I recently attended a tradeshow and was surprised to meet a number of building professionals who didn’t realize that a sound masking system must be properly adjusted for each facility.
Unfortunately, there are vendors who contribute to this misperception by suggesting that their sound masking systems are basically plug n’ play. Or that by installing loudspeakers differently, such as facing directly downwards, systems can somehow defy the laws of physics and the sound won’t be affected by the qualities of the space into which it’s distributed.
So, it seems that tuning is a good subject to address in a post...
In her well-researched exploration of the effects of the open office on workplace privacy and productivity (“The Open-Office Trap,” The New Yorker, January 7, 2014), Maria Konnikova points out that this type of space “was originally conceived by a team from Hamburg, Germany” in the 1960s.
The team she references was actually Europe’s leading space-planning company – the Quickborner Team – and I'm proud to say that my father was a member of it. I've talked with him about his experiences with Quickborner and I'd like to explain some of the fundamental ways in which their ‘open plan’ differed from the spaces to which we (at times, rather liberally) apply this term today (as I mentioned in a previous blog, Redefining the Open Plan, September 17, 2012).
If you've stayed overnight in a hospital, you can probably recall how noise affected your experience. Whatever the sources – chirping alarms, nurses going about their tasks, neighboring patients’ conversations, or the sounds of distress – you likely ran a gauntlet of side effects, ranging from mild irritation to sleep deprivation.
And then there were the effects that you perhaps weren't so acutely aware of: elevated blood pressure, quickened heart rate, increased metabolism, to name a few. Add the consequences of poor sleep to that mix – agitation, delirium, weakened immune system, and impeded ability to generate new cells – and you haven't exactly got the elixir of health.
In fact, medical researchers have concluded that the physiological and psychological fallout of noise exposure can slow our recovery rates, lengthening hospital stays when all we really want to do is get back to our lives...not to mention our own beds.
I recently read a brief, but fascinating article in Wired called “Clever Landscaping That Bounces Plane Noise Back Into the Sky” (June 2014).
Airport noise is a global issue, but apparently it’s a particular problem around the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam because it’s located in such a flat, open landscape, which allows noise to travel well into the surrounding area.
You don't want to leave the door wide open by writing “include sound masking system” (believe it or not, this still happens).
After all, you aren't purchasing this technology for the sheer pleasure of owning the equipment. You’re expecting it to improve speech privacy and control noise.