App

For mindfulness, meditation, sleep, or just blocking out the world, grab these apps

The world is noisy. Sometimes, you want to block everything out. But you also don’t want to pipe music into your ears every waking hour.

This round-up explores a different kind of sound app, utilizing cleverly constructed loops to help you relax – ideal for when you need to focus or just fancy a sneaky 40 winks.

Soundboards and mixers

DIY mixes for any scenario where you need to chill.

White Noise+

Free or $3/£3 • v1.4.92 • 89.6 MB • By Dynamic App Design LLC

Plenty of apps let you play a range of ambient sounds to help you relax. But White Noise+ goes above and beyond, effectively providing a miniature mixing desk for crafting combinations that work perfectly for you.

Each mix is made on a four-by-four grid on to which you drag icons that represent sounds like birdsong, wind, and chimes. Those placed toward the left play simpler loops, and those toward the right offer more complex sounds. Placement at the top and bottom of the grid, respectively, determines whether sounds play more loudly or quietly.

This system provides plenty of scope for variation, enabling you to craft mixes for all kinds of scenarios; and the minimal, usable interface is immediate and straightforward. Naturally, you can save mixes you make, and re-edit them in the future.

Note that the initial free download is limited in terms of sounds and functions. It’s also ad-supported – and you don’t want ads interrupting your chill-out sessions. So we recommend the one-off ‘unlock everything’ IAP once you’ve decided White Noise+ is just the thing to help you relax while also being a little bit creative.

Download White Noise+

White Noise

$1/£1 • v7.7.3 • 63.2 MB • By TMSOFT

This app is unrelated to the previous one, and is a simpler option for playing noises and making ambient mixes. You can opt to select a single sound from a list, or combine several. A ‘mix pad’ allows you to position loops in a surround sound mix, and save the result. There’s a free version you can use for a kind of test drive; but, frankly, White Noise is a no-brainer download, given the low price.

Download White Noise

Noizio

$3/£3 • v2.0 • 93.9 MB • By Kyrylo Kovalin

This one’s more like a literal mixing desk, albeit for ambient sounds rather than the typical components of a song. You tap a sound to turn it on and drag a slider to adjust its volume. Custom mixes can be saved. We recommend creating one that’s silent, because there doesn’t otherwise appear to be a reset button for the mixer. Otherwise, this is a pleasant, minimal, usable ambient sound mixer.

Download Noizio

Atmosphere: Relaxing Sounds

Free • v15 • 200.8 MB • By Peak Pocket Studios

Should you prefer to prod rather than drag or slide, Atmosphere gives you a more traditional sound board. You press buttons to turn sounds on or off, and can adjust volume levels with a slider. There are multiple environments to page through, and sounds can be combined from two or more of them. Again, mixes can be saved as favorites, and there’s a timer if you’d like to use the app to help you drift off.

Download Atmosphere: Relaxing Sounds

Generative audio

Never-the-same-twice ambient audio to help you relax.

Brian Eno : Reflection

$31/£30 • v1.3 • 173.1 MB • By Opal Limited

If you’re an aficionado of ambient music, you’ll recognize the name Brian Eno. His pioneering work heavily influenced an entire genre of music. Arguably, though, Reflection – created with musician/app designer Peter Chilvers — is the piece he’s been moving toward since day one.

Eno describes it as being like sitting by a river. What you experience is always the same, and yet always changing. And that really is the case when you fire up Reflection: sound and the digital painting on the screen subtly morph and change over time, and are also influenced by the time of day and season.

This is an expensive app. But there’s something about it that’s very engaging – and meaningfully more interesting than a traditional album, which is more like the aforementioned river frozen in time. Apple TV support adds further, and we’ve played the app for countless hours since its original release.

Eno/Chilvers have further apps in this space you might also want to consider. Bloom: 10 Words ($8/£8) and Scape ($12/£12) provide canvases for interactive ambient soundscapes — although the results you get are occasionally discordant rather than purely relaxing. Still, all of these come recommended to fans of ambient audio.

Download Brian Eno : Reflection

Endel

$5/£5 per month • v1.33 • 232.4 MB • By Endel

Generative audio is sound – or music – created by algorithm. But Endel takes things further, aiming to attune its output to your particular circumstances and needs. To that end, its main interface invites you to select a specific area — relax; focus; sleep; move — and what you hear is generated accordingly. Should you have an Apple Watch, the soundscapes attempt to sync with your heart-rate.

The result is effective. The soundscapes on offer are meaningfully distinct, and sit part-way between noise and music. There’s a touch of interactivity, too – press the screen and notes are played while shapes appear from beneath your fingertips. It’s no Bloom, but this feature can further enhance your relaxed state when you’re in the mood to do a little more than just listen. (The on-screen visuals are also great — minimalist, artistic line drawings that animate with the audio.)

The app is, however, a subscription, unless you go for the one-off ‘lifetime charge’, which at a whopping $90/£85 makes even Reflections seem cheap. Still, you get a week to make up your mind, and you might decide a fiver a month is a small price to pay for the peace of mind this app can bring.

Download Endel

Background drones

Auditory illusions designed to make you feel good.

Binaural (β)

Free or $3/£3 • v1.10 • 31.6 MB • By Giorgio Calderolla

The term ‘binaural beats’ might suggest a new music craze. But it instead describes an auditory illusion. By playing two pure-tone sine waves with slightly different frequencies into each ear, your brain fashions the illusion of a third tone – the binaural beat. There are claims ‘beats’ of varying frequencies can aid with anything from focus to stress. Science is so far unconvinced.

However, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence regarding the benefits of binaural beats, and during testing we did find the Binaural app useful in blocking out noise, thereby helping us to concentrate or relax. So even if it’s a placebo, the system — at least as this app presents it — appears to do some good.

The app is also first-class in terms of usability. You hit play and then drag your finger from left to right to adjust the frequency. You can add a ‘rain’ sound atop the drone as well. Visually, it all looks minimal and smart, and with a single IAP you can unlock a timer. Even for free, though, this is a sleek, tactile way to discover whether you find binaural beats a positive experience.

Binaural (β)

Binaural Beats Generator +

Free • v1.2 • 15.8 MB • By TMSOFT

This alternate take on binaural beats from the White Noise folks is quite technical and customizable in nature. It’s reminiscent of a classic oscilloscope, with you dragging sliders to finely adjust the beat type and frequency. Again, perhaps retain a little skepticism regarding what each beat type is associated with; but for free, the app’s worth trying, to see whether it’ll help you focus, relax, and sleep. Plus it’s just fun to fiddle with.

Download Binaural Beats Generator +

Scenes of nature

Sounds and visuals from the wild, to soothe your soul.

Flowing 2

$5/£5 • v2.3 • 158 MB • By Franz Bruckhoff

If your idea of relaxation is to surround yourself with the sounds of nature, Flowing 2 attempts to bring the outdoors to your iPhone. Here, there’s no intrusion from humans as you pick between seven different painterly scenes accompanied by immersive 3D audio.

Interaction happens in two ways. A cursor lets you adjust the prominence of sounds within the scene. Drag it near a waterfall to hear that above everything else, or toward trees to focus more on wind. Tap the sliders to access further sounds, including music, rainfall, rain falling on a tent, and birdsong.

This feels every inch the polished app, and it can further help your relaxation needs through guided meditation and a built-in timer. There is one downside, in that the app is packed full of animations, rendering it broadly unsuitable for anyone with vestibular conditions. But if you don’t have such issues, and you want to pump beautiful outdoorsy sounds into your ears — all for a low one-off price — Flowing 2 hits the spot.

Download Flowing 2

Away

$4/£4 • v4.0.4 • 78.6 MB • By Franz Bruckhoff

The creator of Flowing 2, Franz Bruckhoff, has in fact released a series of apps with similar themes and interactions. Away is another of our favorites. It only has a single scene, but the twist is you can adjust the time of day, listening to how this particular slice of nature transitions from birdsong during the day to bullfrogs at night, atop a relaxing combination of wind and river noises.

Download Away

Wildfulness 2

Free + $4/£4 • v2.5 • 274.9 MB • By Wild Ventures

There’s no mixing in Wildfulness 2, which instead embraces a suitably ‘Apple’ kind of minimalism across the board. Here, you get a number of hand-illustrated forest scenes, each with its own unique soundscape. A timer and guided breathing exercises are included, integrating with the Health app. In all, it’s a great choice for a no-fuss chill-out experience on your phone, with an additional stylish dash of nature art.

Download Wildfulness 2