Ambient noise apps drown out distractions so you can focus on your work, or generate serene, peaceful environments that encourage you to fall asleep. But with dozens you can download, it's hard to know which is the best. Noisli, White Noise and Rain Rain are all at the top of this game, so it's time to crank them up to 11 and see which one creates so much atmosphere you could practically breathe in it.
As simple as the concept of an ambient noise app seems, no two do the same things. Sure, they all play sounds, but what they play and how they work is what separates the good ones from the bad ones. Let's take a closer look at our three high-calibre competitors and break down what each one has to offer:
The Noisli app features 16 different sound loops and any sounds can be mixed together or have their volume adjusted as you see fit. You can save your favourite sound combos, it has a built-in timer, and the web app has a simple, distraction-free text editor.
The White Noise app comes in three different flavours: a free, full and pro versions. The free version has in-app ads and boasts a whopping 40 mixable sound loops, plus alarm sounds, the full version ($2.99) has no ads and more alarm sounds, and the pro version ($4.49) has an extra 50 high-quality sound loops and allows volume and pitch adjustment when mixing sounds.
You can save your favourite mixes, set timers for your sounds, and download more loops for free from a separate app market. The full and pro versions of the White Noise app also let your ambient sounds play in the background while you use other apps on your device.
Rain Rain's app has 26 loops to listen to and there are several additional sound packs available for purchase. Like Noisli and White Noise, you can mash loops together to create your own custom, savable mixes. You can also set a sleep timer for your sounds and it has a sound-reactive, colour-changing background option to help you relax.
Rain Rain is available for free on iOS and Android. No web-based app is currently available and additional sound packs cost anywhere from $US0.99 to $US2.99 -- around $1-$4 Australian (the original 26 loops are free).
There are plenty of other decent ambient noise apps out there, like A Soft Murmur, Coffitivity and SimplyNoise, but these three apps were the most recommended by readers and seem to be the most comparable in terms of price, available sounds and customisation options.
Rain Rain Brings Quality Sound, But White Noise Brings Variety
Many people, myself included, like very particular sounds for specific scenarios. For example, I like the sound of birds, rain, or the beach when I'm trying to be productive, and I prefer the sounds of frogs, crickets, and trains when I want to sleep. Because of that, it's important to know what sound loops each app provides, and whether those sound loops are actually any good.
Noisli's 16 Sound Loops Include:
Rain, Thunderstorm, Wind, Forest (birds chirping), Leaves (rustling), Water Stream, Seaside (crashing waves), Water (like being on a lake dock), Bonfire, Summer Night (crickets), Fan (oscillating), Train (tracks not whistle), Coffee Shop, White Noise, Pink Noise, and Brown Noise.
With Noisli, what you see is what you get. No add-ons or upgrades. In terms of sound quality, Noisli sits somewhere between White Noise and Rain Rain. Its loops are not quite as clear as Rain Rain's (or as long), but they sound better than White Noise's loops in the free and full versions.
Of course, Noisli is also missing out on the massive variety White Noise has, so there's that (the lack of a good "frogs croaking" loop is particularly disappointing for me). Rain Rain and White Noise also offer different versions of each genre of sound. Whereas with Noisli, if you don't like its single version of rain, well, too bad.
White Noise's 40 Basic Sound Loops Include:
Air Conditioner, Aeroplane Travel (low hum), Amazon Jungle, Beach Waves Crashing, Blue Noise, Boat Swaying, Brown Noise, Car Rain (inside the car), Cars Passing, Cat Purring, Chimes, City Streets, Clock, Clothes Dryer, Crickets Chirping, Crowd, Extreme Rain, Fan, Fire, Frogs, Hair Dryer, Heavy Rain, Heartbeat, Light Rain, Ocean Waves, Pink Noise, Rain Storm, Shower, Sprinkler, Stream Water, Tibetan Singing Bowl, Thunder, Train Ride, Vacuum, Violet Noise, Washer, Water Running, Water Drip, White Noise, and Wind Blowing.
The pro version of the app also offers an additional 50 higher-quality loops, and there are almost 1000 more to download in their market. As you can see, White Noise definitely has Noisli and Rain Rain beat when it comes to the number of noises available, but some of them are a bit curious.
I don't know who wants to listen to a hair dryer, vacuum cleaner, or pounding heartbeat (horror games and movies have ruined me), but they're there if you want them. Also, the sound quality on the free and full version is the same and neither is that impressive.
Rain Rain's 26 Free Sound Loops Include:
Rain Rain Original, Rain Rain 3D (surround sound), Ocean Waves, Thunderstorm, Crackling Fire, Thunder Cracks, City Rain, Rain on a Tent, Forest Rain, Rain Downpour, Summer Rain, Rain Dripping, Harbour Seagulls, Windy Storm, Slow Stream, Outdoor Fountain, Ocean Pier, Seagulls Over Ocean, Desert Wind, Blizzard Wind, Airliner, Train, Car in the Rain, Dishwasher, Clothes Dryer, Washing Machine, and Alarm Clock Ticking.
There are also five sound packs available for purchase: Wind Chimes, Sounds of Summer, Weather Sounds, Nature Sounds and Memories of Home. Most of Rain Rain's loops may be focused on rain or water (go figure), but they sound great. It's also nice to have a ton of variety within the popular "rain sounds" theme.
Forest Rain sounds very different than City Rain, Summer Rain, or Rain Downpour. And Desert Wind even sounds way different than Blizzard Wind. The only free animal sounds are seagulls, which is a bit disappointing, but the Nature Sounds Pack has more options if you want them.
It should be noted that none of these apps require data usage for loop playback except for Rain Rain and that's only on the first play. After that, the sound is saved to your device. You don't have to worry about them taking up too much space on your device, however. All the sounds are loops so they end up being fairly small audio files.
Noisli Brings the Extras, and White Noise Wants You to Pay
On the most basic level, all three apps do the same thing. But Noisli, White Noise and Rain Rain each have their quirks that set them apart. All three apps play ambient sounds, but Noisli also adds a timer (like for the Pomodoro technique), distraction-free text editor, and chromotherapy features into the mix.
The timer and text editor are as simple as you can imagine, but they give the app some function beyond "sound machine". For example, I could crank up some rain and thunder, change the background to a productivity-inducing red, set the timer for a short work interval, and bust out some writing that I can save in the app and move elsewhere later.
If you want to listen to several sounds at once, all three apps let you create your own custom mixes and save them for later. White Noise, however, is a little hamstrung in this department. In the free and full versions of the White Noise app, the not-as-nice-sounding audio gets a bit muddy when you mix loops together.
And while it would help if you could adjust the volume for individual loops, neither of those versions let you. The pro version lets you control the volume (and pitch) of each loop, but you're paying extra for what I feel should be included in the full version at the very least. When it comes to making your own custom mixes for, Rain Rain and Noisli have White Noise beat (and Rain Rain does it all for free).
Update: We incorrectly stated that the free version of the White Noise app doesn't allow volume adjustment for individual sounds in your mixes. You can, in fact, adjust the volume, balance, pitch, position, variance and speed if you dive far enough into the menus. Go to Manage Sounds > select or create your mix > tap the information symbol ("i" with a circle around it) > Edit Mix. The DJ-like Mix Pad, however, is only available with the Pro version of the app. Small changes have been made throughout this piece to reflect that.
Noisli Is More Than Atmosphere, White Noise Has the Best Variety, and Rain Rain Please Don't Go Away
When it comes to design, Noisli is the Apple of the bunch. The interface is sleek, easy-to-use and the multi-coloured, chromotherapy backgrounds make it the best pick for when you're working in your browser, or want to take a quick relaxation break at work with your phone.
It doesn't have as many loops as the other two, but the loops it does have sound fantastic. And Noisli's fewer loops, all represented by clean icons instead of stock photos, keep the app focused and gives room for other interesting features. Do you want to relax or be productive? OK, here are your favourite sounds and colours. Need a timer? Great, there you go. Oh, you're writing? Allow me to remove distractions.
All in all, Noisli feels like an assistant, not just a soundboard.
White Noise, without a doubt, gives you the most variety when it comes to sounds. If you spring for the pro version, you're getting over 100 loops and alarms. That's more ambient sounds you'll probably ever need and you can download more for free from their market app. But if you're looking for more obscure sounds to work or fall asleep to, White Noise is the way to go.
And the fact that you can record and use your own sounds is pretty neat. The built-in sleep timer and alarm clock functions are useful as well, making it a better choice for those who are strictly looking for a sleep sound machine. The free version isn't ideal, however. It offers more loops than Noisli or Rain Rain pre-sound pack purchase, but the basic sounds aren't as clean and some loops are super short and get repetitive fast.
Rain Rain was the biggest surprise, and it offers the most bang for your buck. Without paying a cent, you get 25 superb sounding loops (and they're fairly long), individual loop volume adjustment in mixes, a sleep timer, saved custom mixes, colour-changing lights (though not quite as good as Noisli's) and background play so you can listen while using other apps on your device.
That said, Rain Rain doesn't have a web app, so it's only available on your handheld devices. And the sound packs are pretty pricey compared to the other apps that have a more all-inclusive approach. If weather sounds are what you're after, though, Rain Rain is a must-have. In fact, I'm a Noisli fan, but I actually found myself listening to Rain Rain just as much while writing this.