The Best Sound Monitor Review
Which baby monitor is the best? We tested 9 of the most popular and highly rated monitors to determine which is the absolute best. We put each monitor through a gauntlet of tests to compare range, sound quality, ease-of-use, features, and more. Based on our test results, we scored and ranked them all. Read on to see which monitors won awards and which products struggled to measure up to the best.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Baby Monitor
Philips Avent DECT SCD570/10
The second thing we really liked about this monitor is the variety of the features and how well they all worked. With nice microphone sensitivity adjustments and sound activation that works well, this monitor can be rendered silent when baby is and only alert parents to the level of sound they deem appropriate. This means you can filter out baby squirming and lullabies, and still feel confident that the monitor will alert you when baby cries. In addition to the truly useful features already mentioned, it also offers a nightlight, temperature sensor, and lullabies. We like that it has 2 way talk to baby, a rechargeable battery in the parent unit, backup battery option in the baby unit, and every alert you can imagine to ensure you stay connected to your little one. We feel confident that parents will like this monitor for everything it has and how well it performs.
Read full review: Philips Avent SCD570/10
Best Bang for the Buck
VTech DM221 Safe & Sound
We think this monitor shines above much of the competition by bringing a quality high performing product to the market with a price tag most parents can afford. This monitor is cheaper than all the units that earned a similar score and has more features than most. If you are looking for a budget friendly monitor that will help you get the shut eye you crave, then we think the VTech has what it takes to give you sound you can understand, silence when you want it, and the features you need the most.
Read full review: VTech DM221 Safe & Sound
Analysis and Test Results
The surprise attack interrupting your newborn-bliss is sleep deprivation. Between nursing every few hours and worrying about your baby in between, sleep goes by the wayside. A baby monitor is one of the key weapons in your arsenal to fight back against sleep deprivation. A great monitor will allow you to sleep with confidence (in a separate room) 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 baby is so you can fall asleep and stay asleep, but still loud enough with little distortion to alert you when baby does need assistance.
Our Baby Monitor Buying Advice article will give you the low-down on the different types of monitors, what features to be aware of, and why it might be worth investing more than you think or looking at video products as well. You can read about the gauntlet of tests we put each monitor through in our How We Test article.
Many parents purchase or choose 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 certainly go a long way in making parents feel confident enough to go to sleep themselves. However, you might want to consider reading our Movement Monitor Review for information on monitors which attempt to alert you on the absense of movement which are more likely to give you notice of something drastically wrong than a sound or a video monitor.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the leading cause of death among infants age 1 mo to 1 year with most deaths occurring between 1 month and 4 months of age (NIH). We urge you to read and follow the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on:
sound activation feature and/or adjustable microphone sensitivity feature that filters out background noise and tunes in only to the sound of baby 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.
A video monitor goes one step further, allowing you the option of looking in on baby to see if a trip to the nursery is warranted. And a few monitors, like the Angelcare AC701, offer another feature (albeit controversial), of detecting the lack of movement in the crib, potentially alerting you to baby stopping breathing. Being able to respond to baby's needs appropriately can make all the difference in acquiring quality sleep and simply surviving day to day like a zombie.
We reviewed 9 of the most popular baby monitors through a comprehensive series of tests in metrics 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.
If you need help figuring out which features are important, or what you might want to consider before making a purchase, be sure to read our buying advice article. This article is designed to help break down the buying process into manageable steps to find the right product for you and your baby.
Types of Sound Monitors
There are two main types of audio monitors, digital and analog technology. In our review we looked at digital technology options because they typically experience less interference and their prices are reasonable enough for most budgets. The analog options usually have shorter ranges, more interference, and a significant amount of static and feedback. Given that the cost difference for some of the digital options is now minimal over analog, only digital products made it into our list of finalists for this review. In contrast, 3 years ago more than half the sound monitors we tested were analog. This is not to say analog options are useless, but we think your money is better invested in a digital product due to increased range and better sound quality than analog.
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 more useful to parents and baby. Given that monitors can act as a direct line to baby and what is happening in 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 help increase parents potential to sleep, and offer quality sound and useful additional attributes. If a product does not work as intended, or fails to stay reliably connected, then it might also fail at helping parents rest easy so they can fall asleep.
Each monitor in this review is rated not just on how well it performs as a standalone product, but also on 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 and features we feel make a monitor exceptional and user friendly. Range and sound are two of the most highly rated metrics in this review. Without significant reliable range coverage a monitor might fail to work at all, and without quality sound transmission and sound related features a product might not work well enough to alert parents or help them to fall asleep.
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 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.
Motorola MBP36, a video product, has a range of 80 feet through 5 walls, while its sound only brother, the Motorola MBP10S, has a range of 62 feet and 4 walls. These two products were the only exception to the basic rule in our tests that sound monitors offer better range than video monitors. The longest range for sound products is the Angelcare AC420, with a range of 110 feet through 6 walls. The shortest range is the Motorola we mentioned, and the remainder are all about 90 feet 5 walls, including our two award winners the Philips Avent SCD570/10 and the VTech DM221 Safe & Sound.
For audio monitors it is the sound quality that separates the pups from the big dogs. Sound coming from the parent device should be clear, static free, and easy to hear. The sound should have little distortion even at maximum volume, and we prefer the products that have features to 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 microphones sensitivity for background noise don't work like they are supposed to, then you might lose sleep due to a loud monitor instead of baby.
About half of the monitors we tested scored above 6 for sound quality, but it is a little shocking how poor the sound quality was overall for a product whose main goal is producing realistic sounds. Many 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 form several of the units did give us pause. The best options offered a fuller range of tones and the ability to change what level of sounds are heard (mic adjustment).
Philips Avent SCD501 and the Philips Avent SCD570/10, that both earned 8s in our tests. These products had little to no distortion, even at maximum volume, and almost no static. The quality of sound had richer tones overall and while you wouldn't want to listen to your favorite music through these speakers, the sound is adequate enough to deliver a realistic interpretation of baby's cries. Both units offer sound activation that works well and goes silent quickly when baby is quiet. The SCD570/10 (our Editors' Choice) also has the ability to adjust the microphone sensitivity so you can decide what level of noise (baby crying) turns the monitor on, and what level is uninteresting (ambient noise).
Graco Secure Coverage; we felt this product has sound akin to how demon possession might sound and it lacks features for limiting the kind of sounds transmitted. Even if you aren't concerned about the quality of the sounds you hear, we think most parents can agree they don't want to be woken by a scary sound.
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 the features it has 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 and on/off button and volume control is easy to use, but the bigger questions is if it offers anything that improves the user experience or makes using the monitor easier?
The product setup was timed and we noted the difficulty level as well as the quality of the manual and if they automatically linked. We also considered the user interface, and if the monitor has features that make the product easier to use or more useful in general. Products lost points for being difficult to navigate, buttons that didn't work well, or for not offering extra features that help them work efficiently or potentially increase parent sleep time or quality.
The Philips Avent SCD570 earned the highest score for ease of use with a 9 of 10. It has an easy to use button system that can likely be managed 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 devices auto-link and the instructions are easy to follow.
The Motorola MBP10S earned the lowest score for this metric with a 2. This unit didn't have a lot of buttons, but it also lacked the features that make a monitor easier to use or more enjoyable to operate. The parent unit for this product has trouble standing up and we felt the process for manually linking the units is overly complex should a parent need to do this for some reason (it should auto-link).
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 can 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.
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, 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 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 2 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.
movement monitor review) we did think it was kind of snazzy that this one had all the cool features and movement monitoring to boot. Our two award winners, the Philips Avent SCD570/10 and the VTech Safe & Sound, both earned 8s in this metric, tying for second place for features. Both units have sound activation and 2 way talk to baby. Both also sport a nightlight, adjustable microphone sensitivity, alerts, and sound level LED indicators. The Philips also has a temperature sensor, lullabies, and battery back up in the baby unit. We think both units offer features to keep parents and baby happy.
The product with the lowest features score is the Safety 1st High Def with a 2. 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 might be acceptable in theory if the monitor generated great sound or is on the cheaper side, but it has a list price $15 more than our Best Value option (which has loads of features) and the sound quality is one of the lowest in the group.
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 WIFI devices, cell phones, portable phones, and yes, getting to the point, baby monitors. This is a 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 baby, which should help limit exposure even further. It is good to know that the unit can be placed as far away from 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 AC701 has the lowest average level of EMF at 6 feet from the baby unit with a reading of 0.55 (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 Safety 1st High Def, with a disappointing value of 1.44, a reading more on par with the video products. Given this monitor's general lack of awesomeness though, it should be easy to discount it on any number of metrics than its EMF reading alone. Our two award winners, the Philips SCD570/10 has a respectable reading of 0.60 for the average at 6 feet and the VTech was higher with a reading of 0.74. No matter which monitor 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 quite adequately from the other side of the room. (Keep in mind that EMF levels generally decline rapidly with distance, so by locating your monitor across the room, you dramatically reduce the EMF your baby will be exposed to). 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.
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. In addition, 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 7 hours for the Summer Baby Wave Deluxe to 36 hours for the Philips Avent SCD501. This means that some of the devices will be able to make it through then night without being plugged in, and others might have trouble through a long nap. The SCD501 seems like a great battery life until you consider that it runs on AA batteries and does not recharge after use. This means you will be changing the batteries after just 36 hours of continuous battery-powered use if you regularly use it without the AC adapter. On the other hand if you try to use it primarily plugged in, you will not be needing to change batteries very often.
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, we feel confident you will find the right monitor for you. Our Editors' Choice and Best Value units are both great options that outperformed the other 7 products in this review. 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
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