Binaural Beats vs Isochronic Tones: What’s the difference?

Binaural Beats vs Isochronic Tones: What’s the difference?

Binaural beats and isochronic tones are related but not similar. They are both unique yet extremely useful in Brain wave entrainment. Brain wave entrainment is a therapeutic method with a lot of benefits, some of which are still currently being explored.

Throughout the rest of this post I’ll expand into more detail how these two differ and how they stimulate the brain

What are binaural beats?

The ear processes sounds when a sound wave at a particular frequency enters the ear drum and is transmitted through the cochlea to the auditory nerve. The auditory nerve then sends the signal to the brain, which processes the information into a sound that you can recognize. Sometimes, different sound frequencies enter the ear. When a sound of a different frequency enters one ear, and another sound enters the other ear; the brain processes the difference of both frequencies and projects each sound at a particular frequency. That sound (or beat) that is projected at such a frequency is known as a binaural beat.

Binaural beats are usually defined as “auditory illusions” because the ear is hearing a third sound whereas only two different soundwaves are entering the ears. Binaural beats, however, can only be distinguished at soundwaves lower than a frequency of 1000Hz. Recent studies have shown that binaural beats can stimulate the brain and produce positive effects on health such as;

  • Producing positive moods and emotions
  • Easing anxiety and reducing stress
  • Improving concentration and focus
  • Enhancing creativity
  • Reducing pain as well as increasing relaxation.

The effect of binaural beats on health has been maximized as a form of therapy in psychiatry known as Binaural Beat Therapy. Binaural beats can be found in all the forms of soundwaves (i.e. DeltaThetaAlphaBeta and Gamma), each with different health benefits.

What are Isochronic tones?

I am sure you can probably guess what isochronic tones mean. “Iso” means “Equal”, while “chronic” means “of a long duration”. Isochronic tones are sounds that are played on a particular frequency at an equal length of time. This sound is usually a single sound and it is played at regular brief intervals. A good way to recognize isochronic tones is that they are single beats that are played on and off at quick intervals. The frequency of the sound determines the speed of the intervals.

Isochronic tones are used as a form of brain therapy called brain entrainment, which involves ensuring that the brain “flows” with a brainwave at a particular frequency. This flow is believed to change the brainwave into a mental state that produces health benefits. As an individual, you can condition your brain to function at a particular wavelength/frequency. This is called Neurofeedback and it is used to modify the brain for high performance in certain situations.

This frequency, however, varies between individuals. To attain a much higher level of cognitive performance, the brain has to function at a wavelength believed to be optimal. A way to achieve this change in mental state is through Brain entrainment, of which the use of isochronic tones is an integral part. 

Aren’t Binaural Beats and Isochronic Tones the same thing?

When listening to binaural beats, there is some form of illusion of a third beat that seems to unify the sounds of different frequencies that are entering the ears. This is why they are often assumed to be the same thing with isochronic tones which are sounds of a single frequency that is played at equal intervals. This is wrong, as binaural beats are different from isochronic tones. Some of the reasons why they are different include;

  • First, the concept of isochronic tones was discovered much recently compared to binaural beats. Binaural beats have been around since the 1830s, while isochronic tones were only discovered in 1981.
  • Isochronic tones are considered to be a derivative of binaural beats. Binaural beats are made up of different sounds, while isochronic tone is a single sound that is repeated in frequent and equal intervals.
  • Binaural beats are better heard with the use of headphones, but isochronic tones do not always need headphones due to its distinction in sound.
  • Isochronic tones are effective even in high gamma and beta brainwave form, but binaural beats are not.
  • As a form of brain entrainment therapy, binaural beats affect the whole brain. Isochronic tones, on the other hand, can be used to cause an effect on each side of the brain.
  • The response in the brain caused by isochronic tones is much stronger than that of binaural beats.

Do Binaural Beats and Isochronic Tones stimulate your brain differently?

Brain entrainment is a concept in which the mental state of the brain is altered, thereby causing a shift from the “normal”. This change in brain state is caused by a change in the frequency of brainwave. Let’s go back to the five major types of brainwaves to understand this phenomenon properly.

Delta wave, which is the brainwave produced during deep sleep and dreaming. This brainwave has the lowest frequency of all types.

Theta wave, the brainwave produced when you are tired or just falling asleep. Theta waves are also produced during daydreaming.

Alpha wave, majorly produced during rest. If you are calm and resting, your brain is most likely producing alpha brainwaves.

Beta wave, is the brainwave produced when you are awake and in a state of activity.

Gamma wave, which is the brainwave with the highest frequency. Gamma waves are produced in a state of concentration and meditation. Gamma waves are also produced during problem-solving.

The effect of brain entrainment is known as Cortical-evoked-response and it simply refers to the response the brain produces due to the signal sent by a sound wave. Both isochronic tones and binaural beats are used as brain entrainment methods and their effects are measured using an Electroencephalography (EEG) Machine. When listening to either isochronic tones or binaural beats, there is a cortical evoked response produced, which could also occur in a change of brainwave. Isochronic tones produce a stronger cortical evoked response than binaural beats because they stimulate the brain differently.

Binaural beats produce a pleasant sound that creates a different brainwave than normal throughout the entire brain. However, this effect is small. On the other hand, isochronic tones provoke a cortical evoked response in each side of the brain with a change in frequency of the sound being played. This response is in parts, making it easier to monitor the activity of each hemisphere. This leads to a stronger overall Cortical evoked response triggered by isochronic tones.

Are Binaural Beats and Isochronic Tones dangerous to use?

Till date, there is no evidence that suggests danger. Both binaural beats and isochronic tones are safe to use. But the safety of use should be regulated as these sounds can trigger symptoms in certain individuals, which eventually leads to detrimental effects. Isochronic tones usually come with a warning for epileptic patients and/or those that have a high risk of seizures.

Although there is no evidence or research to prove that isochronic tones can trigger epileptic fits or seizures, this warning could be as a result of brain entrainment therapy that involves the use of light (photic stimulation). It is therefore believed that the quick intervals of sound can cause seizures. Also, playing isochronic tones at high levels can induce hearing loss. Another thing to note is that one can experience headaches and weakness during and sometimes after listening to isochronic tones. This is considered normal, as it is caused by the change in brainwaves. Headaches and fatigues are usually experienced due to the induced change from one brainwave frequency to another.

Binaural beats are also safe to use, but should be monitored. This is because the response of the brain to the change of brainwave from binaural beats can lead to certain factors, including;

Auditory Risk

This is the most talked about risk associated with listening to binaural beats. Research has shown that listening to binaural beats at a high volume for a long time can cause a type of hearing loss known as Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL). It is very easy to fall into the temptation of increasing the volume of these beats. In fact, one may think there is a certain “high” (caused by cortical evoked response of the brain) from these beats. However it should be noted increasing the volume doesn’t make the listening experience anymore effective

Safety risk

Operators of industrial machinery are advised not to listen to binaural beats while working on machineries without medical recommendation, as an altered mental state caused by binaural beats can lead them into a trance. You can imagine how unsafe that is, both to the operator and those around.


Studies have shown that children who listen to binaural beats are more prone to seizures because the constant altering of brainwaves makes the brain partially developed. This change in brainwave caused by binaural beats can also cause a seizure in adults, although rare.

Pregnancy and Cardiac conditions

Brain entrainment caused by binaural beats can induce labor. In the same vein, a change in brain wave can affect the heart. This is why pregnant women and patients with heart conditions are advised not to listen to binaural beats.

You should therefore ensure that you listen to either isochronic tones or binaural beats based on medical recommendation, and at considerate audio levels. If you are pregnant or have any cardiac conditions and still want to listen to binaural beats or isochronic tones you should consult your doctor

Which is better? Isochronic Tone vs Binaural Beat?

This is not the first time binaural beats and isochronic tones have been compared. And this will probably not be the last time this comparison will be made. Both isochronic tones and binaural beats have their uniqueness in type and effectiveness. Thus, there is no one that is better between the two. However, there are more studies to prove the effectiveness of binaural beats compared to isochronic tones. This could be because the latter is a much recent discovery.

More people prefer using isochronic tones to induce the brain to brainwave frequencies like gamma and beta waves which are the brain waves for concentration, problem-solving and improving IQ. Binaural beats are the preferred choice for inducing the brain into states that produce lower brainwave frequencies like theta, alpha and delta. These frequencies are implicated in relaxation, meditation and sleep.

This does not, however, make this absolute. Each beat has its own effect on different individuals within all brainwave frequencies. This is why you will have to decide which is better on a personal level, as what works for one might not work for another. Another reason why you cannot conclude on which is better between isochronic tones and binaural beats is the headphone factor. Binaural beats are better used with headphones, as different sounds enter the ear. Without headphones, external sounds can distort the sounds of the binaural beats and it will be of no effect.

On the other hand, isochronic tones can be used without headphones. But the presence of external sounds cannot be overruled. Therefore, the effects of isochronic tones might not be maximal without the use of headphones. You might be tempted to increase the volume of the sound, which could lead to hearing loss. I am sure you are nodding in agreement. However, there are still people who will disagree with the use of headphones when listening to isochronic tones and even binaural beats.

If you therefore want to know which is better, try using the two. You will decide which you prefer after trying them out.

Can I use both Isochronic and Binaural Beats?

As I just said, if you want to know which is better between isochronic tones and binaural beats, you should use the two. You might then ask “Does this mean I can use the two?” Yes, you can. In fact, more often than not, they are used in brain entrainment. Brain entrainment work using sounds at a particular frequency continuously for a certain period of time. The aim is to “excite” the brainwaves of the individual (listening to the sound) to match the frequency of the sound. This is for beneficial purposes such as improving sleep, concentration and IQ.

In fact, research has shown that in addition to these benefits, there is also emotional improvement as a result of brain entrainment. Both isochronic tones and binaural beats have effects on the brain which vary in type and power. This is why they are both used in brain entrainment therapy.

Can both Binaural Beats and Isochronic Tones work at the same time?

research has been conducted to study the effects of brain entrainment as well as its detriments. This research used monaural (isochronic tones) and binaural beats alone and together on certain participants. We are not directly told whether isochronic tones and binaural beats were used at the same time on the participants. In fact, there is not much evidence to show if it is possible (and safe) to use binaural beats and isochronic tones at the same time. This could be due to the fact that one will overpower the other, and the effects might be overridden.

Let me explain this technicality. Binaural beats are sounds made up of two different frequencies. When listening to binaural beats, the brain creates an illusion of an additional beat whose frequency is the difference of the frequency of the two (real) beats entering the ears. An isochronic tone, on the other hand, is made of one sound of a particular frequency that is played repeatedly at a particular time interval. Playing both binaural beats and isochronic tones can cause one of two effects;

  • If the isochronic tone is played at a high frequency, it will match the sound of the binaural beat that has the higher frequency. This will either make the high frequency binaural beat “disappear”, or the isochronic tone might automatically take on the illusionary “third” beat that is heard when playing binaural beats.

Whichever happens, you can be sure that either the effect of the isochronic tone, the binaural beat or in extreme cases, both of them will not be maximal. Thus, it is more advisable that you use binaural beats at a particular time, and then use isochronic tones at another time, if you do decide to use both.

Are there audio productions using both? (found on YouTube, etc)

There are a lot of audio productions for brain entrainment therapy that you can find especially online. Some of them use only binaural beats while some others use isochronic tones. Some of them, however, use both binaural beats and isochronic tones in their audio productions. Examples of audio productions that use both binaural beats and isochronic tones include;

Other References

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