Need to know
- Portable units are cheaper and convenient, but they're also noisier, less effective and less efficient than permanent split-systems
- We test models for noise on their highest setting – results do vary dramatically
- Noise levels will differ depending on the room you use the unit in
Clank, whoosh, beep, shudder! Portable air conditioning units can be quite loud and distracting to run, especially if they're on full blast while you're working from home, watching TV or on the phone.
They aren't hugely efficient energy-wise, but the reality is they're a good cooling option if:
- you can't install air conditioning because you rent or you're in a strata complex that requires approval
- you need an immediate cooling fix and can't wait for installation
- you don't have the budget for a fixed option.
But if the thought of a whooshing unit that keeps you up at night gives you nightmares and you're looking for the best model that's also the quietest, we can help.
Here's how we test for noise. Plus, we reveal the models that were the standout performers in our latest tests.
How do we test portable air cons for noise?
Our experts test how noisy the portable air conditioners are when their fans are turned up to high. We don't factor noise into their CHOICE Expert Ratings, but we do publish the results so you can consider them when making your decision on what to buy.
The current models we've tested range from 50.4dB (much quieter) up to 64.6dB (noisy) on high speed. For comparison, a typical conversation reaches about 60dB, a very noisy dishwasher might sit at around 50dB, and a running shower might clock in at about 70dB.
The current models we've tested range from 50.4dB (much quieter) up to 64.6dB (noisy) on high speed
Keep in mind that an air con's noise can vary notably depending on the room it's in. Carpets and soft furnishings will absorb some noise; hard floors and tiles can amplify it.
And even with a quieter unit, you'll definitely still hear it running, and that's normal. Portable units are noisier indoors than most split-systems, as the latter have the noisiest component – the compressor – located outside.
Quietest portable air cons – the good and bad news
Let's start with the positives. In their comprehensive lab tests, our experts found some units rated in the 'quieter' or 'much quieter' category. The catch? They didn't score that well for actual cooling performance (ie, their main job) and none received CHOICE Recommended status – a unit must score at least 70% for our experts to recommend that you buy it.
Still, if noise is a key factor for your choice (you might have a sleeping baby or do lots of video conferences, for instance), here are the three quieter models to look out for. They were also the quietest on lower speeds, too.
The Polocool PQ10 Whisper
Polocool PQ10 Whisper
- Noise description: Much quieter (50.4dB)
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 64%
- Cooling score: 52%
- Price: $795
While it's certainly louder than a 'whisper', this 2.9kW unit was notably the quietest one we reviewed in our laboratory tests. Unfortunately, it also seriously under-delivers on actually cooling, managing a lowly mark of just 52%. So you'll hear it less, but probably be sweating more.
This model did score well for ease of use, but rated just OK in our energy efficiency test, so it's a real mixed bag. Read our full review.
The DeLonghi PAC CN86 Silent
DeLonghi PAC CN86 Silent
- Noise description: Quieter (54.25dB)
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 68%
- Cooling score: 59%
- Price: $649
It's not the 'Silent' type, as the name proclaims, but this 2.5kW air con does get ticks for being quieter than average. It's also light and has very good energy efficiency, unlike some of the other models listed here.
On the downside, our testers rated it only OK for cooling performance and ease of use (our assessment of controls, installation, stability, portability and other key factors). Read our full review.
The Polocool PC-58AP/C
- Noise description: Quieter (56dB)
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 60%
- Cooling score: 66%
- Price: $1395
Surprisingly for its size and weight (45kg!), and much larger cooling capacity (6kW), this big blower from Polocool slid into third place for quietest units in our reviews. The rest of the news isn't so cheery – despite being the priciest model in the test, it only rated OK for cooling performance and ease of use.
Worst of all, it scored poorly in our energy efficiency test with just 42% – the lowest in our current test group. Read our full review.