July 13, 2022 - Honestly, you don't need to choose. Simply by answering a few questions about the site and providing Lencore with a floor plan with what areas you want covered by a sound masking system, we'll do the work for you! Our inhouse Design & Quotation team are experts, with years of experience, in choosing/designing the best sound masking systems for reducing noise distractions, protecting speech privacy, and increasing productivity. Want a quote and a design? Click here for our Request For Quote Form. But if you want to know more, read on!
Choosing Your Sound Masking Solution
When choosing a sound masking system you want to set the criteria. What are you buying? Sound masking systems provide speech privacy, productivity, comfort, and less noise distractions. But the consumable is the sound itself – that is what you are paying for, and there are a few different systems for consideration.
There are Networked and Non-Networked sound masking systems. You should consider the size of the facility and whether or not a networked system is important to you. With the continued evolvement of smart buildings and constant connectivity, the industry sees a movement more in the direction of networked systems. However, given the office space and cost considerations, there is an argument for non-networked sound masking solutions. Networked systems, on the other hand, provide more efficient control and maintenance over the space; these systems allow you to zone and tune and balance more efficiently than non-networked sound masking solutions. In either case, you are able to implement an effective sound masking system in your space.
One factor that should NOT be a criteria when choosing a sound masking system is the orientation of the sound masking speaker. The only exception would be if aesthetics are of considerable concern for the space. Whether the orientation of the speaker is upward firing or downward facing, if the sound masking system can generate enough power, you will have effective sound masking.
What are the Most Important Factors to Consider When Choosing the Right System?
Choosing a sound masking system should not be a quick decision. Collect and consider as much information as you can and weigh all of the factors, as sound masking systems have a direct impact on the environment in which you and your colleagues work all day long.
Volume and Frequency
Volume and Frequency output are extremely important considerations for your system – remember, you are buying the sound! Your sound masking system must achieve a volume loud enough to cover, or mask, indirect speech levels, which is around 47 to 48 decibels. Furthermore, the best sound masking systems cover a full broadband spectrum of sound, typically 80 hertz (Hz) to 10,000 Hz in order to mask the right human speech frequencies.
Comfort quality is also critically important in your decision making for your sound masking solution. The sound is the consumable and you will be underneath it your entire work day, so it better be comfortable. Comfort is comprised of five major ingredients:
Without getting too technical, you want your sound masking system to mimic nature. You feel refreshed and energized in the sunlight because it is a full broadband spectrum of light. The same is true as it relates to the sound of a sound masking system. Often there is confusion that white noise and sound masking are the same. They are not. White noise is equal power at different frequencies, and is necessary to cover certain human speech frequencies, but it is at the high end of the spectrum and is very harsh sounding to the human ear. So, a sound masking system with a broadband spectrum provides a much more comfortable ambient background sound (unlike white noise).
How Does Sound Masking Work?
Sound masking technology works by producing a digital signal, which is either random or pseudo-random. Like in nature, where everything is random, you should not be able to pick up a pattern within the signal – that would be distracting. To have a comfortable sound you should not notice a repeat in your sound masking system.
Similar to the randomness of the signal, a sound masking system should have multiple, incoherent noise sources. This means that you don't have the exact same sound generated out of each of the speakers – this too would be noticeable and distracting.
The last two ingredients, Uniformity of Sound and Tuning Flexibility, relate to the design and installation of a sound masking system. Masking solutions should not be noticeable to the building occupant. You should not "feel" that you are walking into and out of the sound in a sound masking system. This is commonly referred to as "hot" or "cold" spots and is caused by poor design of the space's coverage by the sound generated. Furthermore, facility design in an open office, hallways, closed offices or conference rooms, even materials used throughout a space, will impact the sound throughout the space. Tuning for those environments is a critical factor to successfully masking sound.
Control is another factor for consideration in your sound masking selection process. An effective sound masking system is usually one that is commissioned and unnoticed, with no further adjustments needed. This is commonly what we refer to as "Set-it and Forget-it." However, there are a few options available to both control as well as adjust the system. Consideration for controls, whether a Networked or Non-Networked solution tend to include:
Some of the controls listed above only give you control over volume. Others allow you to also adjust Networked systems when a change in volume and/or contour or zoning is required.
Cost is the tie-breaker when no other factors are considered. Which is why it is put last on this list. Undoubtedly cost is a main consideration when anyone is evaluating sound masking systems. When a system is installed weighs heavily on the cost and the selection for which speaker orientation should be selected. When a ceiling hasn't been, an in-plenum or upward firing speaker is more cost effective because you can use less of them as their dispersion radius is greater than downward firing speakers – meaning you would use less speakers. However, if you are retrofitting a space with a sound masking system or if the installation is taking place after the acoustical or drywall ceilings are installed then a direct fired could be more cost effective, but not necessarily. You use about 40% more speakers when you have a downward firing sound masking solution compared to upward firing. Other options include decorative speakers for open ceiling environments. The challenge with open ceiling cost equations is the cleanliness of the cables running to each speaker which has an increased labor cost to keep them extremely tidy.