There’s a lot to learn when you have a child in the NICU, and one tip I picked up from the nursing staff was the importance of having a white noise machine at home. Babies often find white (or brown or pink) noise soothing as it recreates some of the ambient sounds they heard in the womb. NICU graduates in particular become accustomed to an assortment of noises from various hospital machines, which means white noise can actually help them feel at ease when they arrive home. Also, let’s be real, anything that will help your infant sleep is worth trying.
In fact, my household is no stranger to white noise machines — we’ve had one kicking around for years now because of my partner’s tinnitus, and we’ve both kept white noise apps on our phones for when we travel. Having a consistent, gentle hum of waves, rain or static helps mask outside noises from airplanes or hotels. But, as I’ve mentioned in previous stories, accidentally stumbling across the Hatch Rest was a stroke of luck as it doubles as a night light and white noise machine, all of it controllable from a phone. While there’s no shortage of white noise machines available (for adults or children), few have the kind of smart features that made the Rest truly indispensable. I tried out four different soothers to see what each has to offer.
Hatch Rest and Rest+
You can control all features from smartphone
There’s a good selection of sounds and lights
No storytelling feature
No projection light
Can’t double as a Bluetooth speaker
It’s easy to explain why the $60 Hatch Rest and $90 Rest+ are popular with parents on the Engadget staff: Both devices sport a clean, minimalist design and allow you to combine any of 12 sounds or colors to act as a night light, white noise machine or time-to-rise reminder. And all these actions can be controlled from your smartphone, so it’s easy to adjust the volume or change the light color from a different room. Using the Hatch app, you can set favorite combinations and program them to start and stop at specific times. There are also physical controls on the device itself so you’re not out of luck if you forget your phone in another room. After a year of using the Rest, the only thing I wish it had was the ability to fade out of a sound when you turn it off.
The Rest+ has some additional features, too, including a rechargeable battery (not just AC power); two-way audio so it can also act as an audio monitor; a digital clock display; and the ability to control it with Alexa. Hatch sells separately $12 printed coverlets that can cover the Rest to match a nursery design. The company also recently released a “Mini” version, which offers a storytelling feature and white noise but no lights. There’s also a Restore version of the machine intended for adults.
VTech Wyatt the Whale Storytelling Soother
You can record your own voice
There's a storytelling mode
The app is bare-bones and you can’t use it to control audio playback
AC power only
Wyatt the Whale is one of three storytelling soothers from VTech; the other two, a monkey and a turtle, offer slightly different features than Wyatt. The $50 whale comes preloaded with 10 lullabies, 10 ambient white noise sounds and 10 stories, which can be updated and switched out through the app. You can also use the app to record your voice reading a story (the app provides scripts to help), or a message for your child.
The selection of sounds is pretty standard for a white noise machine: nature sounds like birds and rain, along with household noises like traffic or a washing machine. The lullabies have a range of children's songs (“Mary Had a Little Lamb”) and classical tracks (Bach’s Ave Maria), while the stories are shortened versions of fairy tales (Alice in Wonderland in 3:48). Throughout, the sound quality is decent and the voices clear. Wyatt can also project a starry night scene, courtesy of the shaped cut-outs on the top of the device, but this feature can only be controlled through physical buttons on the device.
The lullabies, sounds and stories can get swapped out and reordered within the app. Unfortunately, though, that’s all the app was designed to do. As I discovered after several frustrating moments, it doesn't play, pause, skip tracks or adjust volume; all of that has to be done using the physical buttons. Attempting to play a sound through the app will just default to it playing on your phone. There’s also no battery; it only works when connected to AC power, which limits the places you’ll be able to use it.
Project Nursery Dreamweaver with Bluetooth
Adorable firefly design
Doubles as a Bluetooth speaker
Only three sounds or lullabies
No app to control preset sounds
Project Nursery’s Dreamweaver is designed to look like a jar carrying fireflies, which is honestly pretty charming. The $40 machine has the shape of a large mason jar with a brass colored top and handle and physical controls near the bottom. There are six buttons in total: volume up and down, power/Bluetooth, preloaded tracks/skip tracks, a timer and one for the lights, which flicker on and off in one of four patterns to resemble captured fireflies. Below the power/Bluetooth button is an input for a USB-C cable, which you’ll need periodically for recharging the battery.
The menu is admittedly pretty limited: three lullabies (Brahms’ Lullaby, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik), two natural sounds (waves and a heartbeat) and plain white noise. However, because the Dreamweaver connects to your phone via Bluetooth you can stream anything you want through it. It was certainly loud enough during my testing to double as a portable speaker for picnics or beach days. And my twins were crazy about the fake firefly lights.
Fisher Price Smart Connect Deluxe Soother
Three levels of lights
AC power only
Can't double as a Bluetooth speaker
The $50 Smart Connect Deluxe Soother is a tall cylindrical device with three levels of lights: a ring of various sized holes near the bottom, various animal shapes etched through the opaque sides in the middle and cut-outs of animals and stars for projection on top. At its base are seven touch-activated buttons to control the lights on each level, plus the colors and the sounds. The top portion of the Soother can shift what colors it projects, while the middle and bottom portions emit a soft warm glow. The Soother can also play lullabies or nature sounds. Touching the buttons on the base will cycle through the various options, and when a feature is activated the button stays lit so you can easily find it again in the dark.
The Soother connects via Bluetooth, so you can control all the lights and sounds from your phone. Indeed, the app is full-featured. You can shift the speed at which the star projection changes colors and select which colors it uses. You can also choose from six sounds or 10 music tracks; adjust the night light or the animal projection light; set a timer; or save a favorite combination as a preset. I also really like how the lights and the sounds fade gently when turned off. However, it does require AC power so it'll need a spot near an outlet.