Sound Masking Pushes Toward Individualized, Centralized Control
When it comes to acoustics, the ceiling isn't the whole story. The sound masking field has moved in the direction of more individualized, centralized control that offers a custom additional flexibility and fine-tuning. Sound masking systems today can be networked systems that, says Moeller, allow "the flexibility of local adjustment within very small zones of speakers, anywhere down to an individual speaker, and the ease of control from a remote, centralized location from down below the ceiling." Before networked sound masking systems were introduced about a decade ago, "systems had required some types of localized adjustment to be done by accessing the ceiling," he says. The network approach also allows features and functions that were previously impossible, including digital zoning.
There has been continued progress toward "a simplified, engineered solution" for sound masking systems that provides proper sound creation and distribution and superior control, says David Smith, executive director of channel and business strategy at Lencore.
"Having better control allows for smarter tunability and zoning," he says. "The better sound masking solutions have the capability to positively shape and affect the sound accordingly within various acoustically distinguishable spaces as necessary in order to make it effective, and above all, comfortable." Single-point networked control, open platform controls, sound creation, and smart user interfaces all put flexibility and ease of use into a facility manager's hands, Smith says.
Other features that sound masking companies and their customers are looking at these days:
• The provision of legally mandated privacy, such as for medical, financial, and judicial institutions. "We've seen sound masking used selectively near jury rooms or in courtrooms," says Stephen Shenefield, senior director of product development at Cambridge Sound Management. "We've also seen it used in mixed-use or mixed-organization facilities, such as innovation incubators, where many high-value tenants co-exist in a small space — and all of them want the secrets of their start-ups kept confidential. This is an important responsibility and opportunity for facility managers and the AV providers."
• A system able to span multiple buildings in campus-like settings from a single control unit, and powerful enough to be used in emergency paging and mass notification systems.
• More software control and systems integration in facilities, creating smarter buildings.
• "We're seeing an increased use of transducers rather than loudspeakers to introduce sound masking sound into areas with gypsum ceilings," Moeller says. A transducer is a device that attaches to a hard surface, vibrates that surface, and turns it effectively into a speaker. "The transducer is expanding in use largely because it's now being seen as an alternative to a cut-through ceiling speaker," he says. "You can mount a transducer above the gypsum ceiling and it becomes your masking speaker."