What are the Differences Between Noise-Cancelling and Noise-Isolation Technology?
The headphones industry today is extremely advanced, providing the consumer with a wide range of choices. Whether you´re looking for a budget in-ear set, a high-end audiophile pair or something in between, you can be sure that there´s something out there to meet both your wishes and your budget. Every corner of the market is covered. With the swelling size and diversity of the headphones market, there has come a fair amount of confusion. No longer are we choosing between products which vary only in style or basic sound quality. Today, we are faced with books of terminology. One of the most recent and significant distinctions and confusions arises between two types of headphone: noise-cancelling and noise-isolating. Here, we take a closer look at each to discover the differences.
The headphones industry today is extremely advanced, providing the consumer with a wide range of choices. Whether you're looking for a budget in-ear set, a high-end audiophile pair or something in between, you can be sure that there's something out there to meet both your wishes and your budget. Every corner of the market is covered.
With the swelling size and diversity of the headphones market, there has come a fair amount of confusion. No longer are we choosing between products which vary only in style or basic sound quality. Today, we are faced with books of terminology.
One of the most recent and significant distinctions and confusions arises between two types of headphone: noise-cancelling and noise-isolating. Here, we take a closer look at each to discover the differences.
What are noise-isolating headphones?
Noise-isolating headphones do roughly what you'd imagine. They do their best to reduce outside noise, giving pride of place to the music you're hoping to hear by broadcasting through your headphones. This is achieved in a number of ways, but generally involves creating a sound-proofed barrier between your ear drum and the sources of ambient noise.
Noise-isolating headphones often use foam to create a perfect seal between the headphone and your ear. It's not uncommon for manufacturers to ship noise-isolating headphones with a variety of ear pieces, allowing the end user to choose the piece which best fits their ear.
The better the fit, the more effective the headphones will be at isolating the sound and reducing the impact of outside, ambient noise - as highlighted in these great Philips headphones.
Philips SHE8000 Headphones in black - £12.99
Noise-isolation technology makes a great deal of sense and is relatively simple to implement. The effectiveness of different sets will vary but it is generally a simple and low cost task to reduce external noise in this way.
What are noise-cancelling headphones?
As you might imagine, the ultimate goal of noise-cancelling headphones is also the eradication of external ambient noise. The hope is, once again, that the user will be able to enjoy the music of their choice uninterrupted by the nattering of your neighbour on the bus or in the street. The method by which noise-cancelling headphones achieves this is slightly different, however.
A great example of these is the Bose QuietComfort® 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling® Headphones pictured below.
Bose QuietComfort® 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling® Headphones in black and silver - £259.95
These perform a great noise-cancelling function whilst offering plenty of comfort through their padded on-ear cushions.
Noise cancelling technology is relatively simple but incredibly smart. The headphones contain small microphones which are able to pick up external noise. These sounds are then inverted and played to the listener alongside their chosen music. The creation of an opposite sound wave has the intended effect of quite literally cancelling out the external noise.
Rather than helping you ignore the external sound, these units - like Bose noise cancelling headphones - work to wipe it out altogether. This intelligent system is far more labour intensive than simple noise-isolation technology and you can expect to see the technology implemented in over-ear headphones as opposed to in-ear varieties.
The extra work also requires a little extra power. You can therefore expect the headphones to require a set of batteries.
How do the technologies differ?
As we've mentioned and as you would probably expect, the two kinds of headphone technology are aiming at achieving the same goal. Noise-cancelling technology requires far more power to carry out the task but ends up being a fair amount more effective. It's worth noting that noise-isolation technology can easily be applied to noise-cancelling headphones, while the reverse is not possible.
It therefore follows that the headphones which will do the best job of offering a clear listening experience will be the noise-cancelling headphones.
Listeners still have the option to choose between the two, for good reason. Noise-cancelling technology is more expensive and cannot be applied with great success to in-ear headphones. It seems to be the answer that if what you're after is crystal clear sound at any cost then noise-cancelling technology is for you. If you are looking to cut ambient noise without breaking the bank or compromising on portability, noise-isolation is better.
Both of these technologies highlight the innovation and choice integral to today's headphone industry, as well as the wider sound industry. When the digital shift was in its early stages, consumers veered towards convenience, portability and storage but recent years have seen a real surge in interest in sound quality.
As these features become standard, it's no surprise to see priorities turning back towards pure quality of sound. Both noise-isolation and noise-cancelling technology reflect that and are great options for consumers with even units such as gaming headsets getting the noise reduction treatment.
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