Pink Noise vs White Noise: what’s best to control noise in the workplace?

The solution for a noisy workspace can be more noise.

If you’ve worked in an office, you’ve likely been frustrated by conversations or other noise disrupting your concentration. You are not alone. The lack of sound privacy is one of the most significant sources of worker frustrations in open offices or those with partitions (see the chart below from Harvard Business Review).

Sound masking helps improve productivity and conversation privacy.

The solution? Sound Masking. It’s the practice of using sound to cover and interfere with disruptive noise in an office environment. Although adding sound may seem counter-intuitive, it works. By adding a layer of barely noticeable, specially-tuned, electronically generated sound, distracting conversations and sudden noises are minimized.  The result is fewer breaks in productivity and improved conversation privacy.

image of pink noise

Which is better to combat office noise: pink noise or white noise?

Different ‘colours’ of noise deliver different sound properties and so some are better than others for the workplace.  White noise is commonly referred to, pink noise, less so. There is a difference and one is better for controlling background noise through sound masking. Pink noise is more pleasant and specially calibrated for how we hear. White noise is very bright and hissy, less comfortable to the human ear.

Early sound masking systems in the 60s and 70s used white noise. Although the systems did their job, the sound was harsh. Later sound masking systems used updated technology adopting pink noise, which made for a more comfortable and effective sound for masking systems.  Pink noise can mask background sounds like conversations helping to prevent breaks in concentration, improving productivity and lessening worker frustrations.

White Noise

White noise is a combination of various frequencies that are audible to the human ear mixed at equal intensity. Imagine water falling at different speeds, hitting different surfaces or a radio tuned to an unused frequency.

Pink noise

Similar to white noise, pink noise is made up of various frequencies but with two major differences.  Pink noise delivers less intensity in the higher frequencies and more intensity at the lower end of the spectrum. This makes for a softer sound than white noise. Imagine the sound of steady light to medium rainfall or the distant sound of constant traffic. Pink noise is calibrated to sound balanced to the human ear; the tone has reduced high pitch sounds, is deeper overall and more pleasant.  Pink noise is beneficial for alert yet relaxed concentration, perfect for the workplace. Vibra-Sonic Control sound masking systems use pink noise for optimal sound masking effectiveness.

Productivity and ‘old brain’ hard-wiring

In an office without sound masking, sudden noises and higher-pitched tones from conversations are disruptive. Our brains will respond to these kinds of noises from our fight or flight ‘old brain’ hard-wiring by diverting our focus from our work to the source of the noise.  The addition of controlled, steady background sound in a space becomes unapparent to the brain and acts as a buffer, masking other disruptive sounds nearby.

There are no shortage of personal stories and research indicating noise in the workplace is a problem. The chart below is from the University of Sydney, published in Harvard Business Review indicating the leading cause of worker frustration is sound privacy.

From HBR original source: Center on the Built Environment

Learn how to improve office productivity and conversation privacy.

In spaces like offices, clinics or financial institutions, many conversations require privacy. In other cases, like open-plan offices, talk is disruptive to other workers. Solve either situation with the addition of controllable background sound through a sound masking system. The sound masking experts at Vibra-Sonic Control can design a custom system for your space and business operations. Contact us here for a complimentary consultation.

The ABC‘s of Sound Masking:

  • Absorb the Sound (absorptive ceiling or wall tiles, flooring)
  • Block the sound (partitions)
  • Cover the sound (sound masking)

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From the Atlantic: The Many Colors of Sound

From HBR: Stop Noise from Ruining Your Open Office

In this video, we learn about white noise, and it’s more pleasant cousins, pink noise and brown noise: