Difference between noise-canceling and sound isolating headphones

Many people have confusion regarding noise cancellation and sound isolation, especially with the latest buzzword being noise canceling. This is not new technological development exactly, because these headphones have been on the scene for some time.

When you are purchasing headphones, the most important terms are noise isolation and noise cancellation. These two aspects will affect the background noise that you need to eliminate as you listen to your songs.


What is noise/sound isolation and how does it work?

Present in many headphone varieties today due to its easy mechanism, it works similar to a soundproofing system. Sound isolation does not use electronics or power sources to block surrounding noise out. Instead, it uses optimal materials as well as ergonomic designs, which block out noise from entering your ear canals.

Many headsets that have sound isolation contain thick ‘memory foam’ padding in the ear cup, which fits completely over the ears and blocks out sound.

Two varieties of noise isolation headphones exist – the over ear and in ear. Over-ear headphones use foam of high density to cover the whole ear from all sides, while in-ear headphones (many also know them as ear buds) plug into the ear directly and seal the canal completely. Their ear tips are in different material compositions, as well as in different sizes that can suit many people.

For this reason, the most important aspect to look for in noise isolation earphones is the quality of the material. The more complete seals can keep noise out better.so examine the materials that comprise the seal, the fit of the headphones (they should stay comfortable), as well as the ability of the seal to stay intact.


Noise cancellation headphones

While noise isolation headphones have a passive mechanism of achieving their job, noise cancellation headphones play a more active role. They work by reducing ambient sounds by use of active noise controls.

Noise cancellation headphones can use noise isolation, though that is not the emphasis – they rely on the technology present in the headphones instead. The technology was originally within the aviation industry, as it was in heavy use to enhance radio communication in cockpits (or other noisy environments).

Noise canceling headphones contain three extras – DSP (Digital Signal Processor), a battery unit, and a small microphone.

The job of the microphone is picking ambient sound from the surrounding. The DSP then analyses these sound waves, and then creates equal but contrasting waves. The speakers will play the waves that will oppose the ambient sounds to eliminate them (similar to the workings of echo systems). The battery controls the whole activity, and it happens very quickly so you do not notice it. However, these headphones work best in environments with consistent noise, so you can still hear sudden fluctuations in sound waves (like someone shouting).



The type of headphones that you go for depend on several factors, and you may not like one type over the other. Noise isolation headphones are generally cheaper – as long as you get high-quality ones you can use them for a long time.

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