Noise cancelling devices can be handy for all kinds of situations. By using noise, they manage to make everything else seem quieter. It’s for this reason that expensive restaurants often play low-volume piano music or running water to create a hush.
So who are these devices for? Well it turns out there are plenty of cases where these devices are useful. From babies adjusting from the womb to their cots, to adults adjusting from their beds to hotel beds on their holidays, noise reduction devices have vast versatility, and might be just what you didn’t know you needed.
In this article we’re going to take a deep dive into the key benefits of these devices by user, we’ll touch on things to consider when making a purchase and then we’ll dive into our favourite products on the market. Here’s what we’ll cover…
- Key Benefits of Using Noise Blocking Devices
- Buying Guide: Things to Consider When Purchasing a Noise Cancellation Device
- Product Round-up & Mini Reviews: Our Pick of the 8 Best Noise Cancelling Machines
- Final Verdict
In case you’re in a rush, here’s the summary of the products we review further down the article. For the full effect, 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
Marpac Dohm-Ds Dual Speed Sound Conditioner
Adaptive Sound Technologies Sound+Sleep Mini
HoMedics Sound Spa Portable Sound Machine
Sound Oasis Travel Therapy White Noise Machine
LectroFan Micro Wireless Sleep Sound Machine and Bluetooth Speaker
Bose QuietComfort 35
Sennheiser PXC 550
Note: The links above take you to more information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon. If you do purchase something we get a small commission, which has absolutely no effect on the eventual price that you pay.
Key Benefits of Using Noise Blocking Devices
As well as being useful for musicians, noise cancelling equipment can be handy for all kinds of situations and professions. And ages! Here are the benefits of these machines, grouped by user type:
A common problem for many musicians is the damage you inevitably suffer to your hearing. Whether it’s playing a gig, rehearsals or just having 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. Noise cancelling machines won’t completely eliminate the ringing, but they’ll go someway to helping lessen the noise.
There are few things more irritating than getting sucked into other people’s conversations when you’re trying to work. If you find the sounds of your co-workers frustrating and distracting, good news: you can use technology to cancel them out!
This works in a couple of ways: noise cancellation whilst you travel on a plane/train/coach, and the use of a noise cancelling device in your hotel, or wherever you happen to be staying. You can use noise cancellation or noise masking apps or headphones as you travel, and opt for one of the larger models in your room.
Of course, the purpose for taking a portable noise cancelling device on your travels will largely be so that you can get some rest, and this is one of the main benefits of these gadgets. If you struggle to get a good night’s kip, sleep lightly and wake up at the first yell of a builder outside (way too early!), one of these machines might be your new best friend.
Like office work, studying requires a degree of concentration that is difficult to achieve when there are outside sounds providing distraction. If you like to study when you’re out and about, some noise cancelling headphones might be perfect. Likewise, you may opt for a white noise app. If you study at home but still find it difficult to concentrate, one of these machines might just help you to get into the right head space.
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 babies to adjust to ‘too-quiet’ bedrooms or nurseries after this; a sound cancelling machine which produces white noise can be just the ticket for helping them (and therefore yourself!) to get some shut eye.
Buying Guide: Things to Consider When Purchasing a Noise Cancellation Device
Types Of Noise Cancelling Machines
Noise Cancelling Headphones
Noise cancelling comes in a few different forms, and you’re probably already familiar with noise cancelling headphones. These use a microphone to detect unwanted sound and add the opposite sound-wave to whatever you’re listening to, in order to balance the unwanted noise. They’re designed for people who want to enjoy music or make hands-free phone calls on the move, without disruptive external sounds. These types of noise cancelling machines are battery powered and highly portable, so perfect for those who want to cancel out sounds on public transport or in the street.
Sound Masking Machines
Although it’s not technically sound cancellation in the same was as the headphones are, sound masking machines are the most common way of seemingly removing background noise in the office, at home or wherever you happen to be. They use either fans or recordings to create white noise to mask out unwanted sounds, filling in the gaps between silence and sounds so that the distracting sounds become incomprehensible.
Beyond simply producing a frequency of white noise, a lot of these machines let you choose other sounds to create a more relaxing ‘soundscape’ – such as a jungles, waterfalls, beaches and oceans. These really encourage relaxation, focus and a good night’s sleep.
Many of these machines do include an headphone socket, so they can be used a similar way to noise cancelling headphones but they obviously don’t use the microphone to cancel out the unwanted noise. Likewise, using headphones or even earplugs to cancel out background noise when trying to sleep is going to be uncomfortable.
They also don’t provide any assistance if you’re having trouble sleeping due to internal problems such as tinnitus or need to be able to listen out for a crying baby without being bothered by your sleeping partner’s snoring. Noise cancelling machines can’t do magic. They are generally effective at cancelling out noises such as human voices, snoring and other distracting elements of modern living – but high pitches and excessively loud noises will still cut through.
Noise Cancelling / White Noise Apps
Apps come in the form of noise cancellation and sound masking. Noise cancellation apps work in a similar way to the headphones. They ‘listen’ to which sounds are happening and add an exactly opposite sound wave to them, in order to cancel the sounds out. White noise apps work in a similar way to the machines. They play the white noise or ambient sounds through your phone, to both relax you and mask the other sounds which surround you. However, many apps tend to be of low audio quality, require additional costs for basic functionality or are filled with ads that interrupt the experience.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Noise Cancelling Machine
USB Charging or Battery Power
Some sound masking devices are powered by batteries, some can be charged by USB. Which of these suits you best, do you have a preference? It seems a bit more eco-friendly to go USB, although rechargeable batteries won’t be much less green.
Headphones or a Machine?
As you’ve seen, there are two main types of noise cancelling devices (and Apps which emulate them). Which one’s right for you? Are you looking to cancel out the sound of people chatting on the bus, so that you can enjoy your music, or are you looking for something to switch on when you’re at home to help you (or your baby) to get to sleep and stay asleep? Maybe you’re looking for something that you can switch on to encourage a higher level of concentration in the office. If a machine’s what you’re going for, it’s also worth considering whether or not you need one with all of the extra sound profiles. If it’s for office use, white noise might suffice, but if you’re using it to relax at home then the options for natural sounds might come in really handy.
Fan or Digital?
Some noise cancellation machines are fan-based, which means that the sounds that they create are completely random, whereas some are digital meaning that the noises you hear are pre-recorded. Digital – pre-recorded – sounds are made up of loops, which can lead to you recognising repetition after prolonged listening. This keeps the brain awake, so isn’t ideal for nodding off to sleep. It can be OK for noise cancelling for the purpose of concentration, though.
Features You Can Expect To Find On One
Noise cancelling machines usually have adjustable volume, so that you can choose the appropriate level needed to mask distracting sounds.
Most noise cancelling machines also have a variety of sound profiles. On some, this can be different versions of noise such as white, pink and brown. On other machines, this can include sounds like oceans, rain falling and other relaxing sounds to help you to wind down and even meditate.
EQ Controls (Headphones)
Noise cancelling headphones also usually have EQ controls, so that you can set the bass, mid and high frequencies of your music in a way that suits your listening taste.
Extra Features Which You May or May Not Want
Some noise masking machines include sleep timers, which gradually lower in volume to allow you to fall asleep. You can set these according to how long it takes you to fall asleep, and save energy in the process as the device naturally turns itself off.
You might want to listen to the relaxing soundscapes from the noise cancelling device without them being audible to whoever’s in the next room. Some machines have headphone jacks, to allow this.
Most of the newer noise cancelling headphones are wireless. It makes for a more comfortable listening experience, so if you think you’ll enjoy being lead-free, it’s probably worth looking out for.
Long Battery Life
In both the small speakers and the headphones, a long battery life is usually desirable. Some of the headphones offer up to 40 hours before you need to charge them, so if you’re going on a long journey, it’s worth looking out for something that will stay alive for the duration.
Product Round-up & Mini Reviews: Our Pick of the 8 Best Noise Cancelling Machines
So, now you know what you’re looking for and some of the things you can do with noise cancelling machines, let’s look at each of the top models in more detail. We’ve not included apps here, as they tend to be emulations of devices and less effective. Here we have explored the best sound masking machines and noise cancellation headphones on the market.
Marpac Dohm-Ds Dual Speed Sound Conditioner
The Marpac Dohm is a compact sound masking machine which is purpose built as a 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 neighbours. It’s fan-based, so produces its sounds naturally. This machine is perfect for those who like to keep things simple, and are looking for one of these machines for the sole purpose of sleeping 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.
- Very simple settings allow you to fine-tune the frequency, tone and volume in order to better combat unwanted noise
- Extremely small and lightweight, making it ideal for taking on a tour or trip where you could reasonably expect to deal with noisy neighbours
- The sounds created are truly random, which assists with sleeping as you won’t start recognising patterns that are often a problem with digital noise cancelling machines
- Lacks the option to program a timer
- No ‘soundscaping’ options such as birds, fire or waves
- Cannot be battery powered, and it will only be suitable for use with US mains power supply or others that use 120V as a standard
Adaptive Sound Technologies Sound+Sleep Mini
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 randomising 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. It’s a more recent addition to the world of noise cancelling machines that uses everything digital audio technology has to offer to help you get to sleep or just block out the neighbours and is also usable on the road, making it one of the best noise cancelling devices around at this time.
- Reacts to noises to automatically cancel them out
- Can be used on battery or powered by USB or mains supply
- Has multiple settings allowing full control over tone, volume, time and soundscaping
- Can be plugged into a laptop via line-in jack to be used as a speaker, and can also be used with headphones for extra sound cancelling
- The sound quality is slightly lower compared to the non-mini version, but gains portability instead
- The adaptive mode can be too fast or too slow to adjust the settings, although this particular parameter can also be adjusted
HoMedics Sound Spa Portable Sound Machine
The HoMedics Sound Spa is the most budget friendly digital noise cancelling machine on our list. It can be powered by either batteries or an adaptor, and it has 6 sounds to choose from, including white noise and natural sounds of the 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, like real fans to control white noise sounds and avoid repetition.
- Very simple to use, dedicated buttons for each of the sounds (White noise, thunder, ocean, rain, summer night and brook) plus volume and timer
- Low price
- Can be powered by battery or adaptor
- Volume is able to go surprisingly loud for such a small device
- Sounds are very short loops so you’ll quickly begin to pick out the patterns which can become more annoying than anything else
- There is no headphone jack, so you can’t use it on a plane or on a coach without potentially bothering others
Sound Oasis Travel Therapy White Noise Machine
The Sound Oasis Travel Therapy is a handy little tool for business travel, but also works great for a musician on tour or even if you’ve just got a long trip to make. They’re also super useful to have on you if you have a sudden surge of creativity as you’re winding down at the end of the day. The Sound Oasis Travel Therapy is another digital sound masking device which is great for travelling with (hence the name). It’s battery powered, and has 18 recorded sounds to choose from to help you to relax, concentrate or sleep. 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. There’s a rotary volume control and a headphone jack, so you can ensure that you’re not disturbing others with this device as you travel.
The Sound Oasis Travel Therapy will suit people who travel a lot and need something that can act as an all-in-one gadget to help them to sleep, wake up and know what day it is. It will be less suited to those who want a more permanent option for their home.
- Extremely small, battery powered, headphone jack and travelling pouch make it excellent for use on the road
- Has an alarm function so you don’t oversleep, an adjustable timer to save power consumption and the sounds gradually reduce in volume to help you sleep
- Has a memo function that allows you to record up to 15 minutes of audio
- Works as a travel clock as it auto adjusts for time zones
- One of the more expensive noise cancelling devices out there
- Many of the sounds are unappealing (although this will vary for every person, and there are 19 to choose from, plus the option of recording your own)
- The volume reduction over time might be a problem rather than a feature for some users
The LectroFan Micro is the smallest noise cancelling device you’ll find. If has 10 sounds 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 speaker, but it does offer a function that none of the others do: it doubles up as a Bluetooth speaker. So, if you’re travelling, you can enjoy listening to some music from your phone before you wind down to sleep.
The Lectrofan Micro will be perfect for those who struggle to sleep when they are travelling, and need something portable and simple to assist them. It will be less suited to people who want to establish a good sleeping pattern at home, or for those who require that a device automatically turns itself off.
- The speaker can be tilted, rather than just facing straight up, to ensure that it has the best sound projection
- The volume controls are very responsive, and capable of being much louder than anything so small should reasonably be
- Battery life is up to 16 hours
- Can also be used as a bluetooth speaker
- The sounds do not loop
- There’s no timer option on here: once it’s on, it’s on
- Using the device as a bluetooth speaker dramatically reduces the length of battery life from 16 to just 6 hours – although this should be more than enough for most trips
- There’s no headphone jack on this portable device
Bose QuietComfort 35
The Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones are wireless noise cancelling, bluetooth and smartphone-compatible headphones which 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 a noise cancelling adjuster, too, so you can choose the amount of noise cancellation according to your environment. They have up to 20 hours of wireless play time 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. They’re not the kind of thing you go for to help with sleep, though you could always use them in combination with a sound-masking machine that has a headphone jack.
- 20 hour wireless battery life means that you can use these pretty much all day.
- Noise rejecting microphone makes it easy to make phone calls in noisy surroundings.
- Volume optimized EQ makes music sound clear and of high quality.
- Very expensive, out of a lot of people’s price range for headphones.
- 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 to your phone using these headphones, and the music coming through them sounds detailed thanks to the digital sound enhancement engine which boosts the quality of compressed files. They also have a microphone function which silences surrounding sounds to enable a clearer signal.
These headphones are perfect for people on a budget who want the majority of the features you find on the Bose QuietComfort 35. Great for listening to music stored on their phone, whilst on the move, or for those who need to make phone calls hands free or in noisy environments. It will be less suited to those who are looking to achieve the ultimate sound quality and noise cancellation.
- Budget and transport friendly – good alternative to the Bose QuietComfort 35
- Compatible with bluetooth and smartphones
- 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
- The low cost does mean that the headphones are of lower build quality than some higher end headphones
- The noise cancellation isn’t as effective as some higher end headphones, due to it being digital rather than active
Sennheiser PXC 550
Sennheiser have a longstanding reputation for creating top quality headphones, and these noise cancelling ones 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’re bluetooth compatible, so 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 travelling. Like the Sony WH-CH700N set, they’ll be less suited to those who want the ultimate in noise cancellation, as the Bose set do a better job of blocking surrounding sounds.
- There are preset EQ modes and the sound quality is superior, for bass, mid and high frequencies.
- The battery life is 30 hours.
- They’re foldable and come with a stylish case, making them ideal for travelling with.
- They’re highly priced, and out of most people’s headphones budgets.
- Touch controls can be difficult to use and unresponsive.
Choosing between them will largely depend on three things, whether it’s within your budget, whether it’s portable enough for your needs and if any of the additional features make one a clear winner.
Our personal favourite was the Sound+Sleep Mini, as we loved the options to create just the right tone we needed to block out the unwanted noises around us that changed throughout the day and night.
On the other hand, if we had been in need of a noise cancelling device that would be able to double up as an alarm, then the Sound Oasis Travel Therapy would’ve been the winner. Thankfully, we don’t often have to get up early!
As you’ve seen, choosing the best noise cancelling machine largely depends on what it is you’re using it for.
If you’re desperate to get a decent night’s sleep, and struggle due to the sound of traffic, neighbours 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 travelling, 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 less features, but still want to take it travelling, the Lectrofan Mini will be perfect. With it’s extremely well disguised loops thanks to its advanced algorithm, 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.
When it comes to noise-cancelling headphones, the pair you choose will depend on whether your priorities are noise-cancellation, value for money or sound quality.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones offer exceptional quality of both noise cancellation and sound, but the Sennheiser PXC 550 have the edge if you’re an audiophile and want your music to sound it’s best.
The Sony WH-CH700N are the only budget-friendly headphone option here, and they cancel out noise and amplify music well enough for most people.
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.