Shopping for a portable sonic/nugget ice maker?
You’ve come to the right place.
Who Needs a Portable Sonic Ice Maker?
A sonic ice maker is great for people who love to chew ice and enjoy soft drinks, frozen drinks, mixed cocktails, margaritas, sodas, and smoothies .
Chewing regular ice cubes is bad for your teeth because of how hard the ice is, whereas nugget ice is soft, crunchy and easily chewable.
Sonic ice makes the best frozen and iced drinks, too. The soft permeable ice absorbs flavors especially well, which means when you chew the ice you'll taste the drink too.
Sonic / nugget ice makers come in many different sizes and configurations today.
Large under-counter and freestanding nugget ice makers are expensive, often require a permanent water supply and drainage, and probably make more sonic ice than you'll ever use. These are more suited to restaurants and bars.
For home use, a compact portable sonic ice machine is perfect.
Not only is a portable sonic ice maker easier to set up (most don't need plumbing), you can take it with you when you go camping, head to the beach, or attend a friend’s party.
What’s In This Buying Guide?
In this buying guide, we recommend the best portable sonic ice makers sold today.
All of our top picks make enough nugget ice for most families, are reasonably priced, and portable.
If you are looking for something larger that makes enough nugget ice for a bar, restaurant, or an extra large house party, take a look at our reviews of the best commercial nugget ice machines.
Best Portable Sonic Ice Makers
Disclaimer: All links below go to Amazon.com
GE Profile Opal
- Best overall
10.5W x 15.5D x 16.5H in
- Best for big families
11.7W x 17D x 20.8H in
Warranty not specified
hOmeLabs Chill Pill
- Best budget
9.5W x 12.9D x 14H in
- Best self-dispensing
12W x 16D x 17.5H in
- Best with plumbing option
17W x 10D x 17H in
1. Best Overall: GE Profile Opal
The GE Profile Opal is one of the most popular home ice makers.
GE was one of the first ice makers to bring the joys of sonic ice home.
Previously, nugget ice was limited to commercial ice machines.
The GE Opal ice maker makes some of the best nugget ice an ice-cream maker can make - just as good, if not better than the stuff you get at a Sonic Drive-in
Like most portable sonic ice makers, you don't need to plumb a water line into the Opal. It comes with a pre-attached water tank.
You simply fill up the tank then reattach it to the unit then turn it on. You’ll have the first batch of nugget ice ready in just 20 minutes.
The GE Profile Opal makes about a pound of sonic ice in an hour, and can make up to 24lbs in 24 hours.
Ready ice is stored in a pull-out bin. The bin holds up to 3lbs of ice. When it fills up, the machine stops making more ice, and resumes only when the ice melts, or you scoop some out.
The meltwater is recycled to make more ice, meaning you don't need to drain the ice maker.
The GE Profile Opal measures 10.5” wide by 15.5” deep, so it doesn't take much space on a countertop.
Note, however, that it’s fairly heavy at 47lbs. We recommend finding a good spot for it and leaving it there.
One interesting feature of the GE Profile Opal is Bluetooth connectivity. When you link your phone to the ice maker, you can monitor its status and set ice-making schedules.
Issues & Limitations
The GE Profile Opal nugget ice maker is pricey. It’s even more expensive than nugget ice makers that make more ice.
If you are shopping on a budget, check out cheaper recommendations below.
Another issue raised by some customers is the noise it makes when making ice.
The Opal is not super loud, but the constant hum can be annoying. We recommend setting it up as far away from the living room as you can.
The GE Profile Opal is best for: Anyone looking for a reliable nugget ice maker that produces real sonic ice.
Avoid if: You are shopping on a budget.
2. Best for Big Families: FRIGIDAIRE EFIC235-AMZ
With a daily production capacity of 44lbs, the FRIGIDAIRE EFIC235-AMZ is the best portable sonic ice maker for big families.
It’s also a great choice if you are looking for a good bargain on a sonic ice maker. The FRIGIDAIRE EFIC235-AMZ makes more ice than the GE Profile Opal, but costs less.
If you think 24lbs of sonic ice a day is not enough for your family, the FRIGIDAIRE EFIC235-AMZ almost doubles that to 44lbs.
It not only makes more sonic ice, but it also makes it faster - about 1.8lbs per hour.
If you drink lots of iced and frozen beverages at home, or some family members love to chew on nugget ice all day long, the FRIGIDAIRE EFIC235-AMZ ice maker is the perfect choice. It’s also great if you host a lot of home parties.
The easy-to-access bin holds 3lbs of nugget ice. It’s not insulated, so the ice will melt if you don't scoop it out. The meltwater is recycled to make more ice.
If you want a lot of nugget ice on hand, we recommend storing it in ice bags in the freezer.
The ice from the FRIGIDAIRE EFIC235-AMZ is true sonic ice. It’s soft, chewy and crunchy.
Setting it up is easy. You don't need to plumb the machine. Just fill the reservoir with water (preferably filtered or distilled water) and plug it in.
One bonus feature we love is the UV light that keeps the water tank sanitary. You can turn it on or off from the control panel.
The FRIGIDAIRE EFIC235-AMZ is a lot lighter than the GE Opal, making it easier to carry around.
If you want a sonic ice maker for camping, tailgating, and other outdoor activities, the FRIGIDAIRE EFIC235-AMZ is a great choice. It weighs only 19lbs.
Issues & Limitations
The FRIGIDAIRE EFIC235-AMZ is probably half the weight of the Opal for a reason. Build quality is not quite on the level of the GE unit.
A few customers have complained that the unit leaks on the countertop (some recommend tilting the unit back slightly), it’s loud, and even the UV light seems to fail within days.
We are not sure the FRIGIDAIRE EFIC235-AMZ will last for more than a couple of years. If you want reliability and longevity, we would suggest you go with the GE Profile Opal instead.
The FRIGIDAIRE EFIC235-AMZ is best for: Large families looking for a high-capacity but affordable sonic ice maker.
Avoid if: You want an ice maker that’s guaranteed to last a long time without any major issues.
3. Best Budget: hOmeLabs Chill Pill
If you are looking for a sonic ice maker that costs less than $200, we recommend the hOmeLabs Chill Pill countertop ice maker.
It makes chewable bullet ice cubes. They are not as soft and crunchy as true sonic ice, but are soft enough for most people to chew.
If you want to stay in the sub $200 price range, there are some sacrifices you’ll need to make.
The biggest one is the type of ice you are going to get. Ice machines that produce true sonic ice cost $300 and above. Under $200, your best option is a traditional bullet ice maker.
The hOmeLabs Chill Pill makes pill or bullet-shaped ice that’s not quite as crunchy and soft as sonic ice.
But it’s not as hard as clear ice cubes or the ice you get from your freezer. It’s still soft enough to chew without hurting your teeth.
It’s the best compromise when you are on a budget. One upside is that the ice melts slower in drinks compared to sonic ice.
The hOmeLabs Chill Pill can make up to 26lbs of ice a day. That’s about 1lb an hour. The bin holds only 1.5lbs of ice.
This is a fully self-contained ice maker; you do not need to plumb or drain it. It has an integrated reservoir that holds water, and any meltwater from the bin is recycled to make more ice.
Another great advantage of the hOmeLabs Chill Pill over sonic ice makers is that it’s smaller and lighter, making it great for small kitchens and outdoor adventures.
Issues & Limitations
The biggest limitation of the hOmeLabs Chill Pill is that it doesn't make true sonic ice.
If you want the exact same ice as that from a Sonic Drive-in, you have to spend more money on one of our other picks.
Another issue is the small bin. It holds just 1.5lbs of ice. But you can go around this by storing extra ice in the freezer.
The hOmeLabs Chill Pill is best for: Anyone looking for a budget ice maker that makes chewable ice. If you don't mind that it’s not true sonic ice, the hOmeLabs ice maker is a great choice.
Avoid if: You want a true sonic ice maker.
4. Best Self-dispensing: KBice Self Dispensing Ice Maker
If you prefer a self-dispensing nugget ice maker instead of everyone scooping ice out of a bin, we recommend the KBice Self Dispensing countertop nugget ice maker.
It comes with a chute through which nugget ice is conveniently and hygienically dispensed.
Scooping ice out of a bin can be unhygienic, especially if your kids scoop their own ice.
The KBice Self Dispensing nugget ice maker ensures no one comes into contact with the ice.
Once the ice is ready, which takes about 30 minutes, you press the dispense button, and sonic ice comes out of the chute. Because the ice nuggets are small, the chute rarely jams.
The KBice nugget ice maker is fully self-contained. You do not need to plumb it to a water line.
Instead, you add water to an integrated water tank. The control panel will warn you when the water level is low.
TheKBice ice maker can crank out up to 30lbs of nugget ice in a day, making it a good choice for large families.
You can leave the ice in the bin, and dispense it as you need it. Note, however, that the bin is not insulated, so the ice will melt if you leave it there.
Meltwater goes back into the water reservoir and is recycled to make more ice.
Issues & Limitations
The ice bin is small and holds only 1lb of ice. This can be a problem if you use a lot of nugget ice.
Once you dispense everything in the bin, you have to wait half an hour for more ice.
The best way around this is to store nugget ice in the freezer so you can free up the KBice ice maker to make more ice.
Similar to other nugget ice makers, the KBice ice machine is fairly noisy. Try to set it up as far away from the living room as you can.
The KBice self-dispensing nugget ice maker is best for: Anyone looking for a self-dispensing nugget ice machine that makes enough ice for a big family.
Avoid if: You want a sonic ice maker that holds a lot of ice. KBice holds just 1lbs of nugget ice at a time.
Manual fill ice makers are great because of the ease of setup and portability. However, it can be tedious to keep filling up the tank.
If you want the option of plumbing a portable nugget ice maker, we recommend the RaySonics countertop nugget ice machine.
It’s the only one among our picks with a water inlet that you can hook up to a tap or a filter.
To be clear, you can use the RaySonics ice maker without connecting it to a waterline.
It has a water reservoir like other portable ice makers. Just fill it up and start making ice.
But if you don't want to keep refilling the ice maker, you have the option of hooking it up to a continuous water supply that keeps the reservoir full.
You can connect it to your kitchen faucet, or run a line from your under-the-sink reverse osmosis system to supply the ice maker with purified water.
The RaySonics ice maker makes 26lbs of nugget ice a day. And it's true sonic ice - the soft and crunchy kind you get a Sonic Drive-in.
The ice bin holds up to 3.3lbs of nugget ice, plenty enough for a whole family. Any meltwater from the bin goes back to the tank for recycling.
Issues & Limitations
While the RaySonics nugget ice maker is quieter than many other units, the compressor and fan still make quite a bit of noise. It’s a constant humming sound that some people may find disruptive.
The RaySonics nugget ice maker is best for: Anyone looking for a portable nugget ice maker that can be connected to a waterline for hands-free ice making.
Avoid if: You find plumbing appliances to be a hassle and don't mind manually refilling an ice maker’s reservoir.
Portable Sonic Ice Maker Buying Guide
What is a Portable Sonic Ice Maker - and How Does It Work?
A sonic ice maker is a type of ice maker that produces Sonic-style ice. This is the soft, crunchy and fun to chew ice you get at Sonic Drive-ins. It’s also called nugget ice.
To achieve the texture and brittleness of sonic ice, nugget ice makers freeze water in layers rather than all at once.
This results in airy and crumbly ice that is easy on your teeth. The airiness is also great for mixed drinks like cocktails and margaritas. It allows the ice to absorb flavors.
A few years ago, only expensive commercial ice machines made sonic ice.
Today, manufacturers make home nugget ice makers that are smaller and cheaper, but produce the same quality of Sonic ice as commercial machines.
You can get an under-counter or freestanding nugget ice maker if you want lots of nugget ice. But these portable sonic ice makers are the best for most families.
They don't need to be hooked up to water, they take up little space on the counter, and you take it with you to the backyard, camping, or tailgating.
Types of Portable Sonic Ice Makers
The two types of sonic ice makers you’ll come across are semi-automatic and fully automatic.
Semi-automatic portable ice makers are the most common. They make nugget ice automatically, and keep the bin full, but you refill the water tank manually.
Fully automatic sonic ice makers also keep the ice bin automatically replenished.
But because they are plumbed in, the internal tank is refilled automatically. As long as there’s water coming in, making ice is completely hands-free.
Why Buy a Portable Sonic Ice Maker Over Other Kinds?
First, let’s address the portability bit.
Portable sonic ice makers make the most sense for home use. They make just enough nugget ice for a family, are affordable, and don't take up tons of space.
But why buy a sonic ice maker, instead of a regular ice maker for half the price?
It depends on the kind of ice you love. Many people are obsessed with sonic ice.
They love how crunchy and chewable it is. You can’t get that normal ice from a regular ice maker.
If you make mixed drinks often, a sonic ice maker is also the best choice.
Sonic ice goes so much better with cocktails and margaritas compared to regular bullet ice or ice cubes.
Of course, you can always get two ice makers; one for nugget ice and another for regular or gourmet ice. Each type of ice has its applications.
What to Look for In a Portable Sonic Ice Maker
Capacity - Production & Storage
The first thing to look for is the production capacity of an ice maker. That’s the amount of ice it can make in 24 hours.
The production capacity tells you whether the ice maker is adequate for your needs.
Portable sonic ice makers range from 24lbs to around 50lbs in capacity. A 24 or 26-pound model is perfect for individuals and small families.
For bigger families or if you hold a lot of home parties, get a unit with a capacity of at least 30lbs.
Next, check how big the ice bin is. The standard storage capacity is 3lbs, which is enough ice for a family before the ice maker can fill the bin again.
If the model you want has a small ice bin, you can still get it but be ready to store nugget ice in the freezer.
Note: The stated production capacity of an ice maker can only be achieved under certain conditions.
Ice makers will work slower if the ambient temperature is too high. So, keep yours in a cool place.
Setup & Installation
What we love most about portable sonic ice makers is that they don't need any setup. You simply put it on your countertop, add water to the tank, and it’s ready to make ice.
The only downside is that you need to refill the water tank regularly.
There are some models that have a plumbing option. You connect a water line to supply water to the machine constantly.
Size & Weight
Make sure you have the countertop space for the particular sonic ice maker you want. If you have a small kitchen, try to find a compact model.
And if you plan to move the ice maker around a lot (e.g., to the patio, camping, and so on), look for one that’s not too heavy.
Quality of Ice
You won’t find much variation in the quality of nugget ice among different sonic ice makers. They all make great sonic ice.
The quality will be lower if you opt for a cheaper ice maker that makes chewable bullet ice. Though the ice may be chewable, it won't be as soft or crunchy as true sonic ice.
Something else all nugget ice makers share is a constant hum that can be annoying to some people.
There’s nothing you can do about that, other than setting up the ice maker further away from the living room.
Look out for models that customers complain have loud squealing or vibrating noises. That’s not normal.
Here are some extra features to look for.
Pros and Cons
Cleaning and Maintenance Tips
The most important thing when it comes to maintaining a portable sonic ice maker is to use the right kind of water.
The biggest enemy of sonic ice makers is hard water. It makes it hard to form nugget ice, and scale build-up compromises the performance of the machine.
Always use bottled, distilled or filtered water with a low hardness level. It will not only get you better quality nugget ice; it’ll also increase the longevity of your nugget ice maker.
It’s also important to regularly clean the ice maker. Most come with a self-cleaning button. Use it as often as the manual recommends.
Also, check if the machine requires special cleaners such as a descaler.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use a portable ice maker outdoors?
We haven’t come across any portable ice maker that’s rated for outdoor use.
If you must use yours outdoors, make sure it is well shaded from the sun, rain, snow, dust and other elements.
Also, note that using an ice maker outside where it’s hotter will severely affect its performance. It’ll take longer to make a batch of ice.
Do you need a water line to use a portable ice maker?
No, you don't. Most portable ice makers have a water reservoir that you manually fill.
But there are some models that offer you the option of connecting a water line to save you the trouble of manually refilling the tank.
How small are portable ice makers?
Most portable ice makers are small enough to fit on the counter. The majority are about a foot wide and around a foot and a half deep. Height ranges from 14 to 20 inches.
Why are nugget ice makers expensive?
Because they use different mechanisms and technology to make soft chewable ice, in other words, sonic ice makers cost more to manufacture, thus are more expensive compared to regular ice makers.
Final Verdict: What Is The Best Portable Sonic Ice Maker?
The GE Profile Opal is easily the best portable sonic ice maker. It’s a bit pricier than other brands, but it makes the best quality nugget ice, has the best build quality, and looks more stylish than any other ice maker.