Sound Masking is used to make buildings seem quieter.
It works by increasing the volume of ambient background sounds at specific frequencies so that certain sounds, such as conversation, fade into the background thus reducing distractions and creating an environment where conversation can be conducted with more privacy.
The main difference between sound masking and white noise is that sound masking can be done over a very specific frequency range so that it matches the frequency of office chatter, whereas white noise is a mixture of all audible noise frequencies.
Sound masking is a low-level sound that is tuned in to the same frequencies that humans speak in (usually between 250-6,000Hz).
Sound masking sounds like you have your air conditioning on, the noise is uniform, and is set at a volume level that is barely noticeable.
The sound is typically calibrated to be up to 5dB louder than human speech to help mask the noise.
It is also important that this sound is dispersed evenly throughout a space for it to be effective, so while you could play noise through a pre-existing speaker system to achieve some level of sound masking it is unlikely that you will achieve full uniform coverage through the space.
An effective sound masking setup should use a purpose made speaker system which will ensure that sound is properly dispersed.
A good sound masking system will not be immediately obvious to anyone who enters the room or building, it will just sound like ambient background noise which they won’t notice.
Sound masking is far more technical than white noise.
With white noise you can just play a youtube static noise video, or put on a white noise MP3, however with sound masking you can’t just play a pre recorded sound masking track.
This is because sound masking systems pair their noise generating system with a graphic equaliser, these help to match the acoustics of the room with the generated noise.
Sound masking is very similar to white noise as it creates an ambient background noise which causes other sounds to fade into the background.
However, sound masking is far more advanced than white noise because it is designed to mask very specific sound frequencies.
The use cases of white noise and sound masking are also quite different.
White noise has many benefits and is typically used as a sleep aid as it helps all sounds of any frequency blend into the background, however unlike sound masking it is very noticeable and can be distracting.
Sound masking is more commonly used in open-plan office settings where people conversing on the far side of the office can distract people from work.
By using frequencies that are set at a level similar to that of human speech, distracting office conversations become inaudible so you can only hear those close to you.
As you can see white noise machines are more of a blunt tool which just make the same nosie regardless of their surroundings, whereas sound masking machines are finely tuned and highly engineered to be effective and almost undetectable.