These devices help to block out unwanted, irritating noises helping you focus and get off to sleep more easily. In this article we’re going to take a deep dive into the key benefits of these devices; we’ll touch on things to consider when making a purchase and then we’ll dive into our favorite products on the market.
In case you’re in a rush, here’s the summary of the products we review further down the article. I recommend you read the whole article to ensure you make the right purchase for your needs.
At a Glance: Our Choice Of The 8 Best Noise Cancelling Machines On The Market
Best Sound Masking Machines
- Marpac Dohm Classic (Best Overall)
- Adaptive Sound Technologies Sound+Sleep SE (Best Premium Choice)
- HoMedics Sound Spa (Best Budget Choice)
- Sound Oasis Travel Therapy
- LectroFan Micro
Best Noise Cancelling Headphones
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.
Table of Contents
- The Benefits of Using a Noise Cancelling Machine
- Buying Guide: Key Considerations
- Product Round-up & Reviews – Noise Cancelling Device
- So, Which Should I Choose?
There are two types of noise cancellation device:
Noise Cancelling Headphones
If you’re in a public space (on a noisy train for example), or at work in an open-plan office, switching on a sound masking machine would be ineffective if you wanted some peace and quiet (you wouldn’t be able to hear it). Noise cancelling headphones use new-fangled technology to remove background noise and channel out external sounds. They also have the additional benefit of letting you listen to music, which is proven to make you more productive at work.
Sound Masking Machines
If you struggle to concentrate or sleep, sound masking machines are small devices that sit on a bedside table or desk and generate sound to block out the annoying noise or make you drift off, if you’re trying to sleep. The models we review further down the page vary in terms of how the noises they make; some just generate what is called ‘white noise‘, while others have various sounds like rushing water, birdsong, and jungle.
The Benefits of Using a Noise Cancelling Machine
There’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to sleep. There are many causes of insomnia, but one topic that’s often overlooked is your ‘sound environment’. Typically, we think of noise as a distraction, but in the case of white noise or other relaxing sounds, it can have the opposite effect: noise can actually help you sleep. These machines aren’t guaranteed to give you a decent night’s sleep, but they certainly won’t hurt.
Likewise, if your baby is struggling to sleep through, this can be partly because they were used to hearing many sounds as they slept in your womb (it can be difficult for kids to adjust to overly-quiet bedrooms or nurseries). One of these devices may be worth a try.
Improves Concentration and Focus
One of the major downsides of all the technology at our fingertips these days (we check our phones on average once every 12 minutes) is that it’s become harder than ever to concentrate – social media companies especially are vying for your attention all the time.
The impact of interruption on individual productivity is hugely negative – distracting ambient noise is one of the biggest causes of interruption and one of the commonest complaints raised by employees (largely because of the increase of open-plan offices). Using one of these devices won’t give you 100% of your concentration back, but it will definitely help.
Alleviates Hearing Loss
A common problem for many musicians is the hearing damage they inevitably suffer from gigging. Whether it’s playing a live show, rehearsals or just the rotten luck of being stuck next to an enthusiastic percussion section – it’s an unfortunate fact that you’ll often find yourself with persistent ringing in your ears. Sound masking devices won’t eliminate the ringing, but they may help to alleviate it.
Buying Guide: Key Considerations
Headphones or Machine?
As you’ve seen, there are two main types of device. So, which one’s right for you? Are you looking to cancel out the sound of people chatting on the bus, or are you looking for something to switch on when you’re at home to help you to get to sleep? Maybe you’re looking for something that you can switch on to encourage a higher level of concentration in the office?
How Many Presets?
Sound masking machines usually have a variety of ready-made ‘soundscapes’ as well as the standard white, pink or brown noise; you can relax listening to birdsong, oceans, running rain, etc. Do you have a particular sound you prefer? Have a think and see if the product includes it.
Many sound masking machines also include sleep timers which gradually lower in volume until you drop off asleep (and then switch off automatically). If that’s something that appeals to you, make sure the product has that feature. Some have headphone jacks too, which is a nice touch.
Product Round-up & Reviews – Noise Cancelling Device
So, now you know what you’re looking for, let’s look at each of the top models in more detail.
Marpac Dohm Classic
The Marpac Dohm is a small sound masking machine that is the perfect portable sleep aid.
It has two speeds of white noise to choose between, and it’s perfect for blocking out things like road noise or noisy neighbors.
It’s fan-based, so it produces its sound naturally, rather than digitally like most of the other products.
This machine is perfect for those who like to keep things simple, and simply hoping to sleep better. It will be less suited to those who require relaxing sounds to help with yoga or meditation, or to those who would like more control over the sound than two simple settings.
- Extremely small and lightweight – making it ideal for taking on a tour or trip where you could reasonably expect to deal with noisy neighbors
- Straightforward settings – Very simple settings allow you to change the frequency, tone, and volume in order to better combat the unwanted noise
- Non-recognizable patterns – The sounds created are truly random, which assists with sleeping as you won’t start recognizing patterns that are often a problem with digital machines
- No timer – Lacks the option to program a timer
- No presets – No ‘soundscaping’ options such as birds, fire or waves
- No battery power – it will only be suitable for use with US mains power supply or others that use 120V as standard
Adaptive Sound Technologies Sound+Sleep SE
Another very portable sound masking device is the Adaptive Sound+Sleep Mini. This machine is digital and has a variety of soundscaping options, as well as white, pink and brown noise.
Although the sounds are pre-recorded, the machine manages to avoid repetition by randomizing the order of the recorded natural sounds, so that each time you listen it will be different.
Perhaps the cleverest feature of the Sound+Sleep Mini is the way it ‘hears’ what’s going on in its immediate environment. The machine detects intrusive noises and reacts to them with sounds that will mask them whilst not becoming intrusive themselves.
The Sound+Sleep mini also has a sleep timer, so that you can set it to send you to sleep and quieten down in 15, 30, 45 or 60 minutes. It also has the choice of being powered by battery or plugged into either a USB connection or a mains supply.
This will be perfect for those who need to wind down and would like the help of some smart technology to do this.
It will be less suited to those who want a simpler machine for white noise only without additional extras.
- Reactive – Reacts to noises to automatically cancel them out
- Versatile power options – Can be used on battery or powered by USB or mains supply
- Multiple settings – allowing full control over tone, volume, time and soundscaping
- Great connectivity – can be plugged into a laptop via a line-in jack to be used as a speaker, and can also be used with headphones
- Sound quality – slightly lower compared to the non-mini version, but it gains portability instead
- Adaptive mode – can be too fast or too slow to adjust the settings, although this particular parameter can also be adjusted
- Price – it’s a little expensive, but for the amount of features you get this is understandable
HoMedics Sound Spa
Another digital machine, the HoMedics Sound Spa is the best value for money on our list. Either batteries or an adaptor can power it, and it has six presets to choose from, including white noise and natural weather.
There’s a timer so that you can set it to turn off after 15, 30 or 60 minutes, so you don’t need to worry about it being on all night and potentially overheating.
This will suit those who are on a budget, and who want something that’s small and simple to set up. It will be less suited to those who demand higher quality features.
- Simple to use – dedicated buttons for each of the sounds (White noise, thunder, ocean, rain, summer night and brook) plus volume and timer
- Versatile power – can be powered by battery or adaptor
- Volume – able to go surprisingly loud for such a small device
- Affordable – Good value for the money
- Sounds – very short loops so you’ll quickly begin to notice patterns that can keep your brain awake.
- No headphones – There is no headphone jack, so you can’t use it discreetly.
Sound Oasis Travel Therapy
The Sound Oasis Travel Therapy is another digital sound masking device which is designed for travel.
It has 18 recorded presets to choose from. There are also 4 timer options: 30 minutes, 60 minutes, 90 minutes and continuous, and this device also has the extra feature of an alarm and snooze. It tells you the date and time, too, and allows you to record memos: a real all-in-one machine.
The Travel Therapy also tells you the date and time and allows you to record memos. There is a rotary volume control and a headphone jack, so you can ensure that you’re not disturbing others with this device as you travel.
It will suit people who are often on the move and need something that can act as an all-in-one gadget to help them to sleep and wake up. It will be less suited to those who want a more permanent option for their home.
- Great for travel – tiny, battery-powered, headphone jack and traveling pouch makes it an excellent travel companion. Also works as a travel clock as it auto-adjusts for time zones
- Alarm – has an alarm function, so you don’t oversleep and an adjustable timer to save power consumption
- Clever presets – the presets gradually reduce in volume to help you sleep
- Memo function – allows you to record up to 15 minutes of audio
- One of the more expensive on this list.
- The sounds are digitally recorded loops, so you may notice repetition.
- With so many functions, this device can take a bit of getting used to.
The LectroFan Micro is the smallest device on our list. It has ten presets to choose from, none of which loop and the speaker swivels so that you can choose the direction of the sound.
It’s chargeable on a USB, and it has a 16-hour battery life, so if you need to leave it on all night as you sleep, that’s no problem.
Unfortunately, there’s no timer option on this one, but it does offer a function that none of the others do: it doubles up as a Bluetooth speaker.
It will be perfect for those who struggle to sleep when they are traveling and need something portable and straightforward to assist them.
- Speaker option – can also be used as a bluetooth speaker, and the speaker can be tilted, rather than just facing straight up, to ensure that it has the best sound projection.
- Loud – capable of being much louder than you’d expect
- Power – battery life is up to 16 hours
- No looping – the sounds do not loop
- Timer – there’s no timer option on here: once it’s on, it’s on
- Power-drain – using the device as a Bluetooth speaker dramatically reduces the length of battery life from 16 to just 6 hours
- Earplugs – no headphone jack
Bose QuietComfort 35
The Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones are feature-rich wireless noise cancelling, bluetooth and smartphone-compatible headphones that allow you to really enjoy your music or to make or receive phone calls in noisy places.
They listen to the noise around you and react with a contrasting frequency, to cancel it out, and also have volume optimized EQ to ensure that the music you listen to sounds at its best.
These headphones have an adjuster, too, so you can choose the amount of noise cancellation according to your environment.
They have up to 20 hours of wireless playtime and can manage up to 40 if you choose to use a wired connection.
There’s also a noise rejecting microphone function, which makes this pair of headphones ideal for phone calls.
These headphones will suit busy people on the move, who enjoy music and/or need to take phone calls whilst they are in busy surroundings.
- Power – 20-hour wireless battery life means that you can use these pretty much all-day
- Great Mic – Noise-rejecting microphone makes it easy to make phone calls in noisy surroundings
- EQ – Volume optimized EQ makes music sound clear and of high quality
- Price – Very expensive, and therefore out of a lot of people’s price range for headphones
- Definition – The noise reduction can lead to a loss of high frequencies in the music, though bassy sounds come through very well
The Sony WH-CH700N headphones are a more budget-friendly option, offering Bluetooth compatibility, wirelessness and a long battery life of up to 35 hours.
You can skip tracks, adjust volume and speak on your phone using these headphones.
They also boast a digital enhancement engine, which boosts the quality of compressed files, as well as a microphone function which silences ambient sounds.
These headphones are perfect for people on a budget who still want the majority of the features you’ll find on the Bose QuietComfort 35. They’re great for listening to music stored on your phone, or for those who need to make phone calls hands free or in noisy environments.
They will be less suited to those who are looking to achieve the ultimate sound quality and noise cancellation.
- Budget and transport friendly – an excellent alternative to the Bose QuietComfort 35
- Connectivity – compatible with Bluetooth and smartphones
- Controls – there are skip track and volume controls on the headphones themselves, making them very convenient for those who don’t want to get their phones out
- Build – the budget cost naturally means they are of lower build quality than some higher-end models
- Noise reduction – isn’t quite as effective as some pricier devices, due to being digital rather than active
Sennheiser PXC 550
Sennheiser has a longstanding reputation for creating top-quality headphones, and these are no exception.
In terms of sound, these headphones have 3 preset EQ modes and you can also adjust the EQ to suit you. This makes it easy to achieve the sound that best suits the style of music you’re listening to.
They are of course Bluetooth compatible so that you can listen to the tunes on your phone, and the noise cancelling technology works by an intelligent digital frequency-reversal process, following a microphone picking up the signals in your surroundings.
These headphones are perfect for those audiophiles out there who want their music to sound its absolute best, even when they’re traveling. If you want the ultimate in noise cancellation, however, I’d choose the Bose.
- Amazing sound – There are preset EQ modes, and the sound quality is superior, for bass, mid and high frequencies
- Super long battery life – The battery life is 30 hours!
- Compact and stylish – They’re foldable and come with a stylish case, making them ideal for traveling
- Expensive – they’re not for the budget-conscious, and out of most people’s headphones budgets
- Touch controls – can be awkward to use and unresponsive
So, Which Should I Choose?
If you’re desperate to get a decent night’s sleep, and struggle due to the sound of traffic, neighbors or snoring, the obvious device for you to go for is the Marpac Dohm. This device is purpose-designed for sleeping and its fan-based sounds mean that there’ll be no repetition keeping your brain awake.
If you’re looking for a device that you can take with you when you’re traveling, to help you to sleep plus wake up and even double up as a voice memo machine, the Sound Oasis Travel Therapy is most likely the gadget you require.
If you’re looking for something with fewer features, but still want to take it traveling, the Lectrofan Mini will be perfect. This also doubles up as a Bluetooth speaker, so you can blast tunes as you get ready to go out and then use its white noise features to help you to get some sleep later on.
The Homedics sound spa will suit those on a tight budget, as it costs significantly less than the other sound masking devices here and still has six sound options.
If you’re looking for something, the Sound+Sleep Mini will impress you as it listens to your surroundings and creates sounds to mask them accordingly.
The Homedics Sound Spa will suit those on a tight budget, as it costs significantly less than the other masking devices here, but bear in mind it only has six options.
As for headphones, the Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones offer exceptional quality, but the Sennheiser PXC 550 certainly has the edge if you want your tunes to sound their best. The Sony WH-CH700N are the best budget-friendly option, and they do a fine job.
Best of luck!