And, as promised, the continuation of last week's post...
6. Will the sound masking automatically adjust to noise levels?
When first introduced to sound masking, most people ask whether it will raise or lower in volume according to what’s happening in the space. After all, this feature’s been available with paging systems for years.
But masking is a continuous signal and when changes are made to it, the risk is that people will notice. If they do, it’ll become one of the noise distractions rather than the solution to them...especially if it’s done too fast...or too often...the changes are too dramatic...or applied to the wrong area.
By comparison, think of when you’re sitting in a restaurant in the evening and they suddenly dim the lights. Our senses are designed to detect such changes and even small ones command our attention. Auto-sensing sound masking systems can make volume changes of as much as 7 dBA in as little as 15 to 20 minutes, which is too fast.
And, of course, if the changes aren’t made fast enough, the masking volume is out of sync with the current noise level. For example, a co-worker begins a brief, but loud, conversation. The system reacts to this change and begins gradually raising the masking level in your area. You don’t notice the masking rising, but you can hear the conversation until it reaches the required level. But your coworker has finished speaking. Now, the masking starts slowly ramping down in volume.
It’s important to remember that this feature isn’t predictive. It’s simply reactive, adjusting the volume based on noises that were created in the past. It’s too low when it’s needed and too high when it isn’t. It doesn’t ensure that the proper masking volume is achieved at the right moment.
A consistent masking sound reliably covers up many of the conversations and variable noises in a facility, thereby reducing disruptions to occupants. Consistency also makes the masking ‘disappear’ from occupants’ consciousness.
7. Will I be able to hear my closest neighbor?
As noise travels, its volume decreases to a level that’s covered up by the masking sound, so it follows that this technology requires some distance to work.
The typical background sound level in most offices is so low that voices carry over a distance of 30 to 50 feet (9 to 15 meters), or more. Sound masking dramatically reduces that distance. The exact amount is affected by office layout and any other acoustic treatments, but 15 to 20 feet (4.5 to 6 meters), or approximately two workstations, is a good expectation. It can be less.
Over shorter distances, sound masking may not stop you from hearing that someone’s speaking, but it’ll prevent you from understanding what’s being said. This is a key benefit, because understandable speech is the least private and causes the most distraction.
You’ll notice a distinct impact from private office to private office.
8. Can I just treat the noisy areas of my workplace?
Treating particular areas isn’t recommended because if the masking sound is present in one area and not in another, it’ll draw attention to itself as occupants move around. Also, sound masking works at the ear of the listener. You can’t treat individual private offices or selected areas in an open plan...or just suspend a loudspeaker over the one person with a particularly loud voice. You need uniform coverage to ensure comfort and effectiveness.
9. Can I use sound masking if I’ve already moved into my facility?
Yes, you can retrofit sound masking. In fact, at that point, it might be the only realistic way of addressing noise or speech privacy complaints. Budget pricing is low relative to retrofitting other acoustic treatments and installation can be handled with only minor disruption. And you can apply it to both open plans and closed rooms.
10. Can I use a desktop device or an app?
Desktop devices and apps simply aren’t commercial grade solutions. Because installation is limited to areas with desktops or workstations, these devices leave the rest of the facility without masking coverage.
Their sole purpose would be to allow the user to increase their personal level of noise control.
If used on its own, this type of device only offers the illusion of speech privacy. In other words, because the user can’t easily hear others around them, they believe those people can’t hear them either. However, if the listener isn’t using such a device or doesn’t have it set to an appropriate level, they’ll be able to clearly understand the conversation.
And the quality of the sound they produce is at least to some degree connected to the quality of loudspeaker driver they use. No matter how gee-whiz your mobile is, it’s not going to be able to generate the frequency spectrum required to produce a truly comfortable and effective masking sound.
Please let me know if you have any other questions!