White noise machine recs/questions
May 4, 2020 3:21 PM   Subscribe

Given that everyone is home all the time now, I have been bothered more by neighbor noises and decided to try a white noise machine for sleep. I have two from Amazon -- the Big Red Rooster and the LectroFan. More below...

I've been using the LectroFan for about a month but recently it feels like my brain has gotten used to it and neighbor sounds have started waking me up again. The Big Red Rooster on "ocean" setting still works sometimes because the sound is more variable instead of just one continuous whooshing sound. If anyone else uses the LectroFan, you know that there are a wide variety of settings and I'm wondering what the best one would be for sudden noises, like footfalls and door slams. Also, how many decibels is it safe to turn it up to? And if anyone has any other white noise recommendations, I'm all ears. Thank you.
posted by madonna of the unloved to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The Marpac is the OG. It has a real mechanical fan inside, so it's like sleeping next to a box fan.

They have a couple of different models these days.

I don't know if it's actually any better than the newfangled digital devices, but I like mine.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 3:31 PM on May 4 [5 favorites]

I'm a computer nerd with lots of spare hardware. I use 2 software applications.

Anywhere there's a PC available (which for me is almost anywhere I might be trying to sleep) I use the free, open-source, cross-platform Audacity to generate brownian noise and loop that.

I also have an app on my Android phone called White Noise by TMSOFT.

Either one of these to me sound great, especially when output through good speakers with a subwoofer, as brownian noise has plenty of low frequencies that help jam the bass-y noise my neighbors tend to make.
posted by glonous keming at 3:55 PM on May 4

For masking varying sounds instead of a constant one, you want something that generates brown noise or pink noise rather than white noise. Both (but especially brown noise) are also better at covering up lower frequency sounds than white noise is. I've found that a cheap box fan is hard to beat as a brown noise generator.
posted by theory at 3:56 PM on May 4 [4 favorites]

Lectrofan, at least, is offering a range of sounds in various colors and balances, and which color/range of sound that works for you has a lot to do with where your casual hearing loss has occurred, so you may need to try all the ones that are not bothersome to you before you find one that works for you.

Part of the trick of white noise machines is placement. You want to build a wall of white noise between you and the source of the worst of the irritating sounds, and if that's multidirectional you might want to use both machines. And volume is one thing but amount of surface it's reflecting from is also important, and if you get the right bounce you can actually lower the volume a good bit, because there is definitely such a thing as too loud, for most people.

To that end, my Lectrofan sits inside a salsa bowl (for acoustic boost) slightly tilted toward the wall where our most annoying noise comes from, angled slightly into a corner. I moved it around the room over a couple of weeks before I found the spot that works best for me (by screening me from the bedroom window and various outside noises, but I can still hear my dog barking in the other direction because if she's barking, there's A Problem and I should get up and see what it is).
posted by Lyn Never at 4:03 PM on May 4 [4 favorites]

I have a marpac and I really like it. Mine has only two settings on the switch, softer and louder, and by rotating the fans cap you can make the noise louder or softer. It's very simple and sturdy.
posted by pintapicasso at 4:30 PM on May 4

I have a regular window fan (Lasko, similar to this) that produces a perfect level of noise- not too loud, but great at covering sounds from outside.
posted by pinochiette at 4:55 PM on May 4

Try using a white noise machine plus a box fan. I find that together they create a very effective sound barrier
posted by veery at 5:17 PM on May 4

I absolutely love my Lectrofan. Make sure you haven't bumped it to another "color" of noise. We've done this a few times dusting or whatever & we only notice the difference when it seems to not be working as well as it did.

If it's on the same noise, changing the volume or maybe try moving it around the room. Location really makes a difference, & if one frequency/noise isn't working try others or play with the volume.
posted by wwax at 5:21 PM on May 4

We use an air purifier as a white noise machine. Cleans the dust and allergens out of the air at the same time as it's producing noise that helps us sleep. We use this one (picked because it has a setting that turns off all the lights on the product; a lot of modern air purifiers have lights you can't turn off and other annoying features).
posted by Syllepsis at 6:50 PM on May 4 [2 favorites]

An easy fix is to use ear plugs with the white nose machine. Earplugs are annoying, but in combination with the Lectrofan and they blocked out the sound of an extremely loud radiator in my apartment and helped me make it through this winter. I used the silicon "wax" ones because the material of the regular ones irritated my ears, and it was ok enough to get me through the last several months.
posted by Penguin48 at 7:11 PM on May 4

Coway makes fantastic air purifiers. My Coway serves also as a white noise generator. It turns out Coway also makes an air purifier/ white noise generator combo.
posted by little eiffel at 8:07 PM on May 4

My solution to similar situation is to play the myNoise app through some cheap ($7) Bluetooth earbuds. (I have the Onn ones from Walmart - there are surprisingly handy for the price...). There’s a variety of noise channels you can choose from on the app to best mask your particular setting and having it right in your ears definitely creates that wall between you and the sound that Lyn Never mentions. I’m a freak that can’t deal with suburbia so I find myself wearing these almost all the time, even on low while watching tv. I can sleep in them too - ymmv. And for really bad days you can still layer it with your noise machines...
posted by Tandem Affinity at 4:41 AM on May 5

I think there is some misinformation here.

From a purely physics/psychoacoustics perspective, white noise will cover-up (mask) any sound with a lower absolute sound pressure level. White noise is effective because it has equal energy on the spectrum level (i.e., each individual frequency has the same level). So if the competing sound is louder in any given frequency range, you will hear the competing sound in that frequency range. If the competing sound is softer, you will will hear the white noise. This is called 'energetic masking.' Transient sounds, like door slams, are going to be difficult to cover up because they tend to be loud and broadband. I'm skeptical that there is much difference in brands, unless the hardware of one is significantly better such that the speaker has a broader band, flatter response.

Pink noise has a low-frequency emphasis relative to high frequencies, when viewed on the spectrum level, because it equalizes energy per octave rather than per frequency. This does not mean it will be more effective at covering up the transients that bother you, however, because transients like door slams are very broadband on the spectrum level. The shorter the transient, the broader the band. White noise is probably more effective. But it also depends on your walls and the room and such. Pink noise is shaped closer to human speech than white noise, and may be more efficient at masking speech in many cases.

The switching of the noise at some interval results in 'informational masking' - it isn't more effective at actually covering up the other sounds, but it is a little more distracting for you, so you may not notice that it's not better at covering up the other sounds. From a pure physiology perspective, however, it is probably similarly effective at masking the unwanted sounds as steady-state noise, but may draw your attention away from the sounds you want to mask more.

Further, the closer you are to a a sound the louder it will be. So if your white noise machine is on the far side of the room, but the door slam is closer to where you are, the level of the door slam is going to be much higher than the white noise when each reach your ears, relative to if you were closer to the white noise. This seems obvious of course, but is important when considering where to place the noise machine, or even if considering using several at once.

The general recommendation for safe levels is 85 dB for 8 hours is safe. Get a level meter for your phone and test it. Increases in 3 dB over 85 reduces your safe time by half (e.g. 88 dB is safe for 4 hours etc).
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:45 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]

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