In recent years, the two most popular white noise machines have been the Marpac Dohm and the Lectrofan, now called the Lectrofan Classic.
The Dohm has been made since 1962—and is still being made.
While similar in popularity, these two are very different sound conditioners, appealing to different people and uses.
I have tested the Marpac Dohm Classic and the Lectrofan, and in this post, I’ll contrast the differences to help you decide which one is right for you.
Basically, there are three different types of sound conditioners, aka white noise machines:
- Machines that contain a fan with a motor that produces sound.
- Devices that electronically create sound.
- Devices that play recordings in a loop.
The Marpac Dohm Classic is a fan-based sound conditioner. Inside its housing spins a real fan and creates a whoosh-sound that escapes together with a little bit of air through multiple openings on the side and on the top.
Here is how it sounds (best with headphones):
I find the Dohm’s sound soothing. There are no loops and the sound volume is very stable.
The Dohm is for you if you like the sound of a real fan to fall asleep or relax.
Its advantage over a standard fan is that it blows much less air your way, so it doesn’t make you feel cold. It also stirs up much less dust than a fan, which is important if you are allergic to that.
The Lectrofan Classic, by comparison, is a white noise machine that electronically creates sound. It has ten different-pitched white noises and ten different fan sounds.
Here are samples of white noises number 1, 3, and 4, which I quite like:
Because the sounds are created on the fly, there are also no loops (as you would have with prerecorded sounds.)
Note: especially shorter looped recordings annoy some people because the brain learns to make out when the recording restarts. After a while, the sound becomes repetitive and if the looping is poorly done, there might even be startling gaps.
This is not an issue with either machine.
How well do they block noise?
White noise machines are a very effective antidote against startling sounds that might wake you up. Think creaking floors, coughing, barking dogs, traffic noise, people talking in neighboring rooms, etc.
The Lectrofan is excellent at blocking these outside noises, much better than the Marpac Dohm.
Its well-designed white noises cover a much larger frequency range than the Dohm’s fan sound, and it can be set both much louder and quieter.
The Dohm mainly masks moderate mid-frequency noises.
Sleeping in a bedroom with the lower-pitched parts of traffic noise coming through, with the Dohm, I feel more like having added a fan to the traffic noise rather than having masked the sounds.
Why are the Dohm and Lectrofan so different in terms of noise blocking ability?
Take a look at the freguency spectra for the Dohm at high speed (left chart) and the Lectrofan, white noise #4 (right chart) both at maximum volume (1m from the source):
The max sound level for the Dohm is about 63 decibels while it is close to 80 decibels for the Lectrofan (set to white noise #4).
Now consider the bars in the chart that are well above 50 decibels: for the Dohm this is a very narrow range from 400-630Hz while for the Lectrofan the range goes from 100 Hz to 5000 Hz.
You can also liken this to a wall of sound a noisy intruder has to jump over to become noticeable. The wider and higher the wall, the better.
Suitability together with earplugs
In some cases, you have to play a white noise machine quite loud for it to mask outside noise.
The solution: use it together with foam earplugs and you have a formidable night-time noise blocker.
Because you can set the Lectrofan very loud and adjust the white noise pitch to match your hearing when wearing earplugs, it works very well together with earplugs.
By comparison, with the types of foam earplugs I wear, the Dohm is too quiet and adds little to their noise blocking prowess.
So if you are being disturbed in your sleep by loud noises, the Lectrofan is a better choice.
Maximum and minimum volume Marpac Dohm vs Lectrofan Classic
Volume adjustment on the Marpac Dohm Classic is via its two fan speeds and its closable slits on the side and holes on the top.
The Dohm’s maximum sound level is about 63 decibels (dBA) (fan set to high speed), the minimum is 49 decibels.
Note: By twisting the housing/the top you open the slits/holes more or less. This way you can fine-tune the Dohm’s sound. At the same time this also changes the volume.
The Lectrofan goes a lot louder and can be set quieter as well. The maximum sound level varies with the white noise setting:
The highest pitched white noise #10 goes up to 85 decibels (dBA), but I can think of very few situations where I would choose that sound.
Set to a pleasant white noise #4, the Lectrofan’s maximum is about 79 decibels.
The Lectrofan can be set so quiet that it is barely audible.
Ten decibels more are perceived as twice as loud, so with my favorite settings, the Lectrofan gets more than three times as loud as the Marpac Dohm.
How loud does a white noise machine really have to be?
When I am not wearing earplugs, I find the Dohm’s maximum volume perfectly adequate.
Without earplugs, I wouldn’t set the Lectrofan louder than that either.
(Note: As detailed above, even when played at the same sound level, the Lectrofan tends to mask more noise because it covers more frequencies.)
However, white noise machines can also be used to boost the noise blocking performance of foam earplugs and make even louder startling noises disappear.
That’s when you need the extra volume the Lectrofan offers.
What’s more, you may also want to turn up the volume if you need to set up your sound machine further from your bed or desk to fill a larger room with sound.
How does their sound compare?
In case you haven’t listened to the audio in the introduction, here are the two sound samples again:
Lectrofan Classic (samples of 3 different-pitched white noises):
I find the Dohm’s fan sound soothing. That sound is its strength.
If you like this sound and need a sound machine primarily to keep you from “thinking too much” or focusing on every little noise in the house when you are supposed to fall asleep, this may be all you need.
But I also find several of the white noises of the Lectrofan pleasant and relaxing.
To me, some white noises sound like a very regular waterfall, which I like.
How about the Lectrofan’s fan sounds?
I like half of the Lectrofan’s fan sounds, but none of them sounds quite like the Dohm’s fan, or quite as soothing.
Here are short samples of the Lectrofan’s fan sounds:
Note that the last one is an oscillating fan that changes in intensity.
Personally, I find the Lectrofan’s lower-pitched white noises, (e.g., white noises #1 to 4) more relaxing than its fan sounds and use these white noises most of the time.
Due to my environment, I prefer these white noises over the Dohm’s fan sound; they just mask more external noise even at a moderate volume.
But I also enjoy having a real fan sound for a change.
If I had to distill the sound of these two machines into two sentences…
If you want a real fan sound without the cold and the dust, the Dohm is great.
If you need to block louder noises or prefer white noises, the Lectrofan is a much better choice.
How about sounds of nature?
Are you are looking for a sound conditioner that plays natural soundscapes, such as wind, rain, ocean surf, or crickets?
Then neither of these two white noise machines is for you. Both don’t have any sounds of nature.
How well do they travel?
While you could definitely toss the the Marpac Dohm in your suitcase, it is a device best suited for home use. It weighs 1.5 pounds (650 g) and is strictly 120V, AC-powered.
(An international 240V AC version, suitable for many countries in Europe, is also available, but this one will not work in the U.S.)
The Lectrofan travels very well. It is a lot smaller, weighs 13 oz. (370 g) and comes with a 100-240V travel power adapter. You can also plug it into other USB sources and even a USB battery pack.
Note: I get more than 18 hours out of the battery (6000 mAH) in the photo. This battery is not included. Most USB power banks should work.
Is there a travel Marpac Dohm?
If you want a travel white noise machine with the Marpac sound, the Rohm is a good add-on to the Dohm. It weighs a mere 3.4 oz (96 g) and is powered by an internal, rechargeable battery. It has two white noise settings and one ocean surf sound.
While it is an electronic device and not a fan, at a lower volume, its “bright” white noise setting sounds similar enough to the Dohm’s fan.
Like the Dohm itself, this sound carries very little bass, which I find a real relief at times.
Furthermore, the Rohm’s deep white noise is a well-designed noise masker that blocks a lot more noise than the Dohm. It goes loud and sounds good to me.
In case you are wondering: No, the Rohm doesn’t go as loud as the Lectrofan and it doesn’t block as much noise.
But nevertheless, it blocks a lot, is easy to operate, and small and light: A very decent travel sound machine.
The Marpac Dohm is a sound conditioner that produces a real fan sound without chilling your room or stirring up dust.
If you want the sound of a soothing fan to fall asleep or help you relax, the Dohm is a great machine.
The Dohm does mask moderate noise and will make a room that is too quiet just right.
However, if you, like me, often need to sleep in a noisy environment (think barking dogs, traffic, loud chatter), you need something different:
The Lectrofan creates its sounds digitally. It goes a lot louder than the Dohm, and with 10 white noises and 10 fan sounds it offers more sound variety.
The Lectrofan covers a much larger frequency spectrum and can block a lot more noise than the Dohm.
If you need an effective noise blocker, the Lectrofan is the better choice. Being smaller, lighter and multiple-voltage, it is also easier to travel with.
Unfortunately, there is no Marpac sound on the Lectrofan.