Sound Masking vs. Noise Treatments

Organizations managing public or commercial spaces have started using sound masking technologies to create better acoustics within their spaces.

What is sound masking?

It’s a technology designed to create a comfortable, productive, and private acoustical atmosphere by generating barely perceptible ambient noise within a specific area. Unlike traditional sound treatments that physically prevent noise from entering a business or office space, sound masking produces frequencies that help cancel out unwanted and noisy distractions that may occur in gyms, schools, offices, or restaurants.

Below, we’ll explore when you might opt for a sound masking solution and other types of noise treatments for your work environment.

Why Do Businesses Invest in Sound Masking?

The primary reason organizations implement office sound masking technology is that it can protect speech privacy. So if you’re worried about conversations leaking out of offices or board rooms, sound masking is a way to help protect those private conversations. 

Plus, masking unwanted noise, like distracting conversations, often leads to employees being more focused and, essentially, more productive.

But sound masking may also provide your employees with potential health benefits. In fact, millions of Americans are exposed to dangerous levels of noise every day. While hearing loss is the most common health problem, noise pollution can increase stress levels, leading to more severe health concerns like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.1

How Does Sound Masking Work?

Each sound masking set-up must be carefully designed and tuned to the space it occupies. Most systems consist of a noise generator, controller, speakers, power amplifier, and application software. When the area is tuned, the speakers emit steady and controlled ambient sound throughout the site. This new ambient noise will help conceal any sounds below its controlled frequency and soften those above it.

Sound masking is even simpler to understand if you consider a time when you were brushing your teeth and left the water running while your partner was talking in the other room. You could tell they were saying something, but their words were unintelligible. In this example, the running water would be like the ambient background sound you can sometimes hear being projected from loud speakers.2

Now that you know how sound masking works, let’s tune into other noise treatment solutions and how they can benefit your space and project.

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What are Noise Treatments?

Noise treatments are a passive way to reduce unwanted sound from certain places. Essentially, it’s the opposite of sound masking. Instead of actively distributing ambient background sound throughout a space, noise treatments are placed or fixed decoratively in corners and along ceilings and walls. They help to remove and mitigate problems, such as excessive background noise, reverberation, reflection, and echo. 

Some of the most common noise treatment products for sound absorption and room acoustics are the following:

  • Ceiling tiles – If your workplace features a suspended ceiling, you can replace the existing tiles with products specially engineered for better acoustic performance—like Silk Metal tiles featuring angled micro-perforation technology to reduce unwanted reverberation and echo.
  • Ceiling clouds – Suspended from an existing ceiling, these are ideal for use in large open spaces, such as offices, cafeterias, and libraries. Ceiling clouds come in a variety of designs and sizes, and are a great way to reduce noisy distractions and reverberation.
  • Acoustic panels – Standalone panels come in two varieties: absorbers, like Poly Max’s ceiling and wall panels, and diffusers, like the Sound Silencer™panels. They can be applied to walls, corners, and ceilings to either help remove excess sound or balance reflections within a space.  
  • Sound absorbing drapery –  Typically, these are curtains made from specific materials designed to reduce  the reflection from glass surfaces such as windows. For example, ACOUSTI-CURTAIN™ products feature a wool core with PFR or IFR face layer and lining fabrics.
  • Acoustic foamWhile sleek foam panels exist, there are also bulkier treatments that can be placed on walls or ceilings. Depending on its purpose, acoustic foam provides less of a finished appearance (e.g., “egg crate foam”), unlike other products’ sleek and smooth or inconspicuous designs. Foam is commonly used in spaces requiring heavy-duty sound treatments, like recording studios. 

Sound Masking or Noise Treatments, Which is Best?

By now, you may be scratching your head and wondering what’s the best solution to help reduce noise distraction. Honestly, it comes down to the space. Both sound masking and noise treatments aim to limit the amount of unwanted noise in an area, but they do this in very different ways. 

Businesses choose to install a sound masking system because of its:

  • Effectiveness in open space plans, such as offices, restaurants, gyms, etc…
  • Flexible approach to adjusting ambient levels to suit your needs
  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Simple installation
  • Unobtrusiveness, both visually and spatially

In contrast, they might choose a noise treatment to

  • Physically reduce the amount of noise transferred via air or impacts
  • Potentially enhance the aesthetics of a space

At the end of the day, you need to consider the space you’re treating for acoustics to decide which noise treatment is best for you. For example, you may want to dig into the differences between mineral wool vs fiberglass or consider soundproofing with rockwool. Need help? That’s where we come in.

Acoustical Surfaces: Finding Sound Solutions for Your Noise Control Needs

If you’re looking to reduce unwanted noise with sound masking or isolate it from a specific area via noise treatments, Acoustical Surfaces is here to provide sound solutions for your business’s noise control needs. Our team will help you identify and source the top-notch noise treatments that enhance your workplace. 

Contact us today to make your space a calmer, more productive, and healthier environment for employees.



  1. Noise Project. The Medical Effects of Noise Pollution. 
  2. High Performing Buildings. Tuning into Sound Masking. 

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