There are tons of background sound sites and apps, but most do the same things. We’ve compiled the best ones, all free online, plus a collection of the best background sound mobile apps. Use them as background noise while you work, read, study, play a tabletop RPG, or even in the background of a party.
Complex soundscapes for gaming and reading
These lively soundscapes have a lot of moving parts. They’re great for background sound during a tabletop RPG, or for recreating the sounds of your favorite book or movie.
- myNoise: A big but well-curated library of 150 ambient soundscapes, each of which includes several sound loops that can be individually controlled or set to multiple preset combinations. My favorites are Japanese Garden, the piano mix 88 Keys, and the monastic The Name of the Rose. Also on iOS, Android, and Alexa.
- Ambient Mixer: Thousands of customizable soundscapes, and the ability to create your own. Because anyone can add a soundscape, there’s less quality control, but you can browse popular mixes to see the best. The real problem is that you will waste time browsing and tweaking soundscapes instead of doing whatever you wanted this in the background for. Favorites include the Hufflepuff Common Room, Aboard a Pirate Ship, Working in a Lab, and Victorian London. Also on iOS and Android.
Basic soundscapes for reading and working
These sites offer fewer options, so they’re less distracting. Use these collections of nature sounds and café ambience while you quietly work and study.
- Listen to Wikipedia: Visualizes Wikipedia edits in real time, with gentle ambient sound effects that give a zen garden vibe.
- White Noise Web Player: A simple Flash player offering white, gray, brown, pink, blue, and violet noise. You’ll need to enable Flash in your browser.
- Noisli: Choose and combine 16 simple ambiences, including forest, coffeeshop, and train tracks. I like to combine the library and campfire settings; I call it Fahrenheit 451.
- A Soft Murmur: Mix 10 ambiences, including thunder, crickets, birds, and Tibetan singing bowl. Also on iOS and Android.
- Soundrown: Mix 10 ambiences, including café, playground, fountain, and nighttime forest.
- Coffitivity: Three coffeehouse loops full of unintelligible chatter, to drown out silence and give the feel of working in a café. Also on Mac.
- Jazz and Rain: Two sounds, baby: the gentle hiss of rain and sweet smooth jazz.
Chill music for reading and working
Some people can listen to any kind of music while they work, but a lot of us need especially calm, instrumental, or ambient music. Some of these mixes are livelier than others, but they’re all more ideal for working than typical pop and rock.
- Flow State: Daily newsletter recommending instrumental albums and DJ mixes, with focuses on contemporary classical, ambient, and electronic music.
- lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to: The most famous YouTube stream from the recent trend of quiet, anonymous-feeling “study beats.”
- The Lifehacker Boléro Effect Productivity Playlist: Songs that (like Ravel’s “Boléro”) repeat a musical phrase over and over, building to a climax, to drive you forward to your goal.
Apps for on-the-go noise
Unlike all the resources above, some of these apps cost a little money, usually under $5.
- Environments: Extended recordings of nature—so high-quality they were covered in the New Yorker—on iOS
- White Noise: Nature sounds on Mac, Windows, iOS and Android
- Rain Rain: Nature sounds on iOS and Android
- Rainy Mood: Slightly customizable nature sounds on iOS and Android
- SimplyNoise: Variable color noises on iOS and Android
- Sleep Machine: Combine nature loops, plus your own music library, on iOS
- Sleep Sounds: Play 50 ambient sounds on Alexa
- Noizio: Combine nature sounds in the Mac menu bar
About the author
Staff Writer, Lifehacker | Nick has written for Gawker, the Awl, the Toast, the Daily Dot, Urlesque, and the web series “Jaywalk Cop.” He currently runs the horror-comedy podcast “Roommate From Hell.”