I remember having a conversation with one of our account managers, Bob, many years ago. I was learning the sound masking business and had just come off a telephone call with a prospective client who told me their facility was noisy and they needed our help. When I related the story to Bob, he asked “What did they mean by noisy?”
Since the person’s description seemed pretty clear to me at the time, Bob’s question perplexed me. Perhaps you’re wondering what he meant as well.
What Bob was trying to get me to appreciate is that there are two completely different kinds of ‘noisy.’ One type, our sound masking technology can easily help with. The other requires different solutions.
When most people think of a ‘noisy’ space, they picture one that is simply too loud, like an industrial environment running a lot of mechanical equipment or a popular restaurant on a Saturday night. These spaces need particular types of acoustic treatments that will absorb and block the noise. It’s also helpful to try to minimize the creation of the noise in the first place.
However, most people use the same term to describe what is – acoustically speaking – a very different kind of space: one with very low background (or ambient) sound volumes.
In this type of environment, the lack of ambient sound means that occupants can practically hear every pin drop. Conversations and noises are clearly heard over long distances, reducing privacy, concentration and comfort. People still describe these environments as ‘noisy,’ but technically, they are actually too silent. Strategies such as reducing, absorbing and blocking noise are still useful here, but an effective acoustic environment won’t be achieved without the use of sound masking, which would raise the ambient sound to a functional level.
It’s perfectly understandable that no one says “It’s too quiet, so I hear everything” (except maybe in a library). However, many environments suffer from exactly this type of problem: commercial offices, hospitals, doctors’ and dentists’ clinics, call centers, hotels, and more.
Though most people don’t distinguish between the two conditions, it’s essential to understand which one is affecting the space in question so that the right acoustic solutions can be selected.
Have a listen to your own workspace. What kind of ‘noisy’ is it?
Next time: the effect of poor acoustics on organizations and their employees.