Are you curious about baby sound monitors and which one might be right for your family? We can help! We considered over 30 possible contenders and tested 9 popular sound monitors to determine which options are the best and provide the features, and functionality parents need and want. We tested each monitor over several months comparing sound clarity, ease-of-use, range, and more. Based on our test results and experiences, we scored and ranked the products to provide you with the details on how each product works and what they have to offer. Continue reading to see which products won awards and which failed to impress.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Update — January 2018
This review has been researched and edited to ensure up to date information for each product. We believe in providing accurate information so you can make your best buying decision.
Best Overall Baby Monitor
The Vtech DM221 is a full-service sound monitor offering several useful features with the best sound clarity in the bunch. The DM221 has sound activation and adjustable mic sensitivity to provide the best night's sleep with a silent monitor that only makes noise when your baby does. The parent unit has an easy to use talk to the baby function that sounds good on baby's unit with soft tones that won't startle upset little ones. This product is very budget-friendly, and it earned the highest overall score making it a shoe-in for the Editors' Choice award and an excellent choice for most families. If you live in a larger than average home, then the shorter range of the DM221 may be an issue, so you'll want to check your home and purchase the product from a retailer like Amazon that has an easy return policy with no additional charges just in case it doesn't work in your specific home.
Sound activation and two-way talk to baby
Longest battery life
Harder to program
Read review: Vtech DM221
Longer Range Baby Monitor
Philips Avent DECT SCD570/10
The Philips Avent DECT SCD570/10 is a quality sound monitor with a better range distance than the competing top-ranking products with an excellent battery life over 30 hours. This sleek, sharp looking monitor offers excellent sound clarity with one of the best full-bodied sound quality in the group. Unfortunately, this monitor is one of the more expensive options we tested with a price that is on par with video monitors. However, if you are looking for a quality monitor with life-like sound, this one is tough to beat.
Great sound clarity
Longer battery life
Harder to use
Read review: Philips Avent DECT SCD570/10
Best Bang for the Buck
Philips Avent DECT SCD501/10
The Philips Avent DECT SCD501/10 is a low-priced, high-quality product that is super easy to use with some of the more popular features that parents will be looking for including good sound clarity. This bare-bones monitor doesn't feature much in the way of additional features with no two-way communication, which some parents may consider a deal breaker. However, it does have sound activation which is something we think is more important and useful in a good sound monitor. This product has a reasonable price for most families and is simple enough that even grandma can use it without frustration. We like the look and ease of the DECT SCD501/10 and think most parents will agree its an excellent addition to a stylish nursery.
Easy to use
No two-way communication
Short battery life
Read review: Philips Avent DECT SCD501/10
The Vtech DM111 has a price of only $25 making it the least expensive in the review, but it offers above average range capabilities with good sound quality and an easy to use interface. While this option doesn't have all the bells and whistles, like two-way communication or sound activation, it gets the basic 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 as backups. We like this option as a no-nonsense choice or a travel option thanks to its ease of use and good range.
Easy to use
No sound activation
No two-way communication
Read review: Vtech DM111
Analysis and Test Results
The surprise issue that interrupts your newborn-bliss is sleep deprivation. Between nursing every few hours and worrying about your baby, sleep can easily go by the wayside. A baby monitor is a key weapon in your arsenal to fight back against sleep deprivation. A great monitor will allow you to sleep away from your baby with confidence knowing that if your baby cries out, you'll hear him and wake up. Being able to stay well rested is key to surviving the first year of your child's life. A quality monitor should be silent when the baby is quiet so you can fall asleep and stay asleep, but it still needs to be loud enough with little distortion to alert you when your baby needs assistance.
Our Baby Monitor Buying Advice article will give you the low-down on the different types of monitors, which features you should know more about, and why it is potentially worth investing more than you planned or looking at video products as well. You can read about the gauntlet of tests we used in How We Test.
Many parents decide to use a monitor because they are concerned about SIDS and other sleep-related deaths. While there are no studies to indicate that using a monitor can prevent or limit the occurrence of SIDS, it can go a long way in helping parents feel confident enough to go to sleep themselves. However, you may want to consider reading our Movement Monitor Review for details on monitors that attempt to alert on the absence of movement which is more likely to alert you if something goes drastically wrong than a typical sound or a video monitor.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the leading cause of death among infants aged one month to one year with most deaths occurring between one month and four months of age (NIH). We urge you to read and follow the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on:
We reviewed 9 of the most popular baby monitors and put them through a comprehensive series of tests designed to discover the information parents really want on which product to buy and why. We rated each product based on test results, and we chose the winners based on overall performance and the features we feel parents will both need and want.
The best monitors should emit sounds only when baby makes a noise. These products have an adjustable sound activation feature or adjustable microphone sensitivity that filters out background noise and turns on only when a baby is crying. These features are a blessing for sleep because they allow you to catch a few winks in complete silence, knowing that baby's cry will come through loud and clear to wake you from your slumber.
Need more help?
If you need help figuring out which features are important, or what you should consider before making a purchase, be sure to read our buying advice article designed to break down the buying process into manageable steps to find the right product for your baby.
Criteria for Evaluation
For audio monitor testing, we looked at key metrics that demonstrate how well a monitor performs (quality) and features that help it perform better or are useful to parents and the baby. Given that monitors can act as a direct line to the baby and what is happening in the baby's room, it is important that they work as intended, reliably, at a useful range, and with features that are easy to use and contribute to the overall function of the unit. Each product should have adequate range capabilities, offer features to increase the parents potential for sleeping, and offer clear sound and useful features. If a product does not work as intended or fails to stay reliably connected, then it will likely fail to help parents rest easy so they can fall asleep.
Each monitor in this review is rated on how well it performs as a standalone product, and how it compares to similar products in its class in side-by-side testing. The scores are calculated based on weighted values for the metrics we feel make a monitor exceptional and user-friendly. Sound clarity and ease of use are the most highly rated metrics in this review. The range is the third highest weighted metric. Without significant, reliable range coverage a monitor might fail to work at all, and without quality sound transmission and sound-related features, a product may not work well enough to alert parents or help them to fall asleep.
For audio monitors, it is the sound quality that separates the pups from the big dogs. Any sound coming out of the parent device should be clear, static free, and easy to hear. Ideally, the sound should have little distortion, and we prefer features that limit the kind of sounds transmitted or the volume of sounds. It is arguably the most important metric for this kind of product. In the middle of the night, you don't want to lose valuable sleep wondering if the noise you heard was your baby or normal house noises. If features like sound activation or microphone sensitivity that limit background noise don't work like they are supposed to, then you might lose sleep listening to a loud monitor instead of a baby.
About half of the monitors we tested scored above average for sound clarity, but it is a little shocking how poor the sound quality was for some options given the main goal of producing realistic sounds. Some of the units were hollow and bright missing the mid-tone and bass ranges, which we feel is disappointing but acceptable. However, the static and distortion we heard from several of the units did give us pause. The best options offer a fuller range of tones and the ability to change what level of sounds are transmitted (mic adjustment).
The best scores for sound are 10s earned by the Philips Avent DECT SCD570/10, Vtech DM221, and the Vtech DM222. These products had no distortion, even at maximum volume, and no static. The sound has richer tones overall, and while you wouldn't want to listen to your favorite music through these speakers, the sound is good enough to deliver a realistic interpretation of baby's cries. All of the units offer sound activation that works well and goes silent quickly when the baby is quiet.
The worst score in our tests for sound is a 4, for the Summer Infant Baby Wave Deluxe which had a lot of static and distortion. This product didn't provide a good representation of what was happening in baby's room and could be disturbing in the middle of the night if you wake up suddenly.
Ease of Use
The ease of use metric is designed to capture whether or not a monitor is intuitive or complicated, how easy it is to setup, and whether or not its features make it easier or more useful. Including all of this prevents the simple featureless products from walking away with top honors in a category that shouldn't be solely about simplicity. Obviously, a product with an on/off button and volume control is easy to use, but the bigger question is if it offers anything that improves the user experience or makes using the monitor easier?
The Philips Avent SCD501 earned the highest score for ease of use with a 10 of 10. It has an easy to use button system that you may be able to use without the manual. The extra features it boasts make using it an overall nicer experience than much of the completion, and we liked the clean lines and simplistic styling it offers for both devices. The parent unit also has a handy lanyard for transport and the baby unit has buttons with clear easy to read labels. The two units auto-link and the instructions are easy to follow.
The Angelcare AC401 earned the lowest score for this metric with a 3. This unit has a variety of features including movement options, which makes it harder to use than the competition. This monitor requires some setup within the menu which makes it less user-friendly than simpler products that do not have a menu to navigate.
In general, all of these products are easy enough. They lack any truly technical features that are complex to use, and they all can be plugged in and used right away without altering factory settings. We also concede that given enough time and experience parents can get used to any monitor interface, but we believe you also need to think about caregivers, like a babysitter or a relative, who should be able to effectively use your sound monitor with only a brief overview.
You might be thinking all you need is a product that sends sound from a baby device to a parent unit, but if that baby monitor can't connect to the parent device, then it won't matter what information or sound it sends along. While ranges, in general, were greater for the audio products than those for the video options, it is still important that you look at the range and consider your own home when deciding which unit might fit your needs. Even though most manufacturers include their open field range on the box, they don't all seem to be reporting this number accurately, and even fewer report a potential indoor range for their products. While it is true that indoor range can be affected by several variables from walls and floors to appliances and such, our tests can give you an idea of the potential range you can expect, or possibly more importantly how each unit stacked up against the competition in the same location.
Larger homes might be better suited to audio monitors as opposed to video (unless you plan to use Wi-Fi) given that their average range is close to 90 feet and through 6 walls. The longest range for sound products is the Angelcare AC420, with a range of 160 feet through 9 walls. The shortest range is the Vtech DM222 at 65 ft and 4 walls. Most of the award winners in this review average a nice 5 walls and 95 ft for an indoor range.
Some of the products in this review have very few features and do little more than transmitting 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, but we aren't actually looking for features outside the realm of reality. We are looking for attributes that help them function better and make using them easier. About half of the monitors offer a sound activation feature, something we think is an essential feature that makes using a monitor easier and 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 would keep you needlessly awake.
Another feature we liked, and think is important though not a deal breaker, is two-way communication between devices. Not all of the units offer it, but given that it doesn't affect overall price, it seems a shame to get a monitor without it. Some of the other features we considered in this metric are nightlights, lullabies, alerts, battery backup in the baby unit, rechargeable parent unit, belt clips, and temperature sensors. You may not need bells and whistles to get the job done, but some parents will want them.
The Vtech DM221 earned the top score in this metric with 9 of 10. This product has almost every feature parents want, including sound activation and two-way talk to the baby. Our other Editors' Choice winner, the Philips Avent SCD570/10 earned an 8 in this metric, also with sound activation and two-way talk to the baby. The Philips Avent SCD570/10 also sports a nightlight, adjustable microphone sensitivity, alerts, lullaby, temperature sensor, and sound level LED indicators. We think both units offer features to keep parents and baby happy.
The product with the lowest features score is the Vtech DM111 with a 3. Outside basic alerts for out of range and low battery, this monitor has no features that we felt make life easier or more enjoyable. It doesn't offer any attribute to control sounds, and it lacks any added feature for soothing baby. This product only has a $25 price tag and has relatively good sound and a nice range making it a good option for those who aren't concerned with features or have a limited budget.
While we don't think that having every feature under the sun is a necessity, we do think that sound activation is key and should be something parents look for when deciding what to buy. 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 rest of the potential features are items of convenience. If you are a deep sleeper or enjoy white noise, then the sound activation feature may be less important to you and a monitor like the Vtech DM111 may be just the ticket to saving 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?
There is no doubt that short-term exposure to very high levels of electromagnetic fields can be harmful to health. Current public concern focuses on possible long-term health effects caused by exposure to electromagnetic fields at levels below those required to trigger acute biological responses.
— WHO, Electromagnetic Fields (EMF)
The jury is still out on whether there is any risk from prolonged long-term exposure to low-level electromagnetic fields, such as those from sources such as Wi-Fi devices, cell phones, portable phones, and yes, getting to the point, baby monitors. This topic that has been intensely studied in many countries, and yet the World Health Organization has not currently found any compelling evidence of risks due to low-level EMF.
Even though the jury might still be out, we've measured the EMF levels of each sound monitor to learn whether some devices produce significantly higher or lower levels of EMF than others. We took measurements at distances from 6 inches, 3 feet, and 6 feet, from three different directions from each monitor, testing both parent units and (more importantly) the baby unit. You'll find a representative sample of our measurements in the product specs chart near the top of this review, in the row labeled, "EMF @ 6 Feet Nursery Unit (V/m)." Our tests focused 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 when tested at 6 feet from the baby device, but a few managed to come in over 1. Most of the values were below the levels we saw in our video products, but none of them managed to drop below 0.50. In addition to having generally lower EMF values, the sound products can also be placed 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. This makes choosing a sound product better than video options if you are concerned about EMF in the event that further study shows a link between EMF and health risks to developing systems.
The Angelcare AC401 has the lowest average level of EMF at 6 feet from the baby unit with a reading of 0.77 (V/m). This measurement did not include a test while using the movement pad portion of the monitor. The monitor with the highest EMF reading is the Vtech DM221, with a disappointing value of 3.11! Our other Editors' Choice option, the Philips SCD570/10 has a respectable reading of 1.02 for the average at 6 feet. No matter which product you decide to purchase we do 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 your baby experiences). 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'll carry around with you to monitor your baby. The listening unit in the nursery is generally plugged into the wall outlet. Most parents rely on their parent unit most heavily overnight, when it is plugged into a wall outlet near your nightstand. Batteries come into play during the daytime, such as when your baby is napping, for the convenience of being able to roam your house 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 their baby units, but it is important to understand that the batteries in the baby units are just a backup stopgap for power outages, they are not intended for extended use for the entire night. Also, not all product parent devices are rechargeable. This means if you use them regularly without their AC adapters, then you will be changing batteries on a regular basis, weekly or more often.
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. This means 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.
Our two Editors' Choice options, the VTech DM221 and Philips Avent SCD570/10, once again stole the show for battery life with the Vtech lasting up to 46 hours and the Phillips up to 30. Both come with rechargeable batteries, and the SCD570 also has battery backup in the baby unit. 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 right monitor in the myriad of products on the market can seem tricky if you don't know what you are looking for or looking at. With price ranges all over the map and features, you aren't familiar with, it is hard to say what makes one product different or better than another. However, if you stay focused and keep in mind the important metrics and features, we feel confident you will find the right monitor for you. Our award winners are great options that will likely work for most families no matter what they are looking for. However, if you need a little something different we've outlined the pros and cons of each in our review and comparison table for easy reference.
— RJ Spurrier
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.