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Cutting Through the Noise – What is Sound Masking?
Posted on Thursday, January 12, 2023
Cutting Through the Noise – What is Sound Masking?

Jan. 12, 2023 - Enter "sound masking" in any online search site and you're likely to see results that focus on "white noise" or "pink noise."

But a sound masking solution shouldn't be confused with products that produce either white or pink noise. In fact, at its core, a properly installed and effectively commissioned sound masking solution should produce a sound that's neither white nor pink.

When a sound masking system delivers uniform coverage and is properly zoned, the primary concern is how the output sounds to the people who occupy the affected environment. Acousticians have studied how different sounds are perceived by human ears and interpreted by the brain, and they identified the preferred range within which sound masking is effective at providing speech privacy while simultaneously being unobtrusive.

The graph below shows where sound masking output falls within the speech spectrum.

  • Most often when sound masking systems are discussed, the term "white noise" is used. But in the world of audio and acoustics, there are two common definitions of white noise:
  • It can refer to a very specific type of noise that is described in mathematical terms, which is shown above.

The term also is a layman's way of referring to any constant background sound such as running water, music, an HVAC system, etc. In this regard, virtually anything can be considered "white noise" so long as it is relatively constant.

A subset of white noise, pink noise is used quite often in the audio world for tuning and testing loudspeakers and other audio equipment.

As shown on the above graph, sound masking differs from both white and pink noise.

Properly engineered sound masking output should be thought of as a filter in front of a light; a filter that was developed for the very specific purpose of ensuring speech privacy. It considers how we as humans receive sound with our ears and use our brains to interpret those sounds as either human voices or other noises occurring within a given indoor environment.

The takeaway is that sound masking output is a very specific type of sound that acoustical engineers developed for the purpose of speech privacy. It is acoustically related to white noise and pink noise, but there is a clear distinction between the mathematical definition of sound masking output and its colorfully described relatives.

Learn more about the many ways in which Cambridge sound masking solutions from Biamp protect speech privacy, reduce noise distractions, enhance office comfort, and increase workplace productivity.