Sound Masking - what is it and how does it work

Sound masking is the inclusion of generated sound (commonly, though inaccurately, referred to as “white noise” or “pink noise”) into an environment to mask unwanted sound (noise). It relies on auditory masking. Sound masking is not a form of active noise control (noise cancellation technique); however, it can reduce or eliminate the perception of sound.

Sound masking is applied to an entire area to improve acoustical satisfaction, thus improving the acoustical privacy of the space. This can help an individual focus and thereby enhance productivity.

The noises you try not to hear are always the loudest, and private conversations are often not as private as you think. You can’t cancel out distracting noises and voices in the workspace, but you can drown them out under a smooth, soothing ambient sound layer.

Sound masking systems can be used to reduce the perception of unwanted intruding noise (thereby reducing annoyance, frustration, distraction etc). However we do find that there is a fundamental difference between perception of speech privacy and actual speech privacy. In the open plan office, for example, you will never achieve speech privacy – its impossible – but you can achieve the perception of speech privacy. Conversely, in meeting rooms and enclosed spaces you can achieve speech privacy and, in most cases, people expect speech privacy – that’s why these enclosed spaces exist. In both cases, sound masking can play a part in assisitng to creating an acoustically effective and comfortable environment.

Open-plan offices

Open offices can be too quiet (where someone dropping a pen in the next cubicle is distracting) – such examples being of an office occupied by accountants working behind computer screens crunching numbers and making no noise, except for the tapping of the computer keyboard. In this situation, silence is deafening and no-one speaks, interacts or relaxes for fear of being heard the other side of the floor plate. 

Sound masking has proven to be an effective solution here – the introduction of an ambient sound level enables the workforce to ‘loosen’ up, and engage in collaboration due to the ambient noise level covering the human sounds.

Or, more commonly, the open office can be too noisy with multiple conversations and the effects of colleague collaborations, making it very challenging to concentrate. In these situations, sound masking benefits because the added sound covers existing sounds in the area – making workers less distracted and more productive.

Private offices and enclosed spaces

Private offices and other enclosed spaces can all too often appear to provide privacy but do not. Many times, walls are lightweight and do not extend to the ceiling deck, but only to the ceiling tile, therefore creating sound flanking paths that allow noise to transmit to the adjacent room/space.

Sound can also leave the room via door junctions, and other potential joints in walls, can travel along corridors and re-enter other adjacent rooms. In these instances, introducing sound masking into adjacent private offices, or in areas outside of private offices, will ensure that confidential conversations remain confidential as travelling sound is covered.

To learn more about our “Humm” Sound Masking system, click here.

To book a sound masking demonstration in our London showroom, please contact us here