I was a rower for 3 years in high school. This ancient human invention helped me develop nice back muscles, shoulders, legs and shed excess fat that was hiding my adolescent six pack from the glances of my wonderful female colleagues. After high school I stopped rowing and I got chubby again, to everyone’s disappointment I’m sure. When I realized the physical regression that occurred I decided to get back to rowing by purchasing my very first indoor rowing machine.
It was a pretty good Nautilus rower. But guess what? It was obnoxiously loud! It was an air rowing machine, meaning it had a large fan flywheel that spins when you pull the handle and creates a bunch of noise as a result. This type of machine is used by Olympic rowers, but it’s definitely not the quiet type. You’ll also find this type of rowers in most commercial gyms, because they don’t care about the noise.
Suffice to say that my neighbors weren’t too happy about my decision to get back in shape. But that was about 14 years ago. While I was living in an apartment complex I made sure that my rower was silent so that I could train at any time, day or night. Now I live in a house so I got an air resistance model again. Why? Because I can! But don’t let my little brag-fest annoy you. I trained on a super quiet magnetic rower for the longest time and I’m about to reveal to you the best ones on the market today.
This article is part of my review series for quiet home gym equipment. I brought to you already the quietest treadmills, ellipticals, under-desk-treadmills and under-desk ellipticals. Despite enjoying all of these options, I find the rowing machine to be the best piece of equipment for a full body cardio workout. You can burn a ton of calories for a short period of time AND build some muscle while you’re at it.
The 4 Resistance Types & Their Noise Implications!
There is a simple way to distinguish between loud and almost completely silent rowing machines. It’s based on the type of resistance that they’re using.
As I mentioned earlier, air resistance is the loudest. It is followed by water resistance. The almost silent rowers use hydraulic pistons or magnetic resistance.
In case of water resistance types the fan flywheel is suspended in a tank of water. When you pull the handle the flywheel moves through the water, which acts as resistance. Because the tank is made of thick plastic, the noise is greatly reduced when compared to air resistance models. But there is still some noise that can be annoying.
The third and fourth resistance types offer a pretty much SILENT experience. I’m talking about hydraulic piston and magnetic resistance rowing machines.
Hydraulic piston rowers create resistance by compressing oil located in a small valve. By adjusting a resistance knob you can make the valve bigger or smaller. The smaller you make it, the more resistance there’ll be. Unfortunately these machines have several issues, the most common one being oil leaks. Also, they’re designed to be used for only about 20 minutes per day. They lose some of their resistance after 5-10 minutes as the hydraulic pistons warm up. So I don’t really recommend them, unless you can get a really good deal and you are fine with using it for only 20 minutes a day.
But if you don’t want to limit yourself in such a way, your best option is a magnetic resistance rowing machine. This type of rower has a magnet. The closer that magnet is to the flywheel, the more resistance there is. These are completely silent and generally better built than hydraulic piston rowers. There is also no restriction as to how often or for how long you can use them.
While type of resistance is the most important factor of noise with rowing machines, the overall quality of the machine’s build is very important as well. Poor build quality can lead to squeaking and grinding parts after a period of use. Before you know it you’re spending tubes of lubricant and people in the store think you’re a lube addict.
How I Reviewed Them
To find the quietest rowing machines, I tested 20 that are highly popular and also purport to be silent or very quiet. I then decided on 4 that I personally found to be the best in terms of quietness, comfort, workout options, sturdiness and last but not least, the price.
I only tested magnetic resistance rowing machines because they’re the best in terms of quietness, as I explained earlier. Some of them I ordered and tested at home. I tested a few of them in stores. I found 5 machines that I wanted to test in commercial gyms and fitness studios. I politely asked (well, sorta begged) the employees to turn the music down for a few minutes so I could test how loud they are.
This was great because I got to hear if they were squeaking and grinding after they’ve been used for months and two of them for more than three years. Sure, they get lubricated every so often, but still, these are used by many people and often quite carelessly. So if they’re virtually silent after a long period of time it means that they’re top notch!
Some of the rowing machines I saw were seriously over-priced though, without bringing anything special to the table. I made sure to exclude them from this final 4 list as I focused on what’s actually important. So if you choose either one of these four super quiet rowing machines, I’m confident that you’ll be more than happy with your decision.
1. YOSUDA Magnetic Foldable Rower – Best Buy Option
In my opinion this rower hits the sweet spot for a regular user. It’s under $400 at the moment of writing and it’s got everything you could ask for.
It took me 15 minutes to assemble it. The process was simple and it only takes 10 screws to get the job done. It’s moderately sized but it’s foldable and equipped with two wheels which make it easy to move around. These are the dimensions:
- Assembled: 65L x 19.3W x 24.8H in
- Seat dimensions: 9.5L x 11.5W x 2.3H in
- Folded: 28.74L x 19.29W x 51.18H in
- Weight: 58.9 lb
As for the noise, it’s virtually silent and the handle-flywheel mechanism runs smoothly.
There are 8 resistance levels to play around with. I found my sweet spot with level 4. I did about 20 minutes on that level and got quite a sweat going. I felt like the levels are well adjusted. You can feel a noticeable difference moving from one to the other, but it’s not overwhelming. And there’s enough difficulty on those top 4 levels even if you’re in great shape already.
Speaking of shape, it supports 350 lb and 6’6 in height. I’m 5’11 and found the seat comfortable and the slide length adequate. The seat has a bit of cushion, which is definitely a good thing. If you plan on rowing for more than 15 minutes at a a time you’ll appreciate a bit of softness on your bottom.
The other thing I liked was the LCD monitor display. It runs on batteries and it’s straightforward. The important values, namely time, distance and calories are clearly visible. There’s also a tablet holder if you want to watch or listen to something on your device.
Whenever I review any products I also check out the customer reviews on the product page. This rower has almost exclusively 5 stars with glowing reviews.
Granted, I’ve only used it for a bit. I don’t know how durable it is. But judging by the quality of the materials I feel like it can withstand quite a bit of punishment even by a larger person. You can check out this video review as well:
I also recommend that you place it on a rubber mat. If you go really hard on any cardio machine it can move around a bit and this can become a source of noise.
2. Stamina Avari Rower – Best Premium Rower
If you want to train like a pro while being silent as a mouse, this machine will fit you just right. I found this one in a local gym and tested it on the spot.
It’s got 12 workout programs. That includes 6 cardio profiles, 1 manual (you just type in the difficult you want), 4 custom user programs (customized through the workout app based on your fitness goals), and 1 heart rate program. There are audio workouts on the app and iHeartRadio if you prefer to listen to music.
I didn’t try all of the programs available, but those that I did were all on the easy side. I resorted to manually adjusting the difficulty. You can definitely go HARD with this one if you want.
As for the heart rate program, you actually get a heart rate chest strap which you need to put on. It’s definitely a more accurate way to measure heart rate than those measuring handles found on most cardio machines.
To keep track of everything, there’s a fairly large backlit fitness monitor that shows time, count, distance, calories, strokes per minute, pulse and watt. Below it you will find a few buttons for making adjustments.
But none of this, except for the super-duper high resistance levels is so special that it would justify the premium price tag. It’s really the build of this machine that makes it worth spending some extra cash. You can just feel the quality and stability of the steel frame as you row on this one. The one in the gym has been in use for over 2 years and it’s still virtually silent.
The only issue I’ve noticed is that the seat is pretty darn hard. They say it’s “ergonomic”, but I’d definitely prefer some cushioning. Luckily you can get a comfy seat cushion that fits it for about 20 bucks on Amazon.
3. Stamina Conversion II – Best 2-in-1 Recumbent Bike/Rower
I couldn’t pass the opportunity to include this little gem of a machine. If you’re tight on space but want to have an indoor recumbent bike AND a rowing machine, now you can.
The weight of this rower is 102 pounds, which is quite heavy. But it’s easy to move around because it’s got wheels and it’s easy to fold and store. The assembly was simple and took me about 20 minutes. I even received the necessary assembly tools in the package.
Product dimensions: 75.5 x 20 x 27 inches
This is a super quiet magnetic resistance bike/rower that is well put together. It produces ZERO noise. I’ve read quite a comments from other customers and they’ve mentioned the quietness as one of the best things about it. That means no whistling and squeaky parts even after months of training.
It features 8 resistance levels and plenty of extra workout options through its workout app. The LCD monitor is quite big, but nothing special to write about. It shows speed, distance, calories burned, pulse and all the other metrics you can think of.
As far as the downsides are concerned, I must say that the seat is a pain in the buttocks. They say it’s padded but the padding is really thin. You should get an extra cushion otherwise the hard plastic will make you sore after about 20 minutes.
The padded handlebars and the pedals are well designed, but I found the foot plates (where you place your feet while rowing) to be a bit on the small side. The backrest is fairly comfortable. So get a cushion for the seat and you’re all set. Unless you got big feet like me, in which case the foot plates might also cause you some issues.
This machine fits users anywhere between 4’10 and 6’2, while the maximum weight recommendation is 250 pounds. However, it’s only a recommendation. One user mentions having used it at 280 lb and getting to 232 lb without any problems.
The material itself is OK. The alloy steel frame feels tough and durable, but there is some cheap plastic on the surrounding parts. For example, the pedals feel a bit cheap and the foot straps as well. However, you can’t expect everything to be top quality in a 2-in-1 machine that’s around $800.
Overall, if you use it like a normal person, I’m sure that it can last for years and provide you with many productive workout sessions. In any case, the frame comes with a 3 year warranty, and other parts a 90 day warranty. You can check it out in action in this video.
4. Fitness Reality Foldable Rower – Best Low Budget Option
If you don’t plan on using your rower all that much, or you’re not too sure that rowing is a thing for you but you’re an adventurous spirit and are willing to experiment, you might wanna consider this rower. It’s around $200, very easy to assemble and the tools are included!
Product dimensions: 21.5″L x 88.5”W x 21.5″H
It’s dead silent, and offers plenty of resistance, scaled from lvl 1 to 14. I was comfortable with using lvl 10, and I’ve got plenty of rowing experience. So, I feel like I’d get to lvl 14 too fast. I think this machine is better suited for fitness beginners.
It has Bluetooth connectivity and it’s stated that you can use the MyCloudFitness app to get a ton of workout programs and customizable tracking options. It’s also got a decent in-built (but unfortunately not backlit) screen that shows all the various metrics you’d expect from a rowing machine such as distance, calories, strokes per minute etc. Plus, it’s got a tablet holder.
However, it’s like comparing Toyota and Hyundai. On the surface everything looks the same, but the reliability of the thing is what sets them apart. That’s something you notice after a period of use. The build here is obviously not the greatest, despite of the standard alloy steel frame which holds everything up nicely. There is a lot of cheap plastic and I’m willing to bet that things will start to deteriorate quicker than they would on the three before-mentioned machines.
However, I could be wrong. It has more than 7000 ratings on Amazon and plenty of reviews. There are 70% of 5 star reviews, followed by 4 star reviews at 20% and 3 star reviews at 5%. The worst customer review I could find stated that the rower was “average”. Well, duh. It’s a low-priced rower, what’d you expect?
I was quite happy with the performance of the thing in its brand new state. It’s standard sized and the 48” slide rail allows for user heights of 4’9 to 6’4 with a 250lb weight capacity. Pretty decent! Because it’s light weight it’s easy to fold it in half when you’re done.
For some reason I didn’t find the seat uncomfortable despite of very thin cushioning. I’m not sure if it just fits my buttocks perfectly or I was just having a great day in general. I’d still recommend getting a seat cushion to be on the comfy side. Also, make sure to place it on top of a mat because it’s lightweight and you don’t want it moving around as you up the tempo!
Overall, this was the best rower that I tried in the lower price range, from $170 to $250 and I think it’s a good choice for beginners.
So those were my favorite quiet rowing machines. Most of the others that I reviewed claimed to be silent but were either wobbly or I could hear snappy sounds coming from plastic parts when I went hard on them.
So the type of resistance is the #1 factor when it comes to noise. But even a magnetic rower can be noisy if it’s not put together well. These four felt solid so you’ll do good by picking either one.
By the way, I own a pretty loud air resistance rower, more precisely the X-Rower. Since we bought a house I transformed my basement into a home gym so I don’t have to worry about being obnoxiously loud.
Overall, I think the air resistance provides a more authentic feeling than any other. But magnets get the job done just as effectively, and if you have easily triggered neighbors, children or an insomnia ridden spouse to worry about you got some great options to choose from.