Free options for sleep sound, and why you may still want a sleep sound machine (Week 21, 2019)

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Week 21, 2019

Q. I read your recent column about the LectroSound sleep sound machine and have a question. Why recommend a $20 device when you can set your smartphone to play one of the many apps that produce sleep sounds? As I recall, even Pandora has a sleep sound station.

-M.T., Aventura, FL

A. That is an excellent point, and many people may be satisfied using their phone and an app to play sleep sounds. There are still reasons why a dedicated sleep sound machine may provide a better overall experience, and I think they remain a worthwhile investment.

To get the best results you need to do more than play sounds or white noise. Besides the soothing effect of the sounds, they also act to mask outside noise from coming in and disturbing your sleep. The speaker on the LectroSound is large and pointed upwards, allowing it to spread sound widely and effortlessly through the room. This is much better than the speaker in any smartphone, and the tonal quality and physical dimensions of the speaker are designed to work together for optimum performance.

There are other options besides a phone app or sleep sound machine. For example, if you have Amazon Alexa you can say, “Alexa, play sleep sounds.” With Google Home you can use the command, “Hey Google, play white noise.” While these will sound much better than a smartphone speaker, I still prefer using the sleep sound machine. I tried the Alexa sleep sounds with the UPstage 360 I wrote about last week, as well as with my Amazon Echo 2nd Gen, and did not care for it because the sound quality was TOO good. The fidelity of the raindrops was actually distracting because they sound almost real, but your brain knows they are not. The white noise also had a clarity to it that was kind of unnatural once I was used to the softer sound of the LectroSound.

Finally, I also like the simplicity of the LectroSound. Since I have the dials adjusted perfectly for myself and my room, all I need to do is push the button when I turn out the lights, and push it again in the morning to turn it off. There are no voice commands to remember or mispronounce when you are half-asleep, and this reminds me of a funny story.

A few years ago I was testing a smart home system and the hub had a home security system built-in. In the morning I went to say, “Alexa, cancel alarm” and instead said, “Alexa, alarm.” A piercing, chirping wail suitable for NORAD during an all-out nuclear attack immediately filled the house, and it got me out of bed in a hurry! I covered my ears with a nearby pair of headphones, cupped my hands over them for even better hearing protection, and went into the room with the hub. The keypad was not responsive so I had to unplug it and remove the battery to stop the screaming alarm. I never dreamed that something so small could make such a loud noise, and the volume and the high-pitched sound practically made it a sonic weapon.

Despite the free alternatives, I think the simplicity and performance of the LectroSound make it worth the $20. That’s just me, though, and the moral of this column is you have other options for sleep sounds, some of which may be free or in your home already. Try them and you may find they suit you fine, or they may whet your appetite for a dedicated sleep sound machine.