Looking for the best sound baby monitor of 2020? We've purchased 75 top monitors to test side-by-side including the 6 audio monitors in this review. This 2020 update compares and rates each monitor on key performance metrics like sound clarity, ease-of-use, range, and more. We test each monitor for months to assess all the critical features and overall functionality. Our results and hands-on experience in the real world influence scores and rank, and our insider details provide the information you need to find the right option to meet your needs and goals.
Best Audio Baby Monitors of 2020
Best Overall Baby Monitor
The Vtech DM221 is a full-service sound monitor with useful features and the best sound clarity in the group. The DM221 has sound activation and adjustable mic sensitivity that combine to provide a silent room for a good night's sleep with a silent monitor that only makes noise when your baby does. The parent unit has a talk to baby feature that is clear and sounds like a real voice to avoid the robotic sound that might upset a baby. The DM221 is wallet-friendly for most budgets, and it earned the highest overall score in this review, making it an Editors' Choice shoo-in.
This monitor has a shorter range than some competitors, which makes it potentially unusable for those with larger homes or more than 3-4 walls between the nursery and their bedroom. Overall, we think this monitor will get the job done with great sound and the necessary features to ensure a restful night's sleep ¡ª something every parent needs and wants.
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 distance range than the top-ranking products in this review and a 30-hour battery life. This sleek, attractive monitor has excellent sound clarity with one of the best full-bodied sounds in the lineup.
Unfortunately, the DECT SCD570/10 is one of the most expensive options in our review with a price that has more in common with video or movement monitors than sound only. However, if you want a quality product that provides true-to-life sound, this one is hard to beat and should be on your shortlist.
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 high-quality monitor that is easy to use with the features most parents are looking for such as impressive 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 it 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, with no two-way communication, or features like temperature monitoring or lullabies. While some may consider this a deal-breaker, we find most parents stop using these features over time, even when their monitor includes them. We like the look and ease of the DECT SCD501/10 and think most parents will agree its an excellent addition to the stylish nursery at a reasonable price.
Read review: Philips Avent DECT SCD501/10
The Vtech DM111 is one of the least expensive options in this review. However, it offers an above-average range with good sound clarity and an easy to use interface. The range is better 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 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. We think this option is an excellent no-nonsense choice or a useful travel product thanks to its ease of use and good range. Parents looking for a quick solution that is straightforward out of the box will be more than satisfied with this choice
Read review: Vtech DM111
Why You Should Trust Us
This baby sound monitor review was led by our founder, Dr. Juliet Spurrier, a board-certified pediatrician. Dr. Spurrier is a mother of two and a long-time tester of baby monitors of every type. Dr. Spurrier worked with our Senior Review Analyst, Bob Wofford, father of 7, to develop the tests for this review and our other monitor reviews. Bob conducted all of the testings for this review as he has for the last 6 years, making him an industry expert with well over 100 monitor product tests under his belt! Senior Review Editor, Wendy Schmitz (mother of 2) rounds out the team using her 5 years of experience and knowledge of monitor testing to analyze tester feedback and test results to create useful and informative reviews. The major team members in this review have over 17 years' collective experience testing monitors.
Related: How We Tested Sound Monitors
Analysis and Test Results
When testing sound monitors we consider crucial metrics that demonstrate monitor performance (quality) and the features that give it an edge over other monitors or benefit parents and babies. Because monitors are a direct line to your baby's room, it is vital that they work as intended, reliably, with a useful range, and enough easy to use features that contribute to the overall functionality. Each monitor should have adequate range, offer features to increase sleeping potential, and provide clear sound. If a product doesn't work as intended or fails to reliably maintain connectivity, then it is likely to fail to help parents find restful sleep, defeating the entire purpose of monitoring.
We rate each product we test on how well it performs and how it compares to similar products in our in-house side-by-side tests. We calculate scores with weighted values for the metrics we believe are instrumental in making a monitor exceptional and user-friendly. Sound clarity and ease of use are the most important metrics, with range coming in next. Without a significant, reliable range, a monitor can fail to work at all. Without quality sound transmission and sound-related features, a might be unable to alert parents when it should or help them fall asleep when they want to.
Interested in the spoiler alert of what we'd recommend to a friend? Skip down to read what we would do.
Sound monitoring is the most budget-friendly way to keep tabs on your baby. There is definitely something for almost any size wallet when it comes to sound monitoring products. We believe that moving slightly up from the lowest-priced options is a smart choice as the performance of mid-price range monitors is much better compared to lower-priced competitors. As you'll likely use a sound monitor every day, there is value in spending a bit more over the cheapest products. We believe the Vtech DM221 is the best value overall as it is the highest performing option in our tests, and still very reasonably priced. If "grandparent-friendly" is crucial for your needs, then you might consider the Philips Avent DECT SCD501/10. This option may cost a bit more, but its ease of use and top performance make it worth the price for the simplicity.
For audio monitors, the sound quality is what separates the chihuahuas from the Great Danes. Any sound emanating from the parent device needs to be clear, static-free, and realistic sounding. Ideally, there should be no distortion, and we prefer the type of features that limit the kind of sounds transmitted or the volume of those unimportant sounds (non-baby sounds). We believe the sound transmission and features are the most important concerns for this type of monitor. You don't want to lose precious sleep in the middle of the night wondering if the noise from the parent device is your baby or unimportant house noises. If features like sound activation or microphone sensitivity that limit background noise don't work like they are supposed to (or aren't included), then you could lose sleep hearing a loud monitor when your little one 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 satisfactory, 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 best sound results are 10s earned by the Philips Avent DECT SCD570/10 and the Vtech DM221. These options have no distortion or static, even at max volume. The sound includes more vibrant tones, and while you wouldn't want to listen to your favorite music from the speakers, the sound is perfect at delivering a realistic representation of a baby's cries. All of the top units include sound activation that works as it should and is quickly silent when your baby is.
The worst sound in our tests is the Summer Infant Baby Wave Deluxe, which had a lot of static and distortion and earns only a 4. The Wave doesn't provide a good representation of what is happening in the baby's room and can be disturbing if you wake up suddenly without perspective. The Vtech DM271 and the Vtech DM111 both earn respectable 7s for sound.
Ease of Use
Ease of use captures whether or not a monitor is intuitive or complicated, how easy it is to set up, 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. Still, the bigger question is if it offers anything that improves the user experience or makes using the monitor easier.
The Philips Avent SCD501/10 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 Vtech DM271 earned the lowest ease of use score in this review with a 5. This unit has a variety of additional features, not standard on a sound monitor, which makes it more challenging to use. With a motion and door open sensors, there is a lot more going on here that you need to set up and navigate.
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. Still, we believe you also need to think about caregivers, like a babysitter or a relative, who should effectively be able to use your sound monitor with a limited overview.
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, 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 most extended range for sound products is the Summer Infant Baby Wave Deluxe, with a range of 100 feet through 8 walls. The shortest range is the Philips Avent DECT SCD501/10 with 90 ft and 5 walls. Most of the award winners in this review average a useful 6 walls and 95 ft for an indoor range.
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 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, earns 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 babies happy.
The product with the lowest features score is the Vtech DM111 with a 3. Outside of the fundamental 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 inexpensive and has relatively good sound and an adequate range making it a good option for parents who aren't concerned with features or have a limited budget.
While we don't think that every feature is a necessity, we do believe that sound activation is critical 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 critical, 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 parents should consider when making a purchasing decision.
— 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. 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.
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 sit 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 Philips Avent DECT SCD501/10 has the lowest average level of EMF at 6 feet from the baby unit with a reading of 0.95 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 to your baby. 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 carry with you to monitor your baby. The listening unit in the nursery generally plugs into the wall outlet. Parents typically rely on their parent unit most heavily overnight, when it is plugged into a wall outlet near the 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 the baby units. It is important to understand that the batteries in the baby units are only a backup stopgap for power outages; they are not intended for extended use overnight. 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 regularly.
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 a 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.
What Would BabyGearLab Do?
After years of experience and hands-on testing with a variety of options, we think you should consider creating a hybrid solution to ensure full-coverage baby monitoring by combining a Wi-Fi video monitor with an award-winning sound only option.
Why? Wouldn't this combo be redundant or a waste of money?
Parents purchase a baby monitor primarily to increase their odds of getting more much-needed sleep when their baby sleeps. Crying is what alerts you that your baby needs you. A sound monitor typically offers the best sound clarity and the most useful features like sound activation so you can hear when your little one is in distress. However, sound doesn't allow you to peek inside the nursery to see if your baby is truly in need or just fussy and able to self-soothe. Here is where the video monitor comes into play. So, why purchase a video monitor and a sound product? None of the video options have noise filtering features or quality sound. Superior sound can help you get quality sleep. So, using a top-ranked sound monitor as your primary monitor with a sound activation feature keeps your bedroom quiet, so you and your baby can achieve deep sleep. Plus, it can still transmit the sound of your baby crying when you need it.
A Wi-Fi video monitor is what you'll require after you hear your baby cry through the sound monitor. You then use your Wi-Fi video monitor to determine with visuals whether or not your little one needs you. A Wi-Fi video option also allows you to check-in on your baby when you are away from home — we love this ability and it is only available with a Wi-Fi monitor.
Why can't you rely on your video monitor and skip the sound product? In our experience, Wi-Fi options lack adequate sound and sound-related features. Wi-Fi video products transmit all background noise (static white noise or anything in the baby's room making noise). So even when your baby is silent, the monitor isn't, which can impact your ability to fall asleep or maintain deep sleep. Then, the sound that video products transmit when your baby is crying isn't the best.
We believe parents should purchase a sound monitor like the Best Value Vtech DM221 or the Philips Avent DECT SCD570/10, to have the sound quality and features required for quality sleep. Then, we recommend that you add a highly regarded Wi-Fi monitor like the LeFun 1080p Wi-Fi or the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi to create a "system" that provides impressive sound and quality video.
We think creating a sound and Wi-Fi monitor combination is a win-win. You can create this combo for a low price that saves money in comparison with some fancier video choices.
Selecting the best monitor on the market for your family is not without its challenges. Especially if you aren't sure what you want or what is available. With vastly different functionality, features, and prices unfamiliar to you, it can be challenging to say why one option is better than another. However, if you keep in mind the essential metrics and features, we believe you can find the right option that fits within your budget and meets your goals. Our award winners are excellent products that will work for most families, but if you require something slightly off the beaten path, we also provide the pros and cons of the remaining monitors we tested to help you find the best audio monitor for your needs.
— RJ Spurrier