It is a common misconception that noise cancellation and noise isolation are one and the same. On the ground level, they work to do the same thing but their working and how well they block sounds, are very different. If you’re traveler who moves around often, you’ll have looked into purchasing noise blocking headphones. And therefore, would have stumbled upon either noise blocking headphones or noise isolating headphones. So, what are they and how do they work?
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What is noise isolation?
The concept of noise isolation, or passive noise cancellation, is the simpler one of the two sound blocking and noise isolation methods. Manufacturers employ the use of premium and highest grade materials for an ergonomic design to essentially block the outside noise. The headphones are very thoughtfully designed to have extra ear cup padding or an angled ear cup. These are done so with the thought in mind that maximum ambient noise can be blocked from entering your ear canal. And with these designs in place, there is minimal sound leakage, so the outside world can not hear what you’re listening to.
Noise isolation is applicable in various places and you will definitely have witnessed it in action, one way or another. Think of a loud club or a party where loud music is being played indoor whereas you’re sitting outdoor. The effect of the bass and beats are heard despite not being in the room but the sound itself is muffled. This is essentially the idea behind noise isolation. Complicated design having memory foam or, in the case of loud clubs, thick walls help block out the outside noise.
What is noise cancellation?
Unlike noise isolation, implementing this is a bit more tricky. Noise cancelling, sometimes called active noise cancelling, headphones have electronic components in them that work to cancel out external sound waves. There are internal as well as external headphones in noise cancelling headphones that pick up the ambient noise frequencies. Next, the inner circuitry measures them and generate sounds at the same frequency at a 180 degree shift. The signal generated to counteract the noise is sometimes also called anti-noise. The noise cancellation headphones power the electrical components via battery; therefore, they consume power as well.
Pros and Cons (Comparison)
If you’re someone who has to do a lot of travelling and commuting and want peace and quiet during that usually loud metro ride, noise cancelling headphones might be more suited. Due to their ability to actively cancel ambient noise, they are really good in helping give a more immersive experience. With a simple touch of a button, you’ll toggle it on and forget all about the outside world. The noise cancelling headphones simply excel in blocking out traffic noises. However, due to there being dedicated circuitry for this, these headphones tend to get a little on the bulkier side. Moreover, they require battery power to work so you will be getting less life out of your wireless headphones with active noise cancelling enabled. And the most important X-factor with these is the quality of the headphones. If the headphones have good active noise cancellation in them, you’re set with no worries. However, if they’re not then your extra bucks are not only going to waste but you’ll also end up with a degraded sound quality.
Passive noise isolating headphones, on the other hand, do not offer sound blocking on quite the same level. Even the best sound isolating headphones can just end up muffling the ambient sounds around you. There are in-ear as well as out-ear headphones with passive noise isolation, and they’re out there. You’ll find that they are generally cheaper than the ones with active noise cancellation. Their focus is more on a design such that it blocks out the ambient sounds for you. Therefore, you might notice that in-ear noise isolating headphones are rather crammed in the ears. However, out-ear headphones are still one of the best options out there. You’ll find that most gaming headphones do have passive noise isolation technology in them and they’re the best out there. Headphones with noise isolation rather than noise cancellation are generally less expensive and easier on the pocket.
Most high grade headphones with active noise cancellation also contain strong passive noise isolation. But they’re among the very expensive and pricey ones. When making your choice, you should take into account your budget as well as what your primary use for these sound blocking headphones will be. While the active noise cancellation headphones are great for commuting and traveling purposes to efficiently block out ambient noise, the good ones will cost you quite a lot. On the other hand, passive noise isolation, although cheap, are great for gaming purposes where travelling in the outside world is not a factor to counted.
Which is the best fit for me?
Now that you’ve developed an understanding of how these noise blocking headphones work, you should be asking yourself; Which is the right one for me? In order to make the choice, you must first take into account:
- Level of noise cancellation
- Intended use
- Are you a frequent traveler?
Level of ambient noise cancellation
If the level of ambient noise reduction is the only factor you wish to take into consideration, then you should go for noise cancellation headphones. Strictly in terms of this, noise cancellation headphones work better. Additionally, by investing in a bit more and getting some of the best noise cancelling headphones, you also get the bonus of noise isolation. They have plush memory foam in their ear cups so you’re some passive noise isolation with them as well.
Although not quite noticeable, but noise cancelling headphones tend to take a hit in terms of sound quality. Since there is an additional DSP chip inside responsible for producing anti-noise, the two signals can end up interfering with each other. And with some low cost noise cancelling headphones, there is no proper sound leakage prevention. Sometimes, this results in the internal noise being picked up by the external headphones and fed into the DSP. This can create minor negative signals that sometimes cancel portions of the sound that is meant to be heard.
On the other side, noise isolating headphones employ no such tactics. They rely strictly on their construction and ergonomic design for removing the outside noise. Therefore, they do not suffer from the case of degraded audio quality via interruption. The sound you hear in sound isolation headphones is purely the sound that is meant to be heard. And that is primarily why professionals or enthusiasts who need the best sound quality possible prefer to use sound isolation headphones instead. Additionally, you’ll find that majority of noise cancelling headphones are wireless as they’re better suited for travelers.
Are you a frequent traveler?
When you need to be out in the open, there are just so many ways of having noise being fed into your ear. Noise isolation headphones can, at best, muffle the outside sound and minimize the intrusions. However, noise cancellation headphones can create a dead silent zone once you have them on. Therefore, if you need to be moving from one place to another on a frequent basis with possibly loud sources of ambient noise, you should opt for noise cancellation headphones instead.
Additionally, some of the more expensive ones have adaptive noise cancellation. ANC takes into account several factors then uses its complex algorithm to tune the level of noise cancellation. The protection you get from outside noises when wearing noise cancellation headphones simply cannot be matched by sound isolation headphones.
Of course, none of it all matters if you do not have the bucks for it. Noise cancellation, being new and using additional circuitries, tend to be more expensive. A good pair of noise cancelling headphones will be among the most expensive headphones ever. They can easily cost you a couple hundred bucks. Therefore, you ought to be prepared for a big hole in your wallet when purchasing noise cancelling headphones. Whereas noise isolation headphones tend to be relatively cheaper. Of course, no premium and high grade noise blocking headphone comes cheap but there is a drastic difference in price tags of the two.
Related Article: Best Noise Cancelling Earbuds in 2019
Noise cancelling headphones will offer better protection from ambient noise at the cost of some level of audio degradation and high price tag. Noise isolation headphones, on the other hand, have relatively less protection from noise but they’re cheap and do not have any interferences in the sound. Before purchasing your headphones, you should take into account the factors discussed above and decide which will be better suited for you. Wrong choice might end up causing you quite an amount of bucks so carefully read what we have to say and let us help you in making your choice.