Monitor shopping can be a real doozy. First off, note that the perfect one doesn’t exist. It just doesn’t. The good news, though, is that they’re getting better by the minute, and today’s models have all sorts of fun features and gadgets attached.
When looking for your ideal pick, pay special attention to the range (how far you can take the parent receiver from the monitor) and frequency (generally listed on MHz or GHz). Frequency is key — it helps determine how clear your connection will be. The best bet is to go for a product that runs on a different radio frequency than your other electric goodies, especially your cordless phone. In other words, check the specs on your phone’s base, and shy away from monitors that sport the same GHz.
For the best reception and least interference (some monitors have been known to accidentally listen in on phone calls and neighbor’s nurseries), go digital. Digital monitors encode the signals that shoot between baby’s room and your receiver, so you’re not likely to hear someone else’s kid (or have anyone else hear yours!). If you aren’t worried about mixed signals, there are some great analog monitors out there too, and many come with an array of channels to help you find the cleanest sound.
One of the coolest monitor features (potentially, anyway) is video, allowing you to keep visual tabs on your tot. Just keep in mind that the same interference issues come into play — more than one mom has reportedly switched on her monitor and seen a child that’s not her own. A couple of the best video versions made our list, but you might want to hold off until the technology is a bit better.
Before you start shopping, check out our top picks for the best monitors out there…
The DECT monitor tops this list by far. What makes it a winner? Mostly, it’s because it uses a new 1.9 GHz frequency and continuously scans 60 channels — meaning a great connection. The company even guarantees that signals won’t get crossed. Add the other super-cool features (like being able to talk to your child through the receiver, remotely activated lights and music, and a handy room temperature reading), and you won’t even remember the hefty price tag. $110*, Shopping.com
This is another with a fun (and functional) walkie-talkie feature, which comes in handy both for parent conversation and for soothing your child. The sound is clear and the parent units beep if connection is lost, so there’s no worry of missing out on baby coos and whimpers. The two receivers mean both parents can listen in — or that there’s a spare if the rechargeable batteries run out in one unit. (Bonus: If one unit gets lost under piles of toys or laundry you can page it with the other.) $35, Walmart
A step up from heir Sounds 'N Lights version, Fisher Price gave the Private Connection monitor 10 channel options for a more, well, private connection. The 800-ft. range gives you the freedom to roam, and the specially designed power cord keeps the unit from sucking up unnecessary energy when it’s switched off. Even better, there are great little lights that let you “see” baby’s cries over vacuums or dishwashers (or blenders when Mommy needs a margarita). $60, Fisher Price
If you’d like to keep an eye on baby (and not just an ear), the MobiCam Ultra can give you a peek at your snoozing baby to ease your mind. The picture is full-color, and there’s night vision too, so baby’s image is right beside you anytime you want. If more than one parent wants to do some nursery spying, unlimited receivers can be added, as well as an additional camera. $160, giggle
Fisher Price is an old fave of families seeking good function and good value. The Sounds 'N Lights Monitor doesn’t have many frills, but it’s especially handy for parents who’d like to be alerted of baby’s cries without all the ruckus. Just turn down the volume, and the five lights will let you know when (and how much) sound is coming from the nursery. $38, Fisher Price
An awesome analog option, the BabyCall has wiped out one of the most annoying monitor pet peeves: background noise. Of course you want to hear if your little one whimpers at 3 a.m., but do you really want to hear his gas (not to mention that weird, alien-invasion noise that tends to come through on inactive monitors)? A voice-activation mode on the BabyCall filters out the constant noises — even background music — and saves the alerts for real baby sounds. The receivers are water-resistant, and there are 27 channels to help you avoid hearing your neighbor’s home shopping calls. $52, Amazon
An awesome analog option, the BabyCall has wiped out one of the most annoying monitor pet peeves: background noise. Of course you want to hear if your little one whimpers at 3 a.m., but do you really want to hear his gas (not to mention that weird, alien-invasion noise that tends to come through on inactive monitors)? A voice-activation mode on the BabyCall filters out the constant noises — even background music — and saves the alerts for real baby sounds. The receivers are water-resistant, and there are 27 channels to help you avoid hearing your neighbor’s home shopping calls. $70, SonyStyle
Summer Infant covered all the major bases with this video and audio monitor. It’s lightweight, has decent range, night vision to keep baby visible in the dark, and the screen shuts off after three minutes when unplugged, saving battery power. (When you want to take a peek, you can switch it back on with the press of a button.) You can add up to two more cameras for extra kids or additional monitoring. $170, Amazon
The imonitor has the widest range out there, as far as we’ve seen. There’s also a great vibrating feature that means you don’t have to worry about watching for sound lights when you’re doing something noisy — just stick the parent unit in your pocket and it’ll buzz your thigh when baby is stirring. It’s digital, which means less interference (they guarantee none with home wireless networks, microwave ovens or cordless 2.4 GHz or 5.8 GHz phones). For parents looking for even more portability, there’s a mini vibrating imonitor coming out soon. $52, Amazon
This contemporary design from Summer Infant looks more like an ultra-modern phone than baby gear. Baby device it is, though — all set up to track baby’s every sound (without spoiling your decor). It’s digital, meaning less interference and eavesdropping, and it automatically scans for the clearest channel. With monitors, function always comes before form, but it sure doesn’t hurt that you can choose a color to suit your style. $54, Kohl’s
*All prices are subject to change.