The Difference Between Noise Cancelling and Noise Isolating Headphones

The Difference Between Noise Cancelling vs. Noise Isolating Headphones

To many, there doesn’t seem to be any difference between noise cancelling and noise isolating headphones, and I had the same thoughts when I first came across them.

The difference is actually quite large, and it can have a considerable impact on your listening experience. As a result, we put this guide together so that you learn more about each type, as well as which one of them is going to be the best match for you. 

What Does Noise Cancelling Mean?

These headphones use a dedicated microphone for picking up any ambient noise. Once it has received that, it creates an opposite sound and sends that to the headphones. That way, once both signals reach your ears, they cancel each other out.

The ambient noise disappears, and you are left with whatever you are using your headphones to listen to. To put this into more detailed terms, when the two sound waves collide and cancel each other out, they create a third sound wave.

The sound that you are left with is this third wave, and the term can also be referred to as destructive interference. They work best with what are known as low droning sounds, a few examples of which can be found below:

  • Car Engines
  • Aeroplane Engines
  • Air Conditioners

They are not as good with midrange sounds like voices and crying babies on long flights because they aren’t cancelled out, but they will be reduced.

So these headphones are great for walking through the city on your way to work, but not so good for louder areas like trains and busy public transport. 

Also Read: Best Wireless Headphones for Running

What Does Noise Isolating Mean? 

You won’t find that these headphones use new or elaborate technology to work, they are instead specially designed and manufactured to keep you isolated from the noises around you.

The top-quality models have closed backs as well as ear pads or tips that are tight in the ear. To make everything possible, they are made from sound blocking materials.

The materials are crucial for noise isolation, just as the tightness of the tips are important to ensure that it works with full effect – and the best material to go for is known as formable foam.

Silicone and rubber are also good materials, but not nearly as effective as the foam variation. These work for every range of sound, which is what makes them so effective.

The best part as well is that they don’t need to be powered on or connected to a power source in order to block the noise out, so they can be used in busy areas even when you have nothing to listen to for some peace and quiet.

They are less effective with lower humming sounds, but still excellent at their job. 

Do These Headphones Come in Wireless Formats? 

The short answer is yes. Just because noise cancelling, and isolating, headphones are more intricate and have improved features when compared to standard ones, doesn’t mean that every model is going to be wired.

The wireless versions are widely available for purchase, and they work just as well as their wired counterparts. 

Which is Right for You?

How will you know if the best noise cancelling earphones or headphones or noise isolating headphones are going to be the right choice for you?

It can be a tough choice to make, especially considering their similarities, but this section has been designed to help you come to a good and educated decision. The first question you need to ask yourself is what you need the headphones (or earphones) for.

If you are travelling and commuting a lot, noise cancelling could be the better choice. While it is not as good for voices, it does get rid of the traffic noise as well as that made by trains, so you will end up with a much quieter journey overall.

However, they have more technology packed into them than the isolating models, which means that they are often heavier and bulkier in comparison.

Additionally, they tend to be sold for a higher price because of all this, and as most of them are wireless, they need regular charging.

Noise isolating headphones usually come at a lower price, and while heavier wireless models are available, there is also an excellent selection of wired ones for a little less weight and a better price.

Due to the fact that they use such a simple system, the audio does not change when you are listening to them, whereas it can sometimes be altered when using noise cancelling headphones.

The noise isolating models also cover a wider range of pitches, and while the lower ones are not as effectively isolated, they still work very effectively for them.

This makes them more versatile than their noise cancelling counterparts, as well as ideal for really loud areas, although less promising when you are commuting for work or school.

In short, here are the pros and cons for noise cancelling headphones:

  • Great for commuting
  • Loads of wireless choices 
  • Come in earphones and headphones 
  • Heavier than noise isolating models 
  • Battery needs regular charging as most are wireless 
  • Doesn’t work as well for higher pitches
  • The sound of the audio can change 
  • Usually more expensive 

Next, here are the pros and cons for noise isolating headphones:

  • Isolate a massive range of pitches 
  • Lightweight 
  • Wider choice of headphones and earphones 
  • Come in wired and wireless formats 
  • Keeps the audio sounding the same
  • Tend to be cheaper, but can also be very expensive 
  • Not as effective for commuting 

To Conclude 

We hope that this has given you a good amount of information about both noise cancelling and isolating headphones so that you can make a confident choice between the two.

Just remember to ask yourself what you need them for, as well as the kind of activities you will be doing.

From there, you will be able to determine the type you need, but also the extra features like wireless, earphones, and so on. Let us know what you thought in the comments below; we love your input and feedback. 

About the author

Tim Rhodes

As well as being Chief editor here at - Dan is a freelance writer and blogger, as well as tech, loves a chilled weekend river fishing with his mates.