There's some scientific evidence that white-noise machines can help insomniacs sleep a little more easily at night. These devices generate repetitive, soothing noises on a variety of frequencies, which give a sleeper something to focus on other than street traffic, a roommate's TV or a spouse's snoring. Because white-noise machines are easy to produce, however, there are plenty of shoddy, second-rate models on the market. We've researched five of the best white-noise machines, which should help you to, at last, get some unbroken shut-eye.
How we picked
To select the best white-noise machines, Tom's Guide researched reviews from a number of tech and sleep sites, including The Wirecutter, Wired, Sleep Advisor and Verywell Health. After narrowing down our initial selection, we read customer reviews on Amazon, Reddit and manufacturer websites to see how our choices held up under real-world conditions. The five we chose have the best reputations overall, and represent a variety of price points and use-cases.
A note on "white noise"
Not all white-noise machines generate real white noise. While the term white noise colloquially refers to any low, looping noise that helps people focus on a task at hand (like sleeping), that's not the scientific definition of the term. White noise generates sound on a variety of frequencies — some of which are actually unpleasant to the human ear. As such, many "white noise" machines listed here generate a gentler "pink noise" instead. Certain models even mimic the sounds of a roaring ocean or a crackling fire. These sounds may indeed help you to sleep, but they are not technically white noise.
Best Overall White-Noise Machine
White-noise machines aren't new, by any means. In fact, Marpac has been making them since 1962. In a classic example of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" design, the Marpac Dohm Classic hasn't really changed in the last 50-plus years. Rather than generating white noise digitally, the Marpac Dohm Classic simply contains a small fan inside of a dome. You can use the fan on a low or high setting, and then adjust the tone. That's it. Very simple to set up and use, and the Marpac works as well now as it did back in the '60s.
Best Budget White-Noise Machine
Unlike a real barnyard fowl, the Big Red Rooster White-Noise Machine won't crow at you first thing in the morning. In fact, it could help you sleep in a bit, and wake up feeling like a real cock of the walk. This machine is one of the cheaper options, retailing for $30, but often available for less than $20. However, you don't have to sacrifice any functionality, as it offers six different soothing sounds: Rain, Brook, Ocean, Thunder, White Noise and Summer Night. Another big advantage is that the Big Red Rooster can run on either an AC adapter or three AA batteries, which makes it good for travel.
Best Premium White-Noise Machine
The LectroFan High Fidelity White-Noise Machine is one of the few devices in our recommendations that can generate true white noise. However, as we mentioned earlier, not every sleeper is receptive to white noise — which is why the machine also generates pink noise, brown noise and has 10 different fan settings.
No matter what kind of ambient sound helps you to sleep, the LectroFan can almost certainly generate it. Thanks to its digital noise library, this machine can produce 20 different sounds, sure to lull even the most discerning sleeper into eight hours of oblivion. The LectroFan also features a timer, so it doesn't have to run all night.
Best White-Noise Machine/Alarm Clock Combo
Getting to sleep is an admirable goal, but most of us also have to wake up at a certain time. That's where the Homedics Recharged Alarm Clock & Sound Machine comes in handy. In addition to offering eight different soothing noises to help you fall asleep, the machine also functions as a clock radio with an alarm feature. You can awaken to your favorite FM radio station — or to a more traditional beeping alarm, if music doesn’t get you going in the morning. There's also a timer, a thermometer, a smartphone holder and a projection clock, so you can see the time displayed on the nearest wall.
Best Smart Speaker for White Noise
There's an argument to be made that the best device for any given application is the one you already own. You may not own a Google Home Mini Smart Speaker, but you probably do have the thing that powers it: a smartphone. Using a smart speaker allows you to leverage your existing smartphone apps to broadcast anything you want. That means you can buy a white-noise recording, or play one on YouTube — or even ask Google Assistant to find one for you. Your sound library is potentially as big as the Internet itself, and you can customize plenty of timers and alarms to go along with it.
The best white-noise machine for babies?
Many people buy white-noise machines to help lull babies to sleep. As such, you might be expecting a recommendation for an infant-centric device on this page. However, based on my research, I am not convinced that white-noise machines are universally safe for babies. A 2014 study from the American Academy of Pediatrics found that most white-noise machines exceeded recommended decibel levels for infants, and that the noise can "affect hearing, speech and language development."
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I looked for a follow-up study to determine whether white-noise machines have addressed this flaw within the last five years, but was unable to find anything. As such, I can't guarantee that these machines are safe for babies — and neither can their manufacturers. If you want to get a white-noise machine for the express purpose of helping a baby sleep, I recommend consulting with a pediatrician first.
Do you need a white-noise machine?
One final word of advice: Although white-noise machines can indeed help you to sleep, they are not magic bullets. Simply turning on one of these will not knock you out, and ambient noise may not be the thing that's keeping you up at night. In fact, it's much more likely that diet, exercise and staring at screens are contributing to poor sleep quality. Something as simple as a nightly "winding down" routine can help you to sleep.