Sound masking is based on the principle of physics that when soft background noise is added to a room, the conversations and noises in the room are less understood. The term “white noise” is widely used when referring to speech privacy or sound masking systems, although today sound masking systems produce sounds that are more effective and less obnoxious than the “hiss” of true white noise.
Sound masking accomplishes oral privacy by making conversations more difficult to be understood. In other words, if you are in a conversation with someone else and other people in the room can’t understand what you are saying, you are experiencing effective oral privacy. Sound masking “fills in” the sound spectrum around you with barely perceptible low level noise, so that speech is cannot be understood. When in use, sound masking sounds like the gentle “whooshing” sound of an office air conditioning system.
An important note: sound masking is not the same as noise cancellation. Be wary of any salesman who blurs the lines between these two technologies. Most noise cancellation technology today can only be applied to headphones or microphones. True noise cancellation for office spaces is not currently available from any manufacturer, except for military-grade installations for which budgetary constraints are outweighed by the value of the information being discussed.
What This Means For Your Office
If you want to increase the productivity of your workers by decreasing the conversational distractions in the area, sound masking is the tool that will give you the most bang for the buck. Since you’re masking sound, you put the masking system in the area where the noise is heard, rather than the source.
Example 1: Open office workers struggle to maintain focus. That’s why you see more and more cubicle workers bringing headphones to work – so they can cover up the conversations around them.
In this example, the VoiceArrest system would be installed in the open office area.
Example 2: In addition to the problem of conversational distractions in Example 1, Bob has a voice that carries. Unfortunately, Bob also is the head of HR, and like Mary and Jim and the rest of his department, he frequently discusses confidential topics in his office. However, because of the paper-thin walls, speech travels freely (and clearly) between offices and out into the open office area, as well. In this scenario, you’d add masking to the enclosed offices, as well as the open areas. Additionally, you’d also use two different zones to keep the sound in the enclosed offices from building up.
This example provides the most effective and the most “invisible” way to increase the speech privacy levels of this hypothetical office space, ensuring uniform sound masking for all your employees.