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What are Isolation Headphones?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Isolation headphones are headphones which are designed to filter out unwanted noise, allowing the user to hear only what is being played by the device the headphones are plugged into. This increases sound quality in the headphones, and allows the users to utilize the headphones at low volume, reducing the risk of hearing damage. These types of headphones are used by musicians, broadcasters, sound editors, and other professionals in the sound industry, along with people who simply want to listen to music, books on tape, podcasts, and other audio material without a lot of noise pollution.

Sound isolating headphones are very similar to noise canceling headphones, but the two types work slightly differently. A pair of sound isolating headphones uses physical barriers to background noise, like foam, padding, and a snug-fitting design, and the headphones will work with or without a power source. Noise canceling headphones, on the other hand, use electronic equipment to filter out unwanted sounds, essentially putting the world on mute.

For musicians and other sound professionals, isolation headphones can be used when recording or performing live to listen to playback without hearing external sound, including the professional's own voice. Hearing one's own voice while recording or performing can be very distracting, making it hard to focus and increasing the risk of making a mistake. Isolation headphones are also valuable in performance because they protect the ears from the high sound volumes on stage, ensuring that musicians do not develop hearing loss.

Non-professionals have plenty of uses for isolation headphones. Students, for example, take advantage of good headphones to listen to music while they study without having to hear outside noise. The headphones can also be used to block all sound, for people who prefer to study in silence. Isolation headphones are also very useful for people who struggle with ambient noise at home or in the workplace, ranging from barking dogs to the sounds of construction on a neighboring building.

People who work in noisy environments may also use isolation headphones to protect their ears and to create a clear line of communication. Ground crews at an airport, for example, use microphones and headphones to communicate with each other, with the headphones serving the added function of protecting ears from loud jet engines. Construction workers, ship crews, and other people in chaotic environments appreciate isolation headphones for ear protection and isolation from distracting or obnoxious noises.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon252434 — On Mar 05, 2012

Headphones are not sufficient to protect your hearing from permanent damage while shooting. Ear muffs specifically designed for shooting are widely available (and much, much cheaper than a pair of isolating headphones!). Most ranges will lend or rent you proper ear protection; don't do without it next time.

By frosted — On Jun 22, 2011

@jonpurdin – I would really suggest doing some personal research. Just because you find the most expensive pair it doesn’t mean they will do the best job for you.

One big factor in looking for the best isolation headphones is comfort. They need to do the job and be comfortable on you, and you know that is different for everyone.

I have read a lot of isolation headphone reviews and there is a wide range in prices for headphones that people rate very highly. Even if you don’t mind spending several hundred dollars there is no sense in spending more than you need to.

By jonpurdin — On Jun 20, 2011

Does anyone know the best sound isolating headphones? My son has taken me to the indoor shooting range several times and the noise of the guns really hurts my ears.

I used earbuds and isolation headphones, but they didn't work well enough. I don't care if they are super expensive headphones, the noise really bothers me.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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