Tool: Marpac Dohm Classic White Noise Sound Machine, $44.95

Tool: Marpac Dohm Classic White Noise Sound Machine, $44.95

Rita Bullwinkel
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  • Adjustable volume and tone
  • Dampens barking
  • Comes in four color options: black, white, gray, and tan
  • Makes falling asleep as easy as pushing a button

My husband is a violinist. He practices in the early morning, before we both go to work at regular jobs where we make money and don’t make art. My husband often plays the same violin pieces over and over. This is his ritual. He frequently plays Bach. Bach is hard to play, which is one of the reasons he chooses to repeatedly play it. These are for his “chops.” He plays the sections he most struggles with, which results in me frequently hearing music that is struggling to be played. It sounds like the sound my lungs make when I am running up a very steep hill.

I used to be able to block out noise, including my husband’s Bach ritual, but several years ago I became inexplicably obsessed with sitting in silence. I have always prided myself on being a hearty person who can sit on the floor for hours, eat anything, sleep anywhere, including in airport chairs, and work doggedly with meager tools in loud, inopportune environments. Thus, my desire for silence caught me off guard. I was ashamed of this desire. I did not want to want silence but I did in fact want it. And I would never ask my husband to stop playing his Bach, because the morning Bach ritual is one of his very favorite things.

This unexpected need for silence drove me into an internet hole of white-noise-machine consumer research. My research lasted for days. In the hole I found out that there are essentially two kinds of white noise machines: ones that are basically just speakers that loop electronic recordings of static, and ones that possess a series of small internal fans that physically move the air in a given room around in a pattern that disrupts and counteracts sound waves. Everybody on the internet agrees that the second kind—the fan-generated, air-moving, sound-wave-disrupting kind—is a far superior white noise machine, and that within this superior model there is a superior brand: the Marpac Dohm Classic.

Invented in 1962, the Marpac Dohm Classic is beloved. It has more than eight thousand positive reviews on Amazon. In one review a woman describes how the Marpac Dohm Classic saved her marriage. This woman had an elderly dog. When the dog became old, it began to have delusions in the middle of the night. The dog barked at the delusions. The dog was not barking because it had to pee. When the barking began, the woman thought it had to pee, but she let the dog out and it did not pee. The woman thought maybe the dog was anxious. The woman took it to a vet and the vet prescribed doggie Xanax. The doggie Xanax did not stop the barking. This went on for months, until a second vet finally diagnosed the dog with dementia. The dog was barking at nothing. It was delusional. By the time of this correct diagnosis, the woman’s husband and the woman had been sleepless for months. Every night the dog woke them up with its delusional barking. The woman and her husband began to keep the dog in a pen downstairs, right below their bedroom, which they thought would soften the sound of the barking, because the dog was now on a lower floor, but this only made the sound of the barking worse. Now it sounded like the dog was barking under their bed, directly in their ears. They were in despair. The husband wanted to put the dog down. The woman cried and did not want to do it. After all, during waking hours the dog was fine and not barking or delusional, though it was old and had some additional trouble with its bladder.

This desperation drove the woman to the internet, where she found her last resort: the Marpac Dohm Classic White Noise Sound Machine. When it arrived, the woman thought the Dohm Classic looked small. The woman did not understand how it worked and how all the tiny interior fans moved so much air in the room. Still, the woman tried. The woman installed the Dohm Classic on a pedestal in the middle of the room where the dog slept at night, just as the instruction manual recommended. When the woman turned the Dohm Classic on, she thought it sounded like the feeling of being underwater. When she shut the door to the dog’s room, she couldn’t hear the machine. That night the woman and her husband slept through the night for the first time in months. The delusional old dog was still barking, but because of the noise-canceling effects of the Marpac Dohm Classic White Noise Sound Machine, they could not hear it. The woman said she would have given the Dohm Classic sixteen stars if the web-review format had allowed it.

There is also a review on Amazon from a lawyer who brings the Dohm Classic when visiting his clients in prison. You never know who might be listening.

And there is another review from a truck driver who drives only night shifts because they pay so much better. He has trained his mind so carefully to fall asleep to the sound of a Dohm Classic that now, if he accidentally turns it on, he feels hypnotized and immediately falls asleep.

Many people use the Dohm Classic to sleep. I do not. I use the Dohm Classic primarily while writing in bed or sitting alone and thinking. I cannot hear my husband playing the violin in the living room when I turn on the Dohm Classic, which seems like honest-to-god magic. I have never given the Marpac Dohm Classic White Noise Sound Machine as a gift, though, because it is ugly. It looks like a petite Star Wars robot. The Dohm logo on the top of the machine is spelled in all-lowercase letters in an unfashionable font that has goofy sound waves emanating out of the o. If the Dohm Classic were beautiful, or if it were something that blended in better with the background of a room, I would definitely gift it to all my favorite people.

One woman who reviewed the Dohm Classic on Amazon seems to use the machine as I do, but she is an extremist. She says that she bought it to help her sleep, but that she ended up only ever using it when she was awake. Every waking hour she spends in her apartment, she has the Dohm Classic on. She says it makes her feel as if someone were hugging her, as if in her apartment she’d created a space that was truly separate from the rest of the world, and from all of its awful noises.

I don’t think that the world sounds awful. There are times when I like listening to discordant violin music. I also like listening to the street. I live in a busy urban neighborhood inside a mural that people often pose in front of to take pictures. When I look out my living room window, I am standing inside this mural-painting and I can hear perfectly what people are saying about the mural. It’s a wholesome public art mural that has children reading and a dog depicted in it. When people take photos in front of the mural, the photographers tell their subjects how to move their bodies so they look the thinnest. Children notice, and then verbalize, small visual details on the mural mid-click.

While I wouldn’t want to be inside the world of the Dohm Classic all the time, I am grateful for the choice of lived experience that the Dohm Classic gives to me. I can be inside its machine-generated, airwave-disturbing, bucket-of-water feeling, or I can be outside of it, listening to the street.

I feel it is important for me to clarify that the Dohm Classic does not sound like nature. It sounds like the opposite of nature—it sounds like a machine.

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