For many users, the volume level of an air compressor is a significant purchasing consideration. In some places, you just can’t have noisy machinery. Maybe you’re working on a job site where coworkers need to talk amongst themselves. Or maybe you are working the garage and can’t disturb the rest of the household or the neighbors.
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Luckily you have lots of choices when shopping for a quiet air compressor. The makers of these units hear you loud and clear, and they’ve invested a lot of time and money into designing the quietest machines that they can.
Here’s a look at some of the quietest air compressor options, as well as some of the terms and definitions you might encounter while shopping.
Quietest Air Compressor Reviews
Best Quiet Air Compressor — Makita MAC2400 Big Bore 2.5HP Air Compressor
The Makita produces an excellent power rating of 2.5 horsepower yet still maintains its easy-on-the-ears 79 dB rating. This is an oil-lubricated low-speed pump, which helps bring the noise level down significantly while increasing its service life. In total, it produces a standard operating pressure of 130 PSI. The two tanks deliver 40 and 90 PSI at 4.8 CFM and 4.2 CFM, respectively. That’s enough for two tools.
And even though the Makita might seem like a more powerful compressor than you think you might need, the big-bore pump provides enough power to keep you happy for years to come.
Best 1-HP Quiet Air Compressor — DeWalt DWFP55130 Heavy Duty 200 PSI Quiet Trim Compressor
The sharp-looking DeWalt trim compressor measures only 21.5 by 13.8 inches, and you can store it either on its end or side. It weighs 36 pounds, with a grab-handle for easy transport. But best of all, it operates at 71.5 dB, which makes it one of the quietest air compressor options out there. It produces 3.0 SCFM at 90 PSI, with an impressive maximum of 200 PSI of power when you need it.
Another nice feature of this compressor is that the motor is equipped with an easy start capacitor to reduce startup current draw. That means you can plug in nearly anywhere and never worry about circuit breakers tripping.
Best Small Quiet Compressor — Senco PC1010 1-HP 1-Gallon Compressor
The Senco PC1010 is an excellent small compressor for little jobs. It’s perfect for occasional home use, filling tires, and using airbrushes. It can power finish nailers and the like, but it will need frequent cycling to do so. What it does, it does well, but it is a small compressor and the best budget compressor on our list. It’s rated for one-horsepower peak operation but only a half horsepower for continuous running.
So what does the Senco do well? It’s lightweight and quiet. Its small one-gallon tank and compact design mean you can take this unit nearly anywhere. It’s an oilless compressor with a direct-drive motor and an aluminum tank. All told, it weighs less than 20 pounds and is only 14 inches long.
Best Quiet Pancake Compressor — Campbell Hausfeld 6-Gallon Portable Quiet Air Compressor
Looking for a quiet pancake compressor? The Campbell Hausfeld is a great choice. You can choose between a six or eight-gallon tank. The unit runs at 68 dBA, making it an ultra-quiet air compressor option. It’s an oil-free, dual-piston pump design that delivers 125 max PSI and 2.4 CFM at 90 PSI.
Quiet Air Compressor Buyers Guide
On many compressors, the most apparent rating is horsepower. But beware, many manufacturers for consumer air compressors exaggerate their horsepower ratings to make them look better against the competition.
You can usually decipher a unit’s accurate horsepower rating by looking at the pump’s power draw. If a unit is designed to run off of a standard wall outlet with 15 or 20-amp 110-volt power, the motor cannot be more than two horsepower.
This contrasts with industrial air compressors. They tend to have candid horsepower ratings. A five-horsepower compressor will require about 24-amps on a 220-volt single-phase power circuit.
PSI, or pounds per square inch, is the standard unit for measuring air pressure on compressors. Most tools operate at 90 PSI, which means your compressor will need a higher level of pressure to maintain that. Remember that pressure is lost through hoses and couplers, so you need a compressor that delivers much more than 90 PSI to function correctly.
Cubic Feet Per Minute
Besides just the air pressure or force, tools require a certain amount of air to operate. This is measured in terms of CFM, or cubic feet per minute. CFM can be rated at several places on the air compressor. However, the most important measurement is the CFM at 90 PSI, which will tell you how much is making it to your tools.
Air Compressor Tank Size
The size of the tank attached to your air compressor is measured in gallons. Only some users are concerned with the tank, though. For working with pneumatic tools in a shop, a larger tank provides a little bit of reserve so that the pump needs to start-up less often. But using the tool depletes pressure quickly, and no matter the size of the tank, the compressor will switch on quickly to replenish the lost pressure.
Some users, however, need to use the stored air for other purposes. You can use it to inflate tires or blow the shop floor clean.
A large tank is handy for intermittent users because it enables you to get by with a smaller compressor motor. If the tank holds enough air for you to use your tool for five minutes, assuming that’s as long as you need, then the motor can take longer to fill it back up. Instead of paying for a large and powerful air compressor that you seldom use, you get a functional alternative.
If you go this route and decide to use reserve power from the tank, you can’t use your air tools indefinitely. You will deplete the air supply at some point, and you’ll have to wait for the compressor to catch up. It’s something like streaming an online video back in the 1990s—you can do it, but you wind up having to pause and wait for the download to proceed.
Single Versus Multi-Stage Air Compressors
As the name suggests, two-stage compressors step up the air pressure throughout the process. The first cylinder brings in outside air and gets it to about 90 PSI, while the next stage compresses it even further to around 175 PSI. The advantage is that these compressors can deliver much higher air pressures than a single-stage unit can. But they are also more complex and more expensive.
Single-stage compressors are more common for home use. They have one phase in the compression cycle. One or more cylinders bring in outside air and compress it to about 135 PSI before putting it in the tank.
It’s difficult to say which type of pump is better. Most industrial pumps are two-stage designs because these can create a higher pressure and maintain it. But a high-quality single-stage pump will outperform a cheap two-stage unit any day. When in doubt, go for the better quality pump over the lure of a bargain-priced two-stage compressor.
Direct Drive Versus Belt Drive Compressors
When designing a pump, the engineers need to transfer the electric motor’s power to the air compressor. It can be done by a direct drive, a simple and straightforward design that is highly reliable. But to do that, designers are limited to what speeds the compressor can work.
Electric motors will spin at either 1,724 or 3,450 RPM. If a direct-drive compressor is designed to operate on the high end, it will be unbearably noisy and have a short lifespan. Low-speed compressors are highly reliable, and they’re also small, portable, and quiet.
Larger pumps are designed to be driven by a belt. This optimizes its operating speed, which allows for longer service life.
Another major consideration with pumps is their lubrication design. Air pumps have a lot of wear and tear, and as previously discussed, some are designed to operate at much higher RPMs than others.
Oilless designs have no lubricating oil. They use Teflon bushing and parts to ensure a minimum amount of wear and tear. Still, this design is less optimal from a service life standpoint. It also results in a noisier compressor. On the plus side, it does produce a smaller and lighter compressor that requires virtually no maintenance.
Industrial air compressors are nearly always belt-driven and oil splash lubricated. This provides for quiet and reliable operation for decades with proper maintenance.
The worst combination is a high-speed direct-drive oilless compressor. This is a bad combination of traits that will result in a short lifespan and loud operation.
Like all machinery, an air compressor is rated for how long it can run. There are very few things that are designed to run continuously for an indefinite amount of time.
Most big-box store air compressors are rated for a 50-percent duty cycle. This means that for every 10 minutes, the compressor should not run for more than five minutes. Operating it for longer will result in excessive heat, which will decrease its life span.
Industrial compressors are made to withstand much harder usage. The typical duty cycle is 75 percent, though there are a few models out there designed to operate 100 percent of the time.
It’s important to realize that air compressors intake everything in the outside air when they operate. That includes humidity in the air. As the compressor heats and then allows the air to cool, water droplets condense on the inside of your air compressor. Water and moisture problems are not uncommon.
One way to prevent moisture issues is to not allow your compressor to get too hot. Having a sufficiently sized compressor that doesn’t increase its operating temperature significantly is the first step in heading-off water problems.
Some compressors have moisture traps. This is a low spot in the plumbing where water will collect and can be drained off.
If your application is very moisture sensitive, like paint spraying, for instance, you’ll have to invest in a system specifically designed to dry the air coming out of your air hoses. Refrigerated air dryers or desiccant dryers are examples.
Air compressors are built for specific service life. Remember, manufacturers know their duty cycle, so it’s not hard to figure out how long it can keep performing this duty cycle. Of course, discount big-box store brands might not like that number, so they might not make it very obvious.
The point is that you should be able to find out. You need to compare apples to apples when shopping, and if you don’t know how long something is designed to last, it’s impossible to figure out its value.
One sure-fire way to keep your compressor working for a long life is to buy an oversized compressor for your needs. If you need a five-horsepower unit but buy a ten-horsepower one instead, the unit will need to run for less time and last you that much longer.
Armed with all of this knowledge about air compressors, it’s still not easy to go out and buy one. There are just so many variables at play, not the least of which is your budget. If we can generalize a few ground rules, here’s what they’d be.
- No one ever complained about buying too large a compressor (but you should consider sizing your air compressor appropriately based on your air tools and use profile)
- Once you start using air tools, you’re likely to keep using air tools and buying more of them. As your desire for new tools increases, so might the demands on your air compressor.
- When in doubt, default to the best quality air compressor you can afford.
- If you’re on the line between sizes, go up one size.
For more detailed guidance on choosing the right size air compressor, see my guide on what size air compressor you need.
Just because you need one of the quietest air compressor models doesn’t mean you have to give up on the power or the features offered. Quiet operation is another sign of quality design and construction, so these quiet air compressors are not only easy on the ears but will also power your tools for years to come.