11/01/2008

The Dos and Don’ts of Soundmasking

This advice will help you quiet complaints, curb eavesdropping, and increase privacy

 

Ensuring High Performance
According to Niklas Moeller, vice president, LogiSon Acoustic Network, Burlington, ON, system performance can be seriously compromised by any of the following:

  • An insufficient number of speakers.
  • Overly large adjustment zones. A compromised setting will be adopted, which provides masking volumes that are too high or too low, and where the spectrum is incorrect. These failures can cause irritation to occupants and reduced masking performance.
  • Single-channel sound generation. Some systems use a single-sound generator to feed large groups of speakers. This approach results in uncontrollable variations in masking sound throughout the space due to a phenomenon called "phasing."
  • Poor tuning. Failure to properly adjust the masking volume and frequencies to be appropriate in all areas will reduce performance and comfort.  
  • Failure to update settings when changes occur in the space.

Squeezing more employees into the same amount of - or smaller - space might save on real estate, but the decision doesn't come without a price. While it's hard to know just how much productivity is lost (and the resultant costs), no one argues that speech privacy in an open-plan work environment can be a significant problem if it isn't addressed.

While soundmasking isn't a silver-bullet solution, it can significantly decrease conversational distractions. The following advice will help you quiet the complaints, curb eavesdropping, and increase privacy.

Do your homework.
Don't let a lack of knowledge or experience with soundmasking result in a poor purchase. Familiarize yourself with the differences between performance levels of competing products. "Customers should also learn about and carefully compare systems with respect to sound generation, control-method options, zoning capabilities, timer functions, installation methods, scalability, special functions, certifications, and even aesthetics," advises Niklas Moeller, vice president, LogiSon Acoustic Network, Burlington, ON.

Don't forget that soundmasking is only one part of an integrated acoustical solution.
"Speech privacy isn't a function of soundmasking alone," says Tom Koenig, president, Dynasound Inc., Norcross, GA. It's important to specify interior finishes (e.g. carpet) and furnishings (e.g. acoustic ceilings and furniture panels) that absorb and block sound. "It's always important to understand how the other components within your space affect the acoustics before applying your soundmasking solution," explains Jodi Jacobs, marketing director, Lencore Acoustics Corp., Woodbury, NY.

Do recognize the limitations of soundmasking.
Evaluate what noise you're trying to cover and be aware of what soundmasking can and, just as importantly, cannot address. "These systems are designed to mask conversational speech. While soundmasking may also cover other workplace sounds (e.g. phones ringing, papers shuffling, and typing) the spectrum of sound is specifically architected for human speech," says Anne Duvall, marketing director, Cambridge Sound Management, Cambridge, MA.

Don't buy before scrutinizing the quality of the sound.
Listen to a soundmasking system before you purchase it, because the sound it makes is ultimately what you're paying for. Also, Jacobs advises that you make sure the sound actually masks speech. "To do this," she says, "the soundmasking needs to have the proper blend of high and low frequencies."

Do ensure that the design of the system provides uniform sound.
Soundmasking should go virtually unnoticed. "The sound should be very uniform throughout the space, with no hotspots of uneven sound," says Duvall. If speakers are too far apart, individuals passing through the space will easily be able to identify the location of each sound source. This will call unwanted attention to the system.

Don't be tricked into buying an ongoing maintenance plan.
"The rarely spoken fact is that most soundmasking systems, when tuned properly, should not require much - if any - ongoing maintenance, calibration, or tuning unless there are significant changes to the space," says Jacobs. Annual maintenance contracts are simply not necessary.

Do adjust the system later, if needed.
The soundmasking system in any environment should be modified when the characteristics of the space change (e.g. if new furniture panels or ceiling tiles are installed). Duvall adds: "There are several reasons a customer would need to adjust the system at a later date: if the space was reconfigured, if the coverage area was expanded, or if paging or music functionality was desired after initial installation."

Jana J. Madsen (jana.madsen@buildings.com) is editor at Buildings magazine.

 


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Visit our website today to learn about the design flexibility of a Morton building and the endless possibilities of partnering with our designBUILD team.


Wood construction is both cost and energy efficient. Check out Morton Buildings and our designBUILD team online today to discover all the benefits of post-frame construction.


When choosing a metal-clad building for your next construction project, consider Morton Buildings, Inc., and their designBUILD team, we’ll make your dream a reality.

We Can Help You Reduce Energy by 30%

Our mission is to help our customers manage their buildings' energy costs, improve reliability, and enhance performance while having a positive impact on the environment.
CLICK HERE to find out how.

Add highly responsive multi-zone comfort to any building project, in any climate. Our CITY MULTI H2i R2- and Y-Series VRF systems give you flexibility to fit the needs of any building. Enjoy 100% heating capacity at 0°F outdoor ambient, and 85% heating capacity at -13°F outdoor ambient.  For more information, log on to www.mitsubishipro.com

 
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