Microphone sensitivity: There’s a difference between hearing your baby cry, and hearing every little noise. All baby monitors have the option to turn down the volume, but some offer thresholds for parents who are more comfortable with only hearing the biggest upsets, and prefer not to hear the self-comforting noises their baby makes as they fall asleep.
Most dual monitors come with split- or even quad-screen viewing, and the DBPower Digital Sound Activated baby monitor does just that. This model supports up to four cameras, allowing you to monitor four rooms at once. With features like remote pan/tilt/zoom, room temperature monitoring and alert, two-way communication and manual or automatic video recording, we found the DBPower to be the best dual baby monitor.
So what is the best baby monitor? That depends on what you’re looking for. A video monitor seems like an obvious choice over an audio monitor, but it does come with a higher price tag. If you have a large home or you spend a lot of time outside with older children while baby sleeps, a long-range monitor may be the best choice for you. And if you travel a lot, you may be more interested in a compact, simple-to-operate portable baby monitor rather than one that is mounted or otherwise heavy and difficult to move. In short, here are the factors you’ll want to consider when selecting the best baby monitor for you:
A baby monitor, also known as a baby alarm, is a radio system used to remotely listen to sounds made by an infant. An audio monitor consists of a transmitter unit, equipped with a microphone, placed near to the child. It transmits the sounds by radio waves to a receiver unit with a speaker carried by, or near to, the person caring for the infant. Some baby monitors provide two-way communication which allows the parent to speak back to the baby (parent talk-back). Some allow music to be played to the child. A monitor with a video camera and receiver is often called a baby cam.
If you aren't interested in having a video baby monitor, the VTech DM221 is the very best audio-only monitor you can buy. You can listen in on your baby or get vibration and light-based alerts when the monitor is in silent mode. The five LED lights indicate the level of sound so you can tell whether your baby is cooing quietly or shrieking for mom and dad.
The longest battery life for the dedicated products in our review is the Levana Lila, which ran for 12.75 hours in full use mode. The manufacturer claims this unit will work up to 72 hours in power saving mode, but we only tested the monitors in full use. The Infant Optics DXR-8 came in second place with a shorter run time of closer to 11.5 hours. The Motorola MBP36S earned the lowest score for battery life with a runtime just under 7 hours. While not necessarily a deal breaker, there are plenty of other reasons to dislike the Motorola MBP36S, and the battery life is just a small part of a disappointing overall picture (no pun intended).
Monitor options: We wanted easy, intuitive, responsive controls, whether they were on a touchscreen or using physical buttons. We also wanted the monitor to withstand being knocked off a nightstand or messed with by a toddler, and generally be tough enough for the rigors of life in a home with young children. We didn’t really care whether or not we could set an alarm, use it as a nightlight, or play chintzy music through the camera—but seeing a temperature in the kids’ room was a detail we appreciated.
Start by deciding whether you want an audio-only monitor or one that lets you see as well as hear your baby. Some parents are reassured by hearing and seeing every whimper and movement. Others find such close surveillance to be nerve-racking. Having a monitor should make life easier, not create a constant source of worry. You might find that you don't really need a monitor at all, especially if your home is small.
Image and audio quality: We wanted a high enough resolution to make out facial features in the dark, at more than a few feet of distance, and (obviously) in daylight as well. The screen itself did not need to be incredibly high-resolution, but we wanted a size that would be easily visible on a nightstand. For all monitors, but especially audio-only options, we wanted to be able to hear everything clearly at the lowest volumes.
Range: Range is the main drawback of an RF model, as audio monitors can roam farther out, and a Wi-Fi connection can theoretically be checked anywhere. We wanted an adequate range in a typical home—to be able to maintain a signal up or down a flight of stairs, across the house, and out on a patio or driveway, but we didn’t expect much beyond that. We zeroed in on monitors rated to about 700 feet of range1 or greater.
The more old fashioned video monitors are better if your internet isn't reliable because they use a dedicated video monitor instead. You can also choose to pair high-tech Wi-Fi security cameras with cheaper audio-only baby monitors to have the best of both worlds. We've tested a few baby monitors and researched the rest to find the best ones you can buy no matter your preference.
You might prefer one that has lights as well as sound. All the audio monitors we rated had this feature. The Philips Avent DECT SCD510, which sells for about $120, has a series of small LED lights on the parent monitor. The louder the sound in your baby's room, the more lights go on, so you'll notice his crying even with the unit set on mute. Audio monitors are generally less expensive than audio/video models.
The Nest boasts some impressive hardware specs, such as true 1080p/30fps video and a 3-megapixel camera sensor. Setting up the Nest Cam specifically to look in on a 2-year-old at night, we found the video quality on Nest's camera to be sharper and more detailed than on any baby video monitor we tested. The Nest Cam includes push-to-talk features as well as alerts triggered by motion or sounds. And when your child is past the age when you need a nighttime monitor, you can repurpose the Nest Cam to check in on other parts of your home.
With a dedicated baby monitor, push-to-talk capabilities will usually be integrated, as well as the ability to record and share still images and video clips (even if some monitors require a subscription to do so). Baby video monitors will also usually have built-in music files that you can play to soothe your child. Just the ability to pan and tilt the camera — the Nest has a fixed 130-degree wide-angle perspective — means you can follow your kids wherever they scamper.
As much as new parents want to be in the room with baby at all times, sometimes a baby monitor is necessary (like when you’re having a dinner party — or just want to watch Insecure in the next room). To help navigate the vast, confusing universe of baby monitors, we spoke to Lauren Kay, the Bump’s deputy editor, and Dave Baldwin, Fatherly’s former gear-and-tech editor and current play editor, about their recommendations, from traditional video monitors to smart-tech-enabled devices that can even track how your baby is sleeping. Add one of these to the baby registry.