Binaural beats and isochronic tones are two different methods of producing brainwave entrainment, with audio and repetitive beats. They are both used to stimulate and influence your brain's electrical activity, and guide you to specific and more desired mental states.
In this post I'm going to highlight the key differences between the two methods, and which one has been proven scientifically to produce the stronger effects.
Before I get into that, I think it's important to address a very common misconception…
Are Isochronic Tones Just a Different Type of Binaural Beat?
One of the most common misconceptions I come across, is that isochronic tones are just a different a type of binaural beat. But that's incorrect. They are both different methods of creating audio brainwave entrainment.
Binaural beats have been around for much longer and can be traced back to 1839, when they were discovered by German scientist Heinrich Wilhelm Dove. Isochronic tones are a much newer discovery and were first highlighted in a study by Arturo Manns in 1981.
In his 1981 study, Manns was the first to report how isochronic tones produce a stronger brainwave entrainment effect when compared to binaural beats.
Stimulating and Influencing Your Brainwave Activity with Repetitive Beats
- Both isochronic tones and binaural beats stimulate and influence your brainwaves, using the sound of repetitive beats. This type of brainwave stimulation is known as ‘brainwave entrainment‘.
- Both methods work by stimulating your brain with continuous repetitive beats of a specific frequency. When your brain is stimulated with a repetitive beat, your dominant brainwaves start to fall in sync to the same speed of the beats.
The time it takes for your brainwaves to synchronise to the beats can vary. But on average it's generally considered to happen after around 5 or 6 minutes of listening to the beats.
The big difference between isochronic tones and binaural beats is the way the beats are created. Isochronic tones produce a much more distinctive sounding beat, which produces a stronger reaction in your brainwave electrical activity. Which is what ultimately makes them more effective and a stronger method of brainwave stimulation.
How Do Binaural Beats Work?
A binaural beat is created by sending tones of a slightly different frequency into each ear, which results in the listener hearing a ‘perceived' beat at the frequency equal to the difference between the two tone frequencies. To put that more simply, here's an example:
A tone of 200Hz is sent to the left ear
A tone of 210Hz is sent to the right ear
The different between both frequencies is 10Hz, so the listener perceives a tone beating at a rate of 10 times per second, i.e. 10Hz.
Again using the above example, if the second tone in the right ear was increased to 220Hz, the difference would be 20Hz, so a 20Hz beat would be heard.
Why are Binaural Beats ‘Perceived' and Not Just Heard Like Normal Beats?
Good question. With binaural beats the resulting beat you hear is a type of auditory illusion, created and heard inside your head. No actual beat is sent into your ears, just two plain tones at different frequencies. The brain recognises that the tones are different in each ear and somehow produces a resulting beat after processing them.
Looking at the snapshot above there isn't a visible beat, just 2 continuous waveforms for each left and right channel/ear. After the 2 tones are sent to each ear, your brain naturally converts the two different tones into a single beat, known as a binaural beat.
Here's a sample of what a 10Hz binaural beat sounds like:
The diagram above shows what a binaural beat waveform looks like when formed inside the brain.
When determining the strength of a beat, the waveform is measured from the highest point to the lowest part of the curve/wave. As you can see from the diagram above, there isn't a very big distance between the highest and lowest points in the sound wave. You could almost compare it to a calm sea.
In a research article by David Siever 2009, Entraining Tones and Binaural Beats, Siever noted that the modulation depth (difference between loud and quiet) is very small at just 3db, a 2 to 1 ratio. Compared to isochronic tones that easily produce 50db, which is a 100,000 to 1 ratio.
In layman's terms, this means that isochronic tones produce a much more pronounced and distinct sounding beat. When measured on an EEG, binaural beats only produce a small response in the brain, and little to no impact on brainwave driving. So for brainwave entrainment purposes, isochronic tones are more effective and superior.
Key Binaural Beats Issues
- You always need headphones to hear Binaural Beats tracks effectively.
- They produce a very shallow sound waveform compared to isochronic tones, which results in a weaker brainwave entrainment effect.
- They are not considered to be effective in the higher beta and gamma frequency ranges.
- You can't target a specific side of the brain, just the whole brain.
How Isochronic Tones Work
Isochronic tones are consistent regular beats of a single tone. To explain it in the simplest of terms, an isochronic tone is a tone being switched on and off very quickly.
The speed at which the tone is switched on and off is measured in terms of Hertz (Hz). The image below shows the waveform of a 10Hz isochronic tone.
Example 10Hz Isochronic Tone
The example above shows a 1 second snapshot of a 10Hz isochronic tone. If you count the waveforms you'll see they are repeated 10 times over this 1 second time period.
1 Minute demo of a 10Hz isochronic tone:
Key Isochronic Tones Benefits
- They produce a more distinct tone/beat, which results in a stronger ‘cortical evoked response' in the brain, making the stimulation more effective.
- Standard sessions/tracks don't require headphones.
- With advanced sessions that require headphones, you have the ability to stimulate each side of the brain with a different frequency of beat. This enables you to lower or increase the activity in one side of the brain. This process is known split hemisphere stimulation.
For a more in-depth explanation of how isochronic tones can influence your mental state, check out my article here: How Isochronic Tones Work – Includes links to research resources.