After spending more than 60 hours setting alarms, swatting snooze buttons, tuning radio stations, and talking to potential shoppers, we’ve decided that the RCA RCD30 is the best alarm clock for most people. This is the textbook definition of an alarm clock, delivering a reliable, hassle-free wake-up for people who don’t want to rely on a smartphone.
The RCA RCD30 was the easiest to set of all the clocks we tested. Its large, dimmable display is easy to read from anywhere in a room. And its 9-volt backup battery means you can rest assured that your alarm will sound in the morning even if the power goes out. It’s very no-frills, but does the job and costs less than any other clock we tested.
If the RCA RCD30 is unavailable, pick up the Travelwey LED Digital Alarm Clock. A bit larger than the RCA model, this clock adds in a night-light and the option of a slightly quieter alarm. However, those few extra features come at almost twice the price of the RCA and this model also didn’t feel as sturdy.
If you prefer to wake up to the soothing sounds of local radio, consider the iHome iBT29. This model delivered better reception and sound than any other clock radio we tested. The color-changing, circular design is a departure from the typical alarm clock, but the iBT29 has more features than any other clock on our list, including speakerphone functionality and Bluetooth support.
If you prefer not to wake up at all, but still need to, check out the Sonic Alert SBB500SS. This was the loudest model we tested, with flashing lights and a vibrating bed-shaker so you’ll never sleep through another alarm. This type of wake-up call comes at a price—and being shocked into coherence may not be worth the extra cost to some. That and the fact that there’s no way to adjust the lights kept the SBB500SS from claiming our top spot.
Why you should trust us
I’ve written about consumer electronics for over 15 years and have tested everything from sous vide machines and robotic vacuums to AV receivers and security cameras. As a former editor for Electronic House and Big Picture Big Sound, I’ve also written buyer’s guides for all kinds of consumer electronics.
How we picked and tested
We started our research on Amazon, which yielded approximately 97,000 results for alarm clocks. From there, we narrowed the list by reading user reviews, searching Google, checking out product roundups of alarm clocks and clock radios, and combing through as many reviews as we could find. To narrow the list even further, we put a limit of $50 on models we were testing, which was the high end of what we found people expect to spend for an alarm clock. We also polled friends, family, and strangers to find out what they look for in an alarm clock. Here are the must-have features:
- Big, bright display. We looked at clocks in all shapes and sizes. However, almost all of them had displays that were visible from at least 20 feet away in daylight and at night. The exceptions were the three analog clocks we reviewed, which are small and require you to push a button to illuminate.
- Dimmable display. Although having a bright display is nice, without the option to dim it light sleepers may be kept awake at night.
- Easy snooze button. Sometimes you need a few extra minutes. If you’re fumbling to find the snooze button, you may as well find your toothbrush and start the day.
- Battery backup. If your home is prone to power outages, you’ll want a clock that will be ready in case of an emergency.
Here are other features that aren’t really necessary, but we found available on a few models in this price range:
- Radio. Some people prefer to wake up to music, weather, news, or whatever else is playing on the radio. This feature was available on about half of the clocks we reviewed, but it adds to the price.
- Multiple alarms. Whether you have two people sharing a clock or prefer a different wake-up time for the weekends, there are several clocks that allow for two separate alarm times.
- Multiple sounds. Some clocks beep, others buzz, and some provide soothing sounds for that wake-up call.
- USB ports. Whether you use your smartphone as a backup plan or not, there are a few clocks that offer the option to charge gadgets by your bedside.
- Bluetooth. Many alarm clocks now have Bluetooth, but not in this price range. Only one of the models we reviewed included wireless music streaming.
We tested a total of 13 alarm clocks. Three of those were analog clocks, which were the only models that didn’t offer AC power; they’re completely battery-operated. Six of the 13 models tested also included radios.
We tested each clock in a first-floor home office and a second-floor bedroom. This helped when testing reception on the clock radios, because it gave us data from different locations. We used them during the day and at night to test out brightness levels and if they were easy to work with in the dark. We also monitored each clock for accuracy, the duration of the snooze, and if the snooze would continue after one hour.
Our pick: RCA RCD30
We think the RCA RCD30 is the best alarm clock for most people. It is the textbook definition of an alarm clock in features and style with an easy-to-use button layout, a bright display, and an alarm that should wake up even heavy sleepers. It’s also the least expensive model that we tested.
Of the models we tested, the RCD30 packed the largest display size in the smallest design, so it won’t take up much room on your nightstand. The illuminated display measures approximately 3.75 by 1.4 inches, which was visible in daylight and at night from at least 20 feet away. The large display size is a boon for people who wear glasses because you don’t need to fumble with your glasses to check the time. If a big display keeps you up at night, know that the RCD30 does have two brightness settings.
The easy operation has a lot to do with the unit’s no-frills design. It has a large snooze button across the top, so you can usually hit it without much fumbling. That snooze also doubles as an hour/minute button for setting the time and alarm. On the back, there are three switches: one for setting the time/alarm, one for turning the alarm on/off, and one for dimming the front display.
The alarm emits a loud, constant beep that can be heard over 20 feet away. That wake-up call continues until you shut off the alarm or hit snooze—which provides an extra nine minutes of slumber every time you press it, for well over an hour.
The RCD30 is a basic unit, but it has all you really need in an alarm clock, including backup via a 9-volt battery so you won’t lose your settings if the power goes out at 2 a.m. Just know that like most of the alarm clocks we tested, when using that battery the front of the RCD30 will not display the time, but the alarm will trigger in backup mode, which can’t be said of the Mesqool Projection Clock, the Sangean RCR-5, the Sonic Alert SBB500SS, and the Sony ICF-C1.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
A few of the alarm clocks we reviewed have up and down buttons for setting the clock and alarm time. The RCA RCD30 is not one of them. The minute and hour buttons go in only one direction, so if you get distracted while setting the time and go too far, you’ll need to cycle through again. This is not unique to the RCD30, though.
Also, out of all of the digital alarm clocks we reviewed, this one had the fewest perks. There’s no radio, projection, or separate alarm sounds. In fact, the clock has one alarm at one volume. If it’s too loud (or not loud enough), there are no other options. However, it’s a reliable, basic alarm clock and priced accordingly.
Runner-up: Travelwey LED Digital Alarm Clock
If our main pick isn’t available, we also recommend the Travelwey LED Digital Alarm Clock. This model is almost identical to our main pick, but with two levels of alarm volume, a slider control for dimming, and a snooze button that doubles as a night-light. However, it’s also twice the price.
Like our main pick, the Travelwey clock has a loud, beeping alarm that can be heard 20 feet away. If you don’t need something that powerful, there’s a second volume option that belts out softer beeps that get drowned out at about half that distance. This clock also uses a AAA backup battery to wake you up if the power goes out.
Like the RCA, Travelwey’s snooze button also delivers an extra 9 minutes of sleep time every time you press it, for well over an hour. However, the tactile feedback on that button and the overall build of the clock don’t feel as sturdy as what we found on our main pick, which kept Travelwey from taking our top spot.
Best clock radio: iHome iBT29
Of the six clock radios we tested, the iHome iBT29 had the best sound and best reception. It also had more extras than any other clock radio at this price, including Bluetooth wireless streaming, multicolored lights, a USB port for charging, and alternate alarm choices.
This clock radio doesn’t just have the best sound, it also provided the loudest music volume of the models we tested. At its loudest level, the iBT29 can be heard over 30 feet away. It certainly won’t rival your stereo or the best Bluetooth speaker, but is impressive for a clock radio.
Music is available on the iBT29 in several different ways. It could tune into 31 different FM radio stations from our location, which was two more than the closest competitor on our list. It also was the only model at this price to include Bluetooth, allowing you to wirelessly stream music for listening or alarm purposes. There’s even an aux-in jack for connecting external sources, and it includes support for the Melody app so you can call up music from iHeartRadio and Spotify Premium by pushing a button on the clock and giving voice commands through the iBT29’s built-in microphone.
The iHome iBT29 can change colors or color modes at the touch of a button.
One of the most prominent features of the iHome iBT29 is its built-in color-changing LED light. The clock’s globe can display only six different colors, so it’s not quite a Philips Hue bulb, but it can flash to the beat of the music, and also works without music in a sky gradient mode or with a slow or fast fade. You can also have it display a solid color or none at all.
Dual alarms and four musical alarm tones round out this round model. Weirdly, there’s no beep alarm option—unless it’s in battery-backup mode.
Overall, the iHome is an excellent value for the amount of features it has, but it does come with a few flaws. It features 13 buttons, making it more difficult to set compared with the RCA and Travelwey clocks. Everything is clearly marked, but those markings are also small, so it’s worth reading the manual once or twice to get the gist of it. Also, even though this is a clock radio, it doesn’t have AM reception. It does compensate by being the only clock radio to include Bluetooth, which we found to be a bigger selling point for shoppers. Finally, it would be nice if more of the Magic 8 Ball-size device was used to deliver a bigger display. Still, at about 2 by 1½ inches, it’s not the smallest of the models we tested and is still visible day and night at 30 feet away.
Also great: Sonic Alert SBB500SS
Designed for really deep sleepers, the Sonic Alert SBB500SS was the loudest alarm clock we tested. The SBB500SS has two alarms that deliver an ear-piercing beep that’s pretty loud from 40 feet away. It also features red flashing lights and a bed-shaker that can vibrate your pillow or mattress. Being shocked into each day may not be a selling point for some people, though. That and the price kept this model from snagging one of our top spots. Just know that there’s absolutely no sleeping through this thing.
It does allow you to lower the alarm volume or turn the sound off completely, but the flashing lights are a permanent fixture. The bed-shaker is not and can be removed, but when connected, will add another wire to the mix, right next to the power cord. Also, like our top two picks, the Sonic Alert SBB500SS doesn’t have up/down buttons for the settings. And the battery backup may keep track of the time until the power is restored, but you’d better hope that’s before your alarm, because it won’t trigger without AC power.
Homtime C1: This was the only digital model we tested that allowed us to check the time (by pressing the snooze button) when in battery-backup mode. It’s also the only one with two USB charging ports. However, the single alarm is only 24-hour mode and projects a single melodic ringtone. Also, customer support is nonexistent and some may not appreciate that the alarm will shut off after 30 minutes, which translates into three rounds with the snooze.
Electrohome EAAC475: This clock includes dual alarms, a USB charging port, radio tuning with 20 presets, and options to set the alarm for weekdays, weekends, or one specific day. Projection is the biggest hook, allowing you to put the time on a nearby wall or ceiling. However, that perk can’t be seen from all angles or during the day. Overall though, the build was the biggest disappointment; it feels cheap and the radio sounds like it’s coming from a tin can.
Marathon CL030053GD: Out of the three analog clocks reviewed, this was the favorite, thanks to a sturdy, stylish build and a night-light feature. However, the alarm always triggered two minutes early and the snooze was inconsistent, typically going off between four and five minutes after the button was pressed. Also, like the other two analog clocks listed below, this one is hard to read from a distance.
Sony ICF-C1: This compact cube doesn’t need an external antenna to tune into a decent selection of FM radio stations. It does that via an old-fashioned dial, which means there are no presets and it could be harder to find your favorites. The display is also too dim, even on its highest setting. And like the Sonic Alert SBB500SS, this model will keep track of the time and alarm settings in battery-backup mode, but doesn’t deliver an actual alarm.
Sangean RCR-5: Another model that offers weekday, weekend, and daily alarms, this model also includes two gradual alarms, radio with 10 presets, and a sleep timer. However, it could turn you into a clock-watcher, thanks to a seconds counter located right on the main display. And this wasn’t the only awkward part of this clock radio. For unknown reasons, the dimmer knob is on the bottom of the clock, and the company included an internal battery backup that lasts all of 10 minutes.
Pluteck Non Ticking Analog Alarm Clock: At 5 ounces, this was the lightest analog clock we reviewed. It was also the hardest to set, because it doesn’t have a detailed clock face like the other two on our list. It also routinely went off one to two minutes early and was difficult to read from across the room.
Mosche Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock: This circular clock radio can light up the room with white and colored lights, as well as wake you with a simulated sunrise, nature sounds, or a more traditional beep. The FM tuner scanned and saved 30 stations into presets, but some of them came in fuzzy, and two were duplicates—and there’s no way to remove those or stations you don’t like. Overall, it was the hardest to set and operate, with touch controls that can be a bit temperamental. It doesn’t help that there’s no tuning function for the radio and no separate up/down buttons for volume. Also, the display is a mere 1½ by ¾ inches and when the radio is on, you can’t see the time.
Seiko QHE085KLH: Battery-operated and light enough for travel, this is a very no-frills alarm clock. Our main gripe is that it has one dial for setting the clock and alarm and it’s flush inside the unit, which may be hard on larger fingers. Alarm times were also inconsistent, ranging from one to five minutes late. Also, like the other analog clocks on our list, it’s nearly impossible to read from across the room.
Mesqool Projection Clock: Like the Electrohome EAAC475, this dual alarm clock adds in projection and radio features. It’s better built than the EAAC475 and projected fine on the wall, but the ceiling image wasn’t bold enough to justify the added cost. Also, this unit offers battery backup for time and alarm settings, but doesn’t actually trigger an alarm without AC power. Finally, even though this unit did find the most AM channels (seven) on a consistent basis, it would tune into only a painfully low three FM stations.
(Photos by Michael Hession.)
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