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The 4 Best White Noise Machines of 2023

Sep 14, 2023

We’re currently testing several new white noise machines, along with a new app, against our current picks.

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White noise machines generate sounds to mask the assorted yapping dogs, clanky radiators, and late-night parties that can leave us anxious, seething, and awake. These machines can also drown out distracting sounds during the day to help you focus. After testing a total of 22 popular devices and apps against an array of annoying noises since 2016, as well as interviewing a range of experts—including sleep researchers and audio engineers—we’ve concluded that the LectroFan EVO is the most effective nuisance-noise blocker for the price.

If you know you prefer fanlike noises, you may like the Yogasleep Dohm. The Sound+Sleep excels at nature sounds, and if you’re looking for an app, myNoise is the best.

For more ways to find peace and quiet, see our guides to the best earplugs for sleeping, the best noise-cancelling headphones, and the best sleep headphones. We also have guidance on using a white noise machine for a baby.

With its electronically generated sounds, the LectroFan EVO masks a wider variety of noises than the other machines we tested in its price range.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $45.

Thanks to electronically generated noise options in a range of frequencies (including white, pink, brown, and fan sounds), the LectroFan EVO works as well as or better than similarly priced machines at masking squalling cats, barking dogs, and snoring roommates. Its controls are easy to use, its range of volume is wider than that of other devices we tested, and its small size is convenient for travel and won't dominate your nightstand.


Fans of fan sounds may find the Yogasleep Dohm's low-tech whir more pleasant than the more staticky white noise of the LectroFan EVO. But its volume range is smaller, and it doesn't mask noise as well.

If you find fan sounds calming and prefer a low-tech machine, the Yogasleep Dohm is a good option. Whereas the LectroFan EVO's strong suit is its range of electronically generated noise options, the Dohm uses a physical fan to create its white noise. Accordingly, it sounds earthier and more natural—like a whir (as you’d expect from a fan), as opposed to static. Some people find this more pleasant, despite the Yogasleep Dohm's inability to mask noise as well as machines that offer a range of white, pink, or brown sounds. The Dohm costs about the same as the LectroFan, and while the new design makes it easier to adjust the pitch and volume, it's still bulky, and you need to physically twist the casing to fine-tune the sound.

This easy-to-use machine provides not only white noise variations but also a mix of rich, customizable ambient sounds.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $65.

With 10 sound categories, including white noise, nature sounds, and other ambient non-looping recordings, the Sound+Sleep can mask noise while also helping you relax. Its audio quality is rich and full, and the design intuitive. You can layer multiple noises to create a full soundscape (by adding seagull cries on top of crashing ocean waves, for instance). The Sound+Sleep's so-called adaptive technology adjusts the volume automatically as your environment changes, making it easier to block out noise. These bells and whistles mean the Sound+Sleep costs twice as much as the LectroFan EVO, but we think its ease of use and pleasant sounds may be worth it, especially if you want the option of relaxing to environmental soundscapes in addition to blocking annoying noise.

myNoise offers better customization than any other white noise app we’ve found. It doesn't simply make nuisance noises more bearable—it can make them almost disappear.

We love the free myNoise app (available in the App Store and on Google Play) because it lets you choose from a range of pleasing white noise and natural sounds, as well as customize the intensity of the various frequencies to better mask the nuisance noise—something neither dedicated sound machines nor the other apps we’ve tried are able to do. The free version of the app offers a decent range of sounds, and myNoise's full acoustic library (an optional "all you can hear" bundle) is available for a one-time $10 fee. That's notably more affordable than other white noise apps we’ve tested, many of which require pricey monthly subscriptions for complete access. myNoise's recorded sounds don't loop, which experts say is ideal. (Note that the audio quality will depend on how you listen, whether through your phone's speakers, your headphones, or your Bluetooth speakers.)

With its electronically generated sounds, the LectroFan EVO masks a wider variety of noises than the other machines we tested in its price range.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $45.

Fans of fan sounds may find the Yogasleep Dohm's low-tech whir more pleasant than the more staticky white noise of the LectroFan EVO. But its volume range is smaller, and it doesn't mask noise as well.

This easy-to-use machine provides not only white noise variations but also a mix of rich, customizable ambient sounds.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $65.

myNoise offers better customization than any other white noise app we’ve found. It doesn't simply make nuisance noises more bearable—it can make them almost disappear.

To learn what features to look for in white noise machines, we spoke with Michael Perlis, PhD, director of the behavioral sleep medicine program at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine whose work includes studying the use of white noise machines in treating insomnia. We also interviewed UPenn scientist Mathias Basner, MD, PhD, a professor of sleep and chronobiology in the department of psychiatry who co-authored a clinical review of studies on the use of white noise as a sleep aid, as well as Stanford University sleep researcher Rafael Pelayo, MD, author of How to Sleep: The New Science-Based Solutions for Sleeping Through the Night and a medical consultant to Adaptive Sound Technologies Inc. (ASTI), the maker of two of our picks, the LectroFan EVO and the Sound+Sleep. To understand how noises mask each other, we spent hours talking on the phone and emailing with Stéphane Pigeon, PhD, a sound engineer specializing in white noise and the creator of myNoise, our favorite white noise app.

To learn about using white noise machines with infants, we interviewed Lisa L. Hunter, PhD, scientific director for audiology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, and Harvey Karp, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the USC Keck School of Medicine, maker of the Snoo bassinet, and author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, a guide to infant sleep.

Supervising editor Courtney Schley wrote the original version of this guide in 2016. I’m Wirecutter's senior staff writer for sleep, and I conducted a new round of research and testing for white noise machines over a period of several weeks in 2020 and 2021. In addition to overseeing Wirecutter's mattress coverage, I’ve written numerous articles on how to improve your sleep, as well as Wirecutter's "Five Days to Better Sleep" email challenge. Brent Butterworth, senior staff writer for audio at Wirecutter, performed a new round of decibel measurements and analyzed the sound quality of our top choices in early 2021.

Traditionally, people have used white noise machines to help them fall asleep. White noise machines can help, first and foremost, by blurring away noisy distractions with boring sounds. As Stanford University sleep researcher Rafael Pelayo explained, boring is good, particularly at bedtime, because we need to feel safe in order to fall asleep easily—and our brains register "boring" as "safe." What's more, these machines can help you stay asleep by masking the surprise bits of noise, such as the ding of a hotel elevator or the click of the lock as your roommate enters the apartment late, that might stir you awake in the middle of the night. It's for this reason that white noise machines can, as the pandemic has shown, come in handy, whether you’re working at home with kids or roommates who can't keep quiet or in an open-plan office.

Secondly, white noise machines may help you drift off if you find the sounds they make relaxing. (This is a likelier scenario when the machine emits real-life sounds, such as fan or rain noises.) As you turn to your machine night after night, the soothing sounds also become part of your bedtime routine. Routines make you feel safe—and again, feeling safe is important for quality sleep, said Pelayo (who, full disclosure, is also a medical consultant for ASTI, the maker of two of our picks, the LectroFan EVO and the Sound+Sleep). This isn't so much a reason for getting a white noise machine, but it explains why many people stick with it once they do.

White noise can help you stay asleep by masking the surprise bits of sound that might stir you awake in the middle of the night.

If you’re primarily looking for a way to block out distractions, try streaming white noise through either a free app (like the free version of our pick, myNoise) or your voice assistant before you invest in a dedicated machine.

Keep in mind, though, that more research is needed to prove the effectiveness of white noise machines to help you sleep. A clinical review of research on the relationship between white noise and sleep, published in the February 2021 issue of Sleep Medicine Reviews, found that previous studies were too small, too short, and too inconsistent to draw any meaningful conclusions. The truth is, whether you’ll find a white noise machine helpful for sleep will depend on your preferences and circumstances. White noise isn't an insomnia cure-all, said clinical review co-author Mathias Basner. In fact, some people might find the noises these machines generate as annoying as the sounds they’re trying to block out.

And if your sleep quality has changed suddenly and you’re not sure why, you shouldn't run out to buy a white noise machine right away. "Sleep is likely a very sensitive barometer of your health status," said UPenn researcher Michael Perlis. So unless you know for certain that ambient noise (a new neighbor blasting music at 2 a.m., your partner's snoring) is the culprit, it's best to talk with your doctor first.

For most people, white noise has come to mean any kind of continuous, unobtrusive background noise. But for audio engineers, white noise is a specific "color" in a rainbow of fuzzy-sounding noises:

The term "white noise machine" is therefore a misnomer, as these devices often offer a range of sounds. For instance, our top pick, the LectroFan EVO, has shades of pink and brown noises as well as white noise, and our also-great pick, the Dohm, emits a range of fan sounds that, depending on the setting, can sound a bit like brown noise. A better term for these devices would be "sound generators," said Pelayo, author of How to Sleep.

The white, pink, and brown noises you tend to find in sound generators can all mask annoying sounds to varying degrees, if you turn the volume up enough. But a smarter way to mask noise is to choose the color with higher intensity in the frequencies matching that of the noise you’re trying to block, explained sound engineer Stéphane Pigeon. For instance, the rumble of garbage trucks, the sound graph for which looks like a downward slope (as long as the X axis is linear), is handily masked by brown noise even at a relatively low volume, because brown noise is characterized by a lot of low frequencies and a similar downward-sloping sound graph. In contrast, white noise, whose sound graph is a straight, horizontal line, won't block the high-intensity low frequencies of a garbage truck until you ramp up the volume. That's inefficient and unkind to your ears. However, if you have the sort of tinnitus that sounds like ringing in your ears, the steady, higher-frequency sound of white or blue noise may offer relief.

Some white noise machines, such as the Sound+Sleep, also offer real-world sounds like that of rain, river, and ocean waves. If you happen to find these sounds soothing, they might help you sleep or focus. But they may also mask offending noises, if they're similar enough. For instance, ASTI, maker of the Sound+Sleep and the LectroFan, was born when its founder noticed while on a trip to the beach that the sound of the ocean reminded him of the freeway noises outside his home (but more relaxing). A musician with an advanced engineering degree, he recorded and analyzed the sounds, then played them back upon his return home, where he discovered that the ocean and its crashing waves seamlessly masked the whoosh of the cars. Similarly, the sound of raindrops may camouflage the chatter of people in the next room (both have a bell-shaped sound graph, said Pigeon); meanwhile, a drippy faucet can be "fixed" acoustically with the gurgle of a babbling brook. Of course, you have to find these "natural noise" solutions calming for this to work, for either sleeping or focusing; otherwise, you’re just replacing one bothersome sound for another.

We first tested white noise machines in 2016. After considering nine devices, supervising editor Courtney Schley zeroed in on six for further evaluation, including three white noise machines made by Yogasleep (formerly Marpac): the Dohm Classic (then called the Dohm DS), the Rohm, and the Hushh. She also tested the ASTI LectroFan Classic, the HoMedics Deep Sleep II, and the Sleep Easy Sound Conditioner.

Over a period of several weeks in late 2020 and early 2021, I assessed new models and retested our current picks, several of which had been updated. These included:

I started by testing the control buttons both in broad daylight and at bedtime, identifying the machines that were the most intuitive to use and the easiest to handle, even in the dark. I also considered the array of masking sounds each machine offered, the acoustic quality of the sound, and whether the sound itself was pleasant (not all babbling brooks are created equal; some sounded like a leaky toilet).

I then evaluated the best of the bunch—the Yogasleep Dohm, the LectroFan, the LectroFan EVO, the Sound+Sleep, and the Snooz—against recordings of common nuisance noises, including a drill (video), a party (video), a barking dog (video), and vehicles on a freeway (video), played at the highest volume from a laptop set on a table in the living and dining area of my apartment. I placed white noise machines on a dresser in an adjacent bedroom with the door closed. One by one, I searched for a sound that best masked each of the noises when played at a moderate to soft volume (a decibel level no higher than the mid-50s and preferably in the 40s, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention categorizes as unannoying and not likely to cause hearing damage).

I also sent these five models to Brent Butterworth, Wirecutter's senior staff writer and in-house audio expert. He set up a sound-level meter 18 inches away from our top contenders in a quiet room to measure each one's decibel range. He also further assessed their sound quality and slept with each machine.

With its electronically generated sounds, the LectroFan EVO masks a wider variety of noises than the other machines we tested in its price range.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $45.

The LectroFan EVO is a small but mighty machine, with an intuitive design that offers an abundance of rich-sounding options that are likely to shield you acoustically from any bothersome noise. The EVO, an updated version of the LectroFan Classic, our previous top pick since 2016, offers everything the Classic does for the same price and has several thoughtful design upgrades. Two electronically generated ocean noises (one calm, the other with rougher surf) join the 10 colored sounds and 10 fan sounds. The top of the heptagonal-shaped machine is sloped and holds all the buttons (the Classic's buttons were on the side), so it's both easier to access and see from your bed, or to navigate by touch in the dark. The on/off switch no longer shares a button with the timer, which eliminates confusion and mishaps. The EVO's surface feels more grippy and less slippery, and there's a connector for headphones or speakers.

But we especially like the LectroFan EVO for the same reasons we liked the Classic (which is still a good choice if you can't find the EVO). Ranging from "dark noise" (low-frequency brown noise) to "white noise" (high frequency), the EVO's colored-noise settings sound like variations of low rumbles, rushing wind, or static—neither pleasant nor unpleasant. Compared with other contraptions of similar size, the sound is noticeably better: clear and rich, and not at all tinny or muffled.

Brent's 2021 sound-level test confirmed that this little machine has great range—from "almost nothing" to a maximum volume of 87 decibels (about as loud as a garbage disposal). Compared with other white noise machines we tested, including the Dohm, the LectroFan EVO provides a greater range of frequencies and allows for finer volume control, letting you pick the best match to mask noise at the lowest possible setting. In our most recent tests, where we kept the dBA levels to a moderate mid-40s to high ’50s, the EVO's calmer ocean setting sufficiently diminished freeway noise; "cinnamon" (a slightly higher-pitched brown noise) smoothed out the hard edges of a hammer drill; and "champagne" (a touch lower pitched than white noise) drowned out party chitchat. The loud sound of barking dogs was more difficult to block, but it was at least made less annoying with the machine set to "coral" (a bit higher pitched than pink noise).

For those soothed by fans, the LectroFan drones and whirs in 10 different ways, including as a box fan, an attic fan, and an industrial fan. Its exhaust fan, though electronically created, sounds close to Yogasleep's real fan. It's nice to have options, but those who like the specific whoosh of an exhaust fan might prefer the audio richness of the Yogasleep.

Measuring just 4.7 inches in diameter and about 3.3 inches high, the EVO is slightly larger than the Classic but still takes up little room on a nightstand, and it's small enough to fit in your luggage when you travel. The EVO's new interface is more intuitive than that of the Classic, and certainly more so than that of the competition. Once turned on, it will play indefinitely (as is the case with other white noise machines), though you can also set a timer. With 60-minute increments (up to eight hours), the EVO offers more flexibility than most. For instance, there's no timer at all on the Yogasleep Dohm, and the slightly cheaper Yogasleep Duet provides only three timer choices (45 minutes, 90 minutes, or eight hours).

We wish the EVO had a built-in battery, which would be helpful for travel or when you don't have an outlet nearby. And while toggle-button controls are intuitive, we wish it had a labeled dial like that of our upgrade pick, the Sound+Sleep (our upgrade pick) does, so you can see what noise you’ve switched to. And, unlike with white noise apps, you can set the timer only by the hour and not by the minute. Finally, while the electronically generated ocean noises are fine, they don't sound too different from a colored noise—more a soft ebbing and flowing "shhh" than the harder-edged sound of water lapping onto distant shores. If you’re looking for naturalistic environmental sounds, you may prefer the Sound+Sleep.

Fans of fan sounds may find the Yogasleep Dohm's low-tech whir more pleasant than the more staticky white noise of the LectroFan EVO. But its volume range is smaller, and it doesn't mask noise as well.

If you find the rushing sound of a fan pleasant and relaxing, the Yogasleep Dohm is a reliable choice for masking noise. With a devoted following for more than 50 years (Yogasleep, formerly Marpac, touts it as the "original white noise machine"), the Dohm relies on an actual fan to make noise. We think it produces a slightly more pleasant and earthier sound than the LectroFan's electronically produced fan and white, brown, and pink noises. It's something akin to what you hear when you hold a seashell over your ear, or to the sound of wind rushing through a field, though we also noticed a slight whining undertone when running the Dohm on its high setting.

As is expected with white noise machines that generate sounds from a single physical fan, the Dohm is more limited in its masking capabilities compared with its digital counterparts. While it masked softer noises like the freeway traffic as well as the LectroFan EVO when behind a closed door, sounds such as barking dogs or talking people required higher volume just to blur the noise, let alone completely mask it.

The Dohm also has a narrower volume range than the other machines we tested, including the LectroFan EVO and the Sound+Sleep. Brent found that the Dohm's lowest setting registered about 62 dBA when measured from 18 inches away, much louder than the softest setting on the other contenders (our pick, the LectroFan EVO, goes down to "near nothing," he noted). On the higher end, the Dohm can reach only 69 dBA—other machines can run louder, but we doubt you’d want a white noise machine louder than that.

We understand why the Dohm has a loyal following: Besides the widespread appeal of fan noise, there's something innately comforting about its low-tech, no-frills, analog build. It's a great choice if you want to keep your bedroom a tech-free haven. A single button lets you switch from low volume to high volume to off, and you can make subtle adjustments to the tone and volume by twisting the plastic housing, which opens or closes the cutouts. Though the original design (the Yogasleep Dohm Classic, our former pick), is still available, we prefer the revised 2020 version even though it costs a few dollars more. With a more contoured shape and a ridged surface, it's easier to twist and adjust (though it can still be a challenge if you have dexterity issues, in which case you’ll want to consider the LectroFan EVO or the Sound+Sleep, which use buttons). Neither version has a timer—for that you’d have to spend $70 for the app-enabled Yogasleep Dohm Connect, something we don't recommend because for just $10 more, you can get the (also app-enabled) Snooz, which has a more stylish look and produces a cleaner fan sound. Both of these pricier choices allow you to adjust the volume with your phone too.

This easy-to-use machine provides not only white noise variations but also a mix of rich, customizable ambient sounds.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $65.

The Sound+Sleep offers a customizable range of both authentic environmental sounds and white noise variations, with better sound quality than the other machines we tried. Whether you need to mask noise or relax (or both), this machine could probably do it all. As senior audio writer Brent Butterworth said, "If you can't find a sound on this that works for you, a noise machine is probably not your answer."

You’ll find much cheaper models that provide a similarly large range of sounds, but the Sound+Sleep's nine ambient noises (including a waterfall, a fireplace, a train, and meditative music), recorded from real life, sound more robust and organic—and thus likely more pleasant for most people—than the LectroFan EVO's electronically generated surf (which sounds similar to pink noise), or the muffled-sounding surf on the Yogasleep Duet, which is also naturally recorded. Located on top of the machine, the Sound+Sleep's larger speaker contributes to its fuller, richer acoustic quality. The raised buttons and dial are clearly labeled and easy to navigate in the dark. They’re also more responsive than most, so those with strength issues shouldn't have a problem.

In addition, the Sound+Sleep has a couple of extras you won't find in other machines: You can "enhance" each of its sounds with the "richness" button, which layers in additional recordings to create a more complex, non-looping soundscape. For example, if you choose the simple roar of ocean surf, you can add the sound of seagulls, or go all in and include the occasional foghorn. (I personally found the foghorns too distracting for bedtime, though.) The resulting mix is different every time you listen.

You can also press the "adaptive" button to enable the machine to automatically adjust the volume as the noises around you change. This takes some of the guesswork out of finding the best volume level and saves you from fiddling with the buttons once you’re in bed. I found the volume shifts almost too subtle to notice, but perhaps that's the point—you don't need to raise the volume too loud to blur away the nuisance noises.

You could cover a wide range of sounds at half the cost using LectroFan EVO. But the Sound+Sleep offers arguably better-sounding solutions—and more of them. For instance, its crackling-fireplace sound handily camouflaged the tapping of my apartment's heating unit at a softer, more soothing volume than any white noise variation I tried on LectroFan EVO.

A button turns the display lights on and off, and, like the LectroFan, it has a headphone jack so you can listen without disturbing your sleep partner. We also like that the timer can be set in 30-minute increments (as opposed to only 60-minute increments on the LectroFan EVO). Some machines, like the Snooz, which costs about the same, offer even more precision via a Bluetooth-enabled timer. But there's something to be said for a tactile machine after a long day spent swiping and tapping on screens.

myNoise offers better customization than any other white noise app we’ve found. It doesn't simply make nuisance noises more bearable—it can make them almost disappear.

If you have decent-quality headphones or Bluetooth speakers, you might find peace simply by downloading a white noise app, many of which offer an impressive array of sound options for free. A lot of the apps we found allow you to program a timer precisely to the minute, something the physical machines we recommend don't offer. And even if you decide on a dedicated white noise machine, we think a downloaded app is handy to have as well, whether for a more peaceful train commute, help focusing in a noisy office, or a better night's sleep in a hotel room.

After testing 12 smartphone apps in 2016 and another three (White Noise Lite, Deep Sleep Sounds, and Relax Melodies) for this update, we still like myNoise best. Created by research engineer and sound designer Stéphane Pigeon, whom we interviewed for this guide, myNoise is available on both iOS and Android as well as on the myNoise site. The app offers a core collection of eight real-life sounds (rain, ocean, and temple bells, for example) and colored noises for free; you can purchase the "all you can listen" bundle, an ample library of additional sounds, for a one-time fee of $10, or download individual sounds for 99¢ apiece. (All sounds are available for free on the browser version.) Similar to the Sound+Sleep, the environmental sounds on the myNoise app are generated from real-world recordings versus electronically, so they’re richer and more realistic than those of the LectroFan EVO. (Pigeon created many of the recordings himself. On the app's website, you can even view photos and read about some of his soundscape-gathering trips—for example, this soothing sea-wind-rain mix he captured along the Irish coast.)

The soft hiss of sea spray masks the sounds that white noise might, but we found myNoise more relaxing. In addition, an algorithm mixes the recordings to avoid discernable loops, and you can also layer soundscapes (bells chiming in the rain, for instance). This prevents your brain from anticipating patterns so you’re more likely to relax and fall asleep, said Michael Perlis, the UPenn sleep researcher. Besides manually pressing the off button, you can also stop the sound via a timer or an alarm.

myNoise also allows you to adjust sounds to better mask the din that's annoying you. How? As explained earlier, different noises have higher intensities at some frequencies and lower intensities at others. With myNoise, you can customize the intensity of the individual frequencies within the recording you’re listening to, letting you block the offending noise without having to raise the volume. None of the machines or other apps we tested offered this degree of customization and control. It's like being able to wrap a large, oddly shaped gift with tissue as opposed to cardboard. A sheet of tissue molds and covers closely and efficiently, while the cardboard leaves gaps and may require extra cardboard to fully envelop what you’re trying to wrap.

This is huge, as I discovered recently during a restless night's sleep in a hotel. Plagued by an eclectic range of snoring noises from more than one family member, I put on my headphones, tapped on the "Tibetan choir" option, and played around with the frequencies. Even without an overall volume increase, the offending noises seemed to vanish—and I was instantly transported to a monastery, where I eventually fell asleep.

Many parents (including me) have used white noise machines to help their babies sleep. White noise can block intrusive sounds that could startle a baby awake, so it's especially helpful during daytime naps and at bedtime, when the rest of the household is still active. We think the LectroFan EVO and the Yogasleep Dohm could work for babies, too, even though both companies also make baby-specific versions, which offer the usual ambient sounds along with womb or heartbeat sounds or lullabies.

While we didn't test any of our picks with babies specifically, we did reach out to experts for some guidance on using white noise with babies. And, of course, it never hurts to talk to your pediatrician before adding one of our picks—or any other white noise machine—to your baby's sleep routine.

Harvey Karp, MD, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block (which has an accompanying streaming video), has long recommended that caregivers calm babies down with loud shushing, either directly or with a device (his company, Happiest Baby, offers a bassinet as well as a teddy, both of which play a series of specially designed sounds). Babies are exposed to loud and low-pitched sounds in the womb, and in the first few months after they’re born—Karp calls this the "fourth trimester"—those noises still sound soothing, he said.

You should be careful about volume, however. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends (PDF) that newborns in neonatal intensive care units be exposed to sound levels no higher than 45 dBa to avoid potential hearing damage. However, it doesn't have an official guideline concerning continuous-noise machines, which emit noises with a far lower pitch compared with typical hospital beeps and alarms.

Lisa L. Hunter, scientific director for audiology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, cautioned that some devices are capable of putting out noise far higher than that. One 2014 study (PDF) she cited found that all 14 of the machines tested were capable of producing sounds in excess of 50 dBa, and several went up to 85 dBa (this is in line with the maximum decibel output of the machines we tested, as well).

Hunter advised turning down the sound machine to a soft level so that it doesn't interfere with hearing quiet conversation, and choosing a machine with a timer setting in order to further limit how long the infant is exposed to the sound.

If you have a voice assistant in your room, you already have a white noise machine, and it will pretty much play for as long or as little as you’d like it to, depending on the platform. Access Alexa's offerings via its Ambient Noise skill, or peruse Google Home's 14 built-in options on the company's support page. You can also use your smart speaker to stream nature sounds from Spotify playlists, as Brent has done. We’ve found that the sound quality of these smart speakers rivals that of our picks and easily exceeds those of cheaper white noise contraptions, thanks to the resources available to these tech giants. "Having a decent smart speaker (like a standard Amazon Echo or Google Home, but not the Echo Dot or Google Home Mini) will give you more of the low frequencies, which I find more soothing," Brent says. But beyond the hardware, you may or may not like your voice assistant's particular rendition of ambient sounds. For instance, Brent prefers the ocean option on Google Home over Amazon Echo's because the crashing waves sound less distinct, whereas I like more variation in my surf sounds. Also keep in mind that because the sounds aren't part of the hardware, the options may change, and you can't take the device with you when you travel.

Finally, privacy may be an issue for some users. Both Google Home and Amazon Echo work by responding to your voice commands and, to improve accuracy, sometimes record your interactions with it—something you may not want to have happen in your bedroom or your child's. Thorin Klosowski, a lead editor on Wirecutter's PC team who covers privacy and security, advises perusing your device's settings to make it more secure and slightly more private. (CNET offers more explanation on this for both the Google Home and the Amazon Echo.) "In general," Thorin explained, "a device can theoretically ‘mishear’ the wake word and start recording, but we’d guess the white noise recording would make that unlikely while it's playing." (If you’re trying to fall asleep, you’re not likely to say something that sounds vaguely like "Alexa" or "Hey, Google.") Neither Brent nor I noticed any recording during testing.

We’re currently testing several new white noise machines against our current picks, including the Honeywell DreamWeaver, the Sweet Zzz White Noise Machine, the Douni Sleep Sound Machine, and the Dreamegg D1, among others.

We also plan to test updated versions of two existing picks: Yogasleep's Dohm Nova, an updated version of our also-great pick, the Yogasleep Dohm, and the Sound+Sleep SE, an expanded version of our upgrade pick. Yogasleep launched the Dohm Nova in February 2022, adding new functions like a night light and timer option. We’re evaluating the Sound+Sleep SE, which includes an expanded sound library with more than double the number of sounds, to see if its higher price is worth it.

Lastly, we’re testing the Dark Noise app to see how it measures up against our current favorite white noise machine app, myNoise.

If you want a stylish, upgraded fan-sound experience: While most white noise machines have a hard-edged, clinical appearance, the Bluetooth-enabled Snooz is curvy and stylish, with a satisfying whoosh that only a real fan (encased inside) can make. Brent loves the Snooz almost as much as the similarly priced Sound+Sleep. You can adjust the volume settings in 10 gradual increments—from whisper-soft to nearly 75 dBA, per Brent's measurements—via the app, which features an automatic scheduler that lets you time the sound to fade in and out on a schedule of your choosing, right down to the minute. You can also manually rotate the machine's outer ring to achieve tones ranging from a tabletop fan to an airplane-cabin rumble. Compared with the Dohm Connect (which costs $10 less), the whir is more robust, without a trace of whine even at its highest volume—just the pure, clear sound of whirling air. But $80 seems like a lot of money for one main sound, so we didn't make the Snooz an official recommendation. Then again, if that's the sound that soothes you (and it adequately masks the noise bothering you), this is your upgrade pick.

If you’re not choosy about sound quality but want lots of noise options at an affordable price: Shaped almost like a mini Google Home, the Yogasleep Duet slides unobtrusively onto any nightstand, no matter how small. It offers 30 sound variations, which is as many as the Sound+Sleep, our upgrade pick, and it's Bluetooth-enabled so you can stream your own music. However, a third of the offerings are melodies (including Brahms's "Lullaby" and "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"), and the audio sounds a bit muffled and less organic overall compared to that of the Sound+Sleep, even though we’re told the Duet's ambient sounds are indeed recorded from real life, albeit tweaked electronically. And while you can stream your own music into the speaker, the app doesn't allow you to set a precise schedule (your only choices are 45 minutes, 90 minutes, or eight hours). Still, the seven white noise variations can block a range of nuisance sounds, and at $40, it's a pretty good deal if you’re not too picky about the sound quality and can find use for it with small children. It comes with a USB cord but no wall plug.

If you want an affordable option for a baby: The Yogasleep Nod is essentially the Yogasleep Duet but designed for babies, with a dozen white noise, fan, and environmental variations in addition to the eight infant-friendly options (lullabies, shushing, and womb sounds). At $25, it's a good value for a nursery, and it doubles as a dimmable night-light. But for grown-up use, you’d get better sound quality and options with the Sound+Sleep, or at least more sounds to choose from with the Yogasleep Duet.

If you want an eclectic range of ambient-noise options that you can mix and match: The free White Noise Lite app (available in the App Store and on Google Play) is your portal to a literal world of sounds, ranging from the usual nature favorites and colored noises to oddball options such as a dishwasher and cars. You can create playlists, mix and match sounds (heavy rain plus city streets, for example), and record your own looped sounds—or listen to and share those from other users’ creations—in the White Noise Market companion app, where you’ll find such eclectic offerings as "Kona rainforest rain" and "Icelandic wind." The basic version of White Noise Lite comes with (annoying) ads; the 99¢ "full" version eliminates them, while the $2.99 "pro" option includes the generator tools you need to create recordings on your own. Both one-time fees are a real steal compared with the costly subscriptions for the other competing apps we tried in 2020. myNoise, with its customization options and professional non-looped recordings, is a better choice if you’re more concerned about masking noise with quality sounds. But if you simply like to open your ears to different soundscapes, White Noise Lite may be worth a listen.

The HoMedics SoundSpa SS-2000 is the flattest machine we tested (like the tip of a sphere shorn off), making it easy to slip into the side of a packed bag. It also had one of clearest control panels we’ve tested, with an on/off/volume knob, a timer button, and a button for each of its digitally recorded nature sounds and white noise, all spaced apart for easy access in the dark. However, the sound quality is tinny; more importantly, compared with our pick, the LectroFan EVO, it doesn't provide the variety of colored sounds you might need to efficiently mask the varied noises that might come your way. The encasement also feels flimsy.

The LectroFan Classic is the original version of our pick, the LectroFan EVO. With 10 variations each of colored and fan sounds, it's still a good choice for masking nuisance noise. But the placement of controls on the side of the machine (instead of on a sloped top) and a more slippery texture mean the Classic isn't as easy to use as the EVO, which costs about the same and offers two ocean sounds to boot.

The sound on the Letsfit Sleep Sound Machine T126L is surprisingly robust—and the options tremendously varied—for a machine that costs barely $25, and there's a night-light too. You can choose from 14 options, including white, pink, and brown noises; lullabies; and nature and fan sounds. Compared with those on the LectroFan EVO, the ocean waves on the Letsfit actually sound more real, albeit also terrifyingly aggressive. The Letsfit's biggest drawback, though, is its ill-conceived controls, which make mishaps inevitable, especially if you’re using it in a nursery or shared bedroom. It's too easy to accidentally tap the top to turn on the night-light, and if your touch inadvertently lingers on the button for too long, the machine will unleash sound when you might not want it to. The button for volume selection is the same for sound selection, depending on how long you touch it, so that too invites mistakes that can startle others awake. Finally, the timer button doesn't set quietly but instead announces itself with a robot voice. We found the frustrations not worth the savings.

The Sleep Easy Sound Conditioner, which features an internal fan and looks like a Dohm knockoff, was a total bust in our tests: It jittered and rattled uncontrollably when we switched it on. Amazon reviews indicate this is a common problem.

The Sound+Sleep SE offers the same features as our upgrade pick, the original Sound+Sleep—but with six additional sounds, each with four (instead of three) variations, for a total of 64 choices versus the original's 30. That said, you’ll have to pay almost twice the price for more than twice the options (though the SE is often on sale). We haven't tested this machine yet, but we think most people won't miss the extras, which include two fan sounds as well as more colored-noise variations. It does come in a fresh white encasement, however, as opposed to the original's circa-1980s-style black, and includes two USB charging ports and an external audio-output jack.

The Yogasleep Dohm Classic is the renamed older model of our also-great pick, the Yogasleep Dohm. The Classic sounds the same and costs a few dollars less, but it also retains the original, less ergonomic design.

The Yogasleep Dohm Connect is the Bluetooth version of the Yogasleep Dohm. With the companion app, you can time your noise to the minute and adjust the volume from your bed—which is helpful, given that these machines work best when they’re several feet away, placed between you and the source of the nuisance noise. However, it's expensive (around $70), and we think it's worth spending the extra $10 for the better-sounding, better-looking, app-enabled Snooz.

The Yogasleep Rohm, which blocked sound well in our tests, has 25 discreet volume levels that allow for precise adjustments. But it has just two colored-noise options (and a crashing-waves setting), and the controls are on the side of the machine, which means you have to pick it up to make adjustments. We also found the buttons a bit stiff. Although it's designed as a travel device, it's not much smaller than the LectroFan, which we think is already small enough to take on the go. If you need a white noise machine only for travel, you’ll probably be fine with a smartphone app.

The Yogasleep Hushh is identical to the Rohm, except for a few baby-specific features (a night-light and a lock). We didn't test it with babies.

Despite costing $10 less than the Dohm, the Yogasleep Whish seemed like it would be a logical upgrade. It offers a wide range of sounds, including six fans, two white noise options, and eight nature noises. Each is clearly marked and easy to access with the press of a button. However, the response is delayed and the buttons are crowded, making it a challenge to find what you need in the dark. The noises also sound harsh and synthetic, particularly compared with the Dohm.

Noisli used to be our app recommendation for Android users, before myNoise, our iOS pick, came out with an Android version. The simple icon-based interface offers 13 ambient sounds and three colored-noise options. You can't adjust color-coded frequencies like you can in myNoise, but you can layer multiple colored-noise sounds, adjust their volumes to create a custom blend, and set a timer. Of the eight Android apps we tried in our original tests, it had the least-distracting and easiest-to-use interface, but we like the Android version of myNoise better. Noisli's developers haven't updated the app since 2017, and you can get a more vibrant experience with the browser version.

Relax Melodies (available in the App Store and on Google Play) focuses on sleep and meditation, and puts sound front and center as the solution. Whether you’re looking for breathing exercises or bedtime meditations, you can set any of the tools to the soundscape of your choice. With 62 free sounds across 10 categories—including the usual nature and white noise options, but also less-expected offerings such as a vacuum cleaner, rustling leaves, loons, and a purring cat—plus the ability to layer them, you’ll probably find something soothing and masking, even if you don't opt for the $40 annual subscription. However, unlike with myNoise, the sounds do loop, and you can't "sculpt" them to better camouflage nuisance noises. You’ll also have to endure an onslaught of ads, which feels less than relaxing.

Tapping on the Deep Sleep Sounds app (available in the App Store and on Google Play) unleashes a long scroll of noises, thanks to categories and subcategories of sounds within sounds. The free version gives you limited (but still satisfying) access; if you want the full library of 80-plus sounds and the ability to play them continuously for longer than eight hours, you’ll need to pay $50 every year, which we don't find necessary for those who simply want to mask noise or find something to relax to. (With free "light rain," "medium rain," "driving in the rain," and "rain on tent" sounds, we think we’d be okay without "rain on umbrella," "heavy backyard rain," or "urban rain" options.) As with other white noise apps, we appreciate the range and timer flexibility, but we think myNoise offers a more versatile and pleasant sound experience for free.

Mathias Basner, MD, PhD, professor of sleep and chronobiology in the department of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, video interview, November 10, 2020

Andrew Dimitrijevic, PhD, director of cochlear implant research at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, Ontario, email interview, November 11, 2020

Lisa L. Hunter, PhD, scientific director for audiology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, email interview, November 10, 2020

Harvey Karp, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the USC Keck School of Medicine, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, and founder of Happiest Baby, video interview, November 9, 2020

Roneil Malkani, PhD, assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, phone interview, November 16, 2020

Rafael Pelayo, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, consultant to Adaptive Sound Technologies Inc., and author of How to Sleep: The New Science-Based Solutions for Sleeping Through the Night, phone interview, November 6, 2020

Michael Perlis, PhD, associate professor of psychology and director of the behavioral sleep medicine program at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, email interview, October 30, 2020

Stéphane Pigeon, PhD, research engineer, sound designer, and creator of the myNoise app, video interview, November 16, 2020

Joanne Chen

Joanne Chen is a former senior staff writer reporting on sleep and other lifestyle topics. Previously, she covered health and wellness as a magazine editor. After an assignment forced her to sleep eight hours a day for a month, she realized that she is, in fact, a smarter, nicer person when she isn't sleep-deprived.

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White noise Pink noise Brown noise Blue noise If you want a stylish, upgraded fan-sound experience: If you’re not choosy about sound quality but want lots of noise options at an affordable price: If you want an affordable option for a baby: If you want an eclectic range of ambient-noise options that you can mix and match: