How to build a cheap, portable white noise machine.

As a husband & wife design consultancy, we have the benefit of being able to work together to solve some design challenges at home, as well. We wanted to help our oldest daughter, who we suspect is struggling with SID. When this condition appears, it can look a lot like ADHD, but it manifests itself from a different place, especially in adopted children. Our daughter has an extremely hard time focusing on schoolwork and homework for even short amounts of time. We didn't understand what was causing this. Sometimes we'd have to go over the same material every day for weeks like it was brand new, like real life Memento (a great movie, by the way). Sometimes, she would completely understand something at home, and then inexplicably crash and burn on the test at school.

Imagine you're trying to focus on something, and every few seconds a fire alarm goes off. Thats what every sound is like for her. In a world of iPhones, iPads, and two siblings who are constantly finishing their homework before her, you can see how frustrating this can be.

We tried just about everything from aggressive consequences to adjusting her workspace, but none of it really made a difference and it felt like various forms of punishment instead of support. In addition to this, as many parents can attest, we have little to no control over what goes on at school. Then it dawned on me. Instead of trying to change all of my daughter's environments, I decided to create one that she can carry around with her. There has been plenty said about the benefits that white noise has on those with similar symptoms, so I set out to bootstrap together an affordable, portable, and fiddle-proof white noise machine.

Instead of trying to change all of my daughter’s environments, I decided to create one that she can carry around with her.

The media player

You'll need a cheap, portable way to generate that white noise. We happened to have an old 4th Generation iPod Shuffle laying around in our junk drawer. A single charge lasts for several days, it's small, it's light, it's durable, and most importantly it has no screen. Anything with a screen of any kind is a no-go, because I knew it would be a source of distraction for our daughter, thereby completely defeating the purpose.

As a bonus, you can spend a couple bucks on iTunes and put whatever kind of ambient track you want on there. But we wanted to keep it simple, so ours has a single white noise track that we downloaded from this (actually, pretty amazing) resource. Yes, she has begged us for multiple tracks. The answer is no, there will be fiddling. There is one track and it loops.

If you don't happen to have a Shuffle laying around like we did, you can get a comparable one like this AGPtEK Clip MP3 Player for about $20.


The headphones

If you can afford a pair of expensive headphones for playing nothing but static, knock yourself out. In my view, it's more important to look for comfort than for quality in this case. Remember, these need to be passively worn for extended periods of time, so if they cause any discomfort, that's going to be a big reason not to wear them. White noise, however, does not need German engineering.

After a bit of research, I decided on the BienSound HW50 headphones, which for the good reviews are affordably priced at about $18. They're nice and cushy, and they have a detachable audio cable. Which brings us to...

A short audio cable

You're not going to want a six foot cable dangling around, because that's a distraction, too. This should be a tight, self-contained package. That's where this little 6 inch audio cable comes in, which is sold in a two-pack for under $8. The right angle connectors help avoid strain and twisting on the cable. It's the perfect length to go from the headphone plug to the headband, which is where we're going to mount our player, all cyberpunk and stuff.

No, you're not imagining things, I did color coordinate the cord to the headphones. Because I'm a cool dad.


You're going to need a removable way to attach things, so you can charge your player once in a while. So yeah, go get some Velcro.

Any kind will do. Just put the fuzzy side on the player. Or don't, it's a free country.

Step 1: Attach the Velcro.

Step 1: Attach the Velcro.

Step 2: Hook up the cable.

Step 2: Hook up the cable.

Step 3: Attach the player to the headband.

Step 3: Attach the player to the headband.

Step 4: Add flair.

Step 4: Add flair.

I can't tell you what an instant difference these headphones made. Our daughter went from a few of uninterrupted minutes of homework time to a four-hour long work session on the first day of wearing them. We had a lot of catching up to do. No tears, no tantrums, no bathroom breaks, just work. The best thing about it is we are discovering how bright she actually is when you eliminate the distractions.

She's now reaching for her headphones all the time, unlocking her alter identity Focus Girl (thunder crack), both at school and at home.

Bobby Dragulescu

With a background in branding, advertising, and themed entertainment, Bobby is the Creative Director, lead designer, and (sometimes) photographer of Dragulescu Studio. He's worked in a variety of mediums, ranging from interactive design for companies like Apple, Magento, and Fandango to theme park signage for Warner Brothers, The Walt Disney Company, 20th Century Fox, DreamWorks Animation, and the Thea Award winning NatureQuest exhibit at Fernbank Museum of Natural History.