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What is Background Noise?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2014
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Background noise is any sound element that tends to distract or in some manner interfere with the ability of the individual to hear or be heard. There are many different types of background noises, ranging from those that are almost undetectable to others that are extremely irritating. Fortunately, there are often ways to minimize the intrusion of this secondary noise and overcome the irritation.

In some cases, background noise is not considered unpleasant at all. For example, many restaurants utilize music playing softly in the background as a way to create a more inviting ambiance for diners. The idea is to set the volume of the music so that conversing in normal tones is possible, but the music helps to relax customers and enjoy the meal.

However, the use of background music is sometimes complicated with the use of televisions placed around the dining area. When the volume on the sets is also turned up, conversation becomes more difficult and may prove annoying to some patrons. The result is a loss of repeat business, since diners who do not enjoy themselves are less likely to return.

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Background noise also occurs when using various types of telephone devices. The origin of the noise may have to do with sounds occurring at the point of origin or the point of destination. For example, a conference call involving two or more locations using a speakerphone may encounter background noise that is created from air vents blowing on the speakers, or several people tapping pencils on the conference room table.

At other times, background noise sound has to do with a malfunction of the connection itself. A phenomenon known as a bleeding line occurs when connections become crossed, effectively allowing two distinct conversations to filter into each connection. Often, the only way to remove noise of this type is to break the connection and initiate a new telephone call.

Both the home and the workplace hold great potential for hearing background noise of different origins. Conversations conducted in loud voices can be considered background noise, as can the constant humming of office machinery or home appliances. In some cases, the level of noise in the background is low and thus will not be noticeable to people who are in the space on a continual basis.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways to remove background noise or at least engage in some sort of background noise reduction. Fabrics sometimes help to absorb sound, and will help to minimize the impact of subtle noises. In the workplace, creating rules of conduct can help to remind people that speaking above normal tones is not acceptable and disturbs others. Restaurants can make it a point to adjust the music level to an acceptable range and mute the volume on television sets.

When possible, placing a door between work areas and copy machines or other office equipment helps to prevent the operation of the machines from interfering with the concentration of the staff. Making sure speakerphones are not setting underneath an air vent will enhance the sound quality on phone calls, as will refraining from rattling paper or tapping pencils on the desk or table. Often, all it takes to remove background noise is to become aware it is present, annoying to someone in the area, and taking steps to minimize or eliminate the source of the excess sound.

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