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Noise & sound conditioners, machines, apps: this article explains using white noise or colored noise machines for privacy, sleeping aids, or to control sound transmission in buildings: how to make a quiet home, office, or place of business using masking sound or noise generating machines and equipment. We describe the difference between white noise, pink noise, brown noise, and sound programs such as rain, surf, owls, and we include a table comparing types, features, & prices of various sound generators, noise machines, and apps.
As we show in our photo (left), white noise generators may also be used in locations where an extra measure of privacy is required. This installation is in the waiting room outside offices used by psychotherapists.
White noise is a sound containing a blend of all the audible
frequencies distributed equally over the range of the frequency band.
When this sound is generated it tends to make unintelligible or even less noticeable other sounds such as nearby conversation. Korkki (2008) reported that people working in open plan offices particularly suffer from noise distraction, citing experts who explain that the effort to ignore distracting noises (such as recognizable speech) forces attention switching to and from one's work, interfering with concentration. Even small noises can be distracting, particularly recognizable speech.
Shown in our photo above is the Sleep Mate™ sound generator produced by Marpac. In addition to white noise, sound conditioners may produce sounds of nature such as that of a river or brook, lakeshore, surf, thunderstorms, or rainfall. Sound Screen® and SleepMate® are registered trademarks owned by Marpac Corporation.
The Marpac SleepMate™ is currently sold as the Dohm-DS Dual Speed Sound Conditioner by Marpac (formerly known as the Sleepmate/Sound Screen 980A) in a two-speed model and in the $50. U.S. price range.
What setting to use with a white noise generator or sound conditioner
The proper setting for a white noise generator or sound conditioner is not to make the output as loud as possible.
Rather, set the volume on the white noise machine to just mask the noise (or conversation) to be overcome. Setting the white noise volume higher than that level risks making the white noise itself an annoyance in the building.
Depending on the model, sound conditioners, unlike white noise generators that produce a standard "hissing" type sound, other sound conditioner types include speed settings, volume settings, and choices among sound tracks that in some models can be mixed or overlaid.
See SOUND CONTROL in buildings for complete information about noise transmission in buildings and how to control noise and sound problems.
Sound Conditioners / White Noise Machines: brands, models, Smartphone apps, features, prices, where to buy
Sound Conditioners & White Noise Machines
Speeds / Features
Price Range (USD)
Adaptive Sound Technologies, Inc.
Sound + Sleep Therapy Systems
10 programs, listens to & adapts to surrounding sounds, 3 richness settings, timer
Alternatives to Using White Noise or Sound Conditioning Machines
Smartphone App Provides Variations on "White Noise": definitions of white noise, pink noise, brown noise
Simply Noise , producer of a downloadable smartphone app that allows use of a smartphone as a noise generator, offers the following alternative type & definitions of masking sound programs:
White Noise - Contains sound across all frequencies. White noise is the most effective at blocking distractions because it covers the largest spectrum range. It's great for reading, writing, studying, and anything else that requires focus.
Pink Noise - A blend of high and low frequencies that produce a mesmerizing waterfall effect. Pink noise is great for melting away stress while keeping you alert and energized. The airy drone creates a therapeutic environment that relaxes your mind and body.
Brown Noise - Utilizes the lower sound frequencies to generate a deep ambient rumble. Brown noise is excellent for aiding sleep, pacifying children and pets, even masking Tinnitus. It's also great for breaking in audio equipment and soothing migraines.
We purchased this smartphone app and installed it on an android Galaxy S for testing. The application (About $1.00 U.S.) includes a volume control, timer, and sound programs that select among white noise, pink noise, brown noise, an oscillating noise program. If you plan to leave the noise conditioner app running for a long period you might want to connect your phone to its power adapter.
While they may be less comfortable and while they don't offer sophisticated noise cancellation, simple ear plugs are certainly the most economical way to block noise in the workplace, while traveling, in noisy hotels, etc.
Several companies provide sophisticated noise-cancelling earphones or headphones that do a stunning job of blocking regular, constant and in some cases even sudden loud noises. Typically these devices are combined with the ability to connect the headphones to a music or other desired source. Here are some current example products:
AKG K4n5 Noise Cancelling Headphones
Audio Technica ATH-ANC1 Quiet Point Noise Cancelling Headphones
Beats Studio 2013 Active Noise Cancelling Headphones
Bose QC 15 Quiet Comfort 3 U Bose Quiet Comfort 20i Active Noise Cancelling Headphones
Harmon Kardon NC Active Noise Cancelling Headphones
Monoprice Noise Cancelling Headphones
PSB Speakers M4U 2 Noise Cancelling Headphones
Sony MDR-NC200D Noise Cancelling Headphones
Soul Ludacris SL 300 Noise Cancelling Headphones
Before buying any of these or their successors you'll want to both read review and actually try out the unit. Some useful references for noise cancelling headphones include
Akhtar, Shamsuddin, Carl GM Weigle, Eugene Y. Cheng, Robert Toohill, and Richard J. Berens. "Use of active noise cancellation devices in caregivers in the intensive care unit." Critical care medicine 28, no. 4 (2000): 1157-1160.
Gower, Daniel W., and John G. Casalvi. "Speech intelligibility and protective effectiveness of selected active noise reduction and conventional communications headsets." Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 36.2 (1994): 350-367.
Gan, Woon S., and Sen M. Kuo. "An integrated audio and active noise control headset." Consumer Electronics, IEEE Transactions on 48.2 (2002): 242-247.
Hansen, Colin N. Understanding active noise cancellation. CRC Press, 2002. [book]
Kuo, Sen M., Sohini Mitra, and Woon-Seng Gan. "Active noise control system for headphone applications." Control Systems Technology, IEEE Transactions on 14.2 (2006): 331-335.
Attending to Tinnitis as a Mitigator for Other Background Noise
I [DF] have suffered tinnitus since learning to fire the 3.5" rocket launcher and the 50 caliber machine gun during basic army training. No earplugs were issued in 1965, and we tried cigarette butts or just ducking when the rocket went off or the machine gun was firing overhead, sometimes just a foot away. A result is permanent ringing in the ear or tinnitis. Most of the time tinnitis is annoying and it correlates with significant hearing loss in old age (me).
But it's also handy. In a noisy hotel I just put my better ear down on the pillow, turn the ringing ear up to the world, and consciously attend the ringing hissing sound that's always there. It's like being in a room with my own air conditioner or my own white noise machine.
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FAQs below discusses field reports of problems & solutions for this topic
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about sound conditioners & white noise machines
Where can we buy a white noise machine for use in our Ottowa office - Anonymous 9/25/12
We have added the table above listing a number of noise and sound conditioners including white noise machines - thanks for this prompt. Let me emphasize that to protect reader confidence in InspectApedia's information, we have no business nor financial connection with any manufacturer or service provider discussed at our website. InspectAPedia is an independent publisher of building, environmental, and forensic inspection, diagnosis, and repair information provided free to the public.
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Phyllis Korkki, "Where Sounds Have No Barrier - In today's open work spaces, even small noises can prove distracting and annoying", The New York Times, p. 8, 3 March 2014
 Marpac, produces white sound generators, a product that they identify as the Marpac sound conditioner. Marpac can be contacted at http://www.marpac.com/ or contact the Marpac Corporation,
P.O. Box 560 Rocky Point, NC 28457 Phone: 800-999-6962 (USA and Canada) Fax: 910-602-1435 1-910-602-1421 (worldwide), 800-999- or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
 Sound Oasis sound conditioners are produced by Sound Oasis: http://www.sound-oasis.com/ email: email@example.com or 1-866-625-3218
 National Sleep Foundation, 1010 N. Glebe Road
Arlington, VA 22201 USA, (703) 243-1697, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Website: http://www.sleepfoundation.org/ - Quoting: The National Sleep Foundation is a 501(c)3 charitable, educational, and scientific not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving sleep health and safety through education, public awareness, and advocacy.
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