In this Guide
As anybody who’s ever used air tools can attest, they’re a surefire way to save time and effort on pretty much any project. Air tools are fast, powerful, and extremely reliable. However, they have one major downside: they’re loud. That noise comes partially from the air tools themselves, but the biggest problem is the background racket that comes from running an air compressor.
Whether you’re working in your home workshop and trying to be considerate of family members, or on a busy worksite where communication is key to safety, a quiet portable air compressor can be a real lifesaver. They’re safer, they’re considerate of others, and they protect you from ear damage. Most of all, they’re simply more enjoyable to use.
A great quiet unit cycles efficiently, with a noise-reducing design which allows you to talk easily over the motor without having to shout or wear ear protection.
However, we also know that many portable units are marketed as “quiet” or “low-noise”, but are quite the opposite when you actually run them. Likewise, many models which do have low noise also have low power-limiting your work and defeating the purpose of using air tools.
We created this dedicated guide to helping you get hooked up with the best quiet portable air compressors on the market right now. We’ve compared dozens of models, taking a hard look at all the important specs and features which make a great quiet unit.
In this guide, you’ll find our own comprehensive reviews of three great low-noise options. We’ll talk through all their key features, and show you why we think they’re better than the competition. Then, we’ll help you figure out which one is the right choice for you and your work!
Let’s jump right in with a glance at our Top Three:
- Our Rating: 4.7
- Popularity: Medium
Best on a Budget
- Our Rating: 4.8
- Popularity: Low
- Our Rating: 4.7
- Popularity: Very High
Quietest Air Compressor Reviews 2018
1. California Air Tools
This California Air Tools machine offers extremely quiet, portable performance for casual DIYers and light finish work, whether you’re a carpenter or home craftsman. It’s one of the cheapest ultra-quiet models on the market, but it’s built with heavy-duty components and a smart motor design which means it runs more efficiently and reliably than other inexpensive options.
It really is quiet, too, with a top noise level of 60 decibels. If you’re in the market for a light compressor that runs quietly without running up a big price tag, this is a great choice for you!
This unit pairs a 1 HP motor with a 2 gallon air tank, providing 2.2 CFM at 90 PSI. It’s powerful enough to run brad and finish nailers, as well as pneumatic staplers with ease.
Previous buyers also reported that it cycled quickly enough to supply smaller airbrush tools easily, and could even power a 1/2 impact wrench for light jobs like removing lug nuts. With that said, we wouldn’t recommend this unit for any serious impact wrench tasks. It’s best suited to users who stick primarily to light finishing or trim tools, and maybe smaller framing tools.
It’s ideal for trim and finishing work, especially for lighter woodworking projects like cabinetry and refinishing antiques. Overall, we found that previous buyers used this one mainly for home workshop power, or for light jobs on the go, installing cabinetry or doing small trim or finish jobs around their property and on jobsites. They said the noise level alone made it a great companion for small jobs, and the size and weight were added bonuses for portable applications.
Previous buyers said the most impressive aspect of the California Air Tools unit’s design was the refill time. They said it took just about 15 seconds to go from 80 PSI (when the motor kicks back in) to full pressure, and could keep up with much larger units they’d used before. It takes less than a minute to fill itself up from empty.
That’s partly because it has a much longer duty time than other small, quiet units. Many other cheap models around this price range are only meant to be run at 25-50% duty cycles. The California Air Tools model is designed for a 70% duty cycle. That makes it a much better performer for quicker work with brad nailers or staplers, when you’ve got lots of ground to cover or a deadline approaching fast.
It’s built much better than other cheap units. The air tank is built from aluminum, which is much more rust and corrosion resistant than cast iron tanks–ideal for people who might not always remember to drain the tank after every use. It’s bolted to a rugged metal frame, with a rubber handgrip attached to a roll-bar style handle.
While it doesn’t have a rugged enclosure or full roll-bar frame, the parts it does include are all built well, with clean welds and solid quality control. Previous buyers said it was very refreshing compared to other units at this price.
This one runs at a maximum noise level of 60 decibels, which is extremely quiet. Other comparably-sized machines run up to 90 decibels, nearly 5X as loud! The quiet function is due to a low RPM motor, which runs at just 1680 RPM.
Reviewers were extremely pleased with how quiet the unit was in practice. They said they could easily hold a normal conversation over the motor, and enjoyed being able to listen to the radio in their shop without having to crank the volume.
Aside from noise reduction, one added benefit of the low RPM motor is durability. Slower motor speeds lead to less wear and tear on the internal components. And thanks to the smart 2-cylinder design, you’re not sacrificing too much power for the improved durability and noise reduction.
According to the manufacturer, the low RPM and unique piston design allow these units to run as much as 6X longer compared to the working lives of some cheaper models. It’s oil-free for lower maintenance, and it has thermal overload protection built in.
It’s extremely portable. This unit weighs just 35 pounds, and is less than 1.5 cubic feet in size. Previous buyers said it was very convenient to transport to worksites, and barely took up any space in their home shops.
It’s covered by a 1-year warranty.
This is a very light air compressor. While it’s perfectly suitable for light trim and framing tools, we don’t recommend it for impact wrenches, or any kind of continuous supply tool like grinders or sanders. It’s also not powerful enough to power two framing-grade tools at once. It’s best for a home DIYer or finish carpenter who needs only a very lightweight unit for brad or framing nailers, staplers, and other small tools.
One of the reasons we prefer hot dog compressor designs like this one is that they’re self-contained, and have rugged roll-bar frames which protect the key compressor components. This unit has a sturdy metal frame, but there isn’t any roll-bar protection. It’s going to need to be packed carefully in your vehicle if you’re using it on the go, since the gauges, controls, and other components are exposed and vulnerable to knocks.
It’s not quite industrial quality. This is a much better-built unit than other budget models we’ve seen on the market, but it’s probably not a good choice for everyday use on jobsites.
This Makita easily takes the top power slot in our quiet category. It’s not the quietest model here, but it’s much quieter than the competition, especially pancake units.
Plus, it certainly provides a lot of oomph for its volume level. This is one of the most powerful machines you can get that still runs safely under the 80 decibel threshold.
We think it’s a great choice for people who need a quiet air compressor for daily job site use, or for working with a partner on the same machine. If you’re looking for the most powerful machine in the quiet department, this is the one!
It’s 1/3 more powerful than the California Air Tools. Its motor is twice as powerful as the California Air Tools, at 2 HP, and it has a slightly larger air tank at 2.6 gallons. The Makita cranks out 3.3 CFM at 90 PSI, which makes it even better than the California Air tools at powering your trim and finish tools, as well as small impact wrenches.
It’s also the only machine here that we’d really recommend for two people to work from at once. The Makita can easily handle two trim tools running at the same time. It can also tackle framing tools much more easily than the California Air Tools.
The motor cylinders have a larger bore design which allows them to work more quickly. That means a faster recovery, more efficient duty cycles, and reduced noise. Previous buyers had no complaints about the recovery time, and they said that the motor easily kept up with all their light-class tools.
It’s much heavier-duty than the California Air Tools. The Makita’s cylinders and other motor components are cast iron, which is much heavier than the aluminum and steel used in the California Air Tools model. These parts are built for daily worksite use, for years of working life. Previous buyers said the level of quality was apparent in all aspects of the build.
We’ve found that this Makita unit is one of the most popular models on the market among contractors and light commercial operators. They said it’s an excellent roofing companion, and a general power source for remodeling jobs.
Overall, users said it was one of the quietest (if not THE quietest) units they’d ever used. Full-time woodworkers said that if you don’t use any larger tools, this unit would be more than satisfactory. It’s our top quiet recommendation to full-time craft/tradespersons.
It’s oil lubricated for a longer working life and quieter operation. Oil-lubricated motors run cooler, which helps the parts last longer and stay resistant to wear and tear. They also have the added benefit of reducing noise.
While all oil-lubricated machines have a more involved maintenance routine than oil-less models, we appreciate that Makita have taken several steps to make dealing with the oil less of a chore for you. There’s an easy to see sight glass gauge for reading the oil level in the machine, and a simple oil drain valve for you to change out your oil periodically. This one also ships with high-end synthetic oil to get you started.
Like our other quiet recommendations, it has a low-RPM motor for better noise reduction. Previous buyers said that it was one of the quietest units they’d ever used. They appreciated being able to use it indoors without ear plugs, and outdoors while holding a conversation at close to normal volume.
It has a jumbo, auto-style air filter which allows it to work more quickly with even more protection from dust and debris.
It has a ball-valve drain for emptying water out of the air tank. These valves are much more convenient to use than the drain-cock style that’s on the California Air Tools model. They don’t require any tools, and they tend to last much longer without any sticking or wear.
It’s covered by a 1-year warranty, and it has a good reputation for reliability–especially the most recent version of this model.
Even though this is on the quieter side compared to the competition, it’s still the loudest of our recommendations in this guide. The Makita puts out nearly 80 decibels at its top working rate. That’s 10+ decibels lower than comparable pancake compressors and even some hot dog models, but it’s still at the point where we’d start to recommend ear protection.
It’s heavy, at 52 pounds. The Makita’s extra weight comes from the cast iron internals, as well as the larger motor design. That’s a trade-off we’ll make to end up with an industrial-quality build, but the added weight makes this one a bit less convenient to use than the California Air Tools model. Some previous buyers recommended using it with a rolling base or cart.
Like the California Air Tools model, the Makita has a tough metal frame, but no roll-bar protection. Some external parts (like the output valve) are exposed, so you’ll need to be careful loading this into truck beds or using it around a busy worksite.
This Rolair model is an easy winner for our top quality pick. It’s more powerful than the California Air Tools, but it’s just as quiet. Plus, it’s the best of the three in terms of rugged build quality and protection for the compressor components.
The Rolair has an all-around roll-bar cage which makes it easy to transport, easy to store, and a cinch to carry. It’s our top quality recommendation to anyone who will be using their portable air compressor primarily indoors, or people who simply want the quietest portable solution for light jobs.
It’s just as quiet as the California Air Tools. The Rolair has a top working noise level of just 60-decibels. That’s the commonly accepted threshold for normal conversation, and users said they could easily talk over the Rolair without raising their voice. This one earns our top slot in the quiet department because it maintains an incredibly low decibel rating with a higher power rating than the California Air Tools model.
The very impressive noise level comes from a few smart design features. First, the Rolair uses a low-RPM motor, like our other recommendations. This one runs at 1720 RPM. As with the other models here, that means better durability as well as reduced noise.
Second, this is the only model here with an integrated muffler in the air grilles. That feature cuts down on noise a lot, and previous buyers said it was one of the best design touches they’d seen in a small portable unit. Finally, there are rubber insulator pieces between the compressor and the frame, and on the ends of all the feet.
It’s right in the middle of our recommendations, as far as power is concerned. This unit produces 2.35 CFM at the standard 90 PSI. That’s enough for all your finishing and framing tools.
Plus, the JC10’s larger air tank and fast cycle time means it keeps up with fast nailing and small airbrush or sander tools much better than the California Air Tools model. Previous buyers said it could keep up pretty easily with two trim guns, or one framing tool.
This is an excellent choice for DIYers, home woodworkers, and tradespeople who value having a small portable unit that’s a pleasure to use!
It’s as rugged as the Makita. The cylinder is made from cast aluminum for a lightweight but industrial-quality strength. Aluminum is also rust and corrosion resistant, so this one stands up to internal water much better than cast iron compressor tanks.
Of course, the most important feature where durability is concerned is the roll-bar frame. Unlike the Makita or California air tools options, the Rolair’s important components are enclosed and protected by the cage.
A key downside to both the California Air Tools and the Makita models is the fact that they don’t have roll cages around their frame. That means they’re very susceptible to bumps and breakages.
The Rolair has a tubular steel cage around its body, and the roll bars shield all the internal components from damage. That makes it a better choice for throwing in a truck bed, or other environment where other equipment or materials might end up on top of the compressor.
The squared off design also makes the Rolair extremely convenient. Unlike our other recommendations, it’s a neat box which fits easily on shelves, in corners, and on vehicle seats as well as truck beds.
If you transport tools and equipment regularly, or have a smaller workshop where you have to constantly take tools in and out of storage, It has grippy rubber feet which help it stay in place. They also cut down on vibrations and noise!
It’s oil-less, and still manages to be quieter than most oiled motors. Previous buyers had nothing but praise for the Rolair’s motor, saying that it was a purr compared to the racket their old compressors made.
It has an excellent reputation for reliability. All Rolair tools have a solid track record for performing day in and day out over years of service. The JC10 is no exception! Many previous buyers said theirs were still going strong after a few years.
It weighs in neatly between the California Air Tools and the Makita. The Rolair weighs about 40 pounds. It weighs enough to be sturdy, without making it bulky or inconvenient.
Rolair have taken a no-frills approach to the design. Instead of feeling like there was something missing, previous buyers said they appreciated the fact that all the features were well-built and well-designed. They liked that Rolair had cut costs by ditching frills, rather than skimping on quality parts.
While this one isn’t the best choice for all-day, constant use, we found that it was a very popular choice among professional woodworkers, handymen, and home DIYers alike. It’s professional quality, even if it’s not quite industrial scale. We think it’s a better choice than the Makita for professionals who work primarily in indoor settings.
It’s definitely the best choice for home DIYers, since it’s quiet enough for you to work around the house without irritating neighbors or family members. Previous buyers really appreciated how quietly this one runs–especially in garage shops or basement workspaces.
Previous buyers said that they were overwhelmingly pleased with the build quality and function of this model compared to some of the bigger (and cheaper) brands on the market. They said the JC10 was quieter, simpler, more reliable, and quite simply more enjoyable to use. It has a ball valve drain for added convenience and longevity. There’s also thermal overload protection built in.
While all the motor parts are fairly well protected, the muffler does protrude somewhat from the frame. That means you’ll want to be careful to make sure it doesn’t get damaged while you’re transporting the JC10.
It’s expensive for its power class. We think the the JC10 is overwhelmingly the best-designed and best-made compressor here. However, you’re paying a premium price for those conveniences and noise-reduction features.
Some people might be put off by the high price tag for something that’s not as powerful as comparably priced compressors from other models. However, we’ve found that truly low-noise compressors usually carry a 25-50% markup over noisy machines in the same power class.
It’s not especially powerful. The Rolair can easily handle trim and framing tasks, but like the rest of our quiet recommendations, it’s not brawny enough to power grinders, blasters, or larger-power tools like impact wrenches.
This isn’t meant for all-day use, or continuous duty cycles. We think the Rolair is a more convenient, enjoyable tool for busy DIYers and working professionals than the Makita.
However, it’s built a bit lighter, which makes it less suitable for all-day, everyday applications. It makes a great secondary unit for a working professional, or a primary unit for tradespeople who only work with air tools part of the day.
Which is the Best Ultra Quiet Air Compressor for You?
The California Air Tools model is the best choice for people looking for quiet, lightweight performance on a budget. It’s the cheapest model here, and its low price point means you don’t have to settle for a racket to save money. We think it’s powerful enough to handle all your trim tools, as well as framing implements, as long as you’re not moving quickly.
However, it’s not powerful enough to power two people working in tandem, and it can’t put out quite as high a CFM as our other recommendations. California Air Tools also lack the long term track record for reliability that better known brands like Makita and Rolair have acquired over time.
The Makita is our top choice for working professionals who need something quiet for daily job site tasks. It’s built the heaviest of the three, with cast iron motor components and an oil-lubricated design that can handle commercial use.
Plus, it’s the most powerful unit here, by about 1/3. It’s the best choice for people who are nailing quickly on the clock, or people working in pairs. On the downside, it’s about 4X as loud as our other recommendations, so it’s not quite as pleasant to use inside or in a home workshop. This one’s also the heaviest machine here, so you’ll need some strength to carry it around.
The Rolair is the clear choice for our top quality pick, whether you’re a home DIYer or professional handyman. There are several reasons we’re loving this machine more than the rest of the pack.
First, it’s the quietest unit in its power class. This one has the noise level of the California Air Tools unit, with a power grade and refill rate closer to the Makita. Second, it’s the best to travel with or store, since it has a rugged roll cage with squared corners.
Finally, it has the best reputation for reliability of the three machines we’ve looked at in this good. This is a machine you can use for years with no issues. However, even the best of our recommendations can’t power larger air tools or tools which need a continuous air supply, like grinders or sanders.
How to Choose the Quietest Air Compressor
Decide on your budget:
“Quiet” air compressors don’t have their own special price range–they follow the same sort of pricing scale as any other portable units. However, quiet units do tend to cost proportionally more than a loud model of the same price class.
You can generally expect to pay 25-50% more for a portable unit with noise reduction features, as opposed to a loud unit with the same power capabilities. In general, though, the same rules hold true for quiet compressors as other units: you’ll pay more for higher power ratings, larger air tanks, and faster motors. You’ll pay more for heavier build quality, and smarter noise reduction features which make your machine more of a pleasure to use.
There are quiet versions of air compressors of any power class, but we generally classify “quiet” as meaning a noise level under 80 decibels. Using that benchmark, you’ll be looking primarily at machines that fit in the compact department and produce from 0.5-5 CFM.
These machines can cost anywhere from $50-$500. We recommend spending at least $100 for a new machine, to make sure you’re getting something reasonably well-made, from a reputable tool company.
If you only use your compressor occasionally, or are buying a secondary unit for light jobs, you can probably get away with spending from $100-$250. If you’re going to be using a quiet portable unit as your primary compressor, or are someone who will use your unit on a daily basis, you should probably spend between $250-$500 for something more heavy-duty and reliable.
Avoid pancake compressors like the plague:
Most portable air compressors fall into either the pancake or hot dog design categories. Pancake compressors have short, wide, and squat air tanks which are circular. The motor sits right on top of the tank, in the center. Hot dog compressors have long, narrow horizontal tanks enclosed in a square or rectangular frame. The motor and compressor components are usually enclosed in the housing along with the tank.
These two common styles each have their pros and cons, but where noise is concerned, hot dog compressors are by far the better choice. Hot dog compressors are regularly a good 10-20 decibels quieter than a pancake unit of the same size. Because the decibel scale is exponential rather than proportional, that works out to a 50% to 75% noise reduction going from a pancake to a hot dog unit.
Hot dog units are also easier to transport and tend to hold up better, because they have tubular metal frames, while pancake units have unstable bases and exposed components that damage more easily. As you’ll shop, you’ll see that hot dog units do cost more per CFM/gallon/HP than pancake units. However, we think the massive noise reduction is well worth the extra investment.
Look for noise reduction features:
As you compare models that are marketed as “quiet” or “low-noise”, you should look for specific design features which reduce noise output from a given compressor.
-Oil lubrication: Oil-lubricated compressor systems tend to be quieter than oil-free machines on the whole. That’s not always the case, but it’s a good rule of thumb to follow, especially when you’re looking at larger portable units.
-Belt drives: Belt-driven compressor systems are also quieter as a rule than direct-drive motors. You won’t find belt drives on the sort of ultra-quiet, compact models we’ve focused on in this guide, but they’re a key feature to look for if you’re trying to get a larger compressor that won’t make too much noise.
-Mufflers: As with any type of motor, compressor motors are always quieter when they’re complemented with muffler systems. Mufflers are more common on higher-end compressors, but they can make a huge difference in noise levels.
-Rubber noise isolation components: One final thing to look for on any compressor is smart rubber placement. Nearly every portable compressor has a certain number of rubber parts, from the handgrips to the control dials.
Look at the decibel rating:
Of course, marketing terms like “noise reduction” and special features only tell you so much about how quiet a compressor actually is. Make sure you find a decibel rating for any model you’re thinking about buying. Air compressors in general range from about 50-100 decibels. We think the 50-80 decibel range counts as “quiet”. We look for the smallest portable units (0.5-2.5 CFM) to make about 50-60 decibels of noise, with more powerful compact units (2.5-5 CFM) getting closer to the 80 decibel threshold.
We’ve used 80 decibels as a benchmark for the top end of the quiet spectrum because it’s the threshold for using ear protection. Under 80 decibels, you can use your compressor without ear protection (although you should also consider other background noise factors, like a radio or the air tools themselves).
As you’re looking at decibel ratings, you should also bear in mind that the decibel scale doesn’t work like normal spec ratings. It’s exponential, rather than proportional. So, going from 70-80 decibels doesn’t mean adding 1/7 the noise level. It actually means you’re doubling the overall noise level! Every 10 decibels comes out to roughly doubling the noise level, so little differences in db ratings can make a huge difference in how enjoyable a machine is for you to use.
Think about where you’ll be using your compressor:
To judge how quiet you actually need your compressor to be, think about where you’ll be using it most of the time. If you’re working in a home garage or basement workshop, you probably need the quietest compressor you can find.
Garages and basements have terrible acoustics, and they tend to amplify or reflect any noise. A little racket can turn into a big headache in a hurry.
You’ll want to minimize the background noise of your compressor’s motor as much as possible. Likewise, folks who are going to be working close to neighbors or in a workshop that’s close to their family’s living quarters should be especially conscious of noise levels, and get something very quiet.
If you’ve got a workshop that’s in a shed, barn, or garage that’s separated from your house and neighbors, noise isolation probably isn’t a huge concern. You’ll want to think about how much noise you can handle comfortably in your shop, without worrying about noise traveling.
Think about whether you like to wear ear protection, and whether or not you like to listen to the radio or be able to hold a conversation over your compressor. If you already wear ear protection, you’ll be fine with anything in the 60-80 decibel range. If you prefer to work without ear protection, listen to the radio, or hold conversations, you’ll want something that produces around 60 decibels.
For outdoor applications, on a worksite, you can get away with something a bit louder, provided you’re not concerned about neighbors. Noise doesn’t echo or amplify as badly outside, so you just need to worry about being close to your compressor, or working close to someone else’s home or business.
Know your power needs:
Last but not least, as with any other air compressor you buy, you should know how much power you need your quiet unit to produce.
Consider whether you’re using this new unit as your primary compressor, or as a low-noise supplement to a larger unit. Think about the size of your air tools and whether they’re continuous use (like grinders or sanders), or firing mechanisms which work in short bursts (like impact wrenches, nail guns, or staplers).
Since we’ve defined “quiet” air compressors as being between 60 and 80 decibels, you’ll probably be choosing from units that range from 0.5 to 5 CFM. We recommend that even DIYers with the lightest tools choose a compressor with at least 2.0 CFM, as a minimum.
If you’re working in tandem with a partner, using light tools, you probably want to get something above 3.0 CFM. If you’re looking for something quiet than can handle impact wrenches and framing nailers, aim for between 4.0 and 5.0 CFM.
Always remember to use the CFM ratings on your tools to figure out your precise requirements. We also recommend rounding up by 50% from your most powerful tool to give yourself a solid safety margin to account for environmental factors and other changes in real-time CFM.
We’ve got an in-depth, step-by-step guide to figuring out your power needs on our homepage. If you’re not 100% sure how to calculate your CFM or PSI requirements, check it out here! We’ll help you find exactly how much power you need to run all your tools easily and conveniently.