A new study published in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America examined how the different types of face masks affect the acoustics of speech. Lead by researcher Ryan Corey, an electrical and computer engineering postdoctoral researcher under professor Andrew Singer at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, a team tested medical masks, disposable surgical masks, masks with clear plastic windows around the mouth, and homemade and store-bought cloth masks made of different fabric types and numbers of layers.
The study found that disposable surgical masks offer the best acoustic performance among all tested. Loosely woven 100 percent cotton masks also perform well but, as shown in a study by other Illinois researchers, they may not be as effective as surgical masks at blocking respiratory droplets.
That study showed that tightly woven cotton and blended fabrics may block more droplets, but Corey’s team found that they also block more sound. Based on the droplet study, Corey suggested that multilayer masks made of loosely woven cotton may offer a reasonable compromise between droplet-blocking efficiency and acoustic performance.
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