews)||77% (8,105 customer reviews)||83% (1,299 customer reviews)||80% (4,166 customer reviews)|
The next table features our top picks for white noise machines that cost more than $40 when purchased through the manufacturer or authorized retailers.
|Brand||Marpac||Sound Oasis||Sound of Sleep|
|Model||Dohm Classic||Marsona 1288A||S-5000 Deluxe Sleep Sound Therapy System||LectroFan||Sound + Sleep|
|Machine Size||5.8D” x 5.8W” x 3.8H”||5.8D” x 8.8W” x 3.1H”||8.2D” x 5.8W” x 6.5H”||4.4D” x 4.4W” x 2H”||7.5D” x 5.5W” x 4.5H”|
|Machine Weight||1.5 lbs||2 lbs||3 lbs||1 lb.||2.5 lbs|
|Sound Selection||White noise only||White noise|
6 bird calls
|145 different sounds||10 fan sounds and 10 white noise variations (including pink and brown noise)||White noise|
(3 volume settings for each sound)
|Timer Settings||No timer||60 minutes||30, 60, 90 minutes||60 minutes||30, 60, 90, 120 minutes|
|Power Source||AC||AC||AC||AC and USB||AC|
|Warranty||1 year||1 year||1 year||1 year||1 year|
|Customer Satisfaction Rating||95% (11,992 customer reviews)||90% (132 customer reviews)||82% (176 customer reviews)||91% (7,543 customer reviews)||83% (3,091 customer reviews)|
Although most white noise machines for adults are also suitable for children, some models are specifically designed for younger listeners. The next table features our four top picks for the best kid-friendly white noise machine options.
|Brand||Cloud b||Homedics||Marpac||Sound of Sleep|
|Model||Sleep Sheep||MyBaby Deep Sleep SoundSpa||Hushh||LectroFan Kinder|
|Machine Size||6.3D” x 7.9W” x 8.7H”|
(This design is a plush stuffed sheep with a built-in white noise machine)
|3.9D” x 3.9W” x 3.1H”||3.5D” x 1.8W” x 3.8H”||7D” x 9W” x 3H”|
|Machine Weight||1.5 lbs||11 oz.||4 oz.||14 oz.|
|Sound Selection||Mother’s heartbeat|
|3 white noise settings|
Twinkle Twinkle (lullaby)
|Bright and deep white noise|
|75 total sounds|
12 white, pink, and brown noises
8 fan settings
20 natural sounds
|Timer Settings||23, 45 minutes||30, 60, 90 minutes||No timer||15 minute increments up to 3 hours|
|Power Source||Batteries||AC or batteries||USB||AC|
|Warranty||No warranty||1 year||1 year||1 year|
|Customer Satisfaction Rating||89% (391 customer reviews)||73% (89 customer reviews)||82% (1,217 customer reviews)||95% (44 customer reviews)|
For sleepers who prefer not to use or invest in a white noise machine, effective methods of blocking outside noise include the following:
Fans: The whirring blades of conventional fans produce ambient white noise that can effectively drown out other sounds. They also improve air circulation in the bedroom, and can create a cooler sleeping space during warmer times of the year.
Earplugs: Some people prefer to sleep with earplugs, which are normally made from softer materials like foam or silicone. Earplugs may mold to the contours of the user’s inner ear, or they may maintain a constant shape; in either case, they are usually designed to fit all ear canal sizes. Some earplugs are reusable, while others are designed for one-time use.
Most earplugs are sold in bulk, and typically cost less than $30 for a pack of 200 or less. However, it’s important to note that earplugs are associated with certain health risks, namely earwax buildup, which can lead to conditions like hearing loss, tinnitus, and earwax discharge.
White noise apps: Downloading a white noise app onto a smartphone, tablet, or other portable electronic device may be a cheaper alternative to purchasing a white noise machine. White noise apps may also allow users to play music from their personal library or streaming services while the white noise sounds play.
The table below lists five of the most popular white noise apps that are currently available on iTunes.
|App Name||Coffitivity||myNoise||Noisli||Sleep Fan||WhiteNoise|
|Sound Selection||6+ ambient options that recreate coffee shop chatter||White noise|
7 natural and ambient options
|White, pink, and brown noise|
12 natural and ambient options
|4 fan sounds||White, pink, brown, blue, and violet noise|
35 natural and ambient sounds
|iTunes Star Rating (out of 5)||4.0||4.5||4.3||4.3||4.9|
For more information about white noise and strategies for blocking outside sounds, please visit the following Tuck pages:
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