You may have heard of sound masking and even looked into it as a possible solution for your room acoustic issues. There’s no denying that it is an practical fix in some cases and it certainly has its advantages. But how does it compete with sound absorption – which is often perceived as the most effective way of creating a comfortable acoustic environment? Here is our take on working with two very different solutions.

What is sound absorption?
Sound absorption refers to the method of controlling sound within a space by installing soft absorptive materials that soak up sound energy travelling within the room, thus lowering the noise levels. Absorption can take the form of acoustic panels, hanging rafts, freestanding panels and a wide range of other absorptive products. You can even add your own design to panels

When is sound absorption effective?
Sound absorption is probably the most effective sound control solution in most cases. By taking sound out of a space, the problems of excessive noise, echo and reverberation are dealt with directly. And with so many materials on the market, it is also incredibly versatile solution that can be used in any type of room with most types of sound problems. Not only do absorptive materials serve an acoustic purpose but they are often used to enhance the aesthetics of a room and so are a preferred option for many architects and designers.

What is Sound Masking?
Sound masking is another method of dealing with noise within room or travelling between rooms. In many ways it is the physical opposite to sound absorption as it places more noise within a space rather than taking it away. However, sound masking isn’t about increasing noise levels – it uses carefully placed speakers that emit pre-programmed, frequency-appropriate sound that distract the ear from other noise sources in a space.

When is Sound Masking Effective?
Sound masking isn’t right for all noise problems but that’s not to say there aren’t cases where it can be effective. In libraries, for example, where there is so little background noise that the sound of a pen dropping can be very distracting; masking can create an ambient noise that blocks sudden sounds from disturbing room users. In quieter offices, sound masking can be very effective in creating more privacy between desks or offices by levelling off the sound of voices with a competing hum. All in all, when privacy is an issue in quiet environments, sound masking can be a very viable solution. It is also cost-effective, easy to install and non-obtrusive in terms of space and aesthetics.

So which solution is best for me?
This very much depends on the purpose of room and the noise levels that need to be controlled. In the majority of cases sound absorption is the ideal option as it deals with the root of the noise problem by physically removing the sound from the space. Most modern environments, including open plan offices, restaurants and classrooms oscillate between periods of extreme noise to times of relative quiet. In these instances, masking alone does not suffice as it doesn’t remove sound energy in any way. Masking certainly has its place in controlling sound in quiet environments, but even if these cases we would always recommend a mix of both masking and absorption methods to get the best acoustic environment. Firstly because most environments don’t remain in a constant state of silence. But also because sound absorptive materials are also extremely effective in quite environment as well as noisy ones. This is because absorptive materials can be placed to block and absorb sudden sounds or used to create partitions which provide a great deal of privacy.

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