Update — June 2018
This review has been updated and edited to include the Angelcare AC403 as a replacement for the Angelcare AC401
which has been discontinued. Also, after researching new potential contenders (given what we've learned over the years), we determined that at this time there are no worthy competitors to add to the lineup.
Best Overall Baby Monitor
Sound activation & two-way talk to baby
Longest battery life
Harder to program
The Vtech DM221 is a full-service sound monitor with several useful features and the best sound clarity in the group. The DM221 has sound activation and adjustable mic sensitivity which combine to provide a quiet room for a great night's sleep creating a silent monitor that only makes noise when your baby does. The parent unit has a take to baby feature that sounds clear and like a real voice to avoid upsetting your baby with a robotic sound. The DM221 is wallet-friendly for just about any budget, and it earned the highest overall score in our sound review, making it a shoe-in for the Editors' Choice award.
This monitor has a shorter range than some of the competition and is, therefore, a poor choice for families in smaller homes or with more than 3-4 walls between the nursery and their bedroom. You'll want to check your home and purchase this option 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. Overall, we think this monitor will get the job done, with great sound, and features to ensure a restful night's sleep. Something every parent wants and needs.
Read review: Vtech DM221
Longer Range Baby Monitor
Philips Avent DECT SCD570/10
Great sound clarity
Longer battery life
Harder to use
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 of over 30 hours. This sleek, sharp looking monitor offers excellent sound clarity with one of the best full-bodied sounds in the group.
Unfortunately, the DECT SCD570/10 is one of the more expensive options we tested with a price that is more on par with video or movement monitors. However, if you want a quality monitor with true-to-life sound, this one is tough to beat and should make your short list.
Read review: Philips Avent DECT SCD570/10
Best Bang for the Buck
Philips Avent DECT SCD501/10
Easy to use
No two-way talk to baby
Short battery life
The Philips Avent DECT SCD501/10 is a low-priced, high-quality option that is easy to use with the basic features many parents want like good sound quality and sound activation, which is something we think is more important and very useful in a sound monitor. This product has a reasonable price for most families and is simple enough that even grandma can use it without frustration.
This bare-bones monitor doesn't offer much in the way of additional features, however, with no two-way communication, or features like a temperature monitoring or lullabies. While some may consider this a deal breaker, we find most parents fail to use these features over time, even if their monitor has them. 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 at a reasonable price.
Read review: Philips Avent DECT SCD501/10
Easy to use
No sound activation
No two-way communication
The Vtech DM111 has a list price of only $25 making it the least expensive option we tested. However, it offers above average range capabilities with good sound clarity and an easy to use interface. It also has a better range 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 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 think this option is an excellent no-nonsense choice or a useful travel option thanks to its ease of use and good range.
Read review: Vtech DM111
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The main problem that interrupts your newborn-bliss is sleep deprivation. Between frequent nursing and worrying about your baby, regular sleep can easily take a back sleep to caring for your little one. A great baby monitor can be a key weapon in your arsenal for fighting back against sleep deprivation. A monitor can allow you to sleep in another room away from your baby with confidence knowing that if your baby cries out, you'll hear her and wake up. Keeping well-rested is key to surviving the first year of your child's life (trust us).
A quality monitor should be silent when the baby is quiet, so you can fall asleep and stay asleep if you aren't needed. However, it should be loud enough with little to no distortion so you'll know your baby needs your help.
We purchased and tested 9 of the most popular sound monitor options on the market today.
Our Baby Monitor Buying Advice article provides the low-down on the types of monitors, what features you should consider, and why you may want to invest more than you planned or why looking at video products might be wise.
The AC403 includes a sensor pad and one to two parent devices.
Many parents decide to monitor baby because of SIDS and other sleep-related death concerns. While there are no studies to indicate that using a monitor can prevent or limit the occurrence of SIDS, it can help parents feel confident enough to go to sleep themselves. Despite this lack of evidence, if you are really concerned, you may want to read our Movement Monitor Review for more information on products that can potentially alert you to the absence of movement. This style of a monitor is more likely to alert you if something goes drastically wrong than a typical sound or a video monitor.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Prevention
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 (AAP) guidelines for SIDS prevention and our article on How to Protect your Infant from SIDS and other Causes of Sleep-related Deaths
The Vtech DM221 has sound activation so you only hear the baby unit when your baby is making noise.
We reviewed 9 of the most popular baby monitors and put them through a comprehensive series of tests designed to uncover the details parents need to know about which product to consider for their family and why. We rated each option based on test performance results, and we chose the winners based on performance and the features we think parents will need and want.
A great monitor should only emit sounds when the baby makes a noise. These products have an adjustable sound activation feature or adjustable microphone sensitivity (some have both) that filter out background noise and only turn on when a baby is crying. These features are extremely beneficial for quality sleep because they help you catch a few winks in complete silence, knowing that your baby's crying will come through loud and clear to wake you no matter how deep you sleep.
Sound monitors were tested for everything from sound clarity to features and range to determine which options were better than others. The Philips Avent DECT SCD570/10 earned a higher than average score for the range distance.
Analysis and Test Results
For audio monitor testing, we consider key metrics that demonstrate how well a monitor performs (quality) and the features that help it perform better or are useful to parents or baby. Given that monitors act as a direct line to what is happening in the baby's room, it is important that they work as intended, reliably, with a useful range, and have 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 your potential for sleeping, and provide 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 defeating the purpose of using a monitor.
Each monitor in this review is rated on how well it performs and how it compares to similar products in its class in our in-house 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, with range coming in as the third most important metric. Without significant, reliable range a monitor can fail to work at all, and without quality sound transmission and sound-related features, a product may not work alert parents or help them fall asleep and stay asleep.
Sound monitoring is really the best way to economically keep tabs on your little one. With products in the award lineup priced as low as $25, there is something for every budget when it comes to sound monitoring options. We feel that stepping up slightly from the lowest priced products is a good idea, since the performance of products selling at about $40-$50 price is much better than the lowest price products. Given that you will use a sound monitor every day, spending $20 more than the lowest price products is a smart move. We consider the Vtech DM221 to be the best value overall as it was the highest performing product in our tests, and sells for a reasonable $40 list (and is often available for less online). If "grandparent-friendly" ease of use is of key concern, then you might consider the Philips Avent DECT SCD501/10, which sells for an affordable $50 list, and is the easiest to use monitor with top performance.
The DM221 has top-of-the-line sound clarity with a 10 of 10 score for this metric.
For audio monitors, the sound quality is what separates the chihuahuas from the big dogs. Any sound from the parent device should be clear, static free, and easy to hear. Ideally, the sound should have no distortion, and we prefer features that limit the kind of sounds transmitted or the volume of sounds. We believe the sound transmission and features are 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 hear is 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 even when your baby is peacefully sleeping.
About half of the monitors we tested scored above average for sound clarity, but it is a little shocking how poor the sound quality is for some options given the primary goal to produce realistic sounds. Some of the units were hollow and bright without the mid-tone and bass ranges, which we feel is disappointing but acceptable. However, static and distortion are not acceptable and we heard it from several of the units. The best products offer a fuller range of tones and the ability to change what level of sounds are transmitted (mic adjustment).
The DM222 has impressive sound clarity with clear reception and no distortion.
The best scores for sound are 10s earned by the Philips Avent DECT SCD570/10, Vtech DM221, and the Vtech DM222. These products have no distortion or static, even at maximum volume. 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 top units offer sound activation that works well and goes silent quickly when the baby is quiet.
The Baby Wave offers the worst sound clarity in the review with distorted sound on most volume settings making it harder to tell what is happening in baby's room which defeats the purpose of a monitor.
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. The Angelcare AC403 and the Angelcare AC420 are the second lowest for sound with intermittent interruption where no sound comes through even when the baby is crying. This break in sound is a definite problem and something we assume most parents will want to avoid.
The DECT SCD501/10 only has power and volume adjustment buttons on the front making it simple and easy for parents to use in the dark while half asleep.
Ease of Use
Ease of use captures whether or not a monitor is intuitive or complicated, how easy it is to setup, and whether or not the 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 initial setup of the AC403 can be challenging, but the everyday use of the parent unit is far simpler. However, it can take time and the manual to figure things out.
The Angelcare AC403 earned the lowest ease of use score in this review with a 3. This unit has a variety of features including a movement sensor pad, which makes it harder to use than the competition. It also has a confusing menu and setup with a user interface that is not the most user-friendly. This monitor is definitely one grandma will struggle with if she isn't very tech savvy.
In general, all of the competitors are easy enough. They lack 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 a limited overview.
The external antenna appears to be effective. The Philips Avent DECT SCD570/10 worked at a longer range of 95 feet and through 6 walls.
You might think all you need is a product that sends sound from the nursery unit to a parent device, but if that 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, were greater for the audio products than ranges for the video or movement options, it is still important that you consider the range and your home when deciding which unit might fit your needs. 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 and such, our tests can give you a general idea of the potential range you can 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 Wi-Fi) given that their average range is close to 90 feet and through 6 walls and video monitors are significantly less. The longest range for sound products is the Angelcare AC420, with a range of 160 feet through 9 walls. The shortest range is the Angelcare AC403 with 65 ft and four walls. Most of the award winners in this review average a useful five walls and 95 ft for an indoor range.
Thanks to a large variety of features, this unit is more complicated than the competition. While you can use it without setting up features in the menu, it will work better if you take the time at least once to set some preferences.
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 considered are nightlights, lullabies, alerts, battery backup in the baby unit, rechargeable parent unit, and temperature sensors. You may not need bells and whistles to get the job done, but some parents want them.
The Philips Avent DECT SCD570/10 has a remotely activated nightlight on the baby unit offering a soft glow to help baby sleep.
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. Our other Editors' Choice winner, the Philips Avent SCD570/10 earned an 8 in this metric and also features 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 have 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 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 only $25 and has relatively good sound and a nice range making it a good option for parents who aren't concerned with features or have a limited budget.
The Vtech DM111 doesn't offer many features, but it does have a handy belt clip.
While we don't think that every feature is a necessity, we do think that sound activation is key 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 important 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 parent should consider when making a purchasing decision.
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 what the risks are from long-term exposure to low-level electromagnetic fields, such as those from sources like Wi-Fi 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. 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 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.
The nursery unit on the AC403 connects to the sensor pad under the mattress and relays information to the parent unit like lack of movement and sound. It also has a nightlight and low EMF.
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 be set 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 Angelcare AC403 has the lowest average level of EMF at 6 feet from the baby unit with a reading of 0.45 V/m. The monitor with the highest EMF reading is the Vtech DM221, with a disappointing value of 3.11 V/m! Our other Editors' Choice option, the Philips SCD570/10 has a reading of 1.02 for the average at 6 feet. 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 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.
The battery life of the Vtech DM221 is longer than any other we tested. You can go up to 46 hours between charging, though we recommend you have it plugged in whenever possible to save battery life for the unforeseen moments or movement around the house.
Battery life is mostly about the parent unit you carry with you to monitor your baby. The listening unit in the nursery generally plugs 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 during napping, so you can move from room to room 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 lack of rechargeability 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. 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.
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 monitoring product out of the myriad of options on the market can be tricky if you don't know what you want or are looking at. With wide-ranging prices and features you aren't familiar with, it is hard to say what makes one option different or better than another. However, if you stay focused and consider the important metrics and features, we feel confident you can find the right monitor for you. Our award winners are great options that can work for most families no matter what they desire. However, if you need something a little different, we've outlined the pros and cons of each in our review for easy reference to help you find the right option for your needs.