Best Cheap Baby Monitors
- Published on
- By Maralyn Edid
Baby monitors -- even cheap baby monitors -- are a bit of a luxury, especially compared with things like diapers and bottles. But many new moms and dads see a good baby monitor as indispensable. Some of the most popular brands of cheap baby monitors are Fisher-Price, Graco, Safety 1st, Sony, Summer Infant, and The First Years. Prices range from $15 for an analog audio monitor with one parent unit to $100 and up for audio/video monitors with digital technology.
Cheap Baby Monitors Buying Guide
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).
Baby Monitor Frequency
Each baby monitor, analog or digital, has an operating frequency band listed on its packaging. All of our picks operate on either a 900 MHz or a 2.4 GHz frequency band, which works for most homes. If you use wireless internet or even cordless phones in your home, you want to choose a baby monitor that operates on a different frequency band than those devices so you won't experience interference. Interference can range from a bad signal to a virtually inoperable phone or computer, so it's important to find a monitor that coexists peacefully with your other electronics.
Several digital monitors now use the 1.9 GHz frequency band, which sees less traffic and can help minimize interference. Models that offer this baby monitor frequency band use digital enhanced cordless telecommunications (DECT) technology, which should be indicated on the manufacturer's packaging. They may be the best options when it comes to baby monitor frequency but are usually more expensive. The pricey Philips Avent baby monitors with DECT technology (starting at $95) receive high marks on Buzzillions for clear sound quality and zero interference with other wireless devices.
The key here is to determine which electronics you use often and the frequencies on which they operate. If you're unsure which baby monitor frequency you need or can't find an affordable monitor with a unique frequency, you can always buy what you think is the best baby monitor for you and see how it works in your home. Many parents who worry about interference experience few problems with it, largely due to the location of their electronics in relation to the baby monitor.
You may also be able to mitigate any baby monitor frequency issues by selecting a budget baby monitor with multiple channels. To help minimize interference from nearby electronic devices such as cell phones, many inexpensive baby monitors offer a range of channels within their particular frequency band (similar to AM or FM radio). Baby monitors can have as few as two or as many as 60 available channels. That means even if multiple devices in your home share the same frequency band, changing the channel can eliminate interference.
For example, the Sony BabyCall, the only analog monitor among our picks and the one on our list with the most channels, operates on the 900 MHz frequency band and offers channels ranging from 902.200 to 904.900 MHz. Trying out different channels will help you find the one with the least interference from other devices. One user posting a review on Viewpoints says she loves how easy it is to change the channels on her Sony BabyCall.
Baby Monitor Battery, Baby Monitor Range
Baby Monitors With Multiple Parent Units.Buying a baby monitor with more than one parent unit can raise the cost $20 to $30 but allows more than one person to monitor the baby. Having multiple parent receivers is also more convenient than carrying the same receiver around the house during the day and into your bedroom each night. All major baby monitor brands offer models with two parent units. All our picks for good and best cheap baby monitors offer the option of two parent units. The Graco UltraClear Analog Baby Monitor, one of the cheapest baby monitors on our list, provides two parent units for as little as $28. The Safety 1st Sound View Monitor comes with a single receiver, one reason it isn't among our favorites.
Baby Monitor Battery Options.Even the cheapest baby monitor can get expensive if you constantly have to buy new batteries for it. Many parents complain about baby monitor battery life, saying their monitors go through batteries faster than babies go through diapers. That's why all our top picks come with parent units that run on both AC power and rechargeable batteries. Baby monitor battery options for the Graco iMonitor Vibe and Summer Infant Secure Sounds 2.4 GHz Digital Monitor also include backup battery power in the child unit so you can take it from place to place when you travel or even use it during a power outage. Although many parents don't see a need for a baby monitor battery option on the child unit, a consumer products testing site cites a lack of battery power for the baby unit as the only knock on the Sony BabyCall NTM-910.
Baby Monitor Range.If you learn anything in a search for the best baby monitor, it's not to trust the baby monitor range listed by the manufacturer. That's because the baby monitor range indicates the distance the monitor signal can travel in a straight line, with no walls or other obstructions and no interfering electronic devices. Many users find that the baby monitor ranges indicated by manufacturers are exaggerated. That being said, if you have a large house or plan to take the parent unit outdoors on a regular basis, you probably want to choose a baby monitor with a greater stated range, then test it in your home to be sure it's sufficient. The Graco iMonitor Vibe has a listed range of 2,000 feet, by far the best baby monitor range of any model we researched. Most of the rest of our picks have ranges of 600 feet to 800 feet, while the Sony BabyCall NTM-910 trails behind with a baby monitor range of 120 feet.
Vibrating Baby Monitors
Vibrating Baby Monitors, Light Up Baby Monitors.An out-of-range indicator lets you know when you've taken a receiver too far from the transmitter to receive a good signal. For many parents, this feature can make or break a baby monitor. Without it, it doesn't matter if you have a light up or vibrating baby monitor--you have no way of knowing if silence means your baby is just being quiet or the monitor has stopped transmitting the sound of her wails. A quality monitor needs an out-of-range indicator in order to be reliable, which is why we picked only monitors that have one. The Graco UltraClear Analog Baby Monitor and Safety 1st Sound View Monitor lack this critical feature.
One parent posting a review on Amazon appreciates the out-of-range indicator on the Summer Infant Secure Sounds 2.4 GHz Digital Monitor, which beeps when the parent unit is taken too far from the baby. The family's previous monitor remained silent while the baby cried, never alerting that the receiver was out of range. However, other parents posting reviews on Amazon find the beep too loud and shrill.
Another key feature is a low-battery indicator, which displays a light or icon to alert you when the receiver battery is low. This is important if you regularly use a baby monitor on battery power, since some cheap baby monitors go through batteries in as little as eight to ten hours. Like an out-of-range indicator, a low-battery indicator is a must-have unless you want to constantly wonder whether the monitor isn't working or the baby is just being quiet. All the budget baby monitors we picked have low-battery indicators.
Many baby monitors light up or vibrate when they detect sound coming from the baby's room. A light indicator gets brighter based on the volume of the baby's cry, which helps you reach your child before he enters full screaming mode. Having this feature or a vibrating baby monitor is also useful if you turn the baby monitor volume down when you're on the phone or if you're listening to music through earphones. All of the monitors among our good and best picks include light indicators, and the Graco iMonitor Vibe is also a vibrating baby monitor. A user posting a review on Viewpoints notes how convenient it is to have the option of watching the lights on the Sony BabyCall monitor with the sound turned down when entertaining guests in her home. A user posting a review of the Graco iMonitor Vibe on Amazon likes being awakened by a vibrating baby monitor instead of a screaming baby.
Baby Monitor Extras.Nightlights and music options are definitely extras you won't find on the cheapest baby monitors, but many parents posting reviews at Buzzillions have fallen in love with the inexpensive Fisher-Price Remote Control Musical Audio Monitor for those features alone. Although you shouldn't buy a baby monitor just for lights and lullabies, many parents appreciate such amenities.
Baby Monitor Reviews
While baby monitor reviews from users and experts are good indicators, baby monitor performance varies widely based on the number, types, and locations of electronic devices in your home. Your home's layout can also play a role in determining which baby monitor works best for you, since some homes simply have more walls between the transmitter and receiver, which can interfere with the signal. Customer satisfaction also varies based on sound quality, false alarms, and battery life.
General Performance.Overall, our picks receive high marks in baby monitor reviews. On Amazon, users praise the sensitive transmitter on the Sony BabyCall Nursery Monitor NTM-910, which eliminates extraneous noise while picking up sounds as soft as the baby's breathing. The Fisher-Price Remote Control Musical Audio Monitor is also very popular, although users posting baby monitor reviews on Buzzillions seem just as impressed by the music and light features as they are by the reception. Many reviews say this is an exceptional monitor, especially if you keep it plugged in instead of relying on battery power.
The Graco iMonitor Vibe boasts by far the best baby monitor range of all the models on our list, at 2,000 feet, and is a favorite among users posting baby monitor reviews at Buzzillions for its clear signal and ease of use. In reviews at Walmart, customers give the Summer Infant Secure Sounds 2.4 GHz Digital Monitor high marks for its sensitivity, even when the monitor is set at a low volume.
It's common practice for parents to return monitors that don't work well in their homes. Just make sure you know the store's return policy before you buy. If you receive a monitor as a gift, try to find out where it was purchased. Many retailers will let you return it for a refund or exchange, but only for a limited time. Refund requirements vary greatly from store to store, a common complaint among parents. In general, Amazon receives the highest praise in baby monitor reviews for quick and easy refunds.
Baby Monitor Battery Life.The limited battery life of most baby monitors is a huge source of parent complaints in baby monitor reviews. Monitors with rechargeable batteries and AC adapters help you avoid spending as much on batteries as you do on the monitor itself, but even those monitors face criticism from users. Reviewers at ToysRUs don't like having to plug the Fisher-Price Remote Control Musical Audio Monitor in to keep it charged during the night. Limited battery life is also a downside of the Graco iMonitor Vibe. A parent reports on Amazon that a charge lasts only 10 to 15 minutes. One user posting a review on Amazon says the rechargeable function on the Sony BabyCall is one of its main draws. A parent who bought the Graco UltraClear Analog Baby Monitor on Amazon was surprised to learn that the monitor takes AAA batteries, although the product description mentions rechargeable batteries as a power source. A baby monitor review at TopTenReviews says batteries don't last long in the Safety 1st Sound View Monitor. This monitor also lacks rechargeable batteries, so according to the experts at TopTenReviews, you'll have to replace the 9-volt batteries every few days if you rely too much on battery power, which will multiply the cost of this cheap baby monitor.
Baby Monitor Sound Quality.There's no way to know which model is going to be the best baby monitor for you until you try it out in your home. For every parent driven crazy by static or a poor signal, another claims to be able to hear a pin drop in the baby's room. While buying a digital monitor should help minimize interference, the analog Sony BabyCall Nursery Monitor NTM-910, one of our picks for best baby monitor, also does well in reviews thanks to its large selection of channels. If you encounter interference from other electronics, you can always change the channel to find an alternate one that may work better. The BabyCall also receives high praise in a baby monitor review on Amazon for its voice-activated feature, which allows you to avoid the low hum or white noise associated with analog baby monitors.
The Fisher-Price Remote Control Musical Audio Monitor, our other choice for best baby monitor, relies on digital technology to provide clearer sound, although most users posting baby monitor reviews on Buzzillions are so impressed by the music and light functions on this baby monitor that they don't focus on sound quality. Fans of the Graco iMonitor Vibe aren't too concerned about sound quality either, preferring the monitor's vibration feature, which does not disappoint, according to one review on Amazon. The customer says she especially likes to use the vibration feature while vacuuming or using a noisy blow dryer.
A fan of the Summer Infant Secure Sounds 2.4 GHz Digital Monitor raves in a review on Amazon that the monitor transmits every sound the baby makes. On the other hand, on the Graco UltraClear Analog Baby Monitor -- not the best baby monitor we found -- it's hard to hear the baby crying even with the volume turned all the way up, according to a parent posting a review on Amazon.
Many parents complain about static in reviews of the Safety 1st Sound View Monitor on Buzzillions. But it seems that for every complaint there's a review praising the monitor's sound quality.