If you've made a resolution to improve your sleep habits in 2022, a white noise machine could be the perfect solution, providing soft ambient sound to block out background noise and help you switch off at the end of the day.
White noise machines have been around for over half a century, but their popularity has soared in recent years, as a practical way to drown out the noisy distractions of modern day life, and allow everyone from babies to adults to eat, read, study, relax and sleep more peacefully (as you can see for yourself with one of the best best sleep trackers).
The basic idea behind a white noise machine, aka sound machine, is to emit a constant and consistent sound environment. This makes random and sudden bursts of noise, such as a car horn or people shouting in the street, less jarring and more manageable. And that allows our brains to better focus, relax or drift into a deep sleep, as well as aiding specific conditions such as tinnitus.
If you'd rather sleep in silence, take a look at our guide to the best sleep earplugs, which will block out noise completely rather than mask it.
The best white noise machines
The HoMedics Deep Sleep Mini is our number-one rated white noise machine. In our tests, its choice of relaxing sounds helped us drift off to sleep gently, and settle back down if we were disturbed during the night. There's a choice of white, brown, and pink noise, as well as rain and storm nature sounds – and you can choose to keep the noise running throughout the night to block out disturbances. We found the pink noise particularly effective at blocking snoring.
The Deep Sleep Mini is easy to operate (even if you're sleep deprived) thanks to its thoughtfully designed controls, and although it's not quite as small as the Lectrofan Micro2, it's still small enough to slip neatly into your bag or suitcase when you're travelling.
During testing our only complaint was that there's no Bluetooth connectivity, so the Deep Sleep Mini can't do double-duty as a speaker during the day, but that's a minor quibble. If you need a little help getting a proper night's rest, it's highly recommended.
Read our full HoMedics Deep Sleep Mini review
The LectroFan Micro2 is tiny, measuring just 52 x 52 x 53mm and weighing a mere 96g, but it's capable of putting out impressively detailed sound.
Unlike LectroFan's full-size white noise machines (like the LectroFan Classic below), this little device doesn't contain a mechanical fan, instead relying on recorded sounds to ease you off to sleep at night. There are 11 options to choose from (including fan effects, white noise, and rain) and in our tests we found it impossible to tell when each one looped around to the start again.
This is also the only white noise machine we've tested that doubles as a Bluetooth speaker, and although it's certainly not going to put the Sonos One out of a job, it produces impressive audio quality for its size. If you want to enjoy some music on your travels or fall asleep to a favorite podcast or audiobook, it comes highly recommended.
The only real downside is that, unlike some wireless white noise machines, there's no timer to switch the sound off automatically after a certain period of time.
Read our full LectroFan Micro2 review
Let’s face it, everyone’s different and so are the sound environments we find ourselves in. And until you start using a white noise machine, you’re not going to know which kind of noise works best for you. So we love that the LectroFan offers you 20 unique sounds to choose from.
These neatly divide into 10 fan sounds (including 'Industrial Fan', 'Circular Fan', 'Oscillating Fan' and so forth), along with 10 noise sounds, including white, pink, and brown noise. As you’d expect, the former 10 sound more mechanical, while the latter 10 are gentler and more ambient. Play around with the different options for a while, including the excellent volume control, and you’ll soon find the perfect sweet spot for you. Most importantly, you’ll find that all of these sounds are excellent at masking background noise, particularly conversation.
The controls on this device are very simple to use, even in a darkened room. And we particularly like how, as long as the power stays on, LectroFan will remember the last Noise and Fan setting that you made when changing modes. This lets you switch back and forth between your favourite Fan Sound and your favourite White Noise sound without any fuss.
This device can be powered via a USB cable or an AC power adapter (both included), and as long as it’s switched on, it will play continuously, unless you choose to set it on the 60-minute timer. It’s a shame that it can’t be powered by batteries, and there’s no headphone jack. But otherwise this reasonably priced device is a real winner.
Read our full Lectrofan Classic review
If you're looking for a white noise machine and have a tight budget, it's hard to go wrong with the HoMedics Sound Spa Rejuvenate. It's extremely easy to use, and although its sounds aren't quite as natural as those of higher-end machines, our reviewer found the Sound Spa Rejuvenate very effective at blocking everything from noisy neighbors to barking dogs.
It can run from the mains or batteries, which makes it a great choice if you're travelling and often have trouble sleeping in noisy hotels, or you don't have an electric outlet within easy reach of your nightstand.
Its speaker sounds a little tinny, and we found it vibrated audibly on the highest volume setting, but it's hard to argue at this price.
Read our full HoMedics Sound Spa Rejuvenate review
The Yogasleep Travelcube is a portable cordless white noise machine for use on the road, or wherever it's inconvenient to keep something plugged in (the built-in lanyard can be looped just about anywhere). It doesn't have the widest range of sounds to choose from, with two colored noise options, three nature sounds, and a lullaby, but all the sounds are high quality and (with the exception of the lullaby) we weren't able to spot where they looped round.
The Travelcube is also particularly easy to operate thanks to its large, clear buttons. If you're looking for a white noise machine for an older person, or have limited dexterity in your hands, it could be a good choice. It's strange that the controls are on the back of the device though, meaning you have to pick the whole thing up to change the audio. It's also worth bearing in mind that it's fairly heavy for a travel device at 180g; the LectroFan Micro2 weighs half as much.
At eight hours, its battery life isn't exceptional, but it can easily last a week between charges if you use the handy timer that turns the sound off after 30 minutes, one hour, or two hours.
Read our full Yogasleep Travelcube review
What is white noise?
And what are the differences between white, pink, and brown noise?
White noise is produced by randomly generating noise across the entire sound spectrum, and sounds similar to radio static or an untuned TV. In fact not everyone find this sound relaxing, so many so-called 'white noise machines' also produce other sounds like pink noise and brown noise, which are similarly random but less harsh on the ears.
With pink noise, lower frequencies are louder than the higher frequencies, so it sounds less gentler, and more akin to leaves rustling. Brown noise, meanwhile, is even more low-frequency, so closer to something like rumbling thunder. Some models of white noise machine also offer other sounds considered soothing, such as ambient recordings of weather or wildlife.
This article is part of TechRadar's Sleep Week 2022 (running from Sunday 13 to Saturday 19 March), a week-long celebration of all things slumber. We'll be bringing you proven techniques and tips to help you sleep better, and have rounded-up all the top-rated tech to transform your sleep.