Need to know
- Portable air conditioners can be a convenient cooling option, but they're noisier, less effective and less efficient than a split-system air conditioner
- We test portable air conditioners for how noisy they are when the fan is on the highest setting, and results do vary
- The noise levels will differ depending on the environment you use them 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 trying to have a conversation, watch TV or get a baby (or yourself!) to sleep.
Portable air conditioners aren't hugely efficient, but the reality is they're a good cooling solution if:
- you can't install air conditioning because you rent or you're in a strata complex that requires approval
- you require an immediate cooling fix and can't wait for installation
- you simply don't have the cash 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. When you can spend anywhere from $400 up to $1400 on a portable air conditioning unit, you want to make sure it's ticking all your boxes.
Here's how we test for noise, plus we reveal the models that were the standout best – and worst – performers.
How do we test portable air cons for noise?
We test how noisy the portable air conditioners are when their fans are turned up to high. We don't factor noise into the CHOICE expert rating, but we publish the results so you can consider them when making your decision on what to buy.
The models we've tested range from 50.4dB (much quieter) up to 64.6dB (noisy). For comparison, a typical conversation is carried out at about 60dB, a very noisy dishwasher might sit around 50dB and a running shower might clock in at around 70dB.
Keep in mind that the noise you'll hear from your air conditioner depends on the environment it's in – for example, whether there's carpet and soft furnishings to absorb some of the noise, or hard flooring like tiles.
Although you could choose a unit that's 'quieter' you'll definitely still hear it running, and that's normal. Portable units are noisier indoors than most split-systems as the built-in systems have the advantage of having the noisiest component, the compressor, located outside.
Loud things can come in small packages.
What's the noisiest portable air conditioner we tested?
That honour goes to the Dimplex DC09 Mini ($499). It may be mini, but it rated the loudest on its highest setting at 64.6dB and scored a nothing-to-write-home-about 62% on performance. That means it ranks 16th out of the 22 units we tested. It also doesn't come with a remote control, and received an 'Only OK' score for cooling. So you might want to give this one the cold shoulder.
A couple of the 'quieter' air conditioner models
There a few machines that rated in the 'quieter' or 'much quieter' category, but they weren't the highest scoring in our test, and none were recommended (a model must score at least 70% for our experts to recommend that you buy it).
Not strictly 'Silent' as its name proclaims, but this DeLonghi model is on the quieter side.
DeLonghi PAC CN86 Silent
- Price: $649
- CHOICE expert rating: 68%
- Cooling score: 59%
- Running costs (based on four hours a day for three months in hot weather): $86
- Noise description: Quieter (54.25dB)
This DeLonghi portable air conditioner was given ticks for the fact that it's quieter than average (although not 'Silent' as the product name proclaims). It's also light and has relatively good energy efficiency, however our testers rated it 'only OK' on cooling performance and ease of use.
Read our review of the DeLonghi PAC CN86 Silent.
This portable air con from Rinnai is rated 'quieter' for noise, and 'good' for ease of use.
- Price: $699
- CHOICE expert rating: 65%
- Cooling score: 64%
- Running costs (based on four hours a day for three months in hot weather): $129
- Noise description: Quieter (58.8dB)
Our testers classified this model as 'quieter', and they rated it as 'good' for ease of use. But it didn't wow in other areas, being considered only OK for cooling and energy efficiency.
Read our review of the Rinnai RPC35WA.
What's the quietest portable air conditioner we recommend?
There is just one model our testers recommend that also rated 'quieter' for noise. All other recommended models are rated as being 'noisy'. So if noise is a priority for you, this could be your perfect buy.
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