Ask the Strategist: The Best and Nicest-Sounding Alarm Clock

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In our new advice column, Ask the Strategist, we take your most burning shopping questions and scour friends, call up experts, and draw from personal experience to answer them. As always, please comment with one of your own — we’re here to help.

Question: An alarm clock that works with batteries and has NICE sounds to choose from. A mission impossible???

The trickiest part of this question is understanding and defining what exactly we all mean by “nice” sound, so to attempt to satisfy that for everyone, let’s start with something that actually doesn’t need sound at all: The Philips Wake-Up Light (which we’ve written about before) simulates the sunrise, so that instead of waking up to any loud noise you might find abrupt or upsetting, you wake up to a bright, shining (imitation) sun. It works like this: Let’s say you set your alarm for 6:30 a.m. The alarm begins by lighting up at its dimmest starting about 15 minutes before, and then by the time it gets to 6:30, the light is on full brightness to naturally alert your body to morning. A 2003 study found that subjects who woke up to dawn-simulating lamps like this actually had increased levels of cortisol — a hormone that helps your body prepare for stress. So there’s some scientific evidence that you might just be in a better mood all day if you set your lighting right in the morning.

I have this system in my house, and if you’re nervous you won’t wake up, I can guarantee that you’ll actually wake up from the light alone. But if you think that the light won’t be enough, the clock also comes with three “calming” wake up sounds — think cresting ocean waves, chirping birds, general spa vibes — and an FM radio. And sure, we’ll admit that spending around $100 is a bit of a splurge for an alarm clock, but you can also adjust the light to ten levels whenever you want, so it’s really a bedside lamp and an alarm clock all in one.

Hammacher Schlemmer advances on the theme by adding aromatherapy oils to their light-up alarm clock, so you’ll wake up not just with light and sound, but also with calming scents.

At the same time, as light is the new wave we should all get on, it’s pretty much a universal cultural understanding that alarm clocks are supposed to sound like loud beeps and rings. The creator of the Wake alarm-clock app told the Ringer that on his app that can make pretty much any calming sound, the second-most-popular sounds are the classic alarm ones.

With this in mind, I spoke with Jeannette Purdy from Ameico, an “aesthetic-driven” clock store in Connecticut, who suggested a few options based on looks first and then sound. Purdy recommends the Braun, a classic first designed by Dieter Rams in the ’70s. “They’ve got a beeping sound that increases in frequency and volume, and when those were first made, they were quite effective in waking people up,” she says. Now, just about all alarm clocks increase in volume and frequency, but Braun was one of the first to implement that feature. They remain excellent functional and minimalist alarm clocks. Her sentiment was echoed by Sebastian Christenson a horologist at New York’s Sutton Clocks shop, who said simply, “The best alarm clock is a Braun.”

I actually use a Braun voice-controlled alarm clock at home (you say “stop” to snooze) because I love the way it looks, and it’s a simple, functional, and beautiful object. If you just want a small alarm clock that’ll wake you up, this is an obvious, time-tested winner. To snooze the one pictured here, you just gently tap the top of the clock, which activates a hidden button on the bottom that snoozes and also turns on a light. It’s all so intuitive and discreet and amazing. The digital version also won a Red Dot Award in 2012, and they’re all small enough to throw in a bag and travel around with.

Purdy also recommends the Station alarm clock designed by Arne Jacobsen, a mid-century Danish designer. This one looks like a floating sphere, which is what attracted architect, interior designer, and clock collector Morris Adjmi. “I like the simplicity of it,” he told me. “I like the way it presents itself. It has a little metal stand that’s playful and elegant.” As for its sound, the Station mimics that of a real bell alarm clock, but a less intense digital version. It’s a light bell. It’s also the only alarm clock sold on Arianna Huffington’s sleep store, Thrive Global. The only downside (depending on how you look at it) is that it doesn’t have a snooze function. (But for a real bell sound with a snooze, try this similarly minimalist clock designed by Industrial Facility.)

We’d love to hear from you. If you have any burning questions, please leave them for us in the comments.

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Ask the Strategist: The Best and Nicest-Sounding Alarm Clock