I work in a noisy cube farm that is often distracting. I've been unable to correct the noise problems at their sources and I don't want to wear headphones or earplugs, so it appears that using a white-noise generator is my other option (as recommended in this answer to a related question).

What do I need to know to effectively use such a device in my workplace? Does the type of noise matter? Does the type of sound produced by the generator matter -- steady hum versus varied (like a fountain), range, volume, etc? Is under my desk a good place to set it up? I haven't found any sources that discuss mitigation for different types of office noise.

  • Buy a cheap noisy fan. Stick it under your desk.
    – DA.
    Commented May 22, 2013 at 3:23
  • 8
    I once worked in an office where someone used a white noise generator, and, while I absolutely hated the level of chit-chat that my coworkers engaced in, I found it rude and annoying that she was doing that. It felt passive-aggressive. Be prepared for people to view this as a tacit accusation. Commented May 22, 2013 at 19:43

2 Answers 2


The use of sound sources to limit the impact of non-wanted noise is based on the idea of "masking": The new sound will make the unwanted noise inaudible. In terms of measurement, the sound level actually goes up but the subjective character of the noise is improved.

In order to make this work best, one should

  1. Make sure that the spectrum of the masking noise matches the spectrum of the unwanted noise match. "White noise" is probably the wrong thing and "pink noise" typically works a lot better. Ideally this is measured first
  2. The sound system for the masking noise should focus the noise as much as possible on the affected working position and keep it away from anybody else. This is not easy to do with small speakers.

If the masking noise is perceived as "annoying" or "disturbing" by other people in the workplace, it will only make things worse. They will just talk louder to overcome the added background. So the subjective character of the noise is very important. I've also seen usage of soft background music (if the office in total agrees), a small indoor fountain, and nature noises used as maskers.

  • Thank you for this helpful answer the the question I actually asked (as opposed to the question the closers think I asked). You've given me some good search terms (hadn't heard of "pink noise" before). Commented May 22, 2013 at 12:49
  • My office has a white noise system that's supposed to mask other noises. It may help with that, but I'm not sure. What I am sure about is that I hear it droning on all day long right alongside the HVAC vent above my desk. The white noise itself is distracting. I suspect it wasn't set up properly.
    – alroc
    Commented May 23, 2013 at 16:02
  • White noise is purely random noise where pink-noise is an inverse relationship to frequency. Basically, lower frequency (lower powered) noises get more volume while higher powered (higher frequency) noises get less volume. Kinda like the golden ratio but for your ears. Commented Feb 24, 2020 at 19:48

I was tired of using head phones all the time in the cube farm and tried a website called: simplynoise.

It is free and offers: white, pink and brown noise (they are identified by their different wave formula). I would put it on the speakers and try it out. You'll have to test what works for you and adjust as you go along.

People sitting next to you will wonder, "What is that hissing sound?" I have no idea if it will bother them or not. Use the oscillation to break up the monontony.

Every place is different, but I think this gives you enough to see if it will for for you.

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    That looks like a great site, thanks! (IT request to permit usage is pending; will report back when I've been able to try it out in my noisy work environment.) Commented May 22, 2013 at 21:02
  • Simply Noise confirmed that what I want is pink noise rather than white noise -- thanks! Using it with the laptop built-in speaker is not ideal, but external speakers should help with that. Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 19:39

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