The Nuts & Bolts of Noise Cancelling Headphones

The Nuts & Bolts of Noise Cancelling Headphones

Noise Cancellation vs Noise Isolation

These words tend to get used interchangeably but they are two very different things. Knowing the difference is very important because some advertisements can be misleading if you aren’t aware. So without further ado:

Noise Cancellation

Noise cancellation is an active process in which headphones “listen” to the outside noises that surround you and then play an inverted version of those sounds. By playing an inverted version, it cancels out (hence the word “cancellation”) the intruding outside noise.

Businessman Wearing Noise Cancelling Headphones

What this means is that when you put a pair of noise cancelling headphones on, you hear total silence (assuming you didn’t immediately start playing music). It is great technology and very effective.

Noise Isolation

Noise isolation, on the other hand, is a passive process in which headphones are simply designed in a way that blocks out as much noise as possible. This has everything to do with the shape and material of the headphones themselves. There is no technology involved.

Woman in Gym Wearing Noise Isolation Earbuds

Very good noise isolation can go a long way toward blocking out noise. Depending on the frequency (how high or low pitched it is) of the sound, noise isolating headphones can block it completely. It’s usually more effective at blocking lower frequencies than higher frequencies.

Now, while noise cancellation might stand out as the best choice because it can block out everything by cancelling the sound out whereas noise isolation just blocks out some noise, there are pros and cons to both.

Noise cancellation headphones tend to be pretty expensive. And with how good noise isolation design is becoming, it’s not always necessary. If you’re a DJ that needs to block out the noise of the club, yes, spring for the very best in noise cancellation. But if you’re just sitting on the subway during your morning commute, good noise isolation will be more than enough to let you enjoy your tunes without being interrupted by outside noise.

Why Your Headphone Cushions Matter

When it comes to noise cancellation headphones, you still need to make sure your headphones are designed for maximum noise isolation as well. Your headphones have less work to do if they have less sounds getting in in the first place.

Black Leather Ear Cushions

The most important aspects of noise isolation design lay in the headphone cushions. They need to be made with good, high quality materials (like memory foam and protein leather, for example). They also need to be shaped in a way that they fit firmly on your head.

With good material and a secure fit, you have already gone a long way toward blocking out unwanted outside noise. Full size headphones that wrap entirely around the ear are the best on this point although smaller, over the ear headphones can still do an impressive job.

The Top Noise Cancelling Headphones

There are a lot of noise cancelling headphones on the market. But the best noise cancelling headphones are not necessarily the most expensive. Here are a couple recommendations for some affordable noise cancelling headphones that still offer high quality noise cancelling functionality:


The noise cancelling headphones from Bose are designed to be compatible with nearly all devices, whether they operate on android, apple, or windows. Most of their models feature an over the ear design as well as noise cancelling technology that is intended for travel and similar situations—which is to say that a professional DJ will find these lacking but someone who wants them for everyday noisy situations will be more than satisfied.

Man Walking Trough Street with Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

They also have models that come with a mic and remote that can be used to select music and take phone calls without having to remove your headphones or even take your phone out of your pocket! Their noise cancellation headphones are great for those who meditate or who need absolute silence while they focus on work or studying.


Beats models offer a lot of the same features as Bose. For example, they also have headphones that come with a mic and remote. They do generally sell for a slightly higher price on average but you are definitely not going to be wasting your money.

White Beats Noise Cancelling Headphones

Beats really delivers. And for your hard earned money, you can expect to get a high quality pair of noise cancelling headphones with all the bells and whistles. For example, they sometimes include a quality hard shell carrying case with their headphones so that you have the proper storage place. This will help you add years to the life of your headphones so it’s definitely worth spending a little extra now!

These are just two of the more affordable options out there. They are targeted toward the consumer, not the professional. If you want something that provides maximum levels of noise cancellation AND lets you listen to your music at the same time, you need to spring for some pretty expensive high end headphones.

Man Wearing Beats Noise Cancelling Headphones

However, believe us when we say that for most everyday situations, you don’t need the very top of the line models. These two examples provide the perfect balance between high quality design and technology and affordability that is perfectly suited to most everyday situations.

Final Word

Now that you know the difference between noise cancellation and noise isolation as well as how the technology works, you know exactly what to expect from a product. You can save a lot of money and prevent disappointment this way.