Adding absorptive wall materials, ceiling tiles and flooring reduces the energy and, therefore, the volume of sounds reflected off their surfaces back into the office space.
While the inclusion of absorptive materials in the office is necessary, their use lowers the ambient or background sound level—actually making the environment sound noisier and reducing speech privacy. Conversations will be more distinguishable and intelligible. In other words, absorption addresses some acoustic problems while worsening others.
Another method of controlling office noise is to block sound transmission. Closed plan designs do this most effectively, but blocking can also work in an open-plan office.
In the end, however, an over-reliance on physical barriers such as walls and plenum barriers can raise costs and render a workplace relatively inflexible, while still failing to satisfy the acoustic control needs of all occupants.
A sound masking system uses a series of loudspeakers to distribute an electronically-generated background sound within a facility.
Many people refer to this as “white noise” or “pink noise,” but these are misnomers. “White” and “pink” noise are actually very specific types of sound that can quickly become irritating, whereas a sound masking system’s output follows a non-linear curve specifically designed to balance acoustic control and occupant comfort.
Sound masking addresses the lack of sufficient background sound that is characteristic of most office spaces. Among acoustic treatments, it is the only one that reduces noise disruptions and speech intelligibility by increasing the background sound level. All other acoustic treatments cause a reduction in the level of the noise itself.
Sound masking systems work because the ear can’t perceive simultaneous sounds of similar volume and frequency. By adding a constant background sound across a wide frequency range, sound masking reduces speech intelligibility, decreases the dynamic range of office noise, and minimizes the differences in the quality and level of sound across the facility.
The result is that unwanted noises are more difficult—or impossible—to hear or comprehend.