As noise continues to be a leading guest complaint within the industry, hotels are seeking ways to reduce the racket and bump up satisfaction scores. One way to achieve this is by installing in-room sound masking systems. Lodging Online Editor Deidre Wengen spoke with acoustical expert Niklas Moeller, vice president of K.R. Moeller Associates Ltd., to learn how sound masking technology works and how it can benefit hotels.
Lodging: What is sound masking and why is it an important component of hotel development and design?
Niklas Moeller: For years, guestroom noise has been a top industry complaint. Most travelers also identify it as their number one sleep inhibitor.
Noise is a persistent problem in hotels because the background sound levels in most guestrooms are simply too low. In this ‘pin drop’ environment, guests are disturbed by even low-volume noises.
Sound masking is an electronic noise control technology that introduces a comfortable background sound into the room, allowing guests to control the ambience the same way they control temperature and lighting. Most people compare this sound to that of soft airflow, but it’s engineered to be far less noticeable and is extremely effective at covering a variety of noises.
Lodging: What types of noise do guests experience in their rooms and how has the industry attempted to deal with them?
Moeller: Guests are subjected to noise from many sources. They come from outside the hotel—a freeway, nightclub, or construction project—and from inside the property—televisions, telephones, ice machines, elevators, conversation, and other activities in adjoining rooms and hallways.
There are four methods hotels can use to address noise: reducing it at the source; blocking it with the shell, walls, windows, and doors; absorbing it with soft furniture and flooring; and covering it with sound masking. Because each method performs a unique role, some measure of all four is needed to provide the desired results.
Today, nearly all hotels use the first three of these four strategies. Their efforts have improved the overall acoustic environment, but noise often remains a problem. In many cases, these steps only exacerbate the problem by further lowering room sound levels, making remaining noises even more noticeable.
Lodging: Why do you feel hotels should implement sound masking systems?
Moeller: Implementing a sound masking system is often the most effective and budget-friendly approach, especially when compared to making expensive construction or equipment changes. Masking is also quite simple to add to existing hotels without disrupting operations, which can’t be said for other techniques.
Lodging: When developing a sound masking plan, what should hotel owners and operators keep in mind?
Moeller: Typically, each room will have its own masking system. This type of installation avoids the challenge and cost of running room-to-room wiring, provides component redundancy, and permits individual room adjustment. In some situations, such as those requiring automated adjustment of the masking volume via a timer function, the property may benefit from a whole floor implementation.
It’s vital that the masking sound be properly generated, adjusted via effective volume and frequency controls, and produced over a high quality loudspeaker. Introducing a poor quality masking sound will irritate, rather than help, the guest.
A key requirement is to provide guests with a volume control, which allows them to set the background levels to a volume they find comfortable or necessary to cover unwanted noise