Understanding Sound Masking
Adding more sound runs contrary to most people’s understanding of how to achieve effective acoustics. Many mistakenly believe the goal is to make their facility as silent as possible.
On the contrary to this, the problem with most buildings is that—due to improvements in construction materials and quieter equipment—they are already too silent. Their inadequate background sound level leaves occupants acoustically exposed, even to noises generated a good distance away. In these library-like environments, it’s really easy to hear other people’s conversations and even the smallest noises disrupt our train of thought. And so, we tend to describe such spaces as noisy.
In order to create an environment that’s more acoustically comfortable, it is essential to not only replenish its background sound, but to provide a known and controllable level. The only treatment that can effectively perform this function is a sound masking system—a technology that uses electronic components to generate a subtle, but effective background sound that’s distributed via a network of loudspeakers.
The premise behind this solution is simple: any noises and conversations that are below the new background sound level are covered up, while the impact of those above it is lessened due to the reduction in the degree of change between the baseline level and any volume peaks. Disruptions to occupants’ concentration are diminished. Similarly, conversations are either entirely masked or their intelligibility is reduced, improving privacy.
Most people compare the sound of a properly implemented masking system to that of softly blowing air, and many even assume HVAC is its source. However, unlike HVAC equipment, masking technology is engineered so that its output can be tuned to meet a spectrum—or ‘curve’—specifically designed to balance acoustic control and occupant comfort. Because no masking system can produce the desired curve ‘out of the box,’ post-installation tuning of the sound is an essential part of the commissioning process within each facility.