• Use your headphones along with sounds to cover up noises
  • Music or background sounds can drown out unwanted chatter
  • Nature sounds can reduce stress while masking noises
  • White noise and binaural beats are good artificial solutions
Could it possibly get any noisier?

The copy machine spitting out print jobs.

The daily gossip gathering across from you.

Unattended phones ringing endlessly.

Impromptu meetings happening out loud.

Conference calls and conversations.

If it’s not one noise then it’s another.

Noises in the office have been irritating us since the dawn of the industrial age. In fact, back in 1925, an inventor by the name of Hugo Gernsback created this creepy looking thing called an “Isolator.” It looks like a torture device straight out of a vintage horror flick. 

(Credit: Science Invention Magazine, 1925)

The Isolator was designed to block out all noise and keep the user ultra-focused on work. Even the eye portals were slotted to limit your vision to only what’s directly in front of you. Early versions made users sleepy, so Hugo added in an oxygen tank to keep things fresh.

And here’s a more modern rendition of the same concept by Hochu Rayu, a Ukrainian design company. Their product is called “Helmfon” a contraction of two words: helmet and phone.

(Credit: Hochu Rayu)

The Helmfon is meant to do much of the same thing - create a personal bubble of silence around your head. Its original goal was to provide workers with a way to conduct phone calls in a quiet personal space and also not disturb others nearby.

What they didn’t mention is the fact that you’ll look like an off-duty superhero or one of Dark Helmet’s henchmen from the parody movie, Spaceballs (1987).

There’s no fucking way we’d ever wear this wacky thing at the office. Halloween? Maybe.

Ugh, can somebody please invent an invisible noise-canceling personal bubble?!

Until that day comes, we’ll always be enviously looking at the glass-enclosed offices of senior management. What a luxury to be able to just close the door and get some quiet.

We can only dream of having our own cocoon of silence at the office.

But hey, we’ve got to work with what we have or don’t have in this case.

If you haven’t looked into more proactive countermeasures, read this article about focusing in a noisy office. There are several creative options to develop your own quiet environment. One of them just might work for you.

This article is kinda like a last resort to handling office noise. And, it’ll do so by using your headphones as a primary tool to address the problem.

The main method that we’re using here is called “noise-masking.” It’s when you use other sounds to cover up or mask unwanted noises.

We’ll go over some common and not-so-common ways to drown out or mask noises in your office.

So, grab your headphones and let’s go through these one at a time.

1. Favorite Tunes

This is “duh” obvious. Listen to your favorite music via your music streaming apps or online from your computer. If you’re a veteran of doing this, you definitely know by now what types of music work for you for the type of work at hand.

Listen to different genres of your favorite music to see what works well. Maybe, you want to increase your focus or calm down and relax. There are millions of songs out there.

If you’ve got the time and effort, make two work-related playlists “Focus” and “Calm.” As you work your way through your music library over time, you can plop the best ones into ones of those buckets.

2. Themed Stations

If you’re getting bored of your library of music or don’t want to create another playlist, try listening to curated selections by your streaming music provider. These are typically based upon activities or moods.

Both Apple Music and Spotify plus other music apps have themed stations like “At The Office” or “Working Out” or “Evening Relaxation” etc. Try various stations with the type of work you’re doing. Mix and match. Some may work for reading analysis while others work well with numbers analysis.

Experiment and listen to different themed stations and save the best ones that work for you in that particular work mode.

3. Movie Music Soundtracks 

Got some favorite movies? It’s very likely that it’s got a bunch of great songs that will keep you tapping away at the keyboard and nodding your head in rhythm.

You’ll need to line up at least 5-10 movie albums to keep the rotation length long enough so as to not repeat too often.

Some of our favorites movie soundtracks:
- Pulp Fiction
- Forrest Gump
- Almost Famous
- Baby Driver
- Lion King

4. Movie Instrumental Scores 

For some of us, listening to music while reading a document doesn’t work so well. It’s almost like they’re fighting to use the same part of our brain.

While the opposite may be true where listening to music while working on numbers works just fine.

If lyrics seem to jam up your thinking, try listening to instrumental soundtracks or scores.

For some of us, this is a perfect “Goldilocks” solution. It’s got all the melodies and tempos we enjoy about music without the distractions of words.

A few of our choices:
- Star Wars
- Raiders Of The Lost Ark
- The Godfather
- Schindler’s List
- Phantom Of The Opera

5. Online Virtual Cafe

You may be trapped in your cubicle and can’t work remotely but that doesn’t mean that you can’t virtually escape to an online coffee shop.

Often times, the moderate buzz of activity in a cafe is just the right amount of noise to keep us alert and focused without being distracting.

There’s something about the combination of cafe sounds that is appealing. The sounds of spoons stirring inside of cups, the hissing of the cappuccino machine, light background chatter, etc.

Our top pick is Hipstersound for its simplicity and ease-of-use.

Here’s why we like it:
- Super easy to figure out and use
- Free sound loops
- Optional add-on sounds
- Adjustable volume for each sound
- Mute timer

So, go get a fresh cup of coffee from the break room and settle into your personal cubicle cafe.

6. Nature Background Sounds 

Mother nature provides some of the best background sounds and music. She has the best ensemble of musicians and earthly instruments, hands down.

While we may not be able to work from a white sandy beach, tropical rainforest or mountain creek, we can listen to a soundtrack that takes us there mentally in a flash.

There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of YouTube clips for nature sounds, but unless you’ve got a paying subscription, you’ll have to deal with commercial interruptions.

Here’s the better option.

Use nature sound websites and related apps. They all offer free and customizable nature sounds without the commercials.

There are lots of these types of sites on the internet. Some of them are complex and confusing.

Our pick is Noisli because it’s simple and easy-to-use.

Here’s why we like it:
- Point and click easy
- 100% free plus extra features
- Color-shifting background
- Adjustable volume for each sound
- 3 easy presets

Just a note on the 3 presets - each time you press the button, it will create a new mix within that category. For example, pressing the “Productivity” button once will create an initial mix. If you press it again, it will create a new combination of sounds.

7. Fuzzy Noises 

Waaay back in the day, when most people watched “broadcasted” over-the-air TV, the channels were transmitted from huge towers to antennas on top of TVs. The channels that didn’t have any signals only showed that white/gray fuzzy snow on the screen along with the hissing noise.

This is called “white noise” and for some people, it can be a way to block out other unwanted noises in the area. It’s truly fighting noise with noise.

White noise is called as such because it’s the sound of all the frequencies that humans can hear, all at equal power. It’s like when all the visible colors of the rainbow spectrum are combined, it creates white.

There are other colors as well, most notably pink and brown.

The SciShow explains each of these core color noises really well.

VIDEO: Colored Noise And How It Can Help You Focus
LENGTH: 4:22
Summary points:
  • Colors can be used to describe sounds because they both use frequency waves
  • Human ears amplify higher pitch tones
  • Pink and brown noise account for human hearing
  • Color noises can be effective at masking other noises
White Noise:
  • All frequencies at equal power
  • Like a TV channel or radio with no broadcast
  • Masks and covers all noises
  • Higher pitched and tinny, not very comforting to listen to
Pink Noise:
  • Lower frequencies are stronger (like more bass)
  • Less harsh than white but still drowns out most noise
  • Better for intense concentration and focus
Brown Noise:
  • All lower frequencies with no high tones
  • Sounds like a consistent heavy rain or big distant waterfall
  • Great for relaxed reading or sleeping
  • Our favorite among the three
You can use the same Noisli site we mentioned above. It’s got options for white, pink and brown noises - a nice little convenient bonus.

8. Binaural Beats 

This is a somewhat new form of sound therapy.

It’s like a form of audio meditation that for some, helps to bring a change in their state of mind, attention, focus and/or relaxation.

Binaural means “both ears” or in this case, listening to separate tones in each ear. This only works using headphones so that each ear hears a distinct separate sound.

When your left ear hears one frequency tone and your right ear hears another slightly different one, your brain will combine the two into a single tone that sounds like a pulse or beat.

Using colors as an analogy, it’s like your left ear hearing “red” and your right ear hearing “blue” and then, your brain will combine the two into a “purple” sound.

Our brains have different type of waves or frequencies depending on its current state. Think of these waves like ocean waves. Some waves are gentle and slow (low frequencies) while others are big and fast (high frequencies).

Here are the brain waves from low to high and the states that they are associated with:

Delta - dreamless deep sleep, healing and regeneration

Theta - REM sleep, creativity and meditation

Alpha - stress reduction, relaxation and calm focus

Beta - actively engaged, focused concentration and rapid learning

There’s the highest wavelength called “Gamma” but nobody’s really sure what brain states this represents. Some have pointed to “out-of-body” experience or omnipotent spirituality and awakening.

Anyway, the idea is that through binaural beats, we can influence or adjust the state of our brains to another state. Some research studies like this one show that there’s some influence, but none have concrete evidence proving that there’s a direct relationship between the two.

The following two short videos put things into a visual perspective. It’s a three-part video series. The third one provides more details, but isn’t really required to watch. Just watch these first two.

VIDEO: What are binaural beats? Are they real or BS?
LENGTH: 2:11
VIDEO: Why are people so excited about binaural beats?
LENGTH: 2:19
Summary points:
  • Binaural beats are created when your brain combines the two sounds
  • Wobble tones happen as your right and left side of your brain interact
  • Theory suggests that more interaction is better
  • Binaural beat may be able to shift your brain into different states
Here’s a free online binaural beat machine that you can try out.

Look for the presets along the side and give ‘em a try:

1 Hz - Delta | Lethargic
2 Hz - Delta | Deep Sleep
3 Hz - Delta | Dreamless
4 Hz - Theta | Drowsy
6 Hz - Theta | Fantasy
8 Hz - Alpha | Relaxed
12 Hz - Alpha | Conscious
16 Hz - Beta | Focussed
24 Hz - Beta | Active
32 Hz - Beta | Fear

For most of us here at Cubicle Therapy, binaural beats don’t do much for us. It feels too artificial and scientific. For some, it masked unwanted noises fairly well, but the net experience wasn’t pleasant.

Maybe, it’s because we’re newbies and need more experimentation - who knows. For now, it’s really not our thing. However, it could be just the thing for you. So, give it a try.

Choose What Works For You

Here’s our take.

Anything you enjoy listening to, whether it’s music, soundtracks, nature sounds, color noises or binaural beats, is perfectly acceptable as a way to drown out the office noises around you.

And, until that glorious day that you get your very own office, you’ll have to manage with headphones.

Or, wait for that miraculous day when somebody makes this kind of universal remote control a reality.

VIDEO: Click Hilarious Scene (Terry Crews)
YOUTUBE: g0d53nd
LENGTH: 0:32
Summary points:
  • A universal "mute" button would be absolutely epic
  • Convertible karaoke takes some serious balls
  • Fast forwarding through traffic is awesome
The name of the game is to listen to what makes you feel good, gives you focus, relaxes you and/or gives you the desired outcome, whatever that may be.

Plain and simple.

If it works for you, just do it. The important point is to not listen to anything at very loud volumes. You’ll mess up your hearing permanently if you do.

Maybe, the Helmfon thing isn't such a bad idea. Actually, nah...we don't want to look like super-dorks.

Okay, time for us to put our headphones back on and retreat to our virtual cubicle on-the-beach and get back to work.

Feel Better,

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