Radius of distraction from SoftDB

Open working spaces are becoming an increasingly common feature of modern offices, but they sometimes require sound control measures in place to prevent distractions and improve productivity.

This article will answer some frequently asked questions on one of the methods used to control sound in a space: sound masking.

What is sound masking?
Sound masking is a technology used to minimise distractions and improve privacy, particularly in open offices. It involves adding filtered noise to the space via speakers, usually mounted in the ceiling.

How does sound masking work?
An ambient sound is emitted over speakers to reduce noise levels in a space. The sound is unintrusive and akin to gentle wind blowing through the trees, or the distant sound of the sea. Sensors monitor the ambient noise and continually adjust the masking level to ensure that it is remains effective yet discreet.

What is the difference between sound masking, noise isolating, and noise cancelling?
Noise isolating is when you prevent the sound from reaching the listener, for example via earplugs or ear defenders.
Noise cancelling refers to active noise cancellation, where a microphone is used to listen for a sound and then a soundwave is produced that is an inverse of the soundwave that is being cancelled. This is generally only effective across small physical areas.
Sound masking is when a noise is masked by the addition of another sound to the environment.

What is the difference between sound masking and sound proofing?
Sound proofing is when you make a room resistant to the passing of sound. This is beneficial in places like sound booths, where acoustics need to be carefully controlled. It can be expensive and requires careful planning and construction.
Sound masking is when the distance across which sounds travel are reduced. This is more suitable for office environments where soundproofing is not possible, but increased privacy is preferable.

What is the difference between sound masking and white noise?
White noise, in technical terms, has equal power in any equal frequency band. In practice it sounds very harsh.
Sound masking uses filtered noise that matches the human speech band so that it reduces intelligibility of speech but doesn’t affect other sounds to the same extent.

What is coloured noise?
Colours are used to describe different frequency balances in noise sources, as if they were light instead of sound.

What are the different types of coloured noises?
There are several different types of coloured noise. The main ones are:

White noise: mixture of all frequencies humans can hear at equal intensities. This sounds like a harsh static, hissing sound.

Pink noise: the volume of higher frequencies is dampened so it sounds lower– in technical terms, equal power in every octave. This sounds softer and more like nature sources of noise such as the wind.

Brown noise: this sounds like a more bassy rumble; the power decreases as the frequency rises.

Power Spectral Distribution of Colours of Noise. In this log-log plot, straight lines are colours’ theoretical power spectral distribution, and the colours represent noise power estimated from simulated time series signals. (Image credit: Doyle, J. & Evans, Alan. (2018) What Colour is Neural Noise?)

Is sound masking bad for you?
Sound masking is not bad for you, but the volume should be kept as low as possible because some people are more sensitive to sound produced. It is also important that the masking sound should not be obvious.

What are alternatives to sound masking?
Pink noise can be used as a cost-effective alternative to sound masking, but this cannot easily compensate for varying sound levels in an environment, may mask sounds other than speech, and can actually be more complicated to implement if it is to work at all well.

Why is sound masking beneficial?
In an open office, sound masking can reduce the effects of staff being distracted from work by hearing other people’s conversations (or phone calls). In corridors outside meeting rooms, it can help to prevent accidental or deliberate eavesdropping.

Where is sound masking beneficial?
Sound masking is beneficial, sometimes even necessary, in the following:
• open office spaces, where sound travels and can be distracting for staff;
• enclosed offices to help increase privacy;
• meeting rooms to help increase privacy;
• offices and buildings in sectors which require increased levels of privacy, such as law and health care. The solution can help improve HCAHPS scores and help meet HIPAA compliance in healthcare facilities;
• departments that require increased privacy, such as human resources;
• spaces where a low volume is important, such as reception areas, quiet train carriages, and libraries.

Is it easy to install sound masking?
Yes, it is!

For more information on sound masking or to arrange a demo, please contact the Reflex sales team

Information on the installation process can be found in this guide to sound masking, courtesy of sound direction:

Useful Links

Reflex sound masking case study:

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