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Can poor quality audio really be bad for you?

  • #wellness
  • #audio

Published byRob MacFarlane

Sound can profoundly alter our state of mind and has the power to influence our thoughts, feelings, and behaviour.

Take a moment to listen, what can you hear as you’re reading this? Maybe you’re in a bustling office, at home with the kids running around, or lucky enough to be in the pub? Wherever you are, we guarantee there will be an element of background noise seeping into your subconscious, which as it turns out it might be harming you and the people on your call or online meeting

The distant rumble of a main road and general hubbub of a city may feel like part and parcel of urban living, but this often unnoticed noise pollution can have serious impacts on our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Background noise is wearing us out.

Working through the noise

We’ve all experienced those phone calls where one person is difficult to hear. It doesn’t take long to get annoyed does it? That’s because the brain finds it difficult to filter out and focus on specific noises, so if there’s static on the line, or someone’s chatting in a noisy cafe, your brain tunes into the background noise as well as the speech, making it harder to focus on the important sound.

Sound is measured in decibels (dB) and there have been many studies into the impact loud sounds can have on a person. Sound that hits just 85dB can harm a person’s ears, and many everyday noises frequently top this including trains (90 to 115dB) and barking dogs (between 85 and 122dB). And worryingly, according to the WHO, noise levels above 35dB will lead to reduced cognitive abilities in schools.

The impact of unwanted sound

Noise pollution impacts millions of us daily. When your brain gets bombarded with noise it is flooded with the stress hormone cortisol. Too much cortisol can inhibit the brain’s prefrontal cortex – the centre of emotional learning that enables us to regulate behaviours such as reasoning and planning – and lead to a whole host of mental and physical problems including sleep disturbance, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, and even coronary disease.

How we decide which noises are bad for us is something scientists at UCL and Newcastle University have been studying. They’ve been trying to work out why the sound of chalk on a blackboard, or a knife on a bottle for instance, is so unpleasant, and discovered that it’s something of a primal response, generated by the amygdala, which causes an instinctive negative reaction. Their studies discovered that anything in the frequency range of around 2,000 to 5,000 Hz was perceived to be unpleasant.

The problem with background noise

But as we mentioned earlier, not all the harmful noises are as obviously upsetting as cutlery on a glass table (or maybe that one is just me?). There’s the consistent low level ambient sounds, especially while working and communicating, that is having a detrimental impact, not only on our productivity and work life happiness, but also our health.  

It does sound far-fetched, but there have been numerous studies (such as in this medical journal) into the effect background noise has on a child’s ability to learn, with evidence suggesting those kids exposed to higher levels of noise – such as a continuously noisy classroom or that they lived close to a busy road – impaired their cognitive abilities. Bad sound is hurting our kid’s ability to learn

Even small increases in unwanted ambient sound have significant effects. In 2011, for example, scientists studying people living near seven major European airports found that a 10dB in aircraft noise was associated with a 28 percent increase in anxiety medication use.

Keeping quiet

All this makes for grim reading, but help is at hand. Your employer is legally required to protect your hearing if you are exposed to noise over 85dB. And while this is great for preventing hearing loss on building sites, what about the constant low level of noise in our offices, homes, hot desk spaces, and cafés, where so many of us work these days? 

With noises around you, you have a certain degree of control over – a dedicated office space when working from home, a meeting room when in the office, noise cancelling headphones, or even a good old fashioned telling people to keep it down. However you have little control over the noise at the other end of a meeting – where your colleague or customer might be less on top of their environment. Not to mention, if the meeting rooms are all booked in your office, or your dog decides a sales call is the perfect time to bark uncontrollably – you want to protect others from the noise at your end.

But help is at hand in the form of our advanced AI-algorithm voice isolation software called IRIS Clarity. Once downloaded onto your laptop it can differentiate between background sounds and human voice, and as a result, can actually remove unwanted background noise from both ends of any online communication at the same time.

By removing the unwanted hubbub you get in every office, work space and communal area, you’re suddenly able to hear and be heard. There’s no straining, no need to crank up the volume, no annoyance, no added layer of stress. It’s like you’ve booked a private meeting room all day long.

Voice isolation helps make sound through calls become clearer, and when the unwanted background noise disappears for everyone, the harmful impact it can have on your, and whoever you’re talking to’s health also vanishes. 

Your brain can finally concentrate solely on the task in hand and your conversations can flow without distraction.