Best Cheap Baby Monitors
Published on By Maralyn Edid
Sony BabyCall NTM-910 Review
From $40 Best
Voted best 2010 analog audio baby monitor by the online parenting magazine Babble.com, this monitor includes an AC adapter and rechargeable batteries. Its selection of 27 channels makes it easy to avoid interference from other electronic devices in your home. The BabyCall is also water-resistant, making it a popular choice for use in the kitchen.
Although this economical baby monitor relies on analog technology, it scores high in Sony BabyCall reviews with users who are thrilled with the sensitivity of its transmitter. In reviews on Amazon, several users point out that the monitor cancels out background noise, a frequent source of frustration among parents with analog monitors. In one review on Amazon, a father complains about the lengthy charge time required when the batteries go dead but marvels at the lack of a humming sound like he experienced with a more expensive video monitor he used for a different child. Overall, users posting reviews have both criticism and praise for the battery life of the monitor. Many parents simply plug in the receiver at night so it charges while they're sleeping.
Parents posting Sony BabyCall reviews on Amazon love the belt clip that lets them carry the receiver with them as they move around the house. They say the unique design of the BabyCall makes it easy to carry even if you don't use the belt clip. The antenna is shaped like a handle, so it's easy to pick up the monitor and carry it from room to room.
The Sony BabyCall Nursery Monitor NTM-910 (starting at $40 for one receiver, $60 for two, Amazon) is one of the few baby monitors on the market that's water-resistant, a huge plus if you plan to use the receiver in the kitchen or poolside -- or, as one site notes, if you have an accidental spill.
Where to buy
Fisher-Price Remote Control Musical Monitor Review
From $50 Best
This Fisher-Price baby monitor delivers more than just basic functions and must-have features, such as rechargeable batteries and low-battery and out-of-range indicators. It also allows you to remotely operate a nightlight and play music and nature sounds for your baby. Such extras help make it a great value for the money.
Fisher-Price baby monitor reviews tend to focus on features other inexpensive baby monitors don't have. From the parent unit on the Fisher-Price Remote Control Musical Audio Monitor, parents can remotely operate a nightlight or play calming sounds and music for their babies without entering the room and potentially disturbing them. Users rave about these bonus functions in baby monitor reviews. The children of one parent posting a review on Buzzillions request the music each night at bedtime. In another review on Buzzillions, a user says she likes the monitor enough to recommend it to others in spite of having to return it due to interference with her wireless router.
The Fisher-Price Remote Control Musical Audio Monitor (starting at $50 with one receiver, $90 with two, Amazon) is advertised with a 900 MHz frequency, yet several users assert that it operates on a 2.4 GHz frequency, which is commonly shared with wireless routers. A consumer products testing site says this baby monitor successfully minimizes interference. However, this model gets low scores for range and battery life.
Your satisfaction with this monitor may depend on how much you plan to use the light, music, and sound functions. If you think you'd like an inexpensive digital baby monitor with a few bonus features, you may find it worthwhile to try the Fisher-Price Remote Control Musical Audio Monitor and see how well it works in your home.
Where to buy
Graco iMonitor Vibe Review
From $45 Good
The Vibe gets rave reviews for its adjustable vibration feature, battery backup for the baby unit, nightlight, and parent-unit locator. It also includes AC adapters for both the parent and child units, rechargeable batteries, and digital technology that blocks interference from other electronic devices.
In a Graco iMonitor review at Target, a user marvels at the monitor's lack of interference in a house full of gadgets ranging from cell phones and cordless phones to wireless Internet. The Graco iMonitor Vibe also offers a far greater range than its competitors. The range is listed at 2,000 feet, but you'll have to try it yourself. A parent who chose the Graco iMonitor Vibe specifically for its range was disappointed enough to return the unit for a competing model, according to a review on Buzzillions.
All monitors generate user complaints about random beeping, and the Graco iMonitor Vibe (starting at $45 for one parent unit, $90 for two, Amazon) is no exception. The iMonitor Vibe has received some scathing reviews from users about this very problem. Yet one mother scolds other reviewers on Buzzillions, pointing out that the beeping is meant to alert you when the receiver is placed too close to the transmitter, or that a receiver has been left on when the baby unit is switched off.
The unique selling point for this budget baby monitor is its vibration feature, which alerts you to sounds in the baby's room without subjecting you to potentially ear-splitting cries. You can use rechargeable batteries in the Graco iMonitor Vibe, and charging indicator lights let you know when you need to recharge. Another bonus feature is a parent-unit locator, a real godsend for when you can't remember where you put the monitor (or your child has moved it).
Summer Infant Secure Sounds Digital Monitor Review
From $65 Good
This digital baby monitor comes with an automatic channel selector, belt clip, out-of-range indicator, rechargeable battery, and recharging base. It also includes a backup battery pack for the baby unit so you can continue using the monitor during a power outage.
Although Summer Infant now seems to be focused on dominating the video monitor market, the Secure Sounds audio monitor can still be found in stores and on eBay. The experts at TopTenReviews praise its ease of use in a Summer Infant monitor review and point out that the Secure Sounds baby monitor comes in a variety of colors to match your decor. A consumer products review site also praises the monitor's attractive appearance in a Summer Infant monitor review. A key feature of this monitor is the digital technology, which keeps you from hearing your neighbors' children and your neighbors from hearing yours. Even a parent who isn't completely satisfied with the Secure Sounds monitor admits in a review on Buzzillions that the monitor has a very clear signal.
Users frequently complain in reviews that the Secure Sounds 2.4 Ghz Digital Monitor (starting at $65, Amazon) can cause problems for wireless Internet users. A parent posting a baby monitor review on Buzzillions reminds other users how individualized baby monitor performance is and stresses the importance of selecting a baby monitor that works well in your home. While many parents complain about short battery life in Summer Infant monitor reviews on Buzzillions, this user avoided the issue by using the monitor mainly at night, allowing it to stay plugged in most of the time. As a result, the user claims to have gone an impressive three years before having to replace the battery.
Graco UltraClear Analog Baby Monitor Review
From $23 Think Twice
Graco, a leader in childcare products, simply misses the boat with the UltraClear Analog Baby Monitor. Despite the name, users complain about horrible static. This baby monitor also lacks an out-of-range indicator and doesn't take rechargeable batteries, which means buying batteries adds to the overall cost.
Although this bargain baby monitor's price looks right, a closer look at the specifications and Graco UltraClear reviews reveals that this model isn't such a good buy after all. In a review at TopTenReviews, testers wonder why the monitor doesn't have rechargeable batteries, which have become standard in the baby monitor industry. Unless you want to deal with the hassle and expense of constantly replacing the batteries for the UltraClear, you have to keep the monitor plugged in most of the time -- not a viable option for many families, especially as babies grow older and become more mobile. The monitor's 49 MHz frequency is also not great at minimizing interference, since many devices, including cordless phones, operate on this frequency as well. One user posting a review on Amazon says she decided to use the constant static to her advantage and repurpose the monitor as a white-noise machine for her child.
The Graco UltraClear (starting at $23 for one parent unit, $28 for two, Amazon) also lacks a true must-have: an out-of-range indicator designed to alert you when you've moved too far away from the transmitter to receive a clear signal. If you step outside and lose the signal, you'll have no way of knowing that your baby could be crying back in the house. There are superior monitors in this price range, complete with rechargeable batteries to keep costs down.
Where to buy
Safety 1st Sound View Monitor Review
From $23 Think Twice
At first glance, this basic baby monitor seems like a good budget buy. Take a second look, however, and you'll find that the Sound View isn't just basic; it's lacking. No out-of-range indicator and no rechargeable batteries make the difference between a reliable monitor and one that isn't very portable or cost-efficient.
Unfortunately, as one user suggests in a Safety 1st Sound View review on Amazon, you may get what you pay for here. Like the Graco UltraClear, the Safety 1st Sound View Monitor (also starting at $23 for one receiver, Amazon) doesn't have rechargeable batteries. So, if you plan to use the monitor on battery power, get ready to pay up for constant battery replacement. This particular monitor also takes only 9-volt batteries, which tend to be more expensive than other batteries and can also be harder to find, especially in bulk, making it harder to comparison shop or stock up to save money. Another user notes in a review on Amazon that you need a screwdriver to change the batteries, which you would have to do often if you frequently relied on battery power.
The lack of rechargeable batteries and single parent unit make the Safety 1st Sound View far less portable and easy to use than some of the other baby monitors on our list. On top of that, the Sound View doesn't have an out-of-range indicator, which is a deal breaker in our book.
Choosing a Baby Monitor
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 a video monitor with digital technology.
Analog vs. Digital Baby Monitors.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 cellphones, cordless phones, and wireless routers. If you don't live close to other homes with babies, some analog models deliver good sound quality for a good price. If you want to eliminate privacy concerns, consider one of the digital baby monitors on our list.
Video Baby Monitors.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.
Infant video monitors have also become somewhat controversial due to concern about strangulation. Unlike an audio monitor, which you can place nearly anywhere in a child's room, a video monitor generally requires placing a camera closer to the crib, where your baby may be able to reach it and become tangled in the cord. 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.
Movement and Sound Monitors.Another pricey and controversial design is an Angelcare movement and sound monitor. 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. 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.
Discontinued Baby Monitors.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 a manufacturer discontinues a good cheap baby monitor, you may still be able to find it with a bit of effort, and often at a discount that will save you even more. An impressive variety of new and used baby monitors (and reviews) also lives on eBay, Amazon, and Craigslist, as well as in consignment shops. Just ask about the return policy before you buy.
Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
Baby Monitor Reviews: What We Considered
Reviews are good indicators of a baby monitor's performance, but it can vary widely based on things like the number, types, and locations of electronic devices in a home and even the proximity of neighbors using baby monitors. The home's layout can also play a role; walls between the transmitter and receiver can interfere with the signal. Reviews are mixed for all manufacturers, even household names, due to this unpredictable performance. 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. Customer satisfaction also varies based on sound quality, false alarms, and battery life.
Cheap baby monitors have unique sets of features, so what works for another family may not work for you. The first decision to make is whether you're okay with an analog monitor or prefer the privacy of digital baby monitors, which encode signals sent from the transmitter to the parent units. Baby monitors operate on different frequencies and have different ranges, and you may simply have to try one before you can know for sure whether it will work in your home without interfering with other electronics. 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. Finally, multiple power options add versatility and reliability.
Frequency.Each baby monitor has an operating frequency band listed on its packaging -- typically either 900 MHz or 2.4 GHz. Take an inventory of the electronics in your home and find out which frequencies they use, so you can choose a baby monitor that operates on a different frequency band and won't interfere with devices such as a wireless router or cordless phone. 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.
Some 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 technology. A DECT monitor may be the best option when it comes to frequency but is usually more expensive.
If you're unsure which 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 issues by selecting a baby monitor with multiple channels. To help minimize interference from nearby electronic devices, many inexpensive baby monitors offer a range of channels within their particular frequency band (similar to AM or FM radio). That means even if multiple devices in your home share the same frequency band, changing the channel can eliminate interference. Baby monitors can have as few as two or as many as 60 available channels.
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.
Many baby monitors light up or vibrate when they detect sound coming from the baby's room. LED indicator lights get brighter or increase in number based on the volume of the baby's cry, which helps parents react before the child enters full screaming mode. Sound-activated lights and vibration are also useful if you turn the volume down when you're on the phone or use earphones. Some users simply like being awakened by a vibrating monitor instead of a screaming baby.
Pricier models often include the option of remotely turning on a nightlight, music, or nature sounds from the parent unit without going into the baby's room. Although you shouldn't buy a baby monitor just for lights and lullabies, many parents appreciate such amenities.
Range.If you learn anything in a search for the best baby monitor, it should be not to trust the range listed by the manufacturer. That's because it indicates the distance the monitor signal can travel in a straight line, with no walls or other obstructions and no interfering electronic devices. As a result, many users report that the ranges indicated by manufacturers are exaggerated. That 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.
Indicators.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, 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.
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 hours. Like an out-of-range indicator, a low-battery indicator is a must-have unless you want to constantly wonder whether the monitor is working. All the budget baby monitors we picked have low-battery indicators.
False Alarms.All baby monitors generate complaints about random beeping noises. Although some of these can be explained by interference with other electronic devices that interrupt the monitor signal, the cause behind many of these annoying sounds remains a mystery. Some models seem to have overly sensitive out-of-range indicators. If you experience unexplained beeping sounds from your monitor, move either the transmitter or the receiver to see if that resolves the problem. If the sound continues, confirm that the transmitter has not been moved and that none of the parent units is running low on battery power. Ongoing problems may be cause for return or exchange for a different monitor.
Battery Life.Even the cheapest baby monitor can get expensive if you constantly have to buy new batteries for it. Many parents complain about battery life in baby monitor reviews, 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. Some models also include backup battery power in the child unit so you can take it from place to place when you travel or use it during a power outage.
Additional Products We Considered
Philips Avent Review
When it comes to baby monitors, digital enhanced cordless telecommunications technology is the creme de la creme. DECT baby monitors are the ultimate in privacy and consistently deliver flawless signals, according to Philips Avent reviews. A consumer products testing site gives the Philips Avent SCD510 monitor its highest rating for having the best range of all of the monitors tested, minimal interference, and long battery life. Users posting reviews on Buzzillions rave about clear sound quality and zero interference. In reviews at Walmart, a user points to the "walkie-talkie" function, noting that it's tough to find a baby monitor with an intercom feature.
The Philips Avent monitor (starting at $95, Amazon) also includes a nightlight, but unlike the Fisher Price Remote Control Musical Audio Monitor, one of our cheap picks, it doesn't allow you to turn the light on and off remotely using the parent unit. The only major downside to Philips Avent baby monitors is the price. But if you're willing to go for something at the very top of our price range, you probably won't be disappointed with the quality.
An Angelcare baby monitor not only monitors sound but also uses a sensor pad to monitor your baby's movement and sound an alarm if none is detected for 20 seconds. Parents posting Angelcare reviews on Amazon report that these monitors set their minds at ease. Many parents say in reviews that the idea of monitoring a child's breathing and movement seems ideal for SIDS prevention. But experts at MayoClinic.com warn that conventional baby monitors are unlikely to be effective. Infants prone to sleep apnea are commonly placed on medical-grade breathing monitors. Relying on an Angelcare monitor might give parents a false sense of security.
Of course, some proponents still believe it couldn't hurt, so why not buy an Angelcare monitor (starting at $85, Amazon) just in case? Unfortunately, Angelcare monitors are notorious for heart-stopping false alarms, especially if your baby is old enough to move away from the pad that's designed to alert you if it stops sensing movement, as one parent posting an Angelcare review on Amazon discovered firsthand. On the other hand, Amazon is full of reviews in which parents say false alarms let them know the monitor "works."
Think long and hard before you decide to buy an Angelcare monitor. Depending on who you are, you'll either think the price is worth the peace of mind or you won't be willing to endure the anxiety of false alarms from a monitor that hasn't been shown to prevent SIDS.