What are the applications of a sound masking system?
Sound masking systems are used to improve speech privacy, employee productivity, and employee satisfaction in many workplace environments including open offices and call centers. Legal offices, healthcare facilities, financial institutions, conference rooms, and other spaces where confidential conversations take place, also benefit from sound masking methods.
Is sound masking the same as noise cancellation?
No. Sound masking is often misinterpreted as being the same as noise cancellation. While sound masking adds sound to raise the ambient background noise level, noise cancellation blocks out all noise to create a completely quiet environment that can only be done digitally and not in real-world applications. Raising the ambient sound level may be counterintuitive, but it is similar to having a conversation in a speeding car when the windows are open or at the kitchen sink with the Fawcett running as the raised ambient sound surpasses the intelligibility of speech.
Where in a space should sound masking speakers be installed?
Sound masking systems are commonly installed incorrectly with the speakers inside the room/space where the confidential conversations are taking place. In order to achieve speech privacy, a correctly designed system would locate the speakers outside of the room/space to raise the ambient background noise level so people outside cannot hear what is being said inside. Rule of thumb: Masking sound takes place at the listener’s ear.
Is there a universal sound masking system for any application?
No. Properly designed sound masking systems are tailored to a specific space. For this reason, a broad array of solutions is necessary to address the scalable and economic needs of the client. One size, one box, does not fit all.
Are there performance standards for sound masking products?
Yes. ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) develops international standards for materials, products, systems and services used in construction, manufacturing and transportation. ASTM E1130-08 is the standard test method for objective measurement of speech privacy in open offices using the Articulation Index (AI). Sound masking standards were developed to keep sound that travels beyond the walls of particular areas such as medical rooms and human resources offices from being overheard. Driving factors for these standards include the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, commonly known as HIPAA, which requires “predictable speech privacy outcomes on a consistent basis.”
The WK47433 standard for Building and Environmental Acoustics is primarily used by sound masking equipment manufacturers and system designers. Additionally, the same ASTM Subcommittee E33.02 on Speech Privacy has developed related standards for testing methods, open office acoustics, and objective measurement of speech privacy which are also under its jurisdiction.
The ASTM’s E1374 is a Guide for Office Acoustics and Applicable ASTM Standards and can be viewed here.
Are there other methods of masking sound that do not use speakers?
Other architectural elements such as ceilings, carpeting, and walls also have an impact on sound. While sound masking speakers are an effective method to covering sound, architectural design can assist in absorbing and blocking sounds in the workplace. However, sound masking is by far the least expensive method for providing privacy.
How can technology help keep my tenants/ employees safe when working in today’s office environment?
“Touchless technology” may be a buzz phrase right now, but there’s a reason for its popularity. Allowing staff to control his or her environment without the cleanliness concerns associated with publicly accesses remote controls, control panels, touch screens, or buttons and knobs is part of new healthy office protocol. Technology that offers application-based control, like the AtlasIED Z Series, puts the ability to adjust volume, music choice, and sound masking generation in the employees’ hands by allowing them to use their personal mobile device. Additionally, using technology that offers the option to broadcast pre-recorded and scheduled audio and visual messages in public spaces can remind occupants to maintain social distancing, use hand sanitizer after leaving the elevator- or choose any office specific communications that reinforce safe workspace practices. You can view many of our sound masking solutions here.
Does a sound masking system cause headaches or other wellness issues?
No. Masking sound does not cause physiological damage. Sound masking generators use the same frequencies as the human voice and operate at a very low levels that does not cause hearing loss. There is no evidence that typical office sounds cause health problems other than through a stress response to chronic annoyance. Offices with good acoustical design generally have no health complaints related to noise. See the published study by Robert C. Chanaud, Ph.D. – “The Effects of Noise on Office Occupants.”
Some of the terms used in the commercial audio industry might be confusing to the average consumer so we have compiled a glossary and FAQ section to help. Below are some terms and frequently asked questions to help you get up to speed.
Absorb: a method of reducing noise through absorption of sound waves into soft materials such as carpet, ceiling tiles, and cubical walls.
Ambient noise: (sometimes called background noise) is the level of total noise in an area other than the primary sound that is intended/desired to be heard.
Block: a method of reducing noise by blocking sound waves from traveling through use of hard materials such as walls.
Cover: a method of reducing noise by overlaying a new sound over existing noise to make it less distracting.
Direct Field: sound masking systems use speakers that project sound directly toward the area they are masking. This allows for less power consumption than indirect field designs but sometimes requires more speakers to adequately cover the space without “hot spots” or “dead” areas.
HIPAA: Title I of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) protects health insurance coverage for workers and their families when they change or lose their jobs. Title II of HIPAA, known as the Administrative Simplification (AS) provisions, requires the establishment of national standards for electronic health care transactions and national identifiers for providers, health insurance plans, and employers. Title II of HIPAA defines policies, procedures, and guidelines for maintaining the privacy and security of individually identifiable health information as well as outlining numerous offenses relating to health care and sets civil and criminal penalties for violations.
Indirect Field: sound masking systems (also known as in-plenum) use speakers that project sound upward, toward the ceiling deck, before it reflects downward. This allows the sound to disperse with wide coverage so not to create “hot spots” or “dead” areas but sometimes requires more power to get the sound down to ear level after deflecting off the ceiling. Checkout our blog article for a more in-depth analysis here.
Noise: is defined as unwanted sound.
Pink Noise: energy, differing from white noise, decreases gradually as the frequencies increase. A combination of pink and white noise is sometimes used to determine the frequency range that is best for that specific space while tuning the system after initial installation.
Plenum: is the open space above a ceiling or below the floor that are used for air circulation.
Plenum rated: A fire safety standard for products that are designed to be installed in a plenum space. Since plenums are generally used for air handling, products installed in these spaces should be designed with materials that will not contribute to the strength of a fire or release toxic fumes when burning.
White Noise: includes all frequencies at equal energy and can be localized. In a properly designed sound masking system, a person should not be able to locate a speaker. Sound masking only uses the frequencies that overlap those of the human speech spectrum.