The ‘Unwanted’ Side of Sound

The ‘Unwanted’ Side of Sound

By Jay White

As I speak with customers about their current and planned applications for AV technology, I am often asked to provide solutions for different types of spaces. One of the challenges I face in many areas is unwanted sound. To address this condition, I use sound masking technology as a solution where speech privacy or confidentiality is desired. A reduction in distractions and productivity is realized as a result.

What is sound masking and how does it work?

Sound masking is the addition of a familiar sounding, air conditioning-like background sound to an environment. Masking covers or “masks” human speech. Imagine you are in a darkened room and a child is flicking a flashlight on and off. The light is noticeable and distracting. Now imagine, the lights are on. The same flashlight is being flicked on and off – without notice – because it has been “masked.” This is how sound masking works.

The most typical installations for sound masking is open office areas, private offices and public spaces.

Open Office Plans

Open offices are often either too quiet – hearing the occasional pin drop breaks concentration – or too noisy – the conversations of co-workers are distracting and affect productivity. Installing sound masking is the first and most cost-effective step to improving speech privacy creating a productive work environment with fewer distractions.

Private Offices

Private offices and other enclosed spaces, while appearing to provide privacy, often do not. Frequently the walls are made of lightweight materials or extend only to the ceiling tiles and not all the way to the ceiling deck. Often these decisions are made for cost reasons and for flexibility when reconfiguring the office space. Installing sound masking to a private office greatly improves confidentiality by rendering conversations completely unintelligible to listeners in the adjacent office, hallway or at the water cooler.

Public Spaces

Reception areas, pharmacies, waiting rooms, banks and public hallways next to private offices are great candidates for sound masking systems. Without sound masking, private conversations can be heard in the adjacent public spaces. Installing sound masking renders private conversations unintelligible by nearby listeners ensuring speech privacy. A sound masking system is also the most cost effective way to comply with the speech privacy requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) and the Federal Trade Commission’s Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA).

Please consider me as your resource to discuss potential applications for sound masking and other AV technology solutions for your building. Advance Technology has an experienced engineering staff to work with your architects and interior designers. We welcome the opportunity to partner with you in the technology development and design your work environments. (Contact Jay at

Roy Clark