Best Baby Monitor Is the Angelcare Baby Sound

My wife and I have a 4-month-old son, so we needed a baby monitor. After 20 hours of research and experimentation with several of the top models, the one I chose is the Angelcare Baby Sound Monitor.

ARCHIVED: November 22, 2013
An Angelcare motion sensor pad that is sold separately from these monitors -- not the monitors themselves -- has been recalled because of a safety issue. If you bought one of the accompanying sensor pads with this monitor between 1999 and 2013, you should contact Angelcare to order a free repair kit that includes a rigid protective cord cover for the sensor.
Expand Previous Updates
August 13, 2013: We're in the process of updating this guide so wait before buying a monitor if you can. If not though, this pick is still good.
April 7, 2013: Updated competition

trust me, an audio monitor is the one to get the job done
A big shocker to you might be that I picked an audio monitor after testing video, audio and smartphone models. But trust me, an audio monitor is the one to get the job done; video will distract you so much that you might as well just be watching your baby in the same room.

Before getting into specifics, it’s worth talking about monitors in general, because as far as I’m concerned, what you choose is a very revealing glimpse into parenting philosophy. You want to make sure you understand all the options to pick the one that best suits your approach as a parent.

The range of available bells and whistles are a bit staggering, everything from automated lullabies to night lights to temperature readings to full HD video quality. These features can actually detract from the intended use of the technology.

the less effectively they saved me from distraction and worry
Here’s the bottom line: When I used these high-end monitors, the more features a product had, the less effectively they saved me from distraction and worry.

These monitors allow you to keep track of your baby when you’re not in the same room, so you can actually still preserve a sense of your own life now that you’re a parent. They’re supposed to let you know if your baby is upset, even if he’s sleeping in his crib, and you’re 100 feet away in the middle of a noisy dinner party with friends. Everything else the monitor does is extraneous. Potentially great, but extraneous nonetheless. Some of the additional features are worth it; some are not. After a lot of time testing different monitors, I’ve decided on the features I think are worth it. I hope this review will give you a clear idea of what you want, too.

There are three types of baby monitors on the market:

  • Audio-only monitors. This is how baby-monitor technology began: just listening to your baby. The traditional ones had a lot of static due to the analog connection between the devices, but new DECT technology generally allows for a very clear audio connection.
  • Video and sound monitors. These big boys allow you to not only listen to your baby, but to watch him. They come with a camera, which you put in place, and then a receiving device that you can carry around with you.
  • Monitors that use smartphone apps. These are the newest players to the market, and have a lot of promise. They feature a mounted camera, which then streams on an app for your smartphone. Most of these are iPhone (and iPad) only, but a few are available on Android. They are similar to the video baby monitors, except that they eliminate the additional gadget that you have to carry around to watch and listen.

Nevertheless, audio is all you really need to make sure that your baby is safe.

Yes, you could watch your baby sleep in HD, but do you actually want to?
You might be thinking, “What, no video?!?! Blasphemy! Why would I only get an audio monitor if I could watch my baby sleep in HD? HD!!!” Yes, you could watch your baby sleep in HD, but do you actually want to?

My answer is no. Each night I’d test these monitors out while my wife and I ate dinner. I’d set up the receiving device in our son’s room, and then bring the parent device to the dinner table, and we’d eat and try and be adults together, man and wife. I found that if I had a video monitor, I couldn’t help but to look at it. Compulsively. We’d prop it up on the table and stare at it and drift away from conversation. Was that a rustle of an arm? What could that possibly mean? Of course, it meant nothing. He was just moving, while we were unnecessarily distracting ourselves from enjoying a meal together because we were too busy checking out the HD video feed.

With the audio monitors, we could put the parent device on the table and actually be present with only each other, which is something you come to treasure as new parents. Our son wasn’t any less safe, and we weren’t any less aware of him, when he was on an audio monitor. But we were less anxious. And since audio devices cost anywhere from $100 to $200 less than video monitors, we had extra money to lavish on our son. Should we join a pool for swimming classes, or sign him up for baby music lessons?

In addition to researching monitors, I’ve spent a lot of time looking for counter arguments that disprove my conclusions. I figured that since video monitors are pretty popular, there has to be some compelling reason to get them. My search has come up empty. Even some of the best baby websites, like babycenter.com, don’t proclaim the video baby monitor better than an audio-only device. In fact, the only conclusive statement I could find on babycenter.com is that “it’s not necessary to use a baby monitor, but many parents find it reassuring.” So the gadget itself isn’t essential, merely helpful.

I realize the limitations of my own experience: I have a 4-month old, who cannot crawl, walk or climb his way into trouble. He can’t talk yet, either. So I spoke with the parents of kids from various age groups, to learn about their experiences with baby monitors. Some swear by their video monitors, and couldn’t imagine living without them. Others had video, and it drove them crazy, so they went to audio. Still others don’t use any baby monitor at all. My sample size was small, sure, but the reaction was definitely mixed.

That further convinces me that while there may be benefits to having a video monitor, they don’t outweigh the cost of the device or the potential to make you more obsessive about watching your kid. I can see how the monitor could be used during the day while your child has play time in his or her own room, but I also am wary of the slippery slope that the use of a video monitor represents. If you’re going to watch your kid play while he’s 3, or 5, or 7, when will you stop? Will you install cameras throughout the house? When will your child have time alone?

You might not be convinced, and you might absolutely want a video monitor. That’s fine. I have recommendations for those, too. But if you want to step away from your helicopter parenting for just a moment, and let the baby monitor do its job, then you should go with audio only.

Best Audio Only Monitors

Like I said, the best option is the Angelcare Baby Sound Monitor. It’s the one that I use every night.

The Angelcare Baby Sound Monitor is our pick, because it has sound activation so it won’t transmit unless there’s a peep from your kid.

Angelcare comes with different models, but I think you’re more than covered with the basic AC420. The sound is crystal clear. It has eight channels, so you can choose which channel gives you the least interference from any nearby wireless network or digital, landline home phones.

Without a doubt, one of the best features of the baby device is the customization of noise sensitivity. You do not want your monitor constantly streaming onto the parent handset. It would be incredibly annoying to be followed by the faint sound of static everywhere you go. With the Angelcare AC420, you set the sensitivity level (through trial and error) so that when you baby cries, it triggers the parent device to turn on and start transmitting. So you hear nothing when there’s nothing to hear, and then you hear your baby crying when he’s crying. This is particularly helpful if you play lullabies or white noise for your baby to sleep by. Set the sensitivity correctly and those sounds will not trigger the parent device; it will still only activate when your baby is crying.

The baby device, the one that goes in your baby’s room, is slick and has a little nightlight halo above it that actually makes it kind of look like an angel. At first I thought nightlights on baby monitors were ridiculous (just get a $2 nightlight!), but I’ve grown to really love them, and truth is, they are a pretty standard feature for any mid- to high-range monitor. The baby device is meant to be plugged into a wall, but also has space for back-up batteries so that in the event of a power loss, it can still transmit sound.

The parent device (it comes with one; you can buy a second) is equally slick and comes with chargeable batteries. Because of the voice activation feature, a full charge lasts a long time, much longer than the 24-hour period when I tested it without recharging. Also nice (but not necessary) is that the display shows the temperature in your baby’s room. We live in San Francisco, where people rarely use air conditioning or heat, so it’s kind of nice to know when the room is too hot or cold. This feature might be unnecessary for you, but I like it. Also, you can speak back to your baby through the parent device, but almost every baby monitor has this feature, and I find it kind of silly. Are you really going to soothe your baby back to sleep through a microphone? But either way it’s there, so make of it what you will.

Angelcare has an additional feature that you can get (for an extra cost) that detects motion. Basically, it’s a weight-sensitive pad that you put under your baby’s mattress. Excessive movement — or lack of movement, you program it — will alert the parent device. I think that this depends on how your baby sleeps. Ours moves around a ton in his sleep, especially when he’s groggy and trying to put himself back out, so I don’t think this would be particularly useful. But I can see how for some folks, this might be a helpful add-on.

Best of all, the Angelcare AC420 costs $49. That is pretty damn good for the peace of mind you get with a baby monitor, especially when compared to other devices. The only drawback is that the display on the parent device can be hard to see if you’re not looking at it from the right angle. This is a pretty noticeable design flaw, but it’s definitely no dealbreaker.

There are, of course, plenty of other options. I like the Phillips Avent Baby Monitor as well, but it’s much pricier ($90). The sound is extremely clear. As one Amazon.com reviewer, who apparently works in the electronics industry and so knows a lot about digital reception, wrote, “It has a crystal-clear signal and zero annoying interference.” The biggest perk you get for the price increase is more channels — 100 to choose from! For many, this is totally over-the-top and not worth the price increase, but if you live in a big apartment building with a lot of neighbors and WiFi routers and home phone lines nearby, then this might be worth it.

There are cheaper monitors, like the VTech Communications ($30) which is pretty good, but doesn’t come with the voice-activated feature that makes Angelcare such a winning device. You can turn the parent receiver off with the VTech and only get visual alerts through lights, but that’s not going to help much while you’re asleep. But any cheaper device, and you’re getting analog receivers, which means constant noise interference.

Best Video Monitor (if you must)

Again, I really don’t think you need a video baby monitor. I think you’re paying more money to be more worried about your sleeping baby.

Also Great
The best video baby monitor, for those of you who need to not only hear, but watch your kids. (We prefer audio for the most worry free experience, though.)
However, I understand that there are some parents who really want a video baby monitor. There are countless video baby monitors on the market and the one that I’d recommend is the Motorola MBP36, if you’re looking for the high-end option ($240).

If you must have video, the Motorola MPB36 is the best one. But we say audio alone is better.

The Motorola MBP36 is kind of the king of video baby monitors. It’s the top pick on Consumer Reports, and gets glowing reviews on Amazon.com. The baby device is a stationary, plug-in camera which you can pan and zoom using the parent device. Pretty nifty. The camera sends a live-streaming, full-color video to the parent device, and when the light is too low it switches over to night vision.

The thing that makes the Motorola MBP36 stand out is the video quality. It is widely considered to have the best video quality on the market. Even a one-star review on Amazon that otherwise hated the device acknowledged the video quality, commenting that “the quality of the video blew those non-tech co-monitors (Levana, Summers Infant, Mobi) out of the water.” I demo’ed the MBP36, and sure, it’s pretty good video quality, but it’s also pretty pixelated. It’s worth keeping in context that you’re not looking at a Pixar movie on an iPad, but a live streaming video.

Another attraction is the amount of things that you can do with it. You can play lullabies, turn a nightlight on and off, pan and zoom, change the sound sensitivity, all from the parent device. Now, granted, I consier many of these features completely unnecessary. The panning and zooming is cool but you can also just set the camera in the right place, and solve that issue. As for the lullabies…it seems like almost all the highest-end devices have lullabies, and to me, the inclusion sums up what is wrong with baby monitors. It’s too much, and that extra little add-on is not worth the hundreds of additional dollars when you could pay $50 for an Angelcare and be just as informed.

If you’re OK with getting a lower quality video stream, and not as many whistles and bells, then go with the Infant Optics DXR-5, which for less than $100 is a great deal for a video monitor. The cost is the best feature: It’s almost $100 less than any other video monitor, and reviews say that the quality really isn’t that bad.

Smartphone Monitors – not worth it yet

I went into this research very excited about the smartphone option. I thought there was huge potential for me to put our son to sleep and be watched by a camera which would send the video and audio stream to my iPhone. Since I carry my phone with me everywhere, it seemed genius. And if the app was closed, then I’d get push notifications any time the baby was crying. Brilliant!

The theoretical success has made these devices very popular with technology websites. While more traditional audio monitors are rarely reviewed, iPhone and Android-based monitors can be found all over the place.

Problem is, and none of these reviews will pony up and admit this, the smartphone apps are not quite ready to be the best on the market. They come with some really incredible features, like high-quality video streams, push notifications for sound and motion alerts, and the ability to pan the camera by just swiping your screen (how cool is that!), but they all run over WiFi, and WiFi can be slow. I found that even the best, most expensive monitor in this field had a delay of at least two seconds. Matthew Panzarino reported on thenextweb.com that BabyPing had a delay of four to five seconds, and this is for a monitor that costs $250.

Simply put, that’s not acceptable. The delay undermines the essential function of a baby monitor, which is to immediately alert you if your baby is upset.

I’ve read suggested other uses for smartphone-based monitors, such as long-distance parenting. In other words, let’s say Dad is across the country on a business trip and he wants to see how Mom and Baby are doing. He can chime load up the app over his WiFi network and there is the live feed, Mom and Baby playing in the nursery, and the ability to chat back and forth. Sounds great, right?

It also sounds like Skype, Facetime, Google Video, iChat, etc etc etc. All of these are free services. Would you really pay $250 to skype?

The devices themselves are shnazzy and nice, and the best-of-class is the Whitings ($287). Panzarino reviewed Whitings for thenextweb.com, and called it, “the feature-packed gorilla of this bunch.” Mat Honan reviewed the monitor for Gizmodo, and he, too, praised its versatility and functionality, “It covers every conceivable base in terms of detection (night vision, temperature, humidity, audio and video), works with your iOS devices, allows two-way communications, lets you set smart alerts, and can be monitored remotely. Setup is beyond easy, and the device is even aesthetically pleasing to boot — unlike your ugly, ugly baby.”

And yet both writers question if it’s worth the price tag. You know my answer.

Some parents have experimented with more simple cameras, like the popular Dropcam, which was originally created as a security camera for small businesses. Dropcam does not come with the pan and tilt, but it does have the push notifications and “HD” video stream that other devices claim. (It’s not HD, not at all.) It’s also much cheaper, at only $150. Its delay isn’t terrible, but it’s still a few seconds, and I had major problems with the reliability of the push notifications when I tried it out.

Get a digital audio baby monitor. My favorite one is the Angelcare Sound Monitor. Save yourself a few hundred bucks and use that money to do fun things with your kid.

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  • zack

    one reason I chose to use a wifi camera rather than just an audio only monitor is this: If I hear my son crying, and go in, he’ll definitely wake up and be more difficult/annoying to put back to sleep. However, if I hear him crying, take a look at the video monitor and see that he’s perfectly fine and crying in his sleep, say, then I don’t go in. In that case, he goes back to sleep after a minute or two. The video monitor means the difference between a better night of sleep for us both, vs interrupted sleep for everyone.

    I use a Trendnet panning night vision wifi camera mounted on wall in his room. Works perfectly with a number of iOS apps, as well as from any java-enabled browser. Of course the camera can be repurposed down the road as well.

  • Derek Harper

    The Angelcare Baby Sound has served my wife and I well — except that the LED lights have inexplicably died on us, about 2 years in. We can still hear our daughter, but the temperature now registers anywhere between CE and _.

  • kitttykatz

    When traveling, we don’t want to lug our monitor around if we can help it. Especially if we’re just going to a friend’s place by car and want to stay through nap time.

    We use an iOS app called Best Baby Monitor ($3.99): http://bestbabymonitorapp.com/

    Audio + video via camera… though our baby only sleeps in a really dark room, so the video feature isn’t very useful to us.

    The app’s core features require the use of two iOS devices. The devices must be connected via Bluetooth (meaning that they must be within ~30 ft of each other) or by being on the same wi-fi network. You set one device to act as the Child unit and the other to act as the Parent unit. Viola! Beautiful baby monitor. Works flawlessly.

    Notes:

    - Because the app is on the whole time, I’d recommend keeping your devices plugged in while using the app to ensure that your battery doesn’t die.

    - I’ve never had a call or text or other alert pop up while using the monitor, so I don’t know how the app would handle those interruptions. Silent mode is probably a good idea on the device being used as the Baby unit.

    Additional Features:

    We haven’t used the following features, so I cannot comment on how well they work. Still I thought it’d be useful to at least list them:

    - You can also use only one device, which can then call any phone number you want to alert you when your baby wakes up.

    - An OS X app is also available, so you can use one iOS device and your Mac instead of two iOS devices.

  • christina

    We are expecting a baby in January 2014 but putting together registry items now… would love to know when to expect the update on this guide. Waiting with bated breath :-)…

    • Matt

      We’re expecting in November – eagerly awaiting the update as well.

    • queuebit

      We just had a baby a couple weeks ago. Any indication on when this will be updated?

  • tarun

    So no updates?

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Keep an eye out for this site, created by friends of The Wirecutter & The Sweethome.

      http://thenightlight.com/

      In the meantime, I’ll ping the editors and see what’s up.

  • disqus_ad00zxIQEw

    Hey Guys, In need of a baby monitor within 1 month, any luck on the updated reviews / an expected date for them to hit the site?

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      I would like to just make a brief note: While this guide /is/ archived, it doesn’t make the pick null & void. It’s still a viable option and it doesn’t have a “Newer model available” note on Amazon meaning it’s still the latest model. Price is steady. I’ll bring this guide to the attention of the editors posthaste.

  • Rory

    I’ve only had it a few months, but I can pretty confidently recommend this one from VTech:

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007NG5UF4/ref=wms_ohs_product?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    Previously I had a Philips SCD510 which worked great for about 2 years but then started to have frequent periods of dropping sound. When that died a few months ago we tried the Angelcare one recommended here but returned it immediately for two reasons: 1) sound quality is horrible 2) no ability to talk back into it. Although the author of this article dismisses the second point, we have found it very useful, especially as our daughter has gotten older and can really grasp what we are saying. Even just being able to tell her we are coming in a minute is helpful to calm her down rather than making her wait while we get out of bed, get dressed, and get down the stairs to her room.

    The VTech model addresses both of those complaints. It has DECT technology for clear sound and you can push a button on the parent unit to talk. At only $36 you can’t lose even if you decide to replace it with something else later.

  • Rory

    Also, the noise sensitivity feature is completely unnecessary with a DECT monitor. The sound quality is better so you can just leave it at full sensitivity and there is no static or hum.

  • Matt D

    Any update on this one? It looks like Angel Care has discontinued their AC420 (which I believe is the model featured in this guide). I’m not really interested in a monitor with sensor pad or video. Are there any recommendations for monitors that are good-quaility, monitors with no extra frills?

    Thanks!