Noise Cancelling vs Noise Isolating Headphones

Difference between Noise Cancellation and Noise Isolation

If you are a frequent traveller or work in a noisy environment or an audiophile or a music enthusiast who likes pristine music or even an avid gamer, you might have taken a look at the headphones that reduce external noise. These headphones are bifurcated in two main categories which are noise cancelling and noise isolating or sometimes also called sound isolating headphones. Let’s take a look at both the processes and understand their intricacies:

Noise Cancellation

It is an electronic process which, with the help of a microphone, analyses ambient noise, creates its inverse image and adds it back to the original music. Thus the inverted noise cancels the ambient noise and the user does not get to listen to any unwanted external noise.

Noise cancellation works best with steady or monotonous sounds such as car engine or aeroplane engine sound.

Pros and Cons of Noise Cancelling Headphones


  • These headphones block most of the external noises which enriches your music listening experience.
  • Ideal for travelling as these headphones block train or plane engine’s noise very well
  • Great for reducing external noises while you are working, studying, playing games or watching your favourite movies


  • Tend to be more expensive than regular headphones
  • Bulky and carry more weight because of the inbuilt batteries and electronic circuitry
  • Since it uses electronic circuitry, it introduces some hiss and reduces audio quality to some extent
  • Does not cancel all types of noises like speeches or frequently changing noises

Most prominent brands which manufacture some of the best noise cancelling headphones are Bose, Sennheiser, Sony and Beats.

Noise Isolation

Noise Isolation is a passive process as it does not include any electronics to cancel any unwanted noise. The materials used in the headphones create a seal in or around the ear which blocks external noise naturally. In ear headphones use sleeves while over ear headphones use ear cushions to create the seal.

Pros and Cons of Sound Isolating Headphones


  • Some good noise isolating headphones are cheaper than average noise cancelling headphones
  • Light weight as these headphones do not include any electronic circuitry or inbuilt batteries
  • Block every kind of noise and work in every kind of environment
  • Does not produce any hiss and doesn’t degrade the quality of music


  • These may not be as good as active noise cancelling headphones while travelling. Jet engines create 75-80 decibels of noise and the noise isolating headphones can block only 8-20 decibels
  • If the ear cushions or ear sleeves do not fit completely around or in the ear, these headphones turn out to be ineffective in blocking external noise

Shure, Audio-Technica, Klipsch etc. have a very good range of passive noise cancelling headphones in their stack.

Both of the aforementioned technologies work well for different uses and different hearing environments. It is up to you to decide on which one works the best for you, fits your budget and provides you with great audio quality.

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