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  • Samantha Hathway

Soundbites No 2 – Why does my voice ‘carry’ so far when the office is quiet?

The Human Voice

Well, the short answer is – it doesn’t.

In fact, your voice travels the same distance, whether the office is noisy or quiet.

The element which changes, and which determines how audible/intelligible your voice is at different distances, is the level of underlying background noise.

Now, at Auricl we are all about bringing acoustics out of the ‘dark arts’ and into the open, so we have come up with no less than THREE ways of explaining this phenomenon (well, its just physics, really). So here we go, take your pick, or preferably read all three:

1. The Slightly Sinister Bedtime Story

Bear in mind that the noise ’climate’ in your office is made up of a patchwork quilt of sources – other voices, phones, printers and of course the underlying air conditioning noise (which you can hear when no-one is around). When the office is noisy, your voice blends into these other sources and becomes part of the jumble – at first unintelligible and then inaudible.

Now, this sounds a bit like a bedtime story, but it’s the best analogy we could find.

"Think of the other noise sources like a blanket – the more of them there (and the noisier they are), the thicker the blanket and the better it can wrap up your voice and hide it away."

When the office is quiet, the blanket is thinner and your voice breaks out, and is more noticeable to more people in the office.

2. Using a Little Bit of Maths and Science

We’ve established that your voice is the same whether the office is noisy or quiet (assuming you have kept your vocal effort the same, etc etc).

Essentially, when the office is quiet, the distance at which your voice becomes inaudible/unintelligible is further away. So in a quiet office, it feels like your voice ‘carries’ further, when in fact you are just audible over a greater distance.

In a noisy office, the inaudibility distance is much closer to you, so it feels like less of the office can hear what you are saying.

3. A Nice Picture

However you look at it, background noise is an important consideration which can significantly affect the ‘feel’ of an office environment.

Too much noise has obvious negative effects, but too little noise can significantly reduce the feeling of privacy and make occupants wary of picking up the phone, for fear of the world around them listening in.

So, at an early stage of the fit-out, it is imperative to properly consider architectural elements (like surface finishes, furnishings and screening), the building services (some systems are a lot quieter than others) and of course the human element (carefully considering the location of sensitive quiet teams and noisier groups).

Next time on Soundbites – A nice row of trees is an effective acoustic screen: true or false?

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