Difference Between Noise Cancelling and Noise Isolating

In the world we live in, noise and noise pollution has become an inevitable part of our lives. Especially if one decides to listen to a podcast or a song while travelling, it is almost impossible to clear the background noise.

Noise-cancelling and noise isolating earphones are exactly meant to solve this important issue, but they possess significant differences.

Noise Cancelling vs Noise Isolating

The main difference between noise cancelling and noise isolating is that noise-cancelling earphones block the sound waves which flow in from outside and noise isolating earphones use a seal inside the ears to block the surrounding noise. The terms might sound similar but have widely different uses, and it is necessary to be aware of the differences.

Noise Cancelling and Noise Isolating

Noise cancelling is a common phrase that is used in earphone devices. As the term suggests, noise-cancelling cancels the surrounding noise or sound waves, which tend to flow into your ears.

The process of noise cancellation is electronic, as some components inside the ear cups release inverted sound waves to cancel the sound waves from outside.

The process of noise isolation is completely manual, unlike the noise cancellation process. The noise-isolating earphones isolate your ears from the external sound by using physical barriers.

This is rather a simple process. The foam pads in the earbuds block the surrounding noise from entering the ears of the listener.

Comparison Table Between Noise Cancelling and Noise Isolating

Parameters of ComparisonNoise CancellingNoise Isolating
MeaningNoise-cancelling tries to cancel the sound waves into one’s ear.Noise isolating means isolating the ears from hearing any sound.
Type of processNoise cancelling is an electronic process.Noise isolating is totally a manual process.
PriceNoise-cancelling earphones are generally expensive due to their advanced features.Noise isolating earphones are relatively cheap when compared to noise-cancelling earphones.
Used inNoise-cancelling earphones are mainly used while travelling.They are mainly used in homes and commercial buildings.
Other informationNoise-cancelling consumes more power because of the batteries.Since Noise isolating is a manual process, it consumes zero power.

What is Noise Cancelling?

The term Noise Cancellation has become frequently attributed to the earphones which are being released recently.

The phrase is self-explanatory as the earphones cancel the surrounding noise or sound waves that try to flow into one’s ears.

This process is totally electronic and makes an interesting case of cancelling the sound waves by using technological means.

 Active Noise Cancellation or ANC is another term that is commonly used along with the process of noise cancellation.

Some parts or components inside of a noise-cancelling earphone releases an inverted sound wave to cancel the existing sound waves. This type of earphone is the most sought out by the public due to its advanced technology.

To begin with, there are small microphones inside an earphone that listens to the surrounding noise or sound waves.

After listening to the sound waves from outside, the microphone releases an inverted sound wave or anti-sound wave.

This type of inverted or opposite sound wave of the existing sound wave, present in the surrounding, cancels out each other when the sound hits a listener’s ear.

This type of earphone is effective at cancelling low-frequency sounds, but they become ineffective against sudden and high-frequency noise.

Noise-cancelling earphones are truly handy while travelling as they cancel the low-frequency noise of aeroplanes and cars.

What is Noise Isolating?

The term noise isolation provides a bit of clarity of its method of ‘isolating’ the noise from our ears. This process of noise isolation is totally performed manually and does not involve any electrical or technological means like noise cancellation.

The manual method of isolating the noise is a simple yet interesting process.

The noise-isolating earphones use a few physical barriers to isolate or keep the sound out of your ear’s listening capability and range. When one covers their ears, the noise from the outside is blocked.

This process of noise isolation is similar to the blocking of noise by using hands.

The earbuds which are inserted into your ears act as the physical barrier by blocking or isolating the outside noise. Getting the right fit for your ears is necessary for the noise isolating earphones to perform their task.

A bad fit will probably allow some outside noise to your ears.

These types of noise-isolating earphones are effective in blocking and isolating the usual noise around, like people talking and babies crying. It is an ideal style of earphone for office and home uses.

Noise isolating earphones are not effective enough against high frequency or travelling noises.

Main Differences Between Noise Cancelling and Noise Isolating

  1. Noise cancelling is the process of cancelling the sound waves that pass through the ears. On the other hand, noise isolating tries to block the background sound manually.
  2. Noise isolating is a manual process, whereas noise isolating is an electronic process.
  3. Noise-cancelling earphones or headphones are generally more expensive as it has advanced features. On the other hand, noise isolating earphones are cheaper and affordable.
  4. Noise-cancelling earphones are best suited for travelling through flights and trains. They can also be used during studies while noise isolating earphones are suited for home and office purposes.
  5. Noise-cancelling earphones consume more, whereas noise isolating earphones consumes zero energy.
Difference Between Noise Cancelling and Noise Isolating


Though the terms noise cancelling and noise isolating are used interchangeably, they have completely different meanings and are used for different purposes too.

It is necessary to understand the differences between these interchangeable terms, to be clear of one’s preferences and expectations while buying an earphone.

Noise-cancelling earphones use electronic means by producing inverted sound waves to counter the sound waves from outside.

Meanwhile, noise isolating earphones use a plain and simple process of blocking or isolating the outside sound by using physical barriers within the earbuds.

Noise-cancelling earphones are preferred for travel, while noise-isolating is mainly used for home uses.


  1. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/1451965
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0009254118301554
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