Isochronic Tones Vs Binaural Beats Vs Monaural Beats – What’s The Difference?

Do you want to experience the many benefits of brainwave entrainment, but are unsure about the differences between binaural beats, monaural beats or isochronic tones? The read on, as we take a look at how they differ, and the pros and cons of each.

A Brief Introduction To Brainwave Entrainment

First of all, if you’re not familiar with what brainwave entrainment is, let’s have a brief recap. Brainwave entrainment, which is also known as brainwave synchronisation, provides a way to access different states of consciousness with relative ease. So even if you’re not an experienced meditator or skilled in mind control techniques, with brain wave entrainment you can still explore altered states and tap into your full potential.

So how does brainwave entrainment work? Simply put, when exposed to a rhythmic stimulus such as pulses of sound or light, the brain has a tendency to match (or entrain to) the frequency of that stimulus, if the frequency is similar to the brain’s own natural frequency range. This is known as the ‘frequency following response’.

For example, if you listen to a recording that contains sound pulses with a frequency of around 10Hz, the brain will start to produce brainwaves of the same frequency. As it happens, 10Hz is within the alpha brainwave band (8 – 12 Hz), which is associated with light meditation, relaxation and creative insights. So if you want to experience this kind of state, listening to a brainwave entrainment recording designed to induce the alpha state might help. [Read more about the different brainwave frequency bands.]

There are three main types of sound-based brainwave entrainment recordings: binaural beats, monaural beats, and isochronic tones. All work well, but you may still want to choose one over the other. Let’s examine each of these in turn to find out why.

Binaural Beats

Binaural beats are the oldest and most well known of brainwave entrainment technology. They’re very widely available, and are popular because they can be very effective.

Binaural beats work by introducing two pure sine wave tones of different frequencies to the brain via headphones. These tones must be below 1000Hz in frequency, and the difference between them must be less than about 30Hz. Each ear receives one tone, and the brain combines these two sounds to create an internal pulse. This pulse repeats at a rate that is equal to the difference between the frequencies of the first two tones.

So for example, if you listen to a 200Hz tone in your left ear, and a 206Hz tone in your right ear, the brain will integrate these to create a pulse that repeats at a rate of 6Hz. It is this pulse, or beat, to which the brain entrains. In this case, such a recording would be used to entrain the brain to the theta state, since theta brainwaves fall within the 4 – 8 Hz range.

By choosing two initial tones of specific frequencies, you can exert a lot of control over the internal beat that the brain produces, and thus entrains to. The key thing to understand about binaural beats is that the pulse which the brain matches is produced within the brain itself – it’s not present in the recording. Since each ear needs to be exposed to a different tone for this to occur, you need to use headphones when using binaural sounds.

Binaural sound recordings for personal development purposes are often overlaid with relaxing or ambient music, or sound effects such as running water, or pink/brown/white noise. These help to disguise the sound of the binaural tones (which some people don’t like), and also help to aid in the relaxation process.

Binaural Beats Pros and Cons

  • Binaural beats have a lot going for them. For one thing, they are a well-researched, tried and tested technology. Binaural beats were discovered in 1839, and have been extensively studied throughout the 20th century. Although not all of the claims made for binaural beats (or brainwave synchronization in general) have been scientifically verified, they have been shown to be a viable method of brainwave entrainment, and the anecdotal evidence in their favour is huge.
  • There are also lots of options available – since binaural beats are so well-known, there’s a huge range of recordings to choose from that incorporate binaural beat technology.
  • Binaural beats may be especially good for working with the delta brainwave band (< 4Hz) – this is an area in which monaurals and isochronics don’t seem to produce such good results.
  • On the downside, binaural beats may be the least effective of the three methods for frequencies above the delta range: many people report more efficient entrainment using monaural beats and (especially) isochronic tones. This may be because of the extra work that the brain has to do in creating the third tone.
  • Headphones are necessary to use binaural beats – this can be inconvenient, and even inaccessible to those who have trouble with using headphones.

Monaural Beats

Monaural beats differ from binaural beats in that the same sound is introduced to each ear. As with binaural beats, this tone is created by mixing two pure sine waves of slightly different frequencies – but unlike their binaural counterparts, monaural beats are not created within the brain; the sine waves are combined before entering the ear, so a sound of the desired frequency reaches the brain ‘ready made’, so to speak.

Monaural beats have a pulsing sound that is somewhat smoother to the ear than binaural beats. It’s also not necessary to use headphones when listening to them, although their use may give better results, by helping to eliminate outside distractions.

Monaurals also differ from binaural beats in that the tone must be audible to be effective: this means that the beats can’t be completely masked with music, or white noise etc., like binaurals can. This may be an issue for those people who find the sound of the monaural beats unpleasant or distracting, although for most people this isn’t a problem, as they’re actually quite soothing to listen to.

Monaural Beats Pros and Cons

  • Some people find monaural beats to be a slightly more effective brainwave entrainment method than binaural beats, perhaps because the brain doesn’t have the additional work of creating the tone to entrain to.
  • As monaural beats don’t require the use of headphones, they are more convenient and accessible than binaural beats.
  • Monaural beats are fairly well researched, and have been used for brainwave entrainment purposes with great success by many people.
  • Monaural beats have a pulsed tone that is somewhat similar to isochronic tones, but since it’s a sine wave pulse, rather than a discrete series of individual sounds, it isn’t as clearly defined. However, it is more defined than binaural beats. As a result, monaural beats may be easier for the brain to entrain to than binaurals, but less so than isochronics.
  • On the downside, monaural beats can’t be fully masked with other sounds, but as they have quite a pleasant tone at most frequency ranges, this isn’t likely to be a problem for most people.
  • Monaural beats (like isochronic tones – see below) may not produce good results in the delta frequency band. Many people prefer to use binaural beats for working in this region.

Isochronic Tones

Next we come to isochronic tones, which are the newest of the three brainwave entrainment technologies, and in many cases, the most powerful.

Isochronic tones are manually created, equal intensity pulses of sound that are completely separated by an interval of silence. They basically turn on and off very rapidly (the speed depending on the desired brain frequency). This discrete nature makes them particularly easy for the brain to entrain to, and many people find isochronic tones to be the most effective method of sound-based brainwave entrainment.

Isochronic Tones Pros and Cons

  • As mentioned, isochronic tones are very effective at synchronising the brain to your desired frequency. In fact many people who are experienced with brainwave entrainment prefer them over binaural and monaural beats for many purposes.
  • Like monaural beats, and unlike binaurals, you don’t need to use headphones to listen to isochronic tones, so they’re very accessible and easy to use. Again though, headphones can provide a better experience if you have them.
  • One downside that isochronics share with monaural beats is that the tones must be audible to be effective. So again, while isochronic recordings can be enhanced with other sounds, the tones mustn’t be drowned out by these. This can be a disadvantage to some people, since isochronic tones have quite a distinctive sound which some dislike, and aren’t as soothing as monaural beats.
  • Following on from the above point, some people also find that isochronic tones can be problematic at very low frequencies, and as such aren’t really suitable for delta entrainment. Your experience may differ however, so it’s always best to experiment for yourself. But if you want to access the delta frequency band and only want to use one type of recording, binaural beats might be the best choice.
  • Isochronic tones are a relatively new technology, and as such they’re not as well known as binaural and monaural beats. This means that there isn’t quite the same range of recordings to choose from, although there’s still plenty to be found online, and new ones are appearing all the time.

So, as you can see, all of the three main audio brainwave entrainment methods have their strong and weak points. Also, different people get different results from each, so it’s not really possible to say that one type is ‘best’ in an absolute sense. Personally I find isochronic tones to be the most effective generally, but find binaurals and monaurals to be more soothing, so they are preferable at those times when isochronics feels a bit harsh – which totally depends on my mood.

Rather than recommending one type above the others, I suggest that anyone who’s seriously interested in exploring the benefits of brainwave entrainment should experiment a bit and try all three methods. You’ll soon find which work well for you.

Whichever method you choose, it’s important to use only high quality recordings, such as those available from The Meditation Club. I personally like using their alpha and theta meditation recordings regularly, and these are available in a choice of binaural, monaural and isochronic formats – definitely a plus point when you consider how hard it can be to find decent monaural and isochronic recordings elsewhere!

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