5 Ambient Sound Apps for Focus and Productivity

5 Ambient Sound Apps for Focus and Productivity

What makes a coffee shop or library an effective place to work and be productive? Is it the fact that we’re surrounded by peers – caffeinated creators at laptops who are also hammering out code, a blog post, business plan or studying for that life-changing exam?

That’s part of it – community is indeed powerful. But there’s also the environment itself, and one notable characteristic of these spaces is how they sound. Often there’s a steady and moderate level of background noise that remains static and mostly non-intrusive. Think muted conversations, the clinking of the coffee mugs, the hiss of the espresso machine, gentle laughter, rustling leaves or rainfall outside the window…

But most of us don’t work in coffee shops or libraries. The recent backlash against open office space and a Harvard study pointing to the open office fad being a disaster hasn’t yet had a chance to reverse the tide: we typically work in environments where we can be easily distracted by coworkers, sudden random sounds, conversations, and of course, digital distractions.

One way many people cope with a random environment while working is to listen to ambient sounds with headphones. Often mistakenly called “white noise” (which technically is a synthesized wall of noise across the entire audible spectrum), ambient sound consists of recordings of actual environments like a coffee shop, library, or the peaceful outdoors.  

There are hundreds of apps, playlists, YouTube channels and “white noise generators” available for focus and productivity, so we decided to highlight a few of our favorites to help you quickly find what works best for you.

All of the apps below stream or play recorded static sounds such as coffee shop or library sounds, nature sounds (rain, wind, forest, leaves, water, fire…) or other noise.

Feel free to skip down to the apps and start immersing yourself in super productive soundscapes.  But if you’re interested in why these apps work, read on…

WHAT IS IT ABOUT SOUND?

Imagine a time, far back in our human evolutionary timeline, when our sense of hearing developed in response to unexpected sounds and the instinct for survival.

Paying attention to changes in our environment, no matter how small, used to have a strong evolutionary benefit to survival. A crack of a twig could quickly divert your attention to a potential incoming attack or presence of a stranger. However, since most of us are no longer being chased by lions, noticing every sound around us is no longer beneficial, and in many cases can inhibit our ability to focus on what we need to.

Even the smallest, seemingly benign and non-threatening sounds affect us, as our mind works to quickly interpret the meaning of a sound and determine if our response is required.

…our mind works to quickly interpret the meaning of a sound and determine if our response is required.”

So if unexpected sounds affect our attention and can distract us from focusing on a task at hand, what’s the answer, silence? Earplugs? Not necessarily.  

Studies show that the effect of static sound, including artificial ambient sound, has the effect of  “…enhancing cognitive functioning, optimizing the ability to concentrate, and increasing overall worker satisfaction.”

Additionally, we often can also focus better when we’re in a community – because we feel safe. The fight or flight response to sound is muted in a communal environment. It’s one of the key principles behind the science of sound that informs co-working space design. WeWork, for example, includes the following in their mission statement: “Community is our catalyst.” The place where you park your laptop isn’t just rented desk space. Rather, it’s “A place you join as an individual, ‘me’, but where you become part of a greater ‘we’.”

On a primal level, the cozy and productive feeling we get in a coworking or coffee shop environment is related to the idea of “safety in numbers.”

On a primal level, the cozy and productive feeling we get in a coworking or coffee shop environment is related to the idea of “safety in numbers.”

And communities have sound. When it’s controlled static sound, it creates a “cocoon” and gives us a sense of consistent, safe surroundings. In this environment we can focus on deep work and produce that great code, blogpost, business plan or whatever matters most to us when we’re working or studying.

Here are some of the best apps built for consistent, non-intrusive sound environments that contribute to greater focus and productivity.

THE APPS

The apps below are iOS apps and most also have Android or web versions as indicated. Included are Calm and Brain.fm which are not purely ambient sound apps (or focus/productivity-oriented), but have ambient sounds as a portion of their content along with music, meditation and sleep enhancing audio.

Noisli  “Improve focus and boost your productivity.”

About

Noisli is a popular app with a simple, beautiful user interface. It currently contains 16 total sounds with 10 common nature sounds, train, coffeeshop + 4 noise (fan, white, pink and brown noise). You can mix any or all of the sounds and adjust their relative level with intuitive, simple sliders and save these mixes as “combos.”  Noisli also has a minimal Text Editor feature, for simple writing tasks.

Where to find it

iOS

Android

Web

Chrome extension

Price

The web and Chrome versions are Free, iOS and Android $1.99 one-time purchase


Coffitivity “We’re here to help you work better.”

About

Coffitivity is one of the first popular apps to offer ambient sound, and has a clear focus: coffee shop sounds. Selections include “Morning Murmur”, “Lunchtime Lounge”, and “University Undertones.”  For $9, a Premium version adds 3 more environments: “Paris Paradise”, “Brazil Bistro”, and “Texas Teahouse.” The app has a simple and functional interface, with the familiar “play” button front and center. A unique feature is the ability to mix your favorite music with the coffeeshops sounds – there are integrations with Spotify, Pandora, Last.fm and the now defunct Rdio and Songza. Although Coffitivity hasn’t been updated in a few years, it’s still quite popular and continues to function well on the web, iOS and Mac.

Where to find it

iOS

Web

Mac Desktop

Price

Free with $9 one-time upgrade for additional sounds.


Brain.fm “Focus. Relax. Meditate. Recharge. Sleep.”

About

Though their primary function is AI-generated music for focus, meditation and sleep, Brain.fm has recently added a section of their app that provides a number of ambient sound environments including “Beach”, “Forest”, and “Night” sounds.  A beautiful interface and navigation lead to simple and clear usability. Whether you opt for the ambient sounds or music, you get a powerful app backed by scientific research that will help you find the perfect sounds to enhance your focus and productivity.  

Where to find it

iOS

Android

Desktop

Price

5 free sessions. Subscriptions cost $47.40/year, $15.99 for three months or $6.95/month.


Rainy Mood “Helps you to focus, relax, and sleep.”

About

Rainy Mood claims millions of users, and its straightforward value proposition, high quality sounds, and simple interface may be an indication why it’s so popular.  In addition to a selection of classic rain sounds, the iOS and Android apps include multiple mixable sounds in the categories “Cafe”, “Countryside” and “Ocean.”

Where to find it

iOS

Android

Desktop

Price

Free desktop version with limited sounds. iOS and Android versions $2.99 one time purchase.


Calm “Meditate, Sleep, Relax”

About

It’s hard to miss this app and you may already be familiar with it. As Apple’s “App of the Year” in 2017, Calm seems to be everywhere, from prominent television ads to its own spas in major airports. Calm is wildly popular and successful, and best known for guided meditations and relaxation content.  But did you know that hidden away in a section of the app called “Music” (“Scenes” as well) is a fairly extensive section of ambient sound that fits right into the category that we’re talking about? Here you can find “Waves,” “Oscillating Fan,”, “Washing Machine,” “Pink Noise”, “Thunderstorm,” “City Streets”, “Crickets”…the list goes on.  

Where to find it

iOS

Android

Desktop

Price

7 day Free Trial. One year subscription: $59.99.


CONCLUSION

All these apps have free versions or are free to try. So check them out, plug in your ear buds, hit play and explore which sounds work best for you. We’re confident you’ll find a perfect companion to Freedom so that you can reach new heights of focus and productivity.

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