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How Sound Masking Works


How to Achieve Speech Privacy

Like light, sound is a wave and spreads out in all directions from a source. Hard surfaces reflect it, walls block it, and soft surfaces absorb it. Other sounds can cover it up. But unimpeded, sound can travel pretty far.

Ever hear the saying, “it’s so quiet you could hear a pin drop?” The reason you can “hear a pin drop” over distances is because there’s nothing to cover or otherwise impede the sound from being detected by your ears.

Start with the ABC's

Absorb, Block, and Cover – “The ABC’s” – represent the three ways you can improve your acoustic environment and achieve necessary privacy levels. Absorption of sound waves by using a high-NRC-rated ceiling tile or acoustic wall panels,
 Blocking by using high-STC-rated panels, partitions, walls, windows, etc.
 Covering by adding a source of unstructured [i.e., not music, which is information and therefore distracting], low-level background sound, known as sound masking or white noise. Most office environments will require some combination of these three tools to provide an acoustically pleasing atmosphere. In most cases, no one tool by itself will solve your privacy needs. While Covering provides the greatest increase in privacy per dollar invested, it must be used in conjunction with the proper mixture of Absorption and Blocking components in order to achieve specific speech privacy levels.

What is Sound Masking? 

Sound Masking is the addition of an unstructured sound to an environment that fills in the sound spectrum and makes the structured sound of human speech less intelligible. Usually it’s an unintrusive sound like airflow, similar to a typical modern HVAC system.


Common Misunderstandings

Sound masking is often misunderstood.  Two very common misunderstandings are that sound masking is the same thing as noise cancellation.  This isn’t true.  Another common misunderstanding is that you put the sound masking where the offending sound is coming from.  This also isn’t true.

The ROI of Sound Masking


It’s no secret that distracted workers cost your business money. It’s a subtle leak that virtually every business has, and it cost businesses like yours an estimated $587 billion, according to studies by BASEX. On the other hand, by making simple and inexpensive improvements to your offices’ acoustics, you can realize dramatic productivity increases using the workers you’ve already got.


How Much Will Privacy Cost?


There are a number of ingredients to help you achieve your privacy goals, and each “privacy recipe” should be tailored to your environment and budget.  Whether you’re treating a small office or an entire facility, one thing is clear: it’s a small investment for the very real and measurable ROI gains you’ll realize!

In an ideal world where cost was not a factor, you’d employ elements of all three of the ABCs and crank your Privacy Index score up somewhere near 100%. However, cost does matter, so the trick is to maximize your Privacy Index score while minimizing the cost.  Starting with the right Sound Masking System as a Covering solution will give you the “most bang for the buck.”  The benefit per dollar spent makes it the best place to start. Then, if additional privacy is needed, one of the other more costly options can be employed.


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