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Sound Masking 101: Is Sound Masking Worth it?
Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2024
Sound Masking 101: Is Sound Masking Worth it?

March 6, 2024 - Silence can be deafening. How do you create an environment that is comfortable and productive? The answer is simple: Sound Masking.

What Is Sound Masking?

Sound masking is an engineered approach to managing noise within a space. It is more than simply introducing white noise, pink noise, or a nature-sound generator. In this Sound Masking 101 blog, we will cover how sound masking works, the benefits of sound masking, the sectors that most benefit from sound masking, and a general approach to the cost.

How Does Sound Masking Work?

Acoustics within any space dramatically impact how you “feel” within that space. It is similar to the impact that lighting or the temperature has on you– you just don’t think about it as much! In very simple terms, sound masking is an engineered sound, similar to air moving through an HVAC system, set at a volume level just above indirect speech levels to cover up, or mask, unintended speech from creating a distraction.

But what if no one else is in the room, do you still need sound masking? Yes. The absence of noise can make one feel uncomfortable. Think of a library, where you notice every tap of a pencil, every passing footstep, and every distant whisper. Sound masking is designed to introduce just the right amount of background sound to make the acoustical ambiance of a space comfortable. For this to be effective, the engineered sound used as part of the solution must also be comfortable – because it is going to affect the way you feel within that space.

Our experts at Lencore can provide much greater detail on how sound masking works, but the essence is to generate a comfortable sound, through the use of speakers, at a level just above indirect speech levels. Those are the sound masking basics and the intention of the solution. Understanding this basic sound masking fact will allow you to comfortably work in an environment while minimizing distractions, which allows you to be more productive and get more done.

The Benefits of Sound Masking

The intention of sound masking is to provide speech privacy and worker productivity. To reiterate, the volume of a sound masking solution should be just above indirect speech levels. Why? As a general rule, conversations from 12 to 15 feet away carry a volume to the unintended listener of about 46 decibels (a decibel is the measurement of the volume.) By raising the ambient background sound through the use of sound masking to 47 decibels, the system covers most of that ambient conversation. This is very purposeful. Studies have proven if you cannot understand 20% or more of a conversation then you are less likely to be distracted by it.

Weird, right? But it’s true. By covering up indirect speech with a comfortable sound, you are less inclined to  listen to it – leaving you to your work!

This accomplishes two feats:

  1. You are more productive because you are not distracted by the conversation.
  2. Speech Privacy has been provided because the conversation is difficult to understand due to the masking which makes the individuals having the conversation more comfortable knowing their discussion is safe from unintended listeners.

Another benefit of sound masking is the comfort it creates within a space and the impact it has on occupants feeling calm. Comfort has become a primary requirement in the post-pandemic space. With work-from-home and hybrid models, many facilities are under-occupied at times. This can create an eerie feeling of emptiness or anxiety. Through the introduction of noise into the space it comes to “feel” busier and sets those occupants at greater ease with a better sense of wellness. Comfort within anyone’s space of occupation translates to greater job satisfaction.

In summary, the benefits of sound masking can be wrapped up in these main benefits:

  • Productivity
  • Speech privacy
  • Comfort
  • Confidentiality and compliance

What Industries Benefit Most from Sound Masking?

Sound masking has a major role in the following industries:

  • Corporate Offices
  • Financial Services
  • Legal Services
  • Call Centers
  • Software and Technology Facilities
  • Retail Banking
  • Hospitality Environments
  • Libraries
  • Education and Schools
  • Government and Military Facilities
  • Healthcare Facilities

While myriad professional environments greatly benefit from the speech privacy and boosted productivity provided by sound masking, there are two specific facility types where confidentiality is paramount, and the adoption of sound masking is growing rapidly: Healthcare and Government. Greater design factors should be included to improve the overall confidentiality within government facilities and common safeguards should be put in place to comply with HIPAA requirements within healthcare environments. A comprehensive auditory privacy design for all facilities should follow the ABCs. This includes adequate: A – Absorption materials to trap sound, B – Blocking materials to deflect sound, and C – Covering technology to mask sound. You can read more about the ABCs of Acoustical Privacy, but sound masking provides the important “covering” required in an effective speech privacy solution, which helps facilities to stay in compliance with regulations and guidelines, and keeps employees and customers comfortable, safe, and productive.

Sound masking provides unique solutions to protect secrets within government and military facilities which have allowed the technology to become common practice.

Patient privacy compliance and comfort scoring standards such as HIPAA and HCAHPS as well as patient wellness and improved recovery outcomes are primary areas where sound masking solutions can have a positive impact within Healthcare facilities – whether it is a doctor’s office, urgent care clinic, or a major hospital. Lencore has a variety of case studies in various applications with improved patient outcomes.

How Much Does Sound Masking Cost & Is it Worth the Investment?

In the grand scheme of construction costs, sound masking is relatively inexpensive. Typical equipment costs can be around $1.00 per square foot plus your labor cost, which average another $1.50 per square foot depending on your location throughout the United States. The payoff, however, is worth the expense when you weigh the productivity, comfort, and privacy benefits of an effective sound masking solution. A comfortable environment leads to higher job satisfaction and retention.

In the interest of understanding the Return-On-investment, Lencore has developed an overview to help paint the importance and the benefit for employers.

This Sound Masking 101 blog is intended to give an overview of what sound masking is and how it can be effective in delivering productivity, comfort, and privacy to a variety of spaces. An effective solution comfortably raises the background sound level to minimize distraction all while improving the acoustical ambiance of your environment.