Though they may appear simple, not all audio baby monitors are created equal. Here’s how to choose the right monitor.
Plain, basic audio monitors aren’t as impressive as video monitors. However they do have a few advantages over video and can complement them. Popular brands include Sony, Philips (Avent), Graco, Tomy and Angelcare.
Using an audio monitor means that parents don’t need to be constantly watching a video screen. They can leave the audio monitor on and be alerted only when the baby cries, or they can turn up the volume to hear the baby breathe even as they cook in the kitchen.
An audio monitor is the bare necessity for any home monitoring. Video and motion sensor monitors come with an audio function and would be impractical without one. Parents choosing a video or motion sensor monitor therefore need to understand how to choose an audio monitor too.
Audio monitors can cost as little as $20 for an analog system, going up to over $100 for a DECT digital unit.
How Audio Baby Monitors Work
An audio baby monitor is a one-way always-on intercom or walkie-talkie. Sound is continuously transmitted from a microphone in the “baby unit” to a remote “parent unit.” There is no need to press a button.
Sound is not sent from the parent unit to the baby unit (this could disturb the baby), except in the case of 2-way monitors.
Audio Baby Monitor Features:
- Automatic gain control (AGC) will amplify soft sounds, yet not let loud sounds get too loud. Unfortunately this means that when there is no sound, a loud amplified static hiss will be heard.
- Voice activated (VOX) systems combat the above hiss problem. If the sound level is too low, the parent unit goes to sleep, turning on again when there is noise. The sensitivity level should be adjustable but not all VOX units allow this.
- A directional microphone emphasizes sound that comes from directly in front of it, muting sound that comes from the side. This helps mask out sound from electric fans and white noise generators.
- Loud maximum volume allows the sound to be cranked up, allowing parents to hear their baby breathe. High volume also allows the parent unit to heard when in the shower.
- A 2-way function enables the parent unit to talk to the baby unit. This is “push to talk”, like an intercom or walkie talkie. It can be used to reassure babies, warn toddlers to be quiet and go to sleep, or communicate with elderly parents in need of care.
- “Noise lights” or a volume indicator are LED lights that light up according to the sound level. This allows monitoring to continue over the noise of conversation, TV and vacuuming. They can also be used by hearing-impaired parents.
- A simple analog volume-control dial should be standard, but often isn’t. The volume on some units is controlled through a menu, and only allows a high or low setting.
- A temperature feature displays the temperature of the baby unit, sounding an alarm if the temperature rises or falls beyond a set range.
- A night light or lullaby feature on the baby unit can help the baby sleep. It should be possible to switch them off by a timer or remotely through the parent unit.
Wired Versus Wireless Baby Monitors
Wired monitors are simple and reliable but lack portability and need messy wires.
Wireless monitors are popular because of their easy set-up and portability. They can even be used to monitor from a neighbor’s house, or used when traveling with the baby. However wireless monitors can interfere with other wireless equipment such as Wi-Fi and cordless phones.
Range is typically 400 to 800 feet outdoors, 100 to 200 feet indoors. Actual performance depends on the radio frequency and thickness and material of the walls of the house.
- An out-of-range alarm on the parent unit usefully warns if no signal can be detected from the baby unit. This should be an audible alarm. Some units flash a light but this is easy to miss.
- A page function (triggered from the baby unit) causes the parent unit to beep. This helps to locate misplaced wireless receivers.
Analog monitors are cheap but do have issues:
- There is no security. Neighbors using the same model can pick up transmissions. Even cordless phones can inadvertently listen in to them.
- Static and bad reception (like a shortwave radio) is a common problem.
Digital monitors are gaining in popularity, promising reduced static problems and encrypted transmissions for security.
DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunication) is a digital cordless phone standard. DECT monitors have a good reputation for low interference with other wireless equipment.
Non-DECT digital monitors should have better performance compared to analog monitors, but might not be as good as more expensive DECT units.
The Best Baby Monitor
Complaints of static with wireless analog baby monitors are common. A digital monitor should be chosen if possible. Parents should also consider video and motion sensor monitors.