The 10 Best Isolation Headphones
This wiki has been updated 24 times since it was first published in August of 2015. For studio musicians, engineers, DJs, or anyone who really wants to immerse themselves in their music with few distractions, isolation headphones deliver great sound quality with excellent external noise reduction. They don't actively cancel it out, but they envelop the ear to block out interference, creating a comfortable experience that doesn't eat up batteries in no time. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best isolation headphone on Amazon.
March 10, 2020:
In the spirit of full disclosure, I've owned the Audio-Technica WS660BT Solid Bass for some time now, and I only have good things to say about them. I wear them for three to eight hours daily, and am consistently impressed by their sound quality and the lifespan of their rechargeable battery. It's one of the reasons we looked to Audio-Technica to replace one of the few models we sent packing on this round of rankings. Among those to go, there were the Philips A1Pro/27 that had a really disappointing bass response, and the Neewer Studio Monitor 40mm, which came with a cheaply made hardwired cable that would likely die while the cans themselves would still otherwise be useful.
The best companies in this space seem to have experience building high-end microphones, as well, with names like Audio-Technica, Beyerdynamic, and Shure, whose Shure SRH750DJ offer a nice audio performance in a package that's designed to be as lightweight as possible. The results are mixed, however, as they're comfortable to wear for hours on end, but their build quality is sorely lacking.
Why Isolation Headphones Are a Sound Investment
Rather, this type of audio hardware is intended for use when you are truly focused on media.
You can expect oversized ear cups that completely cover your ears and that certainly won't go unnoticed by anyone nearby.
First, let us clear up a common misconception: noise isolation headphones are not the same thing as noise cancelling headphones. The latter uses an active approach to creating an artificially quiet micro-environment for their wearer, employing microphones that detect ambient noise and then playing frequencies that will offset these sounds (AKA cancel them out) to create the semblance of quiet save for the media one broadcasts through the speakers.
Isolation headphones, on the other hand, are made using materials and designs that are ideal for physically blocking external sounds while amplifying your chosen audio within their ear cups. These are carefully crafted pieces of acoustic hardware that represent an even better way for the audiophile to enjoy media, for, unlike noise cancelling units, they don't create any sounds save for those featured in a chosen musical track, podcast, or other media source.
By the nature of their design, isolation headphones are rather bulky. You can expect oversized ear cups that completely cover your ears and that certainly won't go unnoticed by anyone nearby. These are not the right headphones to wear while jogging, wearing a hat, or while out and about in public. Rather, this type of audio hardware is intended for use when you are truly focused on media. Music lovers will rejoice in the crystal clear, faithful reproduction that isolation headphones provide to a record or a digital track, while gamers will feel totally immersed in their artificial worlds with a pair over their ears. These are also the ideal headphones for the editor who needs to hear every single sound in an audio track or video clip, or for the musician trying to critically review his or her own performance. And of course the DJ who must be in command of his or her music, even while surrounded by sound, must use a fine pair of isolation headphones to have any chance of hearing anything.
While few isolation headphones are ideal for wearing as you walk, commute, or travel, some pairs are at least well-suited to bringing along with you on the go. Consider one of the several options that uses a folding headband and rotating ear cups, that can be packed down into a small case or pouch. If you do want to wear your headphones as you ride on the bus or train, you might look into one of the wireless isolation headphone options, as the absence of a cord allows for more convenient use during travel. Wireless headphones are less viable for the sound engineering or editing professional, however, as most have middling battery lifespans between charges.
How Do Isolation Headphones Work, Anyway?
In the simplest sense, noise isolating headphones work by isolating you from ambient noise. They essentially block the sounds that would otherwise reach your ears by creating a robust physical barrier. This is known as passive noise reduction/isolation. By both rejecting and absorbing external sound waves, a good pair of isolation headphones can provide their wearer with a pleasantly quiet environment, and can allow the user to enjoy his or her music or other audio programming with almost uninterrupted clarity.
The sound rejection provided by these headphones commences at their hard outer wall; the solid, shell-style exterior rejects sound in much the same way as tile wall bounces your voice back to you as you sing in the shower. Next come the soft, usually oversized ear pads, which allow for a comfortable but complete seal around your ears. Within these pads you will usually find a dense foam (viscoelastic memory foam is used commonly) that absorbs much of the sound that would otherwise reach your aural canal.
And finally, just like any other decent headphone, sound isolating headphones use small but potent speakers to fill the area around your ear with sound. When ambient noise is greatly reduced, you can enjoy the detail and nuance of your preferred audio in the fullest.
Other Ways to Enjoy the Silence
They say silence is golden; when you are being assailed by the din of traffic, bad music, noisy kids, or any of life's other many cacophonies, you may well agree. Fortunately, there are many ways a person can create their own personal quiet space. Wearing noise isolation headphones is ideal for when you wish to listen to music or podcasts without the encroachment of other noise, but at times these devices may not be practical or may be insufficient.
These devices play sounds that span a wide range of frequencies, thereby overpowering sounds that would otherwise stand out to your ears.
To block the most noise possible, you must use an ear plug that effectively seals your ear's canal, preventing sound waves from reaching your eardrum. Wearing noise-blocking earmuffs over these can almost ensure you will enjoy silence.
However, many people find wearing earplugs uncomfortable, and might not even want to be relegated to wearing headphones every time they want some peace and quiet. Using a sound machine that generates so-called white noise (more accurately referred to as pink noise, though) can trick your ears into hearing silence. These devices play sounds that span a wide range of frequencies, thereby overpowering sounds that would otherwise stand out to your ears.
If you are a musician or editor who needs as quiet as possible a space in which to work, you can add acoustic foam to the walls of your workspace to dampen external sources of audio and to reduce the echoing and reverberations caused by your own efforts. Ideally, you can obtain enough acoustic foam to fully line the walls and doors of your room or studio, but any amount of this unique, dense material will help. Place panels of acoustic foam around the room as evenly as possible, and make sure you have a carpet or rug down on the floor. Soft materials, such as shag carpeting and pillows, absorb sound well, and can even be used in place of purpose-built acoustic foams.
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