Noise Cancelling Vs. Noise Isolating

Noise Cancelling Vs. Noise Isolating

If you do a lot of traveling – or if you just like a little peace when you're listening to music and don't want to be bothered by outside noises, you might just be wondering what noise cancellation and isolation technologies are in modern headphones.

There are plenty of in-ear and over-ear headphones that claim they have noise cancellation features while in truth they are noise isolation headphones. There are some differences between noise cancellation and noise isolation technology that you must understand.

However, these headphones are also referred to as active and passive headphones respectively. But it is also important to stress that noise-canceling headphones are nothing new, sure, the technology has evolved significantly, but these headphones existed in the 90s as well and long before that too.

Man With Noise Cancelling Headphones Sitting In Train

The type of headphone you opt for considerably depends on the amount of background or external noise you want eliminate while you listen to your favorite music.

Although it is quite difficult to say whether noise cancellation headphones are better than noise isolation product and vice-versa, it is certainly a fact that noise cancellation technology offers a more sure-shot of eliminating all types of ambient, external and background sounds whereas noise isolation products do not.

The Functionality Of Noise Isolation Ear Phones

Noise isolation technology is quite simple amongst the two methods. With isolation products, the main objective is to block your ear canal or the entire ear – completely isolating any external noises or sounds from entering it while you listen to your tunes. However, these types of headphones isolate ambient sounds without electricity.

These headphones come in two different categories – over-the-ear and in-ear. In-ear headphones are plugged right into your ear canal and seal it off. Over-the-ear headphones are manufactured using heavy-duty foam to do the same thing.

But this also depends on how topnotch the foam and how well the ear canal seal work in in-ear headphones. These elements play an important role in helping you differentiate between quality isolation products from cheap knock-offs.

The Functionality Of Noise Cancelling Ear Phones

Noise cancellation technology is a bit more sophisticated in comparison to noise isolation headphones.

While these types of headphones can also function as noise isolation earbuds – the technology behind such headphones primarily focuses on smart innovation, which includes electrical components inside the headphone that effectively cancel all types of headphones without the need of foam or a seal.

That is what truly differentiates noise cancellation headphones from noise isolation headphones.

Illustration Of Noise Cancelling Headphones Work

Compared to noise isolation products, noise cancellation headphones are designed using three additional components. These include a tiny microphone, a digital processor for DSP signals and an independent batter unit within the headphones.

Here is how everything combines to effectively cancel sounds and enhances your music listening experience, taking you to a whole new level. The tiny built-in microphone listens to all types of external and ambient sounds and noises.

The DSP signal processor analyzes all those sounds and actively converts those sounds into sound waves. The speakers fitted inside the headphones play the sound waves generated by the DSP and, which effectively collide with the ambient noise in reverse and negate those sound waves.

The battery is one of the most important components of all – its powers both these functionalities, which means you need to take care of your headphones and ensure they charge well before use.

The entire process of noise cancellation is pretty quick and utterly soundless; you will not notice anything different at all. But you will understand everything as soon as you put your headphones and listen to music or watch a movie. You will not hear a single thing apart from what you are playing.

But it is important to understand that the noise cancellation functionality isn't ground-breaking fast, for example, you might notice a damp thud of a door slammed behind you. That is essentially why noise cancellation products perform best when used in environments where the ambient noise is consistent – for example, the loud hum of a 747 Airbus.

Or it could be the buzzing noise of a loud crowd in a mall or at the bus station. You will always be able to listen to a part of a sudden, loud noise.

What Kind Of A Headphone Is Better Suited For Your Listening Pleasure?

Now that you understand the differentiating factors of noise canceling and noise isolating headphone, the next step is to identify what type of technology will suit your requirements and specifications.

Noise Cancelling Headphones

This task is simple and depends on what you prefer and the type of environments in which you tend to use your headphones. Here are some pros and cons of both types of earphones:

The Level Of Noise Reduction

Noise cancellation headphones are way more formidable and effective in blocking ambient sounds than noise isolation products. That is essential because noise canceling products incorporate the use of technologies that make them both noise canceling and isolation headphones.

You get more noise reduction than you will get from just a noise isolation product. But it is important to understand that cheap or highly affordable noise cancellation headphones will never do the trick for you.

They lack the foam for effective sealing and use active sound barrier technologies, which doesn't help at all, and more ambient noise will keep leaking in. And this is primarily the reason why quality and expensive noise isolation headphone outperform low-end and subpar noise cancellation products.

The Quality Of Sound

This factor depends on how big of a music listener you are. The fact is noise cancellation headphones come integrated with a built-in digital sound processor, which can very well interfere with your music listening pleasure.

However, it is a complete non-issue if you opt for top quality, expensive noise cancellation headphones. You will notice the decline in quality in a subpar headphone.

As noise isolation headphones don't employ electrical integration to block ambient sound, the lyrics and music you listen to are completely original. But you will still be bothered by ambient sounds and whatnot.


Noise cancellation headphones require charging. However, this is also a non-issue because we are all used to charging our wireless headphones. So, no biggie. Noise isolation headphones, on the other hand, do not come with a battery, so you don't have to worry about anything.

Noise Cancelling Headphones Charger In Hands


Noise cancellation headphones are more expensive than even the highest grade noise isolation products. But they are well worth the money you pay.

Bottom Line

All in all, if you want utter silence and serenity when watching a movie or listening to your favorite tracks even in a rumbling and bustling mall or during a flight – you can always count on noise cancellation headphones.

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