With corporate offices tending to have fewer people in them post-pandemic, sound masking technology is becoming vitally important. It sounds contrary to logic at first… the idea that an emptier facility needs more sound masking than one that is full of people, but that’s exactly the situation, according to David Smith, COO of Lencore.
That is one of the big trends in the resimercial space as offices look to re-open and bring back employees. For integrators that address the resimercial space, bringing sound masking options to the table could be lucrative.
One of the leaders in the space is Lencore, a manufacturer of sound masking, packaging and background audio equipment.
“What we really do is raise the ambient background sound within an office environment to reduce distractions within the space and provide speech privacy so that those within that space can really kind of get their heads down, get work done and not be distracted by conversations that are going on around them,” says Smith.
He explains, “When you and I are speaking in our normal voice, we speak at about 65 decibels. When you get to about 7 or 12 feet away from that conversation, the decibel level drops to about 46 decibels. Many people have this misconception that sound masking creates a cone of silence, when in fact we’re actually introducing noise into the space. We raise the ambient background noise level to about 47 or 48 decibels, which is just above that indirect speech level in order to mask or cover those conversations. We like to take people from the library, where the tap of a pen or the whisper of a conversation can be very distracting, and put you in the coffee shop, where there’s hustle and bustle and activity going on around you. But for some reason, that higher noise level is not distracting. That’s essentially what we’re trying to accomplish with sound masking… to minimize the amount of outside conversation you can understand. If you can understand less than 20% of the conversation around you, you are less distracted. That’s proven research.”
Since the onset of the pandemic, Lencore has seen more facilities re-open with fewer people. That means more distractions are possible.
“Before the pandemic, companies were moving toward more collaborative environments… trying to create more open spaces. They were removing the partitions between cubicles and creating bench or a desk type of environments. That design element meant the elimination of sound-absorptive materials, such as acoustical ceilings or carpet or even fabric panels. They all seemed to disappear and were replaced with things like wood and glass and metals, which created a fun dynamic, work environment but also a place where you were no longer controlling acoustics,” says Smith.
He describes sound masking using the “three basic ABCs”: absorb, block and cover. In open-space offices, “cover” is really the only option left to manage acoustics within a space. And so people were introducing sound masking as a solution because they wanted to keep the design within that space.
Now post-COVID-19, offices that may have been designed to accommodate 100 people now only have 50 people in them.
“You still want to maintain speech privacy. Those environments are going to feel eerily quiet. And sound masking is the introduction of noise within that space so you can actually create more comfort because it will feel busier. It is really an opportunity to create some wellness within that environment,” he notes.
The three basic components of a sound masking system are the head-end equipment, the operating platform, and the speakers.
“By combining those three together, we’re able to effectively cover and mask speech within a facility. From a design standpoint, we make it very easy. By sending us a reflected ceiling plan, we do all the design, layout, and wiring diagrams. We provide bill of materials and then effectively demonstrate how and where those products would then be installed,” says Smith.