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Do White Noise Systems Actually Drown Out Office Noise Distractions?
Posted on Wednesday, March 15, 2023
Do White Noise Systems Actually Drown Out Office Noise Distractions?

March 15, 2023 - We had a client once describe the following scenario, which ultimately led them to being our client: They were sitting at an opposing attorney's office waiting for a deposition. As they sat in the reception area they overheard the strategy conversation of the opposing attorney who was discussing their approach with his client. The conference room was adjacent to the reception area. By the time the deposition was to begin, our client had already plotted their points and counter-points based on the opposing party's position.

This scenario may be on the extreme of the examples we have experienced but it isn't too far from the situations where you are sitting in an exam room waiting for your physician and you overhear the diagnosis of someone else sitting in the room next to you. Or, the common distraction of sitting in an office environment listening to calamities of your co-workers weekend escapades as he goes from employee to employee to recount the stories. Overhearing conversations can be distracting and detrimental.

So, how can you overcome the distractions and create speech privacy? There are many solutions on the market that claim to reduce distractions and block out unwanted noise – white noise machines for offices being one of the more common ones. But does it actually work in reducing noise distractions?

What Is White Noise and How Does It Work?

White noise works by providing competing frequencies to other noises. Technically, white noise is equal energy at all the audible frequencies. And, as you turn the volume up those frequencies, in the form of a wave, are going to compete and clash with the other noise frequencies. The term "white noise" has been commercialized and has grown in popularity. There are YouTube channels or white noise machines that are promoted as common solutions. These even compete with other moodscaping ambient sounds such as light rain or thundering storms. There are certain human speech frequencies, however, that are masked by white noise. And this can have an advantage over some of the other sound sources which are often a digital, repeatable signal. But white noise is harsh and scratchy sounding. And, as you turn it up, it only gets worse. For those who remember static on TV or the radio, that is what white noise sounds like. For those who don't know what that is, take our word for it, it isn't pleasant nor soothing.

The Science Behind Why White Noise Fails to Block Noise Distractions

Honestly, white noise can mask speech. But so could a leaf blower. By elevating the level of noise above indirect speech levels anything making noise can cover speech. But a jet engine or a lawnmower is distracting and uncomfortable. Productivity and wellness would plummet. Introducing lower frequencies when masking sounds adds a layer of comfort and sound quality. This is why you see the growing popularity of Pink or Brown noise. Pink and Brown noise live in the lower frequencies that sound "deeper" in nature and are much more comfortable.

Pink noise works by providing equal energy at all of the octaves. Think of pink noise as adding the bass to your music. This, coupled with the treble, or white noise, makes the music soothing and effective. White noise by itself is a distraction and that is why it doesn't work well as a solution.

Does Sound Masking Reduce Noise Distractions Better?

Sound masking works best by blending into the background and creating a comfortable environment by raising the ambient background noise just above indirect speech levels. In effect, you are covering up indirect conversations and noises with a comfortable sound in order to minimize your distractions and allow you to focus on your task. There are additional factors other than the comfort of the sound but that is the most important of the criteria in choosing between sound masking systems.

Other factors to consider beyond a full broadband sound include: Wrap Around/Repeatability, Multiple Noise Sources, Uniformity of Sound and Tuning Flexibility (depending on the size of the space.) Commercial sound masking systems are designed with the space and occupants in mind. They are a far cry from the white noise machines for offices.

Use the Sound Masking System Best for You

Instead of randomly selecting from white noise machines for your office on Amazon, reach out to an expert. Lencore has a tremendous team who would be happy to discuss your needs: small, medium or enterprise. Contact Lencore today and we'll get you in touch with one of our sound masking experts.

If you would rather research yourself, we would encourage you to visit Lencore's Guide to a Sound Masking System. Or take advantage of our quoting tool for your facility with either a Quick Quote or Full-Blown Office Design.

Lencore has helped thousands of clients and has millions of square feet installed around the world. These clients come from a variety of different verticals – you see a snapshot of our various sound masking clients here!

Whichever way you decide to go, we wish you best at solving your noise management issue.