What Is The Difference Between Sound Masking And Noise Cancellation?

If your office supports a large team, you know how noise can carry in an enclosed space. A simple conversation a few feet away can prove a daunting distraction for others. Many workers say this effect is even more noticeable in “open plan” offices. A lack of privacy combined with lots of ambient noise can create the perfect storm of inefficiency.
Finding a new office space as your company grows is a long-term project and often prohibitively expensive. A solution that can be just as effective is to address the noise level.

There are three options you’re bound to hear about on the enterprise market:

  • Sound Masking: Serves to make speech and other nuisance noises unintelligible.
  • Noise Cancellation: Adds a precise second sound calibrated to “cancel” the first.
  • Sound Proofing: Uses materials to create areas where sound cannot be heard.

Most customers recognize right away that sound proofing is not a solution to their worries. They probably don’t have the space or configuration to create special soundproof rooms for certain teams. The cost of installing special soundproof insulation or other materials can be very high.

That leaves them with two options – but which one is really the best and why?

Sound Masking Proves Superior To Noise Cancellation For Offices
Sound masking and noise cancellation both help employees cope more effectively with noise around them. However, they work on completely different principles and have major differences.

Noise cancellation is also known as active noise control and uses advanced acoustic concepts.

A sound cancellation system must emit a precise sound wave with some characteristics that are identical to the noise you want stifled and some are inverted, thus cancelling out nuisance sounds.

The issue: To be so precise, noise cancellation must be calibrated to target a specific sound within narrow ranges. For example, the noise emitted by a specific piece of loud computer or construction equipment could be cancelled out. But this is not the problem most offices have.

Most offices are plagued by an unpredictable “soup of sounds” – human speech.

The crux of the matter isn’t that people talk loudly. Rather, it’s the fact that background speech creates recognizable patterns the human brain is always trying to decode. Even if you are doing your best to focus on work, part of you will always be making sense of others’ words.

This is called structured noise – sounds with a clear pattern that convey information.

That’s where sound masking comes in.

Sound masking is a simple, elegant, and cost-effective solution to ambient office chatter. A sound masking system injects subtle “white noise” into the background. This noise is below your perception threshold, but it makes surrounding conversations unintelligible.

The brain is excellent at tuning out “unstructured noise” produced by a sound masking system. And while the system is operating, background conversations also blend seamlessly into that unstructured noise. This leaves your brain free to focus fully on the task at hand.

Masking systems do not cause any difficulty with sounds you need to hear, such as a colleague speaking directly to you, your own phone ringing, or a notification you must respond to.

The right masking system can be deployed in any space rapidly and at low cost. This makes it a far superior option to sound cancellation, which is costly and cannot address the central issue.

Contact us at Atlantic Communications Team to learn more.