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Sound Management, Unmasked

Sound Management, Unmasked

When designing a space, all aspects need to be considered to ensure a comfortable, pleasing environment. This includes features such as lighting, temperature, and especially, noise. By eliminating noise distractions and increasing comfort, sound masking has been proven to increase worker productivity in open office environments. In addition, it creates privacy of enclosed meeting and office spaces from common areas, rendering speech unintelligible. This makes it a desirable solution for doctors’ offices, law offices, financial institutions, hotel lobbies and more.

Sound Masking Covers Noise

Architects employ a variety of elements to address noise control and speech privacy. Referred to as the ABC’s of acoustic design, solutions may either absorb, block, or cover sound and may involve one method or combination of methods. Designed to cover noise, sound masking systems check the “C” box. 

Unlike acoustic treatments which absorb noise, sound masking is the addition of sound. Created by digital generators, it is an ambient sound that’s engineered to the frequency of speech, targeting conversational noise and making it less distracting. Sound masking does not “cancel out” sound or eliminate all speech noise; it simply reduces the reach and clarity of a conversation. 

Sound Masking: It’s Not White Noise

Sound masking is often referred to as “white noise” but its frequency varies significantly. Unlike white noise’s displeasing static, sound masking is specifically engineered to match the pleasant frequency range of human speech. With proper design and implementation, sound masking will fade into the background “hum” of a workplace while simultaneously making speech not only more difficult to hear but to understand.

How and When to Effectively Implement Sound Masking

Implementation of a sound masking system will be far more successful if activated when workers are not present. It’s just human nature to hear something when it’s first turned on (think of the HVAC) and be acutely aware of its presence. If instead they enter the environment post-activation, they will be less likely to notice it, if at all. For day-to-day operations, systems can be either controlled automatically, set to activate and deactivate based on staff scheduling, or be controlled manually.

Automated Sound Levels

For environments with widely varying noise levels, “active volume control” can be added to the system. Emitters (special microphones) would be installed to measure the conversational speech levels and adjust the system’s output as the noise levels rise and fall. Occupants would be unaware of the variance. Manual volume control is not recommended as it defeats the transparent operation of the system. 

Acoustics treatments are another solution for noise control providing sound absorption or barriers, lessening overall noise levels and reducing reverberation caused by hard surfaces. This “A” method creates a more comfortable environment but allows speech to become more intelligible. Again, a holistic approach may accomplish your goals for both comfort and speech privacy.

Whether striving for HIPPA compliance or just wanting a comfortable, productive environment for your workers, Automation Design + Entertainment can provide a consultation and make recommendations to help you achieve your goals

Additional Resources:

Good Acoustics Are Crucial, commercial Architecture