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Does sound distract or keep you awake? A white noise machine can help.
Most people use noise-canceling headphones to dampen sounds. But there’s another option that doesn’t require wearing bulky earcups: white noise (a random audio signal with differing frequencies and equal intensities) does the same job. With a nature-emulating soundscape, such as wind blustering through trees or a gently rushing waterfall, white noise is well-suited to a variety of applications.
Find out what a white noise machine is, why you should use one, and discover the best white noise machines for canceling distractions!
What Is a White Noise Machine?
A white noise machine is a device which produces sounds with equal intensities but varied frequencies. These bits of random audio form a unified whole that’s soothing and mimics naturally occurring sounds such as a waterfall or the wind whistling through trees. However, there’s a bit of a misconception. Some machines don’t produce white noise. Instead, they play pink noise or even other colors of noise.
Pink noise differs in that it’s more powerful and louder at lower frequencies, whereas white noise maintains equal power. Additionally, many white noise machines include modes that play sounds such as traffic, rain, and the ocean.
Why Use a White Noise Machine?
White noise devices are mostly used as sleep aids. Because of their ambient sounds, these machines can mask outside noises by forming a sort of sonic wall. Essentially, it’s like wearing earplugs but without the hassle of shoving anything into your earl. Aside from sound waves. Similarly, noise-canceling headphones put a damper on the volume of outside noises. But these remove ambient sounds using active or passive noise control through methods like soundproofing.
A set of noise-canceling headphones is better tailored to listening to music in a loud space. By reducing ambient sounds from outside, you don’t need to pump up the volume on your music. Still, a good pair of noise-canceling cans may be useful for trying to sleep on a crowded plane, for instance.
Aside from the bedroom, white noise machines are superb devices for reducing distractions in general. That makes these gadgets ideal for work and study companions, and arguably better than noise cancellation or music playlists. While I’m totally fine with silence while working, I’m distracted by both outside noises and a lack of noise. Therefore, when writing and editing I either have music playing, maybe a movie or show on in the background. I’ve found white noise beneficial as well for providing a restful backdrop which doubles for sound cancellation.
Notably, babies may sleep better with white noise machines. Since they’re accustomed to ambient sounds in the womb, white noise generators provide a familiar experience. Moreover, white noise machines might be ideal for sleeping with anxiety or tinnitus.
The Best White Noise Machine
These are the best white noise machines you can buy!
For a reasonably-priced, no-frills white noise generator, check out the Marpac Dohm DS. It’s pretty basic and comes in a circular form factor. There are no frills here. The utilitarian design isn’t limited to its appearance. It also comes with some relatively straightforward features.
TopTenReviews enjoyed the sounds produced which deliver a natural feel while eliminating outside noises. However, the Marpac Dohm DS is incredibly basic. There’s a simple on/off switch. Moreover, the Marpac Dohm makes use of a physical fan, rather than playing back recorded clips. As TopTenReviews notes, this creates a continuous stream of white noise. Aside from its super basic feature set, the Marpac Dohm performs exquisitely, making it one of the best white noise machines available.
- Excellent sound production
- Actual fan
- Extremely basic feature set
For an incredibly affordable sound machine, the Big Red Rooster is a top choice. Its compact design makes it well-suited to travel and placement on a nightstand. Plus, it looks like a basic bedside speaker. But the Big Red Rooster includes three iterations: the vanilla sound machine, a premium offering with 10 sounds as opposed to six, and a baby Big Red Rooster replete with lullabies.
With a small stature and surprisingly loud maximum volume, the Big Red Rooster is a solid entry-level white noise machine. Additionally, there is a battery power option. With several modes ranging from white noise to brook, thunder, summer night, ocean, and rain, there’s a ton of choice. Stepping up to the premium version adds heartbeat, rain forest, waterfall, and songbird. Then for the baby variant, you’ll find rock-a-bye, lullaby, ocean, heartbeat, twinkle twinkle, and white noise. Unfortunately, at such a low cost, there are a few downsides. Notably, the recording quality isn’t high-end, and there’s some noticeable looping. Nevertheless, for an inexpensive and effective white noise machine, the Big Red Rooster is a top choice.
- Compact form factor
- Optional battery power
- Several timer modes
- Good volume
- Three versions
- Some obvious sound looping
Essential oil diffusers are incredibly popular. The ArtNaturals unit combines both of these gadgets into a nifty device. Boasting an impressive 4.4 out of five on 40 Amazon reviews, the ArtNaturals white noise machine and essential oil diffuser sports six sound modes engineered for relaxation and noise cancellation.
The other element is a 300-milliliter essential oil diffuser which uses quiet ultrasound vibrations to mist oils into the room. There’s an onboard light as well which can be turned off. However, the noise machine portion automatically shuts off after two hours. As such, it’s not ideal for those seeking a continuous, all-night white noise generator. Ultimately, the ArtNaturals diffuser-sound machine combo is an excellent bet for an entry-level white noise machine — but it will leave power users wanting.
- Doubles as an essential oil diffuser
- Six noise modes
- Maximum noise machine runtime of two hours
With an affordable cost and loads of features, the LectroFan is a superb white noise machine. It’s extremely effective at blocking out noise from your surroundings, and balances features with convenience. You’ll find both fan noises and white noise, plus two power options: a 60-minute timer and on/off switch. Plus, there’s a volume control.
Both the white noise and fan options feature ten sounds that are non-repeating. Because of its fantastic sound masking and feature array that’s a step above barebones devices, the LectroFan is a phenomenal pick.
- Excellent sound masking
- Fan and white noise modes
- Fairly barebones feature set
Easily among the most inexpensive noise machines, the HoMedics S-2000 runs off of a wall adapter or batteries. You’ll find six modes including white noise, ocean, thunder, summer night, rain, and a babbling brook. The HoMedics SoundSpa SS-2200 can run all night, or on a 15-, 30-, or 60-minute timer. Alternatively, try the auto time off.
Unfortunately, a few users noted slightly strange sounds on occasion. Nevertheless, with a four of five on over 1,000 Amazon reviews, it’s a wonderful, small but mighty device. Because it’s portable and affordable, the HoMedics SoundSpa SS-2000 is the best bet among white noise machines.
- Six sound modes
- Runs all night
- Timer and auto off
- Some occasionally unnatural sounds
For the best in white noise machines, Sound+Sleep reigns supreme. Its premium white noise generators provide top-notch quality, though they come at a higher cost. The Sound+Sleep employs sound profiles with a library of 30 non-repeating environments. There’s adaptive sound which automatically responds to your surroundings by adjusting the volume. In addition to its ability to run all night, the Sound+Sleep has a sleep timer which reduces the volume after 30, 60, 90, or 120 minutes. For private listening, there’s a built-in headphone jack.
This high-end white noise machine does not come cheap. For a slightly less pricey version, check out the Sound+Sleep Mini which also touts battery operation for sound masking on the go. Or if you need the utmost in noise machines, there’s the Sound+Sleep Special Edition.
- Tons of unique, non-repeating sounds
- Adaptive listening
- Sleep timer
- Headphone jack
The DIY White Noise Machine
While a dedicated sound machine presents the best route, you can cobble together your own noise machine. Simply use any device such as a phone, tablet, or PC and a speaker. Then, find a white noise track on a site like YouTube, a white noise app, or an audio file you’ve got downloaded.
I’ve used my laptop and a Bluetooth speaker plus the Fan White Noise 11 hour video. If you’re as geeky as I am, you may also enjoy the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” ambient engine noise 12-hour mix.
Then there’s the manual way of using an actual fan for white noise. A quick search reveals loads of white noise sources, but these ambient nature sound sites and white noise are bound to help you focus.
The Best White Noise Machines for Canceling Distractions
White noise machines are incredibly popular and useful. After I began using one, I discovered a better sleep cycle. However, I also paired this with blue light filters on my mobile devices and laptop to further improve my sleep schedule. Aside from at night, I quite appreciate using a noise machine in my home office while working as a break from listening to music, or even pulling up a white noise track on YouTube up when at my co-working space.
Which white noise machines do you recommend?