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What’s the difference between noise canceling and sound masking?

Noise canceling and sound masking are two different techniques used to reduce unwanted sounds, but they work in very different ways.

Noise canceling is a technology used in headphones and earbuds to actively cancel out external sounds by generating an opposing sound wave. This opposing sound wave, also known as anti-noise, effectively cancels out the external noise before it reaches the listener’s ears. This technique is particularly useful in situations where you want to focus on your audio without any external distractions, such as when you’re on a plane or working in a noisy office.

Noise canceling works well in very small spaces where the anti-noise wave can be focused. That is why the technology is sold in headphones, where the waves can be targeted around the ear. This technology does not work for large scale applications, as sound waves move in all directions and cannot effectively target your ear, which is also a moving target. Another potential drawback of noise canceling is it eliminates your ability to communicate, as all outside sounds are completely blocked, including your own voice. This can be both dangerous for safety reasons, and not ideal if you’re looking to concentrate, but still need to be reachable and aware of your surroundings.

On the other hand, sound masking is a technique used to reduce the impact of external noise by adding a background sound that covers it up. Sound masking involves playing a soft and steady sound, such as white noise, pink noise, or nature sounds, to mask the external noise. This technique is often used in open-plan offices or shared workspaces where it’s not possible to eliminate all the external noise, but where creating a more pleasant and less distracting sound environment can be beneficial.

Sound masking works well in a variety of environments, including offices, healthcare settings and government facilities. In these environments, focus and productivity are important factors, as is co-worker, customer, and patient privacy. Sound masking allows for small and large space applications, where noise canceling is not practical.

The technology behind sound masking has evolved over the years, and different manufacturers employ different techniques. Lencore’s scientifically formulated Green Sound™ is the most comfortable and effective sound available. It balances white noise, which is best for covering unwanted sounds, with pink and brown noise, which are the most pleasant sounds to listen to, all on an acoustically specified frequency curve to create the absolute best audio aesthetic in your environment.

So, what’s the difference between noise canceling and sound masking? In short, noise canceling actively cancels out external noise, while sound masking adds a background sound to mask it. Both techniques can be useful in different situations, depending on the level and type of noise you’re dealing with and your preferences for how to manage it.