Sound masking is a way to provide privacy in business and residential applications. Fundamentally, sound masking is a low-level pink or white noise signal, similar in characteristics to air handling noise from an overhead heating or air conditioning system. A system will have a sound masking generator, an amplifier, volume controls in larger applications, and speakers.
It’s deployed in situations where privacy is important, such as the offices of doctors, lawyers, therapists, bankers, and politicians, as well as residential bedrooms, workspaces, and MDU properties with thin walls — anywhere that conversations should be kept to the participants in the room. If we accept the idea that a conversation has a talker and a listener, sound masking is designed ultimately to limit what the uninvited listener might hear.
Sound masking will act to muffle and reduce intelligibility. The frequencies where masking operates is between 200 Hz and 4 kHz, which is at or above the frequency of human speech. When masking is deployed, listeners on the other side of a wall from the speaker will hear sound, but it will be difficult or impossible to discern what is being said. The further the listener gets from the source, the more difficult it is to hear what’s being said. In a large space equipped with sound masking, for example an office with open cubicles, a listener won’t likely hear anyone talking three or more rows away.
The most effective type of sound masking is one that offers uniform dispersion of the white or pink noise. When installing in a larger space, you would not want to use speakers firing down into the room from the ceiling; rather, in conventional systems, you’d place the speakers above the drop tile ceiling, facing up so that the sound source is difficult or impossible to locate from the room below.
Folks who live in a noisy part of the world find that sound masking can help them sleep better. Travelers who are used to small town noise levels may be kept up later than they like in a big city, and a portable masking solution can help.
On a business level, installers find that their customers know to the penny what the latest flat panel TV costs. But sound masking offers protection for profitability, because it’s not typically found at large-box retailers, Plus, since it requires a modicum of science to design and deploy, it’s not subject to as much pressure from the likes of Amazon. Yes, there are options at those sites, but the choices shown are typically not designed for larger installations.
AM1200 Sound Masking for Home and Small Businesses
Atlas IED is one of the major players in the sound masking category. They offer a range of options from a small, self-contained system to much more elaborate systems with DSP circuitry for equalization and onboard diagnostic testing features.
I have been checking out Atlas’s AM1200 — a self-contained system featuring a 12-watt amplifier and two small 2-inch x 4-inch speakers, all contained in a small black box that can be wall mounted or suspended above the drop tile ceiling. You can add additional speakers to increase coverage; Atlas offers the M1000 masking speakers, shipped as a four pack, that pair well with the AM1200.
This system is not designed to cover many thousands of square feet. But consider applications like small business facilities that might have a number of different tenants under one roof. Putting one of these devices in the plenum ceiling space would improve privacy and cut down distractions from other tenants. If you can’t get to that space easily, consider putting this device near the doorway, so that the listener outside the space can’t hear an otherwise intelligible conversation.
UL 2043 LISTED: WHAT IS THAT?
“This is a fire test method for determining the fire performance response of discrete products (including, but not limited to electrical, mechanical, and plumbing equipment) intended to be installed in air handling spaces, such as above suspended ceilings or below floors. These products are subjected to an open flame ignition source and evaluated using a product calorimeter.”
I took a unit to a friend’s house, located on the second floor of a large building. The building has poor sound insulation, so that conversations on the first floor travel to the second and vice versa. The main living area is over 900 square feet, with a wide open floor plan, carpeted floor, and Sheet Rock walls. It’s a moderately reverberant room. My friend was specifically concerned about being able to focus on work, without distractions from phone conversations happening on the floor below.
To that end, the system worked well, but not great. The space was too large, and the desk was too far from the Sound Masking system for it to be completely effective. Additional speakers would solve that problem nicely.
When you get closer to the system, in this case, its efficiency increases. A person talking on one floor is heard, but it’s very hard to distinguish what’s being said. So spec a system that gets the user close to the masking sounds.
Take Sound Masking on the Road
The AM1200 would make an excellent choice to use as a mobile demo device. Just pack the small device in your briefcase, and plug it in when small enough to fit in a briefcase, you could visit a client, plug it in, and test it out live to demonstrate the value simply by walking out to the hall and talking normally while the listener sat inside the room.
Atlas has superb white papers on its web site that go over sound masking concepts and recommendations. They offer superb support for folks needing a specific quote on a facility; supply them with the building details and they’ll give you a list of recommended equipment for the job at hand.
Full disclosure: Capitol is a distributor of Atlas IED products.