Corporate Environments and Sound Masking

In response to today’s dynamic business environment and trends to do more with less, corporate offices are being designed to help reduce overhead costs and better leverage the collective energy of employees.  Space layouts and technology interface can inspire collaboration and idea exchange and lead to stronger team synergies.  Greater percentages of corporate office footprints are being dedicated of open office layouts.  Cubicle walls are becoming shorter or going away.  While this trend offers several advantages, there is sometimes a fine line between buzz and din/distraction. 

Sound masking is a means to help reduce distraction in these environments through introduction of a constant background sound into a space to interfere with the audibility of unwanted sounds. Sound masking can improve speech privacy and reduce distraction in offices and work areas that impede productivity.  With HVAC designs getting quieter over the years, sound masking has become even more important for office design.

Sound masking is not the same as sound canceling, used in products such as noise-canceling headphones.  Sound-masking adds sound to interfere with the audibility of other sounds.  Sound masking works by elevating background sound levels and smoothing the background sound level spectrum to result in a non-intrusive noise background that “masks” undesirable sounds.  Masking systems utilize a neutral sound spectrum, with no discernible pitch or salient tone-color. This is provided by “pink noise” which is a broad-band sound with equal energy per proportional division of frequency (e.g. equal energy per octave).  Not calling attention to itself, sound masking systems also entail a wide dispersion of sound for spatial uniformity so there are no hot spots or nulls discernible as someone walks across the space.  Sound levels can be calibrated to be “just enough” for the situation and typically are turned on at low sound levels and steadily increased in increments so that people become accustomed to the new sound.

There are three basic types of sound masking systems which range in price and complexity:  Direct-Radiator, Traditional and Stand Alone Units.  Combined with other aspects of design—appropriate room surfaces and proper layout of furniture, doors, etc—sound masking can be a useful contribution to an office environment requiring speech privacy or reduced distraction to support greater productivity.


  •     – Reduced distraction
  •     – Enhanced speech privacy
  •     – Increased employee productivity
  •     – Reduced stress