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Cheap Baby Monitors Buying Guide

Infant Video Monitors, Movement and Sound Monitor
Digital Baby Monitors

Every baby monitor brand has a few popular models. At the same time, reviews are mixed for all manufacturers, even household names such as Graco.

This is largely due to unpredictable performance, since a baby monitor's reception will vary based on everything from your home's layout to the number, types, and locations of electronic devices you use at home -- even the proximity of neighbors using baby monitors.

Cheap baby monitors have unique sets of features and extras, so what works for another family may not work for you. For instance, cheap baby monitors operate on different frequencies, so you simply have to try one before you can know for sure whether it will interfere with other electronics in your home. Cheap baby monitors also have different ranges, which are notoriously inaccurate, so if you have a large home or want to be able to use the monitor outside, consider buying one with a longer range and testing it out to see how well it performs. Privacy is another concern, because only digital baby monitors encode signals sent from the transmitter to the parent units. With analog baby monitors, you and your neighbors risk hearing each other's crying babies or even each other's conversations. The cheapest baby monitors don't use digital technology, but it doesn't cost much more.

The Sony BabyCall Nursery Monitor NTM-910 (starting at $40 for one receiver, $60 for two) has no peers among analog baby monitors and is one of the best baby monitors we found, analog or not. Experts and users alike are amazed by the BabyCall's exquisite sound quality and voice activation feature, which cuts down on white noise by muting the monitor unless the baby cries or coos (there's also an always-on mode). With an unparalleled selection of 27 channels to choose from, the BabyCall impresses even digital devotees who wouldn't otherwise consider an analog monitor. Our other pick for best cheap baby monitor, the Fisher-Price Remote Control Musical Audio Monitor (starting at $50 with one receiver, $90 with two), wins over users with the option of remotely turning on a nightlight, a lullaby, or nature sounds from the parent unit without disturbing the baby.

We also like the Graco iMonitor Vibe (starting at $45 for one parent unit, $90 for two), which is ideal for parents who prefer vibration alerts over sound. The Summer Infant Secure Sounds 2.4 GHz Digital Monitor (starting at $65) wins points not only for digital technology but also for including two parent units and two recharging bases at a price generally reserved for single units. Both these cheap digital baby monitors offer a bonus: a backup battery pack for the baby unit. The cheapest baby monitors we researched, the Graco UltraClear Analog Baby Monitor (starting at $23 for one parent unit, $28 for two) and the Safety 1st Sound View Monitor (also starting at $23 for one receiver) don't measure up when it comes to reliability, lacking important features such as an out-of-range indicator.

Infant Video Monitors, Movement and Sound Monitor

Video is a popular feature, but you can spend $200 or more on a digital video baby monitor, or even an analog one. With analog models, video signals can be transmitted outside your home just like audio signals can. If you think having a neighbor overhear a private conversation is bad, imagine how you'd feel if a stranger could see right into your nursery. Some moms on the BabyCenter online parenting network report being able to see neighbors' babies on a Summer Infant video monitor and realizing their babies could be seen as well. Several say they contacted Summer Infant and the company upgraded them to what it says is a secure model.

Infant video monitors have also become somewhat controversial due to concern about strangulation hazards. Unlike audio monitors, which you can place nearly anywhere in a child's room, infant video monitors generally require placing a camera (and its cord) closer to the crib, where your baby may be able to reach and become entangled in it. About 1.7 million Summer Infant video monitors were recalled in February 2011 so the company could provide new warning labels and instructions, as well as clips for mounting the cord on the wall.

Another pricey and controversial design is an Angelcare movement and sound monitor (starting at $85). This series of baby monitors features movement sensors to alert you if your child has stopped breathing or moving. While that seems ideal for preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, monitoring is unlikely to prevent SIDS deaths, according to MayoClinic.com. Of course, some proponents still believe buying a movement and sound monitor couldn't hurt. Unfortunately, Angelcare baby monitors are notorious for false alarms, especially with babies old enough to move away from the pad that's designed to alert you if it stops sensing movement. While sites such as Amazon are filled with positive reviews from parents who interpret false alarms as evidence that a movement and sound monitor is working, others don't appreciate the panic and anxiety -- or just being woken up needlessly night after night. If you do decide to invest in, say, the Angelcare AC401-2P Movement and Sound Monitor Deluxe, know that your $114 will likely be going toward frills such as a thermometer and a nightlight, not SIDS prevention.

One important note: Each year, manufacturers introduce new baby monitors and discontinue older models -- even some that remain quite popular. Often a new model will have all the features of the previous model but boast different technology that promises less interference or enhanced privacy. All the models on our list have been widely reviewed online, but make sure the cheap baby monitor you're interested in is still available before getting too excited by reviews that may be out-of-date.

The good news is that even when manufacturers discontinue a cheap baby monitor, you may still be able to find it with a bit of effort, and often at a discount that will help you save even more. For instance, as of this writing, the Fisher-Price Remote Control Musical Audio Monitor, one of our top baby monitors, is not available in Babies R Us stores but is for sale at a reduced price on the Babies R Us and Toys R Us websites. (It is also marketed as the Mom Response Audio Baby Monitor.) An impressive variety of new and used baby monitors (and reviews) also lives on eBay and Amazon, as well as in consignment shops. Just ask about the seller's return policy before you buy so you can send back the monitor if it doesn't work well.

Digital Baby Monitors

Before you begin your quest for the perfect bargain baby monitor, decide which features are most important to you and which ones you can do without. The first decision to make is whether you're OK with an analog monitor or prefer the privacy of digital baby monitors. Take an inventory of the electronics in your home and find out which frequencies they use so you can find a baby monitor that won't interfere with other devices. Look for a monitor with more than one parent unit and indicators to alert you when you're out of range or running low on battery. Range is crucial but highly variable depending on the layout of your home and the other electronics you have. Finally, multiple power options add versatility and reliability.

Analog vs. Digital Baby Monitors.

First, you'll need to decide whether to go digital or analog. The principal difference between analog and digital baby monitors is that digital baby monitors encode the signals sent from the transmitter to the parent units, which keeps you from overhearing your neighbors' baby crying and your neighbors from hearing yours. Digital baby monitors also tend to be more expensive than analog models, but they can be a good value if you live close to other homes with baby monitors.

Now, before you decide to risk hearing a few random coos from the baby next door, keep in mind that your neighbors might also overhear conversations that take place near your transmitter -- conversations you want to remain private. Digital baby monitors are also excellent at minimizing interference from other electronic devices such as cell phones, cordless phones, and wireless computers.

If you don't live close to other homes with babies, some analog models still deliver excellent sound quality for a good price. The Sony BabyCall Nursery Monitor NTM-910 (starting at $40 for one receiver, $60 for two), for example, offers an impressive 27 channels to choose from, so you can easily select the channel that provides the least amount of interference with other devices in your home. The BabyCall NTM-910 also effectively minimizes background sounds while providing excellent sound quality, according to users posting reviews on Amazon,who praise its sensitivity.

If you want to eliminate privacy concerns, consider one of the digital baby monitors on our list of best and good cheap baby monitors: the Fisher-Price Remote Control Musical Audio Monitor (starting at $50 with one receiver, $90 with two), the Graco iMonitor Vibe (starting at $45 for one parent unit, $90 for two), and the Summer Infant Secure Sounds 2.4 GHz Digital Monitor (starting at $65).

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