Binaural Beats, Monaural Beats And Isochronic Tones – What’s The Difference?
Are you interested in experimenting with brainwave entrainment, but are not sure whether to choose binaural beats, monaural beats or isochronic tones? Then read on for more information about how these three brainwave synchronization technologies differ, and their pros and cons.
Brainwave Entrainment – A Quick Introduction
Firstly, let’s quickly go over what brainwave entrainment involves, in case you’re not already familiar with it. Brainwave entrainment is also sometimes known as brain wave synchronization or brainwave stimulation. It basically provides a relatively easy way to access different states of consciousness and mental abilities. So by using brainwave entrainment, even those who aren’t experienced with meditation or mind control techniques may be able to experience altered states of awareness and access their mind’s full potential.
Brainwave entrainment works thanks to a natural phenomenon known as the ‘frequency following response’. This refers to the brain’s tendency to match (or entrain to) the frequency of an external stimulus, such as pulses of light or sound, so long as the frequency of the stimulus corresponds to the brain’s own natural range.
As an example, you might listen to a recording with frequencies of around 12Hz. This can lead your brain to produce brainwaves of a similar frequency. 12Hz is within the alpha brainwave band (8 – 12Hz), which corresponds to a relaxed, calm state. So if you want to be able to access this kind of state easily, listening to this type of recording may help.
So now we come to binaural beats, monaural beats and isochronic tones, which are the three main types of sound-based brainwave synchronization technology. While all three of these can be very effective, you may develop a preference for one over the others. Let’s take a look at each type in turn.
Binaural beats were discovered way back in the 19th century, and are the most well-established of the three types. They have been extensively studied, are very widely available, and are very popular, thanks to their effectiveness.
In order to use binaural beats, you must listen with headphones. Two pure sine wave tones of different frequencies are used, with one entering each ear. Both tones are below about 1000Hz, and the difference between them is no more than around 30Hz. The brain then integrates these tones, and creates a pulse (or beat) that repeats at a rate equal to the frequency difference between the pitches of the two tones.
For example, if you listen to a 350Hz tone through the left channel and a 360Hz tone through the right, your brain will produce a pulsed beat of 10Hz. The brain then entrains to this self-produced 10Hz sound, and produces brainwaves of a similar frequency (which in this case, falls within the alpha range).
In this way you can control the frequency of the tone that the brain produces and synchronises with. The main thing to remember about binaural beats is that the beat to which the brain entrains is produced by the brain itself, and is not present in the actual recording. This makes the use of headphones necessary, since each ear must be exposed to a different tone for this merging effect to occur.
You’ll find that binaural beat recordings are often combined with other sounds, such as relaxing music, pink/brown noise, running water and the like. As well as disguising the sound of the binaural tones, these additional sounds can often enhance the relaxation process.
The Pros And Cons Of Binaural Beats
There are many advantages to using binaural beats. For a start, they’re very well researched, and the technology is pretty tried and tested. Since their discovery in 1839, binaural beats have been the subject of a lot of scientific interest, and although not all of the claims that are made for them have been scientifically proven, they certainly are an effective brainwave entrainment method, and there’s also a huge amount of anecdotal evidence as testimony to their effectiveness.
It’s also very easy to obtain binaural beat recordings for a huge variety of purposes, thanks to their wide popularity.
If you’re interested in working in the delta frequency range (< 4Hz), binaural beats may be the best choice, as many people find that isochronic tones and monaural beat don’t seem to be as effective at these low frequencies.
Binaural beats do have their disadvantages, however. Many have found them to be the least effective method of the three for entrainment above the delta level, and find that monaural beats and (especially) isochronic tones are more efficient. This is possibly because of the additional work involved for the brain in producing the beat to which it entrains, and also because it is very quiet.
Another possible disadvantage is that binaural beats must be used with headphones. Although this isn’t normally a problem, headphones can be inconvenient, and some people have trouble using them.
Unlike binaural beats, with monaural beats, the same sound is heard with each ear. Two sine waves are mixed to produce the tone, but this merging occurs outside the brain, so the brain doesn’t have to do the work of integrating them. Instead, the correct tone is ‘ready made’.
The pulsing sound of monaural beats can sound smoother and more appealing than that of binaurals, although this is a personal preference. In addition, monaural beats can be used without headphones, making them more accessible and convenient in some cases.
Another difference is that monaural beats are only effective if they are audible. As a result, they can’t be completely masked with music or other sounds in the way that binaural beats can. So if you find the sound of raw monaural beats unappealing, they’re probably not the best method for you.
The Pros and Cons of Monaural Beats
Monaural beats are generally considered to be more effective than binaural beats for many purposes, maybe because they involve less work for the brain.
Monaural beats are quite well researched, and many people have used them with great success for brainwave synchronization.
The pulsed sound of monaural beats differs from that of isochronic tones in that it’s a sine wave pulse, rather than a clearly demarcated series of discrete sounds. So monaural beat pulses are less well defined than isochronic pulses, but more well defined than those of binaural beats. This may be another reason why monaural beats are often more efficient than binaural sounds.
As we noted earlier, monaural beats can’t be complete masked by music etc. (other sounds can be added to monaural beat tracks – but the beats themselves must remain audible). This may be a problem for those who don’t like the sound of monaural beats, but most people seem to find them pleasant enough at frequencies above the delta level.
Like isochronic tones (see below), monaural beats may not give great results when used at delta frequencies. Because of this, a lot of brainwave entrainment enthusiasts prefer to use binaural beats for this kind of work instead.
Finally we have isochronic tones, which are the most modern of the three technologies, and in the view of many people, the most powerful too.
Isochronic tones consist of equal intensity sound pulses that turn on and off very quickly. These pulses are separated by an interval of complete silence, which gives them a pronounced effect that seems to be especially easy for the brain to entrain with. Because of this, many people find isochronic tones to be the most powerful type of brain wave stimulation recording.
The Pros and Cons of Isochronic Tones
Perhaps the strongest point in favour of isochronic tones is that they’re especially effective at entraining the brain to the required frequency. As a result many of those who are experienced with brainwave work choose them over binaural and monaural beats for a lot of purposes.
As with monaural beats, you can listen to isochronic recordings without headphones. Nonetheless, it’s still a good idea to use headphones for an optimal experience.
On the negative side, like monaural beats, isochronic tones need to be clearly audible if they’re to be effective. Once again, an isochronic recording may be enhanced by the addition of music and other sounds, but the tones themselves can’t be masked. Some people may find this a problem, as isochronics do have quite a distinctive sound, which may not be to everyone’s taste.
Related to the above point, isochronic sounds may not be the best choice for use at low frequencies, and like monaural beats, many people prefer not to use them for delta work. Of course it’s best to try these things for yourself, as your experience may vary, but if you just want to get one type of recording, binaural beats are probably the best option for delta brainwave entrainment.
As a fairly new technology, isochronic tones are not yet as familiar as binaural beats. Because of this, it can be harder to locate good isochronic recordings, as there isn’t the same wide variety available as for binaurals. Still, there are lots of sites that offer them, and new choices are appearing constantly.
So, it’s obvious now that all three of these brainwave entrainment techniques have their advantages and disadvantages, so we can’t really say that one type is ‘best’ in any absolute sense. In addition, different people will find that different methods work best for them – some will do better with binaural beats and vice versa.
Personally, I like to use all three, depending on the purpose I’m using them for, and my mood. Isochronic tones do seem to be more effective, but sometimes the more soothing sounds of binaural or monaural beats is more suitable.
I suggest that if you’re seriously interested in exploring how brainwave entrainment can work for you, it’s best to experiment with all three types, and see which you prefer.
Regardless of which you choose, it’s important to go for good quality recordings from a reputable source such as The Unexplainable Store. I use their theta and alpha meditation recordings regularly, and they’re all available in binaural, monaural and isochronic formats (this is especially good, considering that it can still be difficult to find quality monaural beats and isochronic tones).