Sound masking technology installation may have much in common with standard audio system installations, but it also poses some major differences which need to be taken seriously.
For those who are new to this category of technology — and for those who wish to help train their coworkers — we thought it might be useful to offer these sound masking technology installation tips we gleaned from pros who have been doing it for years.
But before we get to those tips, here’s the gist of this whole article:
“Test everything thoroughly before training clients, and be prepared for them to ask questions you can’t easily answer if not completely familiar with the product(s) used.” — Installer at Sound Solutions of Ohio.
What separates sound masking from white noise?
Shannon Ritchie of Convergint says this misunderstood topic should be explained to clients.
“White noise is a specific frequency range and type of sound, whereas sound can use that frequency, but uses it to combat sound with sound. There are different types of noises — sometimes classified by colors (brown noise, pink noise, etc.) — that can be used to accomplish a particular goal.”
Sound masking isn’t vastly different in configuration and installation than most other sound systems, it’s more on the engineering side to get it right in the design.
Designing the best sound masking systems
Shannon says you need to consider the building/rooms in question and their properties. Are there 30ft ceilings? 10ft? Drop tile or open structure? More modern facilities without much of a ceiling have sound that bounces and reflects much differently than those with dropped tiles.
What sounds are you trying to dampen? Machinery? Voices?
Doing live sound readings during its commissioning phase, rather than looking at what’s been handed to you in a brief, can make a world of difference, Shannon says.
“You need to have a good understanding of architecture. Sometimes, walls stop at the ceiling; other times, they’ll go well above the ceiling. Depending on where you put your speaker, if you’re planning on having coverage in the plenum space but the walls go all the way to the deck, it won’t have the desired results.”
Common Workplace Noise Profiles
Cccording to Shaheen Adelinia of Mācrōn Mēdia, these are some of the most common sound profiles to understand and know how to remedy:
Loud – Bowling Alley / Arcade / Bar
Noisy – Call Center / Gym
Distracting – Overlooking a major road or highway / Television or Break Room
Private – Therapeutic or Direct Consultation Office / Meeting room
Standard – PC or Desk Based work, maybe with a personal phone/extension
The standard work environment. “In this type of setting, you may be working mostly on word processing, spreadsheets, programming, graphical design, or anything else that requires a pretty decent amount of dedicated focus or concentration,” Adelinia says.
“Most of these considerations will work for most of these profiles, with a few exceptions that will be described later on.
“These environments are generally the simplest to consider acoustically, as generally, there are not too many factors that could contribute to many auditory interference.
“However, you are going to generally be starting with large amounts of open space, eventually, it will be filled with desks, chairs, phones, some computers, some furniture, pictures, lamps, and maybe a couple nice plants around the place.”
Let’s think of some of the noise considerations a workplace such as this might introduce. Some might be more negligible than others, but chances are if your reading this, you are one to consider almost every source of sound possible:
Computer Noise: Fans, keyboards, clicking
Telephones: Ringing, General Conversation
Environment: Traffic, Rain, Aircraft, Neighboring Tenants
Check to see what’s underneath those ceiling tiles. Look to see if the wall partitions run the full height of the true ceiling or if they are just partially partitioned and masked by the drop ceiling.
While conversations and other activities in adjacent rooms may be muffed beyond the point of recognition by the acoustic drop ceiling tiles, if the walls don’t go all the way up, you still may want greater sound proofing.
Sealing any opening or crack visible to the outside, underneath doorways, and windows. There are a great deal of sealants, stoppers, and runners that can be used.
Acoustic Paneling. These can be purchased, or custom made to size and aesthetic specifications. Keep in mind, these are considered ‘acoustic treatment’ more to treat reflections and reverberation inside of an existing room, and have virtually no effectiveness for the common conception of ‘soundproofing’ a particular space, he says.
Acoustic drapes. These can be expensive and sometimes hard to find quality versions, but can really help with external noises.
Rigid Office or Partition dividers. These may or may not work for certain environments and applications but definitely have their place.
Double Paned or Vacuumed Panel Windows and Glass. These again can be expensive, but can help to offer greater barrier from external sounds.
ALWAYS REMEMBER: With sensitive soundproofing materials, there are generally very specific instructions on how to apply and install them.
“All too often I hear stories that go like: Yeah, our maintenance guy did the buildout for that gym, and we put mass loaded vinyl in between all the walls, but you can still hear the noise and music 2 or 3 spaces down.
“This is a clear indication that the buildout was in no way properly thought thru, and/or, the soundproofing materials were not properly installed, applied, or sealed. Please always remember to research how to properly install these materials, or have them professionally installed for maximum effectiveness. The cost for these materials can add up quick. You don’t want to finish an entire room only to learn that you can still hear a spider bark two rooms away.”
Additional problems to watch out for
“The biggest problem I see is setting the sound masking at the volume you’re going to eventually want right from the start, versus having it at a lower level and slowly ramping it up,” Shannon says.
“When users are used to their normal office conditions, walk in, and the sound masking is running at at “7 of 10,” it is very distracting. You want to start it at, say, a ‘2’ or a ‘3’.”
You can pre-set these noise levels with certain programs. Some of them can sense how many people are in an office at a given time, dropping the level down accordingly, is a very efficient useful way to ensure customer satisfaction.
The only trouble is that sometimes users can sense the modulation from these systems sometimes, making it distracting.
Botched readings — reading for too small of a sample size for a frequency.
“If you’re producing a range that exceeds white noise frequency but you only test for it, you’re not really getting a full sample. Just walking through and listening isn’t going to cut it. Don’t measure during ideal conditions, such as when nobody is in the office. Knowing what level to have it set at requires you to be there taking a reading during a more normal capacity.”