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The Science Behind Audio and Sound and What It Means for Your Organization

A forewoman struggles to give instructions over the hum of machinery in the warehouse she manages. An area manager on a videoconference meeting sounds echoey in the remote workspace he’s using. Outbound public works teams fail to hear instructions relayed to them via a mobile app due to background noise in the field.

These are just three of the endless ways poor sound quality can disrupt productivity and affect the bottom line — and grasping the core differences between audio and sound is the first step to finding solutions.

So what is the difference between audio and sound? 

  • Sound is the physical act of waves bouncing off things in the environment. In other words, the physical activity creating the noises you hear.
  • Audio, on the other hand, can be seen as the collection of tools, technologies, features, and benefits that make capturing and transmitting high-quality sound possible.
An executive working in the field connects with colleagues through videoconference

An executive working in the field connects with colleagues through videoconference.

Putting it another way, quality sound is what your business strives for, and quality audio (whatever form it takes) is how you get there.

Let’s look at the differences between audio and sound in a business context — with tips designed to help you make the most of whatever space you work in.

Tip 1: Distracting Sounds Create Lingering Frustrations

Working means dealing with “micro-frustrations” — setbacks that don’t seem like much on their own but accumulate into a larger frustration over time. And often, these problems, such as poor conference quality, construction outside your window, or even a coworker obnoxiously clearing his throat, can be directly related to sound.

At a high level, you can look at this issue in two ways:

  • Problems with a direct productivity impact. The warehouse scenario provides a good example: For the forewoman, not being clearly heard is a source of frustration that affects her ability to pass down critical information. The people reporting to her, meanwhile, can’t hear her direct commands, leaving them to seek clarification later or guess as to what she wants.
  • Ongoing distractions. Sure, the pinging sound your coworker’s space bar makes might not bother you enough to say something the first time — or the thousandth — but noticing it over and over can impede your ability to focus.

It’s the reason one-third of respondents in a 2019 Harvard Business Review survey indicated they want some form of “soundscaping” in the workplace — office audio features that overwrite small annoyances and allow them to stay productive.

Tip 2: Good Audio Can Create Great Sound Nearly Anywhere

In exploring questions like “what is the difference between audio and sound,” you quickly learn that quality audio tools can make any sort of workspace sound, and thus perform, better — whether the space is already designed to provide great sound or could use some sound control.

You can see several interesting applications of this idea in our Bose Professional case studies. For example, Poland’s Powiśle Power Plant is a multipurpose dining/living/entertainment establishment built from a World War II power station. If a space once used to generate power can be turned into a true audio marvel that supports live shows, high-end living, luxury retail shopping, and numerous other needs, then it’s fair to say any space can be made appropriate for quality sound.

Today, solutions must provide exceptional sound quality without disrupting the functional and aesthetic flow of the room. Odd room shapes, building material selections, and countless other factors can play into the sound quality a room naturally produces. Whether it’s a commercial sound processor feeding high-quality sound through an odd-shaped dining venue or an integrated system turning a high-ceilinged room into a functioning conferencing space, the right solution can mix and match multiple needs without getting in the way of form or function.

Tip 3: Don’t Forget Remote and Hybrid Work

Then there’s the research suggesting businesses do best in the post-pandemic world when they keep all employees (including those in remote or hybrid working models) connected on a “micro” level. For example, take McKinsey’s recent finding that improving connectivity between people has a direct correlation to improved productivity — a notion that suggests sound quality plays an active role in keeping people the right kind of busy.

Take that idea a step further: When talking about the sound and audio quality remote and hybrid workers face, you’re most likely going to talk about Quality of Service (QoS) issues that create sound problems. Think about the last time poor audio on a conference call affected your ability to work properly. Because our brains have to work harder to pluck out vital data from audio with a lot of background noise, per research from Scientific American, the ability to concentrate and retain information suffers.

Keeping people connected matters more than ever, and that means paying attention to sound-related components. In some instances, the solution may be as simple as providing noise cancelling headphones to ensure unavoidable field noise doesn’t make working harder on your people. In others, approaching sound quality (through ceiling audio solutions or other means) alongside network needs may be more appropriate. However you go about it, make sure you’re giving sound the attention it deserves.

Taking the Next Step

In closing, let’s cover a few considerations IT teams and other audio decision makers should weigh as they strive to improve their audio and sound situation:

  • What specific challenges do we face? You might not know (yet) how to solve your sound issues, but you likely have some idea of what’s causing them.
  • What would our ideal audio solution(s) look like? Even if you don’t fully know what’s out there, you can probably envision how your space (and any remote/hybrid spaces) would look with the right solutions in place.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Sound is a tricky subject, and not everyone is an audio expert. Instead of assuming solution “x” or “y” would fix whatever issues you’re facing, why not talk to someone who makes a career out of managing sound solutions? Asking potential vendors to hear your pain points and submit solutions will at minimum provide a better understanding of what’s out there.

In other words, leaving sound to chance in the workplace is never a good idea, especially not in today’s hybrid working world. Now that you know the differences between audio and sound, it’s time to make them a bigger focus in your workplace — in the traditional office and beyond.