The word “quiet” is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about air compressors. Quite the opposite actually; air compressors have a reputation as particularly loud pieces of hardware equipment.
However, you don’t have to get an air compressor that is excessively loud. Air compressor technology has only gotten more efficient in the last few decades, resulting in several powerful low-noise air compressors at a reasonable cost.
With that in mind, we put together this comprehensive list of the best quiet air compressors of 2020. Each model featured here has been chosen due to its superior and quiet performance.
California Air Tools is a well-known manufacturer of air-related power tools and has been well-received by the community. The first thing to notice is its portability. The CAT-1P1060S weighs just under 30 lbs, almost half as heavy as most standard air compressors. It only measures 14 inches wide too so it’s simple to store under a shelf out of the way when not in use.
The CAT is very quiet and only puts out 56 decibels. To put that number in perspective, 50 decibels is about the loudness of a casual conversation in your living room. It’s also about as loud as an electrical transformer from 100 feet. 56 decibels is quiet enough to run in the background without disturbing anyone. It only draws out 4.5 amps so you can run it without the worry of tripping breakers.
The CAT is small but mighty. The motor runs an average 0.6 HP with a peak of 1.2 HP and can put out a maximum of 120 psi of air pressure. The engine has been tweaked specifically so it will run at a lower RPM which ultimately makes the machine more efficient. It only takes 50 seconds to completely refill after each use which cuts down the overall amount of time spent working. The pump is oil-free and therefore requires very little maintenance, which means less maintenance cost over its lifetime.
The CAT is best for non-intensive jobs like engraving, hobby painting, or light carpentry. Ultimately though, it’s a powerful enough compressor that can handle the majority of small renovation tasks.
Why we like it
The CAT-1P1060S is a great portable air compressor that is ideal for low-intensity jobs. It has decent horsepower and max PSI, but it is overall limited by its relatively small tank capacity. However, the maintenance-free design greatly lowers its lifetime maintenance costs, giving the CAT a good cost/value ratio in the long term.
The Metabo HPT is an ultra-quiet air compressor that has a good mix of power and portability. The Metabo HPT is very light at just over 25 lbs and has a relatively small profile so it’s easy to store when not in use. The Metabo HPT only produces 59 decibels of sound. As a reference, 60 decibels is the volume of a normal conversation in public or the sound of an air conditioning unit from 100 feet away.
The EC28M has a sturdy roll cage design and is made from a tough industrial-strength steel. The front faceplate has gauges and valves that tell you the current air pressure and allow you to make adjustments on your operation. Rubber suction cup feet on the bottom of the cage give a good grip with little slippage.
The Metabo has a 1-gallon tank capacity. All things considered, that is not very large, but it’s suitable for a portable air compressor. Using a standard framing gun, for instance, you can probably get about 8-10 shots off before it needs a refill cycle. It has a max air output of 125 psi and can deliver 0.8 CFM at 90 PSI.
The Metabo is made with oil-less components so there is little need for maintenance. That also means there will be lower maintenance costs over the tool’s lifetime. The engine has a special overload protection mechanism that will automatically shut the compressor off if it gets too hot. The engine can output 0.5 HP of power and works on any standard 115V single phase outlet.
Why we like it
We rank the Metabo EC28M very highly as far as portable ultra-quiet air compressors go. It is a decent tool for non-intensive jobs like trim, framing, and dust blowing. The 1-gallon tank capacity is not very large but works for what it is designed to do. The stainless steel cage is durable and the suction cup feet do a good job of keeping traction. Overall, we rate the EC28M very highly.
Next on our list is the California Air Tools 2010A. The CAT-2010A has a powerful motor and can put out enough power for some more heavy-duty jobs compared to our last 2 entries. The CAT-2010A manages to be relatively portable too and only weighs around 35 lbs.; much lighter than a standard air compressor.
The CAT-2010A is quiet and produces only 60 decibels of sound at operating conditions. 60 decibels is about the sound of a normal conversation in a room full of people, such as at a restaurant. This means you can run the CAT with minimal sound output and without annoying your neighbors.
Even though it’s quiet, the CAT-2010A is strong. It has a powerful 1.0 HP motor with a 2.0 HP peak, along with a fast 1,680 RPM motor that can deliver 3.10 CFM at 40 PSI and 2.20 CFP at 90 PSI. The tank has an overall capacity of 2 gallons and is coated with an anti-rust compound to lengthen its operating lifespan. The entire engine is oil-free and so requires very little maintenance, which lowers its operating costs over its lifetime.
The CAT-2010A is power efficient too. It has a max power draw of 8.5 amps and can run on any standard 120V household outlet. The engine is equipped with a thermal detector that initiates an auto-shutoff sequence if it overheats. It has a fast refill time too. A single refill takes just under a minute and there is a special air filter that cleans any air drawn into the tank.
Why we like it
The CAT-2010A is another great entry from California Air Tools. It has an extremely powerful motor for a portable air compressor. It has a fast air refill time and a large 2-gallon capacity tank that can maintain 2.20 CFP at 90 psi. The manufacturer also offers a 1-year limited manufacturer warranty.
The 8101 is the third CAT entry on our list and boasts the similar superior performance of the other two. The 8010 is a bit heavier and weighs 48 lbs and has two wheels on the bottom and a handle on the front. The handles and wheels allow for ease of transportation.
Despite its size, the CAT 8010 is very quiet at only 60 decibels. That is about the volume of a normal conversation or the sound of an air conditioning unit from 100 feet away. Overall the CAT 8010 produces 30% less noise than standard air compressors. The engine runs off 1 HP and can reach a max air pressure release of up to 120 PSI.
The CAT 8010 has a massive 8-gallon capacity air tank which takes about 150 seconds to completely refill. It can run using any standard 120V house outlet and has a relatively low amp draw of only 8.5 amps, which means you can run it for a long time before worrying about blowing a circuit or breaker.
Lastly, the CAT-8010 has an extremely durable steel frame. The entire device is very robust and can certainly withstand being jostled around without taking any damage. The engine is also completely oil-free which drastically lowers maintenance costs over the life of the product. This is also a good feature if you plan to move it around a lot. Since the engine needs no maintenance, there is even less worry about damage from movement.
Why we like it
The CAT-8010 is good for both amateurs or professionals who need a solid tool to perform internal medium intensity jobs. It has a great mix of power and portability and can be carried from site to site. It can also be used outdoors without disturbing the neighbors and is strong enough for most household uses. It’s light and simple to utilize without much effort.
Last on our list is the SAC22HPE from Excell, an ultra-portable and ultra-quiet air compressor. This air compressor is meant for light duties, like tire inflation or finishing nailings, and weighs just under 45 lbs. It has a convenient roll cage design and carrying handle so it’s fairly portable.
The Excell is quiet and only puts out 61 decibels. For reference purposes, 60 decibels is about the volume of 2 people talking in normal volume. So the SAC22HPE can be run without causing undue excess noise. In that sense, it’s good for both indoor and outdoor light jobs.
The SAC22HPE has a 2-gallon max capacity tank and can put out up to 125 PSI in pressure. It can deliver 3.0 CFM at 40 PSI and 2.0 CFM at 90 PSI and only takes about a minute to completely refill. Overall, it’s very efficient and designed to work well in all conditions. The Excell features a proprietary cold-weather start mechanism that can start the engine at temperatures as low as 14-degrees F.
The front end of the air compressor features an easy to read faceplate replete with dials and gauges indicating the current air pressure. The bottom of the roll cage has rubber stoppers that do a decent job keeping the device level on multiple types of surfaces.
Why we like it
Overall, the SAC22HPE scores well. It has a good mixture of power and portability that makes it a versatile tool to take from site to site. It is quiet and operates at less than the volume of a normal conversation, so it can be used indoors and outdoors without creating excess noise. It is a good tool for light jobs like filling tires or finishing nails.
Air Compressor Buying Guide
Like any product, there will be a range of air compressors to choose from with different options and features. Before buying, make sure to consider the following features.
Air compressors can range in volume anywhere between 50 and 100 decibels. 50 decibels is about the sound of a quiet conversation at home while 80 decibels is equivalent to a freight train from 15 meters away. 100 decibels is about as loud as a Harley Davidson motorcycle at close range. Decibels work on a logarithmic scale so every 10 decibels is 2 times louder than the10 before. So 60 decibels is 2 times louder than 50 decibels and 70 decibels is 2 times louder than 60 decibels. Sounds louder than 100 decibels can cause damage to the ears.
Most “quiet” air compressors run in the 55-65 range which is perfectly manageable for extended periods of time. Any louder than about 70 decibels is considered a “loud” air compressor. You can further reduce the effective sound of an air compressor by wearing hearing protection like earplugs or headphones. In general, you should look for an air compressor between 55-65 decibels if you’re going for quiet operation.
The tank size is how much air your compressor can hold at once. The tank size ultimately determines how long you can use the compressor tool before it needs to be refilled. Most of the compressors we covered in our list have tanks ranging from 1-4 gallons and most portable air compressors have a tank about 2 gallons large. In general, the larger the tank, the less quiet the tool is. This is because a larger tank requires more power to fill, and more power equals more noise.
The result is that most quiet compressors have a tank 1-2 gallons large. That means that they take less time to exhaust and those smaller compressors may not be as useful for heavy-duty tasks.
HP, PSI, & CFM
HP (“horsepower’) is a measure of the total power output of a motor. A high HP motor produces more power and so more psi. The greater pressure in the tank results in a greater pressurized air stream.
CFM stands for “cubic feet per minute” and is a measure of how much work your compressor can do. The higher the CFM, the higher area the pressurized air covers. So if a compressor is rated at 2.0 CFM at 90 PSI, then it can cover a 2 cubic meter volume with 90 lbs per square inch of pressure. CFM also shares an inverse relationship with PSI. As psi drops, CFM increases. The best compressors can maintain both a high PSI and CFM, despite the inherent trade-off between the two.
The CFM of your compressor is sensitive to many things aside from PSI and HP, including the valve setup, the tightness of connector hoses, current temperature, and the current integrity of the power supply. CFM will also decrease depending on how much air is left in the tank.
In general, more CFM is better. The more CFM your compressor can deliver the larger jobs it can handle. More CFM means more power which inevitably produces more noise, though. Specific air-powered tools like nails guns may also require an exact psi and CFM set up. So you need to consider what tool you want to power and make sure the compressor can operate at those levels.
Most air compressors are electric. Electric models usually require less maintenance and are more convenient as they can be used in places with any electrical supply. Most compressors built for home use run on a standard 120V house outlet, though larger models may require more power than your home’s standard grid can supply. Make sure you know the exact voltage requirements for the motor or else there is the risk of equipment damage.
If you decide to go electric, then you also need to make sure the compressor’s amp draw is not too high for your electrical supply. A high HP electric air compressor draws a lot of power, which can trip an incorrectly sized breaker. Most electrical grids in modern homes can handle a max current between 15-20 amp before tripping a breaker.
Oil is a great substance that has a lot of manufacturing uses. The problem is that oil can corrode engine components if not cleaned regularly. The benefit of oil-free air compressors is that there is no need to replace any oil, which makes the tool last longer overall. Strictly speaking, most “oil-free” compressors actually have some oil; it’s just sealed away in a special container. Most components in compressors are made from slick Teflon too so they don’t require that much lubrication in the first place.
Pumps which require oil changes can last a very long time if they are kept in good condition. Oil-free designs might not last as long overall, but factoring in the reduced maintenance cost, they usually have a better cost/value ratio.
Conclusions: Our Top Pick
Our top pick from our list is the CAT-1P1060S in virtue of its overall performance and noise level. The CAT-1P1060S has a great mixture of power and versatility and is best-suited for non-intensive jobs in the home or outdoors. It’s very light, easy to use, and has an oil-free design which greatly reduces its lifetime maintenance costs.
When it comes to air compressors, you can get something that operates quietly. There are several quiet air compressors you can buy that are no more intrusive than small background noise.
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