[September 9th 2019 edit: Nick Schwab from Invoked Apps got in touch with us to make it clear that they do no ask customers for reviews in exchange for free content. The post has been edited to reflect this.]
[November 26th 2019 edit: Jeff Bolton from Voice Apps got in touch with us saying “Voice Apps has NEVER required a review in exchange for content or anything else. [We] had wording in skills that may have been confusing to some users…leading to the complaining reviews. We’ve since eliminated the confusing messaging and even worked with Amazon while they improved their policy around review solicitation.” The post has been edited to reflect this.]
Two companies totally dominate the category. Invoked Apps and Voice Apps have completely cornered the sound skill market. I can’t imagine another sound skill producer displacing Invoked Apps and Voice Apps for a long time. However, there is something interesting to learn about their dominance, which can be applied to other categories. By offering content for a 5-star rating, you can continuously increase you visibility, leading to more engagement, leading to more rewards from Amazon.
These skills are so technically simple, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they individually generated over $2 000 of monthly revenue for their developers.
Sleep Sounds: Thunderstorm Sounds by Invoked Apps LLC – 4.9 out of 5, 17325 ratings, 17319 reviews
Thunderstorm Sounds plays ambient sounds to help you sleep, relax, meditate, relieve stress, or block out unwanted noise.
Random review: UPDATE: I raised my review now that I’ve figured out how to get this to play all night. The app tells you that you can say “Alexa, ask Thunderstorm Sounds to loop” as a command. That’s how I initiated the skill the first time. It played, but it didn’t loop. The next night, I said “Alexa, open Thunderstorm Sounds” and then once it started playing, I said “Alexa, loop on”. And then it looped to infinity all night. It does fade all the way out and all the way back in when it reaches the loop, but since the track is an hour long, you will mostly likely be asleep by the time this fade-out happens. However, if you are a very light sleeper, you may be awakened by this. Otherwise, great sound quality – better than our sleep machine, which we have no replaced with Alexa. (4 out of 5)
Sleep and Relaxation Sounds by Voice Apps, LLC. – 4.8 out of 5, 13042 ratings, 12977 reviews
Sleep Sounds lets you play ambient sounds to help you sleep peacefully or block out unwanted noise at work or home.
Random review: This is a decent skill to enable for Echo. Upon opening up you can ask Echo to list the sounds however she reads them so fast it can be difficult to keep track. I’ve compiled that full list below as of March 17, 2017. This skill needs some work as once you open it you need to issue it the direct name of the sound you want immediately it asks “What can I do for you?”. Otherwise it will look for a band by that name to shuffle music for. It also does not really have the capability to switch between sounds, you will need to tell Echo to open sleep sounds each time and name the sound you wish to switch to. (4 out of 5)
Sleep Sounds: Rain Sounds by Invoked Apps LLC – 4.9 out of 5, 9778 ratings, 9774 reviews
Rain Sounds plays ambient sounds to help you sleep, relax, meditate, relieve stress, or block out unwanted noise.
Random review: Per the description, it is an "ambient noise loop of light rainfall." To the reviewer that gave it a low rating because it doesn’t have thunder… it wasn’t advertised as such. It does what it says on the tin, and it does it well. I can listen to this while I am working without my dogs freaking out about the thunder. It doesn’t help to give a bad review to a skill just because it isn’t exactly what you were looking for. (5 out of 5)
Sleep Sounds: Ocean Sounds by Voice Apps, LLC. – 4.9 out of 5, 7883 ratings, 7881 reviews
Ocean Sounds helps you sleep peacefully or block out unwanted noise at work or home.You’ll be able to sleep better, stay focused, study without interruption, relax quickly, meditate more effectively, and get your baby to go to sleep faster!
Random review: I have asked Alexa to play Ocean Sounds for me for a consistent 6+ months. Has she done as I asked every time? No. When she did, did she play the sounds for a long period? No, not in the beginning. After multiple times asking (every night for more than a month) she finally started playing longer than a hour. I believe I’ve been asked 5 or 6 times over the past 30 days to write a review for Ocean Sounds so that I may still “enjoy these sounds free of charge” all the while “promising this is the last time I’ll hear this interruption” Bc let me tell you, hearing an “ad” at the end of my long day to write a review for a sound that took months to even do what I needed is exactly what I want to be doing said no sane person ever. Nonetheless, here it is Alexa, my review on Ocean Sounds. Meow, could you please stop asking me to write a review & just play my damn sounds on a minimum 7 hour loop that’d be great (3 out of 5)
Sleep Sounds: White Noise by Voice Apps, LLC. – 4.7 out of 5, 4402 ratings, 4398 reviews
White Noise helps you sleep peacefully or block out unwanted noise at work or home.You’ll be able to sleep better, stay focused, study without interruption, relax quickly, meditate more effectively, and get your baby to go to sleep faster!
Random review: Two days in a row I’ve quietly asked Alexa to play white noise because I can’t sleep at 2 AM. Two days in a row this stupid app has woken my wife up by responding with “…please take the time to review this app, because it would really help us out…”
There you go. Thanks for the impatient requests at 2 AM. Is this what you wanted? (1 out of 5)
Sleep Sounds by Invoked Apps LLC – 4.8 out of 5, 3223 ratings, 3222 reviews
Sleep Sounds plays calming sound loops to help you fall asleep faster, sleep better, relax, meditate, or drown out distracting noises.
Random review: This is a review of the free skill. There is a premium product offered for a monthly fee that i’ll discuss below. The sounds from this skill are fine, and do the job, but unfortunately, the noise stops for a second or so every hour, then restarts, and this is enough to wake me, thereby ruining the app entirely. I can find no way to bypass this “feature” short of upgrading to the premium product. Now, what about the premium product? It apparently costs $1.99/month, and provides additional sounds, the ability to combine two sounds, and longer “loops” that presumably would eliminate the sound gaps I got with the free product. There is a free 14 day trial period, if you’re interested in trying it out, but it is probably one of those things that will automatically start charging you if you forget to cancel. No thanks. I’ve been using the Sleep Machine iPhone app for many years – probably since I got my first iPhone in 2011. I believe it cost me $1.99 when I bought it, offers dozens and dozens (if not hundreds) of sounds and music, allows the user almost an infinite number of combinations and permutations of these sounds (including custom sound levels for each sound), has an integrated alarm (that I use every morning), works on the road when I don’t have my Echo devices with me, and most of all, has no monthly fee. I paid once, and that was all. It does require a connection between my iPhone and my Echo, and I’m using Bluetooth right now (used to use a direct connection, but am experimenting with Bluetooth – it works well, but does hiccup occasionally, so I might have to go back to a direct connection). Not the most convenient thing, but it’s free. Had I been paying $1.99/month every month since 2011, my night time noise machine would have cost me $160 dollars, and this charge would continue ad infinitum, as long as I continue to use it. I realize there is a recurring costs associated with hosting a service like this, but as a user, all I can look at are the features of a product, and the cost associated with that product, and make a value judgement. For $24/year, year after year, the convenience associated with running a sleep machine on my Echo is nowhere near worth the vastly increased cost. (1 out of 5)
Sleep Sounds: Babbling Brook by Invoked Apps LLC – 4.9 out of 5, 2459 ratings, 2456 reviews
Babbling Brook plays ambient sounds to help you sleep, relax, meditate, relieve stress, or block out unwanted noise.
Random review: I sleep with a sound machine, a fan, and in a dark room. I have PTSD and insomnia. This is one sound I play on loop and it helps my anxiety and keeps me asleep. I find it peaceful. Other sounds have annoyed me or kept me awake. This is the first I’ve looped and it really helps me. I wanted to add that I found this app on my Alexa app and asked my Echo dot to play it on my nightstand. It seems to default to 60 mins if you play it without any other instructions. I now ask my echo, “Play Babbling Brook”….after it starts to play, I ask it to loop the song. Once on loop, it will play all night until you turn it off. I have downloaded other sounds/apps and they did not keep me asleep. The reason, once the sound ended and started again, it was very obvious and the song ending and starting again woke me up due to the silence in between. This one pretty much goes right back into the song without hearing silent areas for seconds. (5 out of 5)
Sleep Sounds: Heavy Rain by Voice Apps, LLC. – 4.8 out of 5, 2277 ratings, 2275 reviews
Heavy Rain helps you sleep peacefully or block out unwanted noise at work or home.You’ll be able to sleep better, stay focused, study without interruption, relax quickly, meditate more effectively, and get your baby to go to sleep faster!
Random review: You have woken my baby up 6 out of the last 10 nights with begging for 5 star reviews. Here is an idea, how about asking for a rating when the skill closes! Are you happy now, you annoyed me to write a review. (1 out of 5)
Sleep Sounds: Box Fan Sounds by Voice Apps, LLC. – 4.9 out of 5, ratings, 2718 reviews
Box Fan Sounds helps you sleep peacefully or block out unwanted noise at work or home.You’ll be able to sleep better, stay focused, study without interruption, relax quickly, meditate more effectively, and get your baby to go to sleep faster!
Random review: I especially like the fact that Alexa still can hear me when the fan sounds is on. That is nice. However, the program forced me to give a five star review, and said if I didn’t it would not play all night. I actually did give a five star review, but the program could not match my review with the skill, and so it quits at night, waking me up. Very disappointing. 1) Don’t coerce me into a great rating, and 2) if you do coerce me, you better follow through. I’ll probably uninstall this skill. There are others. (5 out of 5)
Sleep Sounds: Distant Thunderstorm by Invoked Apps LLC – 4.9 out of 5, ratings, 2351 reviews
Distant Thunderstorm plays ambient sounds to help you sleep, relax, meditate, relieve stress, or block out unwanted noise.
Random review: I have been using this at night for a couple of months with no issues–looping mode was working fine and it was going all night.For the past week it has been shutting off after an hour–even though I know that “looping is enabled, I will remember this for future”.I have tried reconnecting the Dot.It’s very frustrating, I had the dot in our other room on for my 19 month old grandson the other night and it turned off after an hour too.Not sure why loop mode is not working.I have also tried setting a sleep timer for 10 hours and that’s not working either. Frustrating because it was really working well and was helping with night time silence. (1 out of 5)