Everything You Need to Know About Sound Masking

Posted by / June 16, 2016


Have you ever felt distracted by noise at work? At first, a noisy office may seem like nothing more than a minor annoyance, but over time the disturbance produced by constant unwanted sound borders on rage-inducing. Prolonged noise distraction can be a drain on emotional and physical wellbeing—not to mention performance, productivity, and job satisfaction. 

Sound masking fills an essential role in designing the optimal acoustic environment: covering up unwanted sound. It is an inexpensive and powerful acoustic design solution which solves common sound management challenges in the modern workplace, such as eliminating noise distraction and maintaining speech privacy.

Why should you (or your boss) care about sound masking?

Sound masking is an important tool for businesses of any size and in any industry. Whether you manage a corporate office, practice law or medicine, teach at a university, or manage accounts at an investment bank, sound management is critical to your success.

Why is its importance so universal, you ask?

Simple: everyone wants to increase productivity, reduce performance-draining distractions, and protect workplace privacy. And sound masking does all the above. Sound masking technology dynamically adjusts to the acoustic environment in real time, automagically making your workplace more comfortable and taking all the hassle out of speech privacy and noise control.

As an added bonus, sound masking can actually lower construction costs. Often, confidentiality between offices is achieved by building walls up to the deck above. With sound masking, it’s possible to maintain confidentiality and comfort without constructing higher walls. But the return on investment from sound masking comes only in part from those lower construction costs. Increased comfort, efficiency, and speech privacy are what really make sound masking worthwhile.

Sound Masking: The Basics

ABC.pngThe three pillars (called the ABCs) of noise management include:

  • Absorbing ambient noise using acoustic wall panels, carpeting, ceiling tiles, and other sound-absorbing material.
  • Blocking noise with solid barriers, such as cubicle partitions and walls.
  • Covering up unwanted sounds, such as distracting levels of human speech, through sound masking.

Sound masking is a cost-effective noise reduction solutions, especially for open floor plan office spaces. It increases privacy, boosts performance, and keeps productivity-draining distractions at bay. Every boss wants employees to enjoy their workspace, and sound masking is a proven tool that improves employee comfort levels.

You can also reduce construction costs by focusing more on covering sound with sound masking, as opposed to spending more on absorbing and blocking unwanted sound. Traditionally, you might end up spending an inordinate amount of money on expensive sound-absorbing paneling or noise-blocking partitions. But those static techniques can’t actually cover up unwanted noise. They only redirect and absorb it—often inefficiently. With sound masking, you can deal with problem noise in a way that removes distraction and preserves privacy at a fraction of the cost.

How does sound masking work?

Sound masking uses specially tuned speakers to emit low levels of background noise. This low-level noise interferes the key frequencies that make up human speech. Much in the same way that ambient lighting can make a video display seem less jarring, sound masking makes distracting noise less noticeable and far-away speech unintelligible.

One of the key factors to using a sound masking system is tuning the emitters to the perfect frequency and amplification. Nearly all major sound masking systems allow the user to customize the masking level until the effect is just right without being distracting itself. Some sound masking systems adjust automatically, dynamically adjusting to the noise in a room and creating a new mask level suited to each moment.

One benefit to sound masking is that it is fairly easy to retrofit a system to your existing space. If you go with a direct-field system like the QT Pro from Cambridge Sound Management, this retrofitting process is even easier. Other systems are installed in the ceiling plenum and most have more components than the QT system. Though more time is spent per speaker in plenum systems, there may be fewer speakers to install than in direct-field systems.

Where can sound masking be used?

Public areas are well suited to sound masking. Reception areas, waiting rooms, hallways, and other public places near private offices need sound masking to protect speech privacy. Sound masking can help organizations better comply with privacy regulations like HIPAA and GLBA. Sound masking can also make public areas more comfortable for visitors or customers waiting to meet privately.

Open offices can also greatly benefit from sound masking. Cubicle walls, ceiling tiles, and other acoustic treatments can’t cover up unwanted sound. As more businesses use open office plans, sound masking continues to outperform acoustic treatment alone.

Open offices can often be too loud or too quiet. Distraction and privacy concerns are an issue either way. When an office is too quiet, every little noise is noticeable. When offices are too loud, and there’s little to no acoustic treatment on the ceiling at all, it can be impossible for teams to focus due to distractions. Sound masking brings ambient sound to the perfect level for quiet or loud open-plan offices—without the need for costly and less effective acoustic treatment.

In private offices, sound masking helps render conversations unintelligible to listeners adjacent spaces. Instead of having to soundproof every single room, you can mask unwanted sound dynamically. Sound masking systems are configured with privacy in mind and are designed to emphasize masking the frequencies associated with human speech.

Which sound masking solution is best?

When deciding which sound masking system to choose, hearing is believing. We have a couple favorites at Synergy, of course, but it’s always best to get a demonstration of the sound masking system if you can. That way, you can decide for yourself if sound masking is right for your business.

One of our favorites is the QT Pro system from Cambridge Sound. The QT Pro system is a direct-field sound masking solution. Essentially, this means it more directly targets speakers to the source of unwanted sound. Instead of being installed in the plenum space, the QT emitters are installed at the ceiling level. This puts the sound masking where it needs to be. The system is specially tuned to speech frequencies, uses very little energy, and is easy to install.

Another favorite system of ours is Smart SMS from Soft dB. Soft dB’s system uniquely features adaptive real-time level adjustment. This, coupled with the Smart SMS’s auto tuning system and auto ramp-up function, maximizes sound efficiency and ease of use.

Interested to learn more about sound masking? Give us a call! We’d love to help you decide if sound masking is right for you.


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