What is the difference between noise isolating and noise cancelling headphones?


Noise-isolating headphones have earbuds or earmuffs that are able to block outside noise via a physical barrier. They block outside noise by providing a noise-reducing barrier. There are two types of noise-isolating headphones, and the first one is the over-ear that covers your entire ear using an ear pad, which has sides that can block the noise coming from outside. The second type is the in-ear that works like an earplug that seals the opening on your ear so that the only sound that you can listen to is the one produced by the earphones.

The level of noise isolation that these headphones can do depends on the materials used, as well as the quality of the materials. A high-quality noise-isolating headphone can reduce outside noise for up to 30 decibels, but this level can only be achieved if the ear pads or the earbuds have a perfect fit on your ears. In terms of price, noise-isolating headphones are typically cheaper than noise-cancelling ones, mainly due to the fact that it doesn’t come with any technological features that blocks noise; instead, it relies on physical barriers to reduce sounds outside.


Noise-cancelling headphones specifically listen and monitor ambient noise using special technology that also allows it to produce an opposite sound wave that bounces off the unwanted sound before it can even reach the ear pads or the earbuds. This technology is what makes the noise-cancelling headphones different from its noise-isolating counterpart.

This neat feature can be compared to how waves collide in a body of water. To see how blocking waves work, fill your bathtub with water. Then, drop two small rocks at each end of the tub. When the stones drop, they will produce waves in the water. These waves will then collide in the middle, and you will see that at the center, the water looks calm because the waves are cancelling each other out. The noise-cancelling headphones works like the one dropped rock at the tub, while the outside noise is the other rock. The headphones produce negative waves by listening to the noise made outside, and after it fully understands the wavelength of the noise, it creates an opposite wave to cancel out the noise’s sound wave.

Because of this technology, noise-cancelling headphones are usually more expensive than noise-isolating variants. The other advantage that these headphones have over the other besides the cool technology is that they may possess the same features found for noise isolation. So, these noise-cancelling headphones may also have noise-isolating earbuds or ear pads to further enhance its ability to block out noise from outside.

However, because there is a built-in device found in noise-cancelling earphones, it would require batteries to operate. If you run out of batteries for your headphones, there is a high chance that it wouldn’t produce sound as well. But several companies have already manufactured noise-cancelling headphones that can also work as a noise-isolating product if ever its batteries are depleted. These special headphones have sealing earbuds or pads that are usually found in noise-isolating earphones.