Best Audio Baby Monitor of 2021
Top 5 Product Ratings
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|Pros||Excellent sound clarity, lots of features, long battery life, price||Great sound clarity, nice range, long battery life||Good sound clarity, easy to use, budget-friendly||Easy to use, nice range, inexpensive||Lower price, nice range|
|Cons||Harder to use, shorter range||Harder to use, fewer features||Limited features, average range||Limited features, short battery life||Distorted sound, short battery life|
|Bottom Line||An inexpensive, yet great sounding, monitor with loads of features that is a great choice for most families||Our favorite monitor if the price is not a barrier, that offers a longer range and great sound quality, making it a great choice for larger homes||A great option for those who favor ease-of-use and good sound quality over excess features, at a relatively good price for what you get||An affordable monitor set that includes two parent units and gets the job done without any fuss||Inexpensive with disappointing sound and battery life that isn't as nice as cheaper options|
|Rating Categories||Vtech DM221||Philips Avent DECT...||Philips Avent DECT...||Vtech DM111||Baby Wave Deluxe|
|Sound Clarity (30%)|
|Ease Of Use (25%)|
|Battery Life (15%)|
|Specs||Vtech DM221||Philips Avent DECT...||Philips Avent DECT...||Vtech DM111||Baby Wave Deluxe|
|Indoor Range Test (walls & feet)||5 Walls
|Open Field Range Test||1325 Feet||1350 Feet||1320 Feet||1350 Feet||1350 Feet|
|Manufacturer's Claimed Range (*buyer beware!)||1000 Feet||1083 Feet||984 Feet||Not Listed||650 Feet|
|Communication Technology||DECT 6.0 Digital Technology||DECT technology||DECT Technology||DECT 6.0 Digital Technology||Not Listed|
|Adjustable Mic Sensitivity||Yes||Yes||No||No||No|
|Sound Filtering Test Results||Excellent||Excellent||Poor||Very Poor||Very Poor|
|Max Sound||103.4 db||102 db||101 db||103.6 db||103.6 db|
|Parent Unit Battery Life||46 Hrs||31 Hrs||19 Hrs||13 Hrs||9 Hrs|
|Nursery Unit Battery Backup||No||Yes||No||No||No|
|EMF @ 6 Feet Nursery Unit||3.11 V/m||0.72 V/m||0.95 V/m||2.63 V/m||2.36 V/m|
|Out Of Range Alert||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Warranty||1 Year||2 Years||2 Years||1 Year||1 Year|
Best Overall Baby Monitor
The Vtech DM221 is a full-service audio-only monitor with useful features and the best sound clarity in our tests. The DM221 includes sound activation and adjustable microphone sensitivity that when combined create a silent parent room for a better night's sleep with a parent device that only relays sound when your baby cries. The parent device has talk to baby functionality that sounds like a real voice bypassing the robotic voice found in some of the competition that could disturb a little one. The DM221 is budget-friendly, and it earned the highest overall score during testing.
This monitor has a shorter range than some contenders, which means it might be unusable in some larger homes or those with more than 3-4 walls between the nursery and their bedroom. Overall, we believe this product can get the job done with superior sound and the additional features required to ensure a peaceful night's sleep — the reason most parents consider purchasing a monitor to begin with.
Read review: Vtech DM221
Best High-end Baby Monitor
Philips Avent DECT SCD720/86
The Philips Avent DECT SCD720/86 is a high-quality sound option for little ones. This product has an impressive longer range for a non-WiFi option, and it includes a variety of features not seen on some of the competition. This monitor has impressive audio, and adjustable micro sensitivity and sound activation to keep your parent unit silent when your little one isn't crying. It also features nursery temperature sensors, lullabies, a nightlight, and battery backup should the electricity go out temporarily. We appreciate the two-way talk feature and alerts for almost everything from out of range to a low battery.
This product has loads of features compared to the competition, which can mean a monitor is somewhat more challenging to use. However, this product is easier to use than other contenders with similar features. This simplicity makes it better than most for straightforward operation. Overall, this is a top-scoring choice for parents looking for a sound monitor or those who want to combine a useful sound product as a backup to a fancier video monitor.
Read review: Philips Avent DECT SCD720/86
Best for Ease-of-Use
Philips Avent DECT SCD501/10
The Philips Avent DECT SCD501/10 is a quality option that is easy to use and includes features many parents want such as impressive sound quality and sound activation. Activation is a feature we believe is the most critical and useful in an audio monitor. This unit has a reasonable price for many parents, and it is straightforward enough that grandparents can use it frustration-free.
This simple sound monitor doesn't have many features. It lacks two-way communication and functions such as temperature sensors and lullabies. Unless you consider these features to be non-negotiable, we think most families stop using these features once the novelty wears off, making the lack of them less of a deal-breaker in our opinion. We appreciate the look and ease of use the DECT SCD501/10 provides and believe most parents will agree it's an excellent option for a reasonable price.
Read review: Philips Avent DECT SCD501/10
Budget-friendly Two Parent-unit Set
The Vtech DM111 is one of the least expensive options in this review. However, it offers an above-average range with good sound clarity and an easy to use interface. The range is better than some of the competition, making it a good choice for larger homes or multiple walls (over 3).
This option doesn't have all the bells and whistles, like two-way communication or sound activation, but it gets the job done and provides life-like sound from the baby's room, which at the end of the day is all you need. The DM111 battery life is 13 hours, and the batteries are not rechargeable, so it is probably best to keep it plugged in when possible or have spare AAA batteries on hand. We think this option is an excellent no-nonsense choice or a useful travel product thanks to its ease of use and good range. Parents looking for a quick solution that is straightforward out of the box will be more than satisfied with this choice
Read review: Vtech DM111
Why You Should Trust Us
This baby sound monitor review was led by our founder, Dr. Juliet Spurrier, a board-certified pediatrician. Dr. Spurrier is a mother of two and a long-time tester of every type of baby monitor. Dr. Spurrier worked with our Senior Review Analyst, Bob Wofford, father of 7, to develop the testing process for this and our other monitor reviews. Bob conducted the testings for our sound monitor review for the last 6 years, making him an industry expert with well over 100 monitor product tests under his belt! Senior Review Editor, Wendy Schmitz (mother of 2) rounds out the team using her 6 years of experience and knowledge of monitor testing to analyze tester feedback and test results to create useful and informative reviews. The major team members in this review have over 20 years' collective experience in monitor testing.
Related: How We Tested Sound Monitors
Analysis and Test Results
When testing sound monitors, we consider crucial metrics that demonstrate monitor performance and the features that give it an edge over the competition or provide additional benefit to parents or babies. Because a monitor is a direct line to your baby, they need to work as intended, reliably, with a useful range. The features need to be easy to use and improve the overall functionality of the monitor. Each unit should have an adequate range for the common house, provide functionality that can increase potential sleep, and offer clear sound. If a device doesn't work as intended or fails to maintain consistent connectivity, then it is likely to fail in helping parents find restful sleep, which defeats the purpose of monitoring your baby.
We rate each product we test on how well it performs and how it compares to similar products in our in-house side-by-side tests. We calculate scores with weighted values for the metrics we believe are instrumental in making a monitor exceptional and user-friendly. Sound clarity and ease of use are the most critical metrics, with range coming in next. Without a significant, reliable range, a monitor can fail to work at all. Without quality sound transmission and sound-related features, it might be unable to alert parents when it should or help them fall asleep when they want to.
Interested in the spoiler alert of what we'd recommend to a friend? Skip down to read what we would do.
Sound monitors are the most budget-friendly option for keeping tabs on your little one. This style of monitor offers a potential contender for almost any size budget. We feel choosing a slightly higher priced unit is a smart option as the overall performance of mid-price monitors is better than the lower-priced contenders. As parents typically use their monitor daily, there is significant value in spending a little more money to get a superior product. We believe the Vtech DM221 is the best value I this lineup as it is the highest performing device in our tests and still has a very reasonable price tag. If "grandparent-friendly" is your highest criteria, then you should consider the Philips Avent DECT SCD501/10. This monitor costs a little more, but its ease of use and impressive overall performance make it worth the price for straightforward simplicity anyone can quickly master.
For audio monitors, the sound quality is what separates the pocket pets from the big dogs. Any sound you hear from the parent unit should be clear, static-free, and sound realistic. Ideally, it should lack distortion, and we prefer features that limit the types of sounds relayed from nursery to parent device or the volume of those unimportant non-baby related sounds. We feel the transmission of sound and sound-related features are the critical criteria for sound monitoring. You don't want to lose precious wondering if the sounds you hear are your baby or insignificant background noise. If features like sound activation or microphone sensitivity (that limit background noise) don't work as they should (or are missing altogether), then you might lose sleep frustrated by a loud monitor.
Several of the options in our tests scored above average for sound clarity, but it is somewhat shocking how poor the sound quality is for many contenders given the primary goal to relay life-like sounds. Some of the products offer hollow and bright transmissions without the mid-tone and bass ranges, which while we feel is disappointing is still acceptable. However, static and distortion shouldn't be tolerated, and we heard it from more than one competitor. The best products bring a full tonal range and the ability to change the sounds level of what is transmitted (microphone sensitivity adjustment).
The best sound results are 10s for the Philips Avent DECT SCD720/86 and the Vtech DM221. These products have no distortion or static, even at max volume. The sound includes more vibrant tones, and while you wouldn't want to listen to your favorite music from them, the sound delivers a realistic relay of a baby's cries. All of the top products include sound activation that works as it should and is quickly silent when your baby quiet.
The worst sound in our tests is the Summer Infant Baby Wave Deluxe, which has a lot of static and distortion and earns only a 4. The Wave doesn't offer an accurate representation of what is happening in the baby's room and some of the sounds might be disturbing if you wake up suddenly without perspective. The Vtech DM111 earns a respectable 7 for sound.
Ease of Use
Ease of use testing attempts to capture if a monitor is intuitive or complicated, the simplicity of the set up, and whether or not the features make it more useful or just complicate the process. Including all of these considerations helps prevent the simple options with no features from taking top honors in a category that shouldn't be entirely about simplicity. A product with an on/off button and volume control might be easy to use, but if it doesn't offer anything to improve the user experience then it might not be the leader of the pack.
The Philips Avent SCD501/10 earned the highest score for ease of use with a 10 of 10. It has an easy to use interface system that you may be able to master without the instructions. Its extra features make using it a more positive experience than some of the competition, and we appreciate the clean lines and simple styling it offers. The parent unit also has a handy lanyard for pocketless transportation, and the baby unit has buttons with easy to read labels. The two devices auto-link and the instructions are straightforward.
In general, all of the contenders are easy enough. They lack complex technical features, and they all can be plugged in and used right away. We also concede that given enough experience, parents can figure out any monitor. However, we think you should also consider caregivers, who should be able to use your monitor with only a limited tutorial.
You might think all you need is a product that sends sound from the nursery unit to a parent device. However, if the baby monitor can't connect to the parent device because it is too far away or there are too many walls between the units, then it won't matter what information or sound it sends along. While ranges, in general, are better for the audio products than video or movement options, it is still vital that you consider the range and your home when choosing a product. Even though most manufacturers include their open field range on the box, they aren't all reporting this number accurately, and even fewer manufacturers report a potential indoor range for their products. While indoor range can be affected by several variables from walls and floors to appliances, our tests can give you a general idea of the potential range you might expect, or, more importantly, how each unit stacked up against the competition in the same location.
Larger homes may be better suited to audio monitors (unless you plan to use WiFi), given that their average range is close to 90 feet and through 6 walls and video monitors are significantly less. The most extended range for sound products is the Summer Infant Baby Wave Deluxe, with a range of 100 feet through 8 walls. The shortest span is the Philips Avent DECT SCD501/10 with 90 ft and five walls. Most of the award winners in this review average a useful six walls and 95 ft for an indoor range.
Some of the products in this review have very few features and do little more than transmit sound from one device to another. You may be thinking, well that's what these products are for, what else should they do? While we'd love it if they made breakfast or took out the trash, we aren't looking for features outside the realm of reality. We want attributes that help the monitors function better or make using them easier to use. About half of the monitors offer a sound activation feature, something we think is an essential feature that will help you get more precious sleep. This feature keeps a parent device quiet when the baby is not making noise, so it doesn't sit transmitting white noise, room sounds, or chronic static, that could keep you needlessly awake.
Another feature we like is two-way communication between devices. The lack of two-way is not a deal-breaker, and many parents find they don't use it, but if you want it, it is a nice add-on that rarely effects price. Some of the other features we consider are nightlights, lullabies, alerts, battery backup in the baby unit, rechargeable parent unit, and temperature sensors. You may not need bells and whistles, but some parents want them.
The Vtech DM221 earns the top score in this metric with 9 of 10. This product has almost every feature parents want, including sound activation (a must-have) and two-way talk to the baby. The Philips Avent SCD720/86, also earns a 9 in this metric and features sound activation and two-way talk to the baby. It includes a nightlight, adjustable microphone sensitivity, alerts, lullaby, temperature sensor, and sound level LED indicators. We think both units have features to keep parents and babies happy.
The product with the lowest features score is the Vtech DM111 with a 3. Outside of the fundamental alerts for out of range and low battery, this monitor has no features that we feel make life easier or more enjoyable. It doesn't offer anything for sound control, and it lacks added features for soothing. This product is inexpensive and has relatively good sound and an adequate range making it a good option for parents who aren't concerned with features or have a limited budget.
While we don't think that every feature is a necessity, we do believe that sound activation is critical and should be something parents look for when deciding what to buy if the budget allows. You will be glad you insisted on it when you are trying to fall asleep at night, and your room is silent instead of filled with white noise, static, and strange sounds emanating from the monitor. The other potential features are merely items of convenience. If you are a deep sleeper or enjoy white noise, then the sound activation feature may be less critical, and a monitor like the Vtech DM111 could save you money without the bells and whistles.
Electromagnetic Field Levels (EMF)
Will your cell phone give you brain cancer? What about your baby monitor's health impact on your newborn infant? Concerns over EMF exposure have increased in recent years as the number of products we use that emit EMF increases every day. Add to this that infants have sensitive developing systems that are more susceptible to the effects of EMF, and we believe it is something parents should consider when making a purchasing decision.
— WHO, Electromagnetic Fields (EMF)
The jury is still out on what the risks are from long-term exposure to low-level electromagnetic fields, such as those from sources like WiFi devices, mobile phones, portable phones, and yes, getting to the point, baby monitors.
Even though the jury is still out, we believe there is enough evidence to keep EMF in mind. We've measured the EMF levels of each monitoring device to learn whether some options produce significantly higher or lower levels of EMF than others. Our tests focus on the nursery unit (the listening unit you place in the baby's room) since our concern is primarily on the potential impact of EMF on the baby's health.
All of the monitors in this review emit some level of EMF. Most of them had average values under 1 V/m when tested at 6 feet from the baby device, but a few managed to come in over 1 V/m. Most of the values were below the levels we saw in our video products. In addition to having generally lower EMF values, the sound products can also sit further away from the baby, which should help limit exposure even further. It is good to know that the unit can be placed as far away from the baby as possible and still work well. These results make choosing a sound product better than video options if you are concerned about EMF.
The Philips Avent DECT SCD501/10 has the lowest average level of EMF at 6 feet from the baby unit with a reading of 0.95 V/m. The monitor with the highest EMF reading is the Vtech DM221, with a disappointing value of 3.11 V/m! The Philips SCD720/86, has a reading of 0.72 V/m for the average at 6 feet, which is one of the lowest readings in the group. No matter which product you decide to purchase, we suggest you move it at least 6 feet away from the baby's crib, and most monitors will still work well from the other side of the room. Keep in mind that EMF levels usually decline rapidly with distance, so by locating your monitor across the room, you dramatically reduce the EMF exposure to your baby. These precautions will help limit your baby's exposure to EMF, which we think is a good thing.
Our EMF level measurements were not factored into our overall rating scores since the best current scientific data available suggests that low-level EMF from sources like sound monitors do not represent a known health risk to humans.
Battery life is mostly about the parent unit you carry with you to monitor your baby. The listening unit in the nursery typically plugs into the wall outlet. Parents usually rely on their parent unit most heavily overnight while plugged into a wall outlet near the nightstand. Batteries come into play during the daytime napping, so you can move around doing errands while keeping tabs on the baby.
We tested the battery life in all the parent devices of these monitors. Only a few products offered battery backup capabilities in the baby units. It is important to understand that the batteries in the baby units are only a backup stopgap for power outages; they are not intended for extended use overnight. Also, not all product parent devices are rechargeable. This lack of rechargeability means if you use them regularly without their AC adapters, then you will be changing batteries frequently.
The battery life range for the monitors in this review varied wildly from 9 hours for the Summer Infant Baby Wave Deluxe to 46 hours for the Vtech DM221. These life ranges mean that some of the devices will be able to make it through the night without being plugged in, and others may not. However, the majority of products had a life over 13 hours with several over 20, which is ample time for napping, which is when you are most likely to use the parent unit unplugged moving about your home.
The VTech DM221 once again stole the show for battery life with the Vtech lasting up to 46 hours. It comes with rechargeable batteries. We think that having a rechargeable battery is better than longer battery life, and would choose rechargeable monitors over AA or AAA options.
Finding the best audio monitor for your baby may not as simple as you hope. Complications can arise if you aren't sure what features you want or what kind of monitors are available. With a variety of features, functions, and prices, it might be challenging to determine why one option is better than the other contenders. If you focus on the important metrics and features that provide a useful sound monitor, we think you will find the right device for your goals and wallet. Our award-winners are superior options suitable for most families, but if these don't meet your needs, we include the pros and cons of the competition in our tests to help you determine which audio monitors meet your goals.
— RJ Spurrier