Acoustical Sound Masking Trends
Niklas Moeller, Vice President of LogiSon Acoustic Network. Soon after earning an MBA, he recognized the opportunities in office ergonomics and joined K.R. Moeller Associates, Ltd., the manufacturer of the LogiSon Acoustic Network.
Niklas Moeller, Vice President of LogiSon Acoustic Network. Soon after earning an MBA, he recognized the opportunities in office ergonomics and joined K.R. Moeller Associates, Ltd., the manufacturer of the LogiSon Acoustic Network. He’s involved in every aspect of the sound masking industry – from R&D to market development – and frequently presents on the subject of acoustics.
BOM: Hi, I’m James Pease and this is Take 5, Building Operating Management’s podcasts on topics of interest to building and facility executives.
How many movies have you seen that use the old bromide of “Sure is quiet out there – too quiet” to create an air of anxiety? Well, many contemporary public facilities and workspaces have a new kind of IEQ problem: “Sure is quiet in here – too quiet.” Workers are easily bothered by noises they wouldn’t even notice if there was a certain level of background sound and unintended easily overheard conversations raise the issue of worker and client privacy. The solution? Mask all that quiet with some carefully constructed and directed, non-obtrusive sound.
Here today to explain new trends in sound masking is Niklas Moeller, Vice President of LogiSon Acoustic Network. Soon after earning an MBA, he recognized the opportunities in office ergonomics and joined K.R. Moeller Associates, Ltd., the manufacturer of the LogiSon Acoustic Network. He’s involved in every aspect of the sound masking industry – from R&D to market development – and frequently presents on the subject of acoustics.
Sound masking has received a lot of media attention lately. Can you explain what this technology is and why it’s used?
Moeller: Sound masking addresses a common problem in today’s facilities, which is actually not too much noise, but too little. Basically, the background sound level has been lowered by new construction methods, absorptive materials and quieter equipment. That may sound good – and, to some degree, it is – but without adequate background noise, it’s much easier to hear everything happening around you. That’s where sound masking comes in. The system uses speakers to distribute a sound that’s been engineered to mask conversations and disturbances, which increases speech privacy and concentration. Though these systems have been around in one form or another for about 40 years, their visibility has recently been boosted by the popularity of the open plan. This type of space presents obvious acoustic challenges, but even in closed offices, sound can leak through the ceiling and air transfer components. So, for the best results, masking needs to be installed throughout your space.
BOM: Have you seen a corresponding increase in the number of sound masking systems on the market?
Moeller: Yes, but their design, application and performance vary dramatically, so you have to carefully evaluate your options in order to select the one best suited to your needs. For most facilities, flexibility is the key because it’s not enough to just introduce a sound into your space. It has to be the right sound, in the right place, at the right time. A system that provides small zones and fine volume and frequency adjustments allows the sound to be precisely tuned, so both its effectiveness and occupant comfort are maximized. Software control and digital zoning facilitate setup and take the headaches out of making changes after you move furniture or personnel. Paging and music capabilities are a valuable secondary benefit of these systems. If you choose one that can’t provide those functions, you can’t easily add them later. Also, check the system’s certifications. In the US, for example, sound masking systems installed in or extending into the plenum must be UL 2043 tested for flame and smoke resistance. And after the system is installed, it should be professionally tuned.
BOM: Over the last decade, there’s been a trend towards automated building systems. Has that affected your industry?
Moeller: Many of the features we released over the last five years were intended to bring sound masking technology in line with clients’ changing expectations. Networked components are appealing because they provide the high degree of control and flexibility they’re getting from other building systems. Cost savings are also involved. Computer control of individual speakers reduces disruptions and lifecycle costs because it allows users to make setting and zone changes in just a few minutes. Traditional systems simply cannot deliver the level of adjustability and functionality of newer ones, and you have to access the ceiling to make changes. That said, we’ve been in this field for 30 years and we’ve seen ideas come and go. Not all of them make sense. A good example is active, real-time volume adjustment. Paging systems used it for years but, unlike paging, masking works best when it’s inconspicuous. If volume changes aren’t made gradually, in the right place and at the right time, they’ll call attention to the system. When presented with any feature, consider its acoustic consequences. Ask yourself how it will play out across your space and over the system’s lifetime.
BOM: Most people familiar with sound masking consider it a commercial office solution. What about other environments?
Moeller: Sound masking has always been an easy, cost-effective solution whether installed in a new or existing facility, but contemporary design and engineering have made it more appealing to certain sectors. Hospitals, for example, like networked systems because they don’t have to open the ceiling to make changes. And new attractive speaker designs work well with today’s fashionable open ceilings. So, while we continue to see a lot of activity in the office sector, sound masking is increasingly used in facilities as diverse as hotels, spas and car dealerships. Healthcare applications, such as hospitals, medical buildings and pharmacies, are also growing. Some manufacturers offer a variety of speaker models in order to serve more clients, but the most common and best-performing is still the in-ceiling, upward-facing speaker. Wall-mounted, downward-facing, under-floor and desktop models can be useful in situations where you can’t access the ceiling or suspend anything in it, such as atriums, hard ceilings and historical properties.
BOM: How has the focus on sustainability impacted the sound masking industry?
Moeller: Green office designs present significant acoustic challenges. They often feature high percentages of open plan, low workstations, open ceilings, natural ventilation, hard surfaces and narrow spaces. Of course these strategies help with daylighting, temperature regulation and energy conservation, but post-occupancy studies have shown time and time again that they also lower acoustic performance. So, by addressing this problem, sound masking improves Indoor Environmental Quality. It can also contribute to the green commitment by decreasing material requirements, increasing the flexibility of your space and helping to maintain acoustic control as density increases. Most systems have low energy needs, and some manufacturers not only have a recycling program in place, but also use RoHS-compliant parts that reduce or eliminate several pollutants.
BOM: Thank you, Niklas. This is a really interesting field that too many people might overlook.
Our guest today has been Niklas Moeller, Vice President of LogiSon Acoustic Network. For more information, click on the text link on this page or visit LogiSon at www.logison.com.
Thanks for listening. This has been Take 5.
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