Sound Masking Systems for Noise Reduction

Sound Masking SystemsAll offices have some level of noise be it people talking, walking, keyboards clicking, phones ringing, printers and fax machines and external noise from traffic. It is impossible to have an office with no noise and yet it affects productivity this is where sound masking systems come in. Sound masking is the use of sound created by digital generators and distributed by speakers to mask distracting sounds under background noise. The main reason for sound masking systems installation in offices is to improve concentration levels of workers by reducing distraction hence increase productivity. Another major reason for installation is to provide speech privacy and confidentiality especially in conference rooms, medical offices, government agencies and open plan office set ups. How it works: It is important to remember that sound masking is not about creating silence and eradicating noise, simply put, the system covers up the noise. Studies into work place productivity found that sound is not necessarily a distraction, it is the content and intelligibility of the sound that creates a distraction. Sound produced by sound masking systems therefore contains no information since it must be meaningless and unchanging to achieve the objective. For a system to be effective, it must make the difference between the level of background noise and the transient levels that are associated with office noise such as conversations as small as possible. The systems are quickly gaining popularity with businesses as an easy to install, cost effective strategy to increase productivity. Some of the professional settings where sound masking is used are offices, government offices, banks, call centers, showrooms, libraries, hotels, hospitals and places of worship. Importance of sound masking systems in professional settings: A survey done in 2008 found that every day, workers in a typical office lose twenty one and a half minutes to conversational distractions. Additionally, 48 percent of respondents cited conversational distractions as the number one cause of discomfort in the workplace. A number of psychological studies have established that office noises, including speech reduce motivation of workers and increase stress levels. Though habituation to noise occurs over time, productivity drags behind for a considerable duration and with time the tasks performed will be disliked as they come to be associated with noise that is a source of annoyance. The most significant decreases in performance are in settings that are involved in analytical work and arithmetic. With sound masking, the ability to recall random words and numbers increased by ten percent.

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Another study done on tasks that required recalling, accuracy was found to decrease by between 30 percent and 50 percent as a result of noise levels that are typical in most offices. People who are anxious and introverted benefit the most from these systems since they are generally more affected by noise around them than their more extroverted counterparts. You may enjoy our Sound Masking Infographic designed to help illustrate the facts surrounding sound masking. Many businesses acquire or lease open spaces that are then designed in accordance with the business requirements. The result is most of the walls and doors are movable or lightweight and do not reach to the ceiling. This results in visual privacy and sound transparency. For example, a person on the corridor cannot see what is going on in a boardroom but is able to follow all the proceedings because the walls are sound transparent. Installation of a masking system will cover up the conversation if it is below the level of the background noise and if it is above, the sound produced will make it unintelligent. Open plan offices are convenient for teamwork and supervision but do not offer privacy for people working in their stations. However with a sound masking system, the sound distance between the workstations is increased threefold. For some businesses, privacy is particularly crucial. This includes insurance companies, law firms, government offices, medical offices as well as psychiatry and psychology practices. In these and similar cases, the objective is not to just blur conversations from accidental over hearers but to ensure intentional eavesdroppers are not able to decipher anything. From an economical point of view, sound masking is by far the cheapest solution to ensure privacy in an office setting. Its functioning is completely independent from the structure consequently structural modification to fit in with the desired acoustics are not needed lowering cost. With most systems, all that will be required is installation of the speakers to disperse sound. Comprehension of phone conversations significantly reduce the number of hours spent on the phone and avoid mistakes that are costly and waste valuable resources.

Sound Masking Infographic

Sound Masking Infographic

Factors to consider when choosing a sound masking system: The most important aspect to consider in a sound masking system is of course the sound. A desirable sound is ideally smooth, uniform, without repeats and non-directional. A good system is readily expandable, for centralized systems, adequate power capacity, spare control zones and excess cabinet space distributed systems on the other hand only require the power outlets to be located correctly. Does the system allow for additional inputs such as music and overhead paging? If the answer is no, then this will require additional costs for you to have these systems installed. Asking the right questions during your research phase is critically important. The system should have the ability to apply different spectra at different places. Therefore, you will want to make sure that your sound masking system can apply adaptive volume changes automatically based on the environment at that particular time. The principle behind sound masking systems is that they should not draw attention after all the objective is to reduce distraction. This is achieved through sound-scaping refers to the seamless change of sound levels between places with masking and those without. In most cases, this is done by the use of a chain of speakers each with its volume set lower than the previous. The equipment as well should not be conspicuous. Finally, all sound masking systems must comply with the local building code for the offices in which they are installed and meet international standards. Despite its many advantages, the systems are not ideal for places with people who have a significant level of hearing loss. If the sound masking system is well designed, all negative responses are by far less than the distractions caused by other conversations taking place in the background.

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