Background Sounds & Ambient Environments

Sometimes it’s too quiet to concentrate on work.  Or too quiet to sleep.  Maybe there’s too much distracting noise from down the hall or from the neighbors.   How to create background noises more conducive to a desired state of mind, such as sleeping, studying or focused intellectual work?

Cafe Sounds on Youtube

I found a long clip on Youtube of random cafe noises, with occasional bean grinder whirrrs, muddled conversation, chairs scooching and outside traffic.  Robert aka “Duff The Psych”   made it with binaural microphones, which I suppose is something like what Kevin Braheny used to record vividly realistic you-are-there sound clips in his “Secret Rooms” album.   DtP creates “ASMR” recordings.  The clip is available to play at  But note that visually, it’s just a latte sitting there.

Beware of some cafe or library background sound clips on Youtube – they are only one or two minutes long, looped many times to fill an hour.  You’ll get tired of those quickly.  Duff’s clip is not repeated, but a true hour long recording.

The cafe clip was nice, but even at one genuine hour of material, I don’t want to play it over and over and over day after day. It would get too familiar, though it may do its job just as well, played with the volume way down to be barely perceptible.  To cover distracting sounds, though, you’d want it cranked up more.   You’ll need more variety.  So where to get a wider variety of cafe sounds, and other useful backgrounds?


The website Coffitivity provides several types of cafe. You get three free online, and three more (as of this writing) for a few bucks.  I usually run this all day long with their volume slider at “5” even if I’m running other background sound sources.  The volume slider has only multiples of five. Zero is no sound.  You may wish there was finer control at the quiet end.  You could set the site’s volume slider to higher, say 10, and turn down the volume on your speaker, but then what if you need to watch an occasional Youtube video or lecture on Coursera?   Coffitivity provides apps for Android and iOS.


What would really be nice is to have a way to play a variety of subtle background noises.  A distant train.  Ocean waves.  Wind.  Maybe all three at the same time?  Defonic  shows you a bunch of icons. Click one, adjust the slider, and you’ve got a distant train, ocean, electric fan, cricket chirping at night, thunder, traffic, even “starship bridge”.    Try running their cafe along with Coffitivity in another browser tab.   Free, and I don’t see a “donate” button.  Defonic provides a mobile app.  Also, video backgrounds.

I saw another site similar to Defonic, forgot the name, with the same icons but missing the starship and some others. Maybe it was an older version?


For some real ear candy, a wide variety of adjustable sounds can be played at MyNoise created by Dr. Ir. Stéphane Pigeon.    Free, but easier to use if you chip in five bucks.  There are oceany sounds, night sounds, droning sounds, all kinds of acoustic environments.  You will find a set of sliders like on a sound mixing board, or audio equalizer, to adjust the volume of various elements and frequency ranges in the soundscape.  Every noise generator has a few pre-designed mixes.  Pick for example “Twilight” and find mixes “Floating”, “Calming”, “Purity” and more.  Or pick the noise machine Warp Speed and choose Engine Control Room, Aboard the Enterprise, The Bridge or others, or set the sliders however you like. “Asleep in Quarters” is great for sleep, of course.  Or try Ice World with Clear Water, Magnetic Fields, Floating Particles and so on.

One great feature about MyNoise is the “animate” button, which causes the sliders to vary over time, changing the mix of elements contributing to the soundscape.  Night time crickets fade a bit a bit while the wind picks up, and later you may hear frogs dominate.  Keeps you from getting bored.


If you feel like spending time in a old-time scholarly sound environment with a few distinguished colleages quietly (but not silently) studying, try the Hufflepuff Common Room.   There are several Harry Potter sound themes at  Ambient Mixer, along with Turkish coffee house, heavy industrial machines, meditative drums, science fiction places, everyday castle sounds, humming data center full of fans… there are *plenty* of sounds I haven’t started to explore.

“Distant world sounds help people mediate and improve the activities of the brain which involve the sensory processing and focus ability. The slow distant sounds have a relaxing effect on the nerves, giving people a beautiful feeling of happiness, freedom and optimism.”

Soundscapes are made up of several elements. Some run continuously, and some play at random times.    Like MyNoise, you have sliders to adjust the strength of the various elements.  No frequency EQ, but with Ambient Mixer you can pan left/right, set how often random elements such as quill scribbling or coffee pouring occur.    There is also a crossfade button, and mute if you don’t want that element at all.   A pause button stops everything temporarily in case you need quiet for a minute.   The only thing lacking is a master volume control – that would be nice to have.

The great thing about Ambient Mixer is that the various elements are separate – not all stuck on loops the same length.  The random play feature keeps the acoustical journey from getting stagnant.   With the volume low, playing one of the Harry Potter themes or a cafe, and the browser window buried under stuff I’m working on, I can completely forget it’s there, as well as forget where I am.



When I am painting or drawing or doing other artwork, or doing something requiring no word-thinking, I prefer a whole different sort of noise.  While mixing colors and dabbing at a canvas, I like talk radio – to keep the verbal part of my mind out of the way.   Depending on the time of day, I play broadcast radio, or look for archived recording on websites.   Favorites are Coast to Coast AM (George Noory’s show) with its wide variety of interesting guests, or if I feel like metaphysics, Nile MacFlouer’s Ageless Wisdom radio show or whatever crazy thing is airing on BBS Radio.


1 thought on “Background Sounds & Ambient Environments

  1. After “The cafe clip was nice, but even at one genuine hour of material, I don’t want to play it over and over and over day after day” I thought you were going to say you’ve dissected the clip into small sounds and wrote a program to re-combine those sounds at random.

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