What is Sound Masking?

Oct 24, 2019 1:00:22 PM / by Megan Weatherford

Are your conversations private? Whispering or even a conversation behind closed doors doesn't always guarantee someone else can't hear you.

What is sound masking_ (2)-1

With the rise of open office floor plans and the need to protect patient privacy, speech privacy has become more critical than ever before. So, what is sound masking, and how does it help speech privacy? Sound masking is a barely noticeable sound that is similar to airflow, but it's specially tuned to make human speech less intelligible.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but adding sound into a space will make it harder to understand distracting conversations. You still hear the same level of noise, but your brain tunes it out the distractions. The room might even seem quieter is because the added ambient sound reduces the intelligibility of speech.

Our partners at Cambridge Sound Management do an excellent job explaining sound masking in this video:



Who Needs Sound Masking?

So think about the trendy open office space; if you don't understand what the person in the cubical next to you is saying, their conversations are far less distracting. Sound masking does not cancel sound or eliminate all speech noise in an environment. It merely reduces how far away conversations can be heard and understood by others. So who needs sound masking? 

  • Healthcare - Protect patient privacy and meet HIPAA standards. Improve HCAHPS scores by making inpatient rooms feel more quiet at night.
  • Legal Services - Protect client confidentiality while creating a comfortable and functional workplace.
  • Corporate - Reduce noise distractions and protect employee speech privacy.
  • Government - Protect sensitive conversations from being overheard in SCIFs and other meeting rooms.
  • Financial Services - Safeguard clients against pretexting and identity theft. Reduce risk of negligent disclosure of client information.
  • Education - Ensure minimal disruptions at libraries, student centers, classrooms, and other study spaces.


Is Sound Masking Effective?

How effective is sound masking? According to Cambridge Sound, sound masking typically reduces the area where speech is intelligible and distracting from upwards of 50 feet to around 15 feet. That ultimately means employees or customers can still easily communicate but are no longer being distracted or overheard by others in the office.


Teach me  Sound Masking 101


Acoustic Design

Sound masking is a critical component of acoustic design. When designing a space, our engineers consider a variety of elements to address noise control and speech privacy. Those elements either absorb, block, or cover sound, and are collectively the ABC's of acoustic design.

  • A - Absorb: These can be acoustic wall panels, carpet, or ceiling tiles.
  • B - Block: Some examples include solid barriers, partitions, and walls.
  • C - Cover: Sound masking is what helps cover up the excess sound.

When it comes to reducing noise distractions and increase speech privacy, the ABC's can be used together or individually to create ideal acoustical environments. But that's only if you have the budget and means. For example, if carpet and ceiling tiles were used initially, then that can help with the absorbing. But if partitions weren't built or thought about in the design, you may be missing costly blocking elements. Absorbing and blocking materials can be pricey, especially if you have to rework an existing space. That's why a sound masking system is often chosen to rectify the problems caused by poor acoustics. Here at Smarter Systems, we've found it tends to be a more budget-friendly option.


Topics: Audio Visual, Conference Room, Huddle Room, Cambridge Sound Management, Sound Masking

Megan Weatherford

Written by Megan Weatherford