My wife recently gave birth to a healthy baby boy that we named Ellis. He is a prodigious eater and likes a warm bath. (We have experimented both with a white foam tub and a mesh blue one that resembles a patio chair. I prefer the latter on all counts with the exception of its aquatic-themed design, which is insulting to us and lost on him.)

A couple of weeks ago, our friend Bill stopped by with a gift. It was a temperate March day in southern Arizona, the kind that has made us famous among Coloradan retirees. “Awesome weather,” Bill said. We agreed.

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The gift turned out to be a HoMedics Deep Sleep ™ Sleep Therapy Machine, which Bill intended for us to use in the nursery, as he and his wife had with their own son, Wexler. I have no general opinion on sleep-therapy machines and in all cases prefer silence. What I will say is that this HoMedics product features 12 sounds grouped in three categories—White Noise, Water, and Nature—and though I have thought about it at length, I still find the distinction between Water and Nature troubling.

Earlier this week I was walking around the neighborhood looking for my mother, who was visiting and had gotten lost, when I ran into Bill, who was biking to work. (Bill is often on his bicycle.) “Sorry about the weird gift,” he said sullenly. “It felt so cold just walking into your house and giving you a machine that way.” Bill is about 45 years old, and the apology seemed ill fitting on him, but I didn’t dwell on it and thanked him for his generosity.

Eventually I found my mother, who had taken some bad directions from a stranger. “All you had to do was turn left, then left, then right,” I said. “Sue me,” she said.

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I told her that arguing would do neither of us any good, and that people in this town were very nice, but you can’t take directions from just anyone. Here is a selection of the HoMedics Deep Sleep ™ Sleep Therapy Machine’s sounds, ranked.

7. “Everglades”

A blend of rumbling, aqueous frequencies and midrange chirps designed to recreate the majesty of our country’s largest subtropical forest. I find the seamlessness of this sound loop distracting. Instead of the random beauty of the Floridian wilds, we enter a world whose quiet order verges on passive aggression. Also barely distinguishable from “Summer Night,” evincing possible bias for the southeastern United States, despite HoMedics being located in the Detroit suburb of Commerce Township, Mich.

6. “Relax”

Unexpectedly demanding, with the lower frequency range taking on tenement-like density.

5. “Rain”

A universal symbol of growth, cleansing and renewal rendered with charm and delicateness. Though the HoMedics company assured me that it would be “nearly impossible to create white noise with a live recording,” I will say that the opening moments of “Rain” had me fooled. (Despite what image you may have of Arizona from gun laws and college sports, flash flooding is a seasonal hazard, especially during monsoons.) I also believe that the representative meant to say “pink noise” instead of “white noise,” but I am no acoustician and wasn’t about to make hay of it.

4. “Ocean”

More comforting and predictable than the actual ocean, which I have always found to be too loud.

3. “Calm”

Having shed its coltish and unseemly need for affection, the sound elsewhere known as “Relax” returns with a new name and refreshed sense of purpose.

2. “Wind Chime”

This was instantaneously declared a favorite by my wife, who says that Ellis likes it too, despite seeming to have no preference for anything other than being fed over not-being fed. I enjoy it, albeit uneasily, on account of its steadiness, which I do not find to be a believable quality in wind.

1. “Mask”

This setting offers a muffled whooshing sound that my wife says is designed to mimic the womb. Though I struggle with the easy notion that all human comforts are derived from the replication of womb-like states, it is my personal favorite, and on several occasions I have swaddled Ellis tightly (I like the classic method. but have also experimented with the so-called “batwing”), lay him in his bassinet, and turned on “Mask” as his tiny eyelids flutter closed, and I am left alone again to marvel at how either of us—or anyone, for that matter—came to be. In the end, I suspect that the HoMedics Deep Sleep ™ Sleep Therapy Machine is a good product, though Ellis will take his mother’s breast with or without it.


Mike Powell (@sternlunch) lives in Tucson, Ariz. He has written for Pitchfork, Grantland, Rolling Stone, the LA Review of Books, and other places.

Illustration by Tara Jacoby.

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