How to buy the best baby monitor
By Alison Potter
Video or audio baby monitor? And do you need analogue, digital or DECT? We help you choose the best baby monitor for you.
The best baby monitors won't let you down when you need them the most. They'll have clear sound and pictures, a good range and signal strength, and the battery will last as long as you need it.
If you read the information on the side of the packaging, you'll find pretty much all baby monitors promise this, but our tests have found it isn't always the case.
For example, one baby monitor we’ve tested has a battery that will barely last three and a half hours, while another can keep going for more than eighteen and half hours before needing to be recharged.
Whatever you're looking for, we'd recommend watching the video above before parting with your cash to make sure you get the best baby monitor for your home.
Below you can use our interactive choosing tool to narrow down precisely what you should look for in an audio and video baby monitor, to help you decide which would be the best option for your family.
Take a look at our Best Buy baby monitors to discover the models that Which? recommends.
Choosing the best baby monitor
A good starting point is considering what you'll be using your baby monitor for:
- Will you be using it in the garden or moving from room to room in your house?
- Do you plan on travelling abroad on holiday and using your monitor?
- Do you want to be able to see, as well as hear, your child?
- How important to you are extra features such as lullabies, a temperature sensor and night light?
- Would you prefer a wi-fi video baby monitor where you can use your smartphone or tablet as the parent unit?
In this guide we look at the different types of baby monitors and what makes a good one, what features you might want to look out for and which ones might not be necessary for you.
Which type of baby monitors are most highly rated?
Earlier this year we asked more than 5,300 parents about baby products they’d bought or been given to find out which are the most commonly owned.
How much do I need to spend on a baby monitor?
You can spend less than £20 for a basic audio monitor or more than £300 for a top-of-the-range video monitor with multiple cameras. An expensive, feature-packed baby monitor doesn't mean it will be the perfect piece of baby safety equipment for you, so we test its key features, such as battery life and signal strength.
With Best Buys from as little as £35, there's a baby monitor you can rely on no matter what your budget is.
Although there’s a wide range of choice available, the majority of parents are happy with the type of baby monitor they purchased.
Audio baby monitor or video baby monitor?
An audio baby monitor comes with two parts, one that stays in the nursery (baby or nursery unit) and one you keep on you, either somewhere propped up in the room you're in or clipped to your belt as you get on with other stuff while your baby sleeps.
A video monitor also comes in two parts, but the baby unit will have a camera on it that sends pictures back to the parent unit, so you can see your baby as well as hear them. Some cameras are quite basic, but on more expensive models you can get cameras that pan around the room, or will even zoom in.
The parent unit on a video baby monitor varies: some come with a massive screen so you can get a large picture, while others are much smaller, which limits what you can see.
Which one you choose will depend on how much you want to spend and your personal preference. Some parents like to be able to see their little one breathing, while others are fine with just being able to hear if they're needed.
What is a smart wi-fi video baby monitor?
There’s no parent unit as such, as you can see and listen to your baby on your smartphone or tablet. This is because smart wi-fi video baby monitors connect to your home wi-fi network and can sync to your smart device via a compatible app.
Analogue, digital or DECT audio monitor?
The majority of baby monitors available today offer digital sound, which is typically clearer than analogue. This is due to the fact that analogue monitors are the most open to accidental broadcast, as the analogue signal can easily be picked up on normal radios and other people’s monitors.
Many are digitally enhanced cordless telecommunications (DECT) baby monitors, which means they have a microprocessor designed to ensure the only nursery sounds you can hear are those from your own nursery, not anyone else's. These offer the most secure connection and you can buy fairly cheap models today that offer DECT.
There are barely any analogue monitors still on the market and we have tested a couple of them, such as the Fisher Price Sound ‘n’ Lights, but most have been discontinued.
My house is really small, do I need a baby monitor?
Some households find they can function perfectly well without a baby monitor, as any cries can be heard through an open door or thin walls. But even so, there are still reasons why you might need one.
For example, if you have a cat or dog, you may want to shut the nursery door. Gardening or laundry will take you outside, where you won’t be able to hear a crying baby. If you are hard of hearing, the visual element of the monitors, such as sound-sensitive lights or vibration mode, can be a big help. Homeowners with thick walls will find baby monitors essential as their house is effectively sound-proofed.
What makes a good baby monitor?
Our tests have shown huge differences in terms of signal range and battery life.
The worst baby monitor on test will only allow you get as far as 15 metres before losing signal, and the battery won't even last for an evening, which essentially means it's more of a hindrance than a help when it comes to helping you look after your child.
We recommend you test out the sound clarity on a baby monitor throughout your home as soon as you buy it. Most have a variety of channels to use – useful if you live in a built-up area which will be more susceptible to interference or static.
Digital signals may crop up on digital radios or on other people's monitors, while analogue-signal baby monitors are the most open to accidental broadcast as this can easily be picked up on normal radios and other people's monitors.
A digitally enhanced cordless telecommunications (DECT) model has a microprocessor designed to ensure the only nursery sounds you can hear are those from your own nursery, not anyone else's.
Our tests check for interference from other devices as well as assessing the clarity and volume of the sound.
The range of a monitor indicates how far you can travel with the parent unit and still receive an accurate signal. Many manufacturers make bold claims when stating range – some boast distances of up to 600m.
Looking more closely at these claims shows, generally, this is the distance the signal can travel if both units are outside in an open space. This isn't much use if you mainly use your monitor indoors, or when your baby is asleep inside and you're in the garden.
On a good baby monitor you'll be able to move the parent unit more than 80m away from the baby (or nursery) unit without losing signal. On a poor monitor, you won't get much further than 20m.
The type of property can make a difference, too. Older houses have thicker walls that can sometimes cause problems with the signal, whereas modern houses have thinner walls so the signal can travel more easily. We test baby monitors in both types of property to find out which perform best.
Monitors with sensor pads
These have advantages and disadvantages. Some parents will find them reassuring, but others may find they create more anxiety. Infant safety charity The Lullaby Trust says there's no evidence this kind of monitoring can prevent cot death.
Choose a baby monitor and the optional extras that will suit you and your baby best. Don't feel bullied into buying an expensive monitor on the grounds that it is safer or better, but if you're interested in the optional extras, don't feel guilty for spending as much as you want.
It's important to remember that a baby monitor is there to provide peace of mind where a healthy baby is concerned, rather than actual safety. Baby monitors should be used as an aid, not a substitute for responsible and proper adult supervision.
Find the perfect baby monitor for you and your baby with our baby monitor Best Buys.