If you live in a city, stay in hotels, or have noisy neighbors or sleep problems (and those two are often related, I know), I have just the thing for you:
This is a LectroFan, available at Amazon for about $55. It blocks unwanted noise. It's a neat little machine, about the size of a large bagel or Crumbs cupcake (remember those?). It gives you a choice of 10 different, steady fan sounds and 10 types of white noise, which you can make as loud as you want, up to crazy-loud, which I hope you never need. It plugs into an outlet or USB port.
You'll know you picked a good sound when you return to whatever you were trying to do — reading, working, sleeping, teaching your cat French — and, an hour or more later, you realize you haven't been disturbed by much of anything. You'll get so used to its bland whooshing that it won't distract you even when you turn it up loud. And you generally won't hear one peep of the racket that previously bothered you, either.
We have amateur musicians downstairs, with loud amateur-musician friends. Worse: we have an amateur Broadway-style singer next door. He's been keeping his windows open lately to the detriment of most of our block. (He's a belter but he goes flat whenever he tries to sustain a high note, and the harder he pushes, the worse it gets. He needs to practice diaphragmatic breathing, not belting. He also needs better material: "Save the Last Dance for Me" is a creepy, controlling song. He also needs to close his effing windows.)
Besides the "music," there's an MIT frat house a few doors down. Big construction projects across the street from our building and in the back alley start at 7 am sharp and slog along until late afternoon. Then there are late-night drunks, early-morning trucks that empty dumpsters, and pre-dawn trash scavengers pushing rattling shopping carts. There are people partying on roof decks, fire escapes, and in back yards. There are car alarms, noisy birds, barking dogs, sirens, and more. (With so much noise pollution, I do wonder why I love city living so darn much....)
The LectroFan drowns out most of it. It doesn't mask our rackety air conditioner, loud bass thumping, or heavy-footed people upstairs. Nothing is perfect. But it is great, all the same. We've been using ours for four months, every day. It's been to Paris, Pennsylvania, and Maine so far, and it's going everywhere else we go.
We use it in the living room until bedtime, and then it stays on in the bedroom until we get up. I've been sleeping like a log. Sleep is what this machine was originally designed for, not blocking out daytime noise. When I read reviews before I bought ours, I thought it was bizarre that so many people are dependent on fan noise for sleeping, but I'm a convert now. I rarely wake in the night and lie awake for hours anymore, unless cats are jumping on me — and not always then, according to my husband. He is a lighter sleeper since he usually needs the bathroom at some point. He no longer awakens me, either. I just sleep and sleep and sleep. Some people tell me this is because I eat a lot less sugar nowadays, but I say it's the LectroFan.
We had previously tried a "sleep" machine that made all kinds of realistic, "environmental" sounds: rainstorm, ocean, creek, meadow, waterfall, and so on. (It even had "city," featuring traffic and sirens.) The "rainstorm plus thunder" option was recommended to me by customer service as the best option for blocking ambient music, traffic, and voices. But it was too distracting and theatrical. It sounded like a film crew was dumping tubs of water at our windows; the cats were freaked out by the thunder. The random birdsong and bell-buoys programmed into the other sounds were equally annoying. So that machine went back. Give me a boring old fan any day. I think we ought to buy a second LectroFan as a backup: if ours breaks, we might go nuts during the two days Amazon Prime needs to deliver a replacement.