Binaural beats work by playing a different tone in each ear, and in the process the brain creates a “phantom tone” which is the difference between the two tones (for example if you play a 300 hz tone in one ear and a 310 hz in the other ear the brain will produce a 10 Hz phantom tone.) If this phantom tone is 10 hz the brain will gradually be led to a dominant brainwave frequency of 10 hz (this has been measured by EEG devices). If the tone is 7 hz the brain will gradually be led to a 7 hz dominant frequency, and so on.
Pure tones played together interfere with each other when they are close in pitch but not identical. When each tone is sent to a different ear, there will not be any physical interaction between the waves, yet your brain still creates an interference inside your head: the so-called binaural beat. In order to create a binaural beat, each ear must receive its dedicated signal. Therefore, binaural beats only work through headphones.
Some studies have found that binaural beats can affect cognitive function positively or negatively, depending on the specific frequency that’s generated. For example, a study of long-term memory found that beta-frequency binaural beats improved memory, while theta-frequency binaural beats interfered with memory. This is something for scientists to continue to examine closely. For people who use binaural beats, it’s important to understand that different frequencies will produce different effects.
Brainwave entrainment is also known as brainwave synchronization. According to Wikipedia brainwave entrainment is “any practice that aims to cause brainwave frequencies to fall into step with a periodic stimulus having a frequency corresponding to the intended brain-state (for example, to induce sleep), usually attempted with the use of specialized software.”