If you’re going to enter a state of meditation, a technique of some sort must be employed that takes you there. (Note – I am fully aware of references to “spontaneous enlightenment experiences”, but these are an entirely different category of phenomena than what is being discussed here and are outside the scope of this discussion. Perhaps another time.)

After fixation upon our phenomenon takes place, what started out as a random perception is now cemented into our experience of, and is conditionally associated with entrainment. We condition ourselves to relive the same experience associated with entrainment each time we use it. It isn’t random any longer. It is explicit conditioning, and it repeats as predictably as the sunrise using entrainment as its new trigger.
Music therapy has shown numerous health benefits for people with conditions ranging from mild (like stress) to severe (like cancer). When dealing with stress, the right music can actually lower your ​​​blood pressure, relax your body and calm your mind. Here are some suggestions of different types of music to listen to, and how to use music in your daily life for effective stress management.
Well, except for one reason: The power of suggestion. If I give you a music track and tell you that it will cure your headache, you're more likely to report that it cured your headache than you are to say "Well it didn't effect my headache, but it made my short-term memory better." An interesting experiment would be to buy a binaural track claimed to induce drunkenness, for example; play it for five friends without telling them the claim, and then ask how it made each of them feel. Give them multiple choices to select from. Chances are they're going to respond all over the map. If you have a friend who is a believer in binaural beats, I suggest going ahead and setting up this little test.

Maya Mendoza is a published author of 3 personal development books. She has run an NLP / EFT Practice for 29 years helping clients transform problems into personal power. Maya is also a accomplished copywriter and well known Digital Marketing & Social Social Media Strategist - Specializing in Google+ for business. She was named "best marketing consultant" in Glasgow, UK in 2013.  

Joseph Kao, creator of Profound Releasing, Profound Renewal, and Sound Asleep, is a hypnotherapist and a solution-focused therapist with a private practice in Cambridge, UK. Joe was the co-developer of an acclaimed course on conversational hypnosis, and he regularly teaches hypnotherapy and psychotherapy to other therapists. He has also been the head scriptwriter for over 800 professional hypnotherapy recordings. Joe was drawn to the world of philosophy, meditation, and brainwave entrainment technology from an early age, and he’s had a daily meditation practice since 1998.
The Frequency following response (FFR), also referred to as Frequency Following Potential (FFP), is a specific response to hearing sound and music, by which neural oscillations adjust their frequency to match the rhythm of auditory stimuli. The use of sound with intent to influence cortical brainwave frequency is called auditory driving,[39][40] by which frequency of neural oscillation is 'driven' to entrain with that of the rhythm of a sound source.[41][42]
When you play two separate frequencies in each ear, say 140 Hz and 149 Hz, the difference in frequency is 9 Hz. Your brain compensates for this difference and a third tone of 9 Hz is experienced. This will result in your brain being lowered or raised and tuned into the desired frequency. This is how binaural beats are produced. Headphones are essential for this to work.  

Regarding split hemisphere isochronic tones. Think of this as two separate isochronic tones tracks playing independently of each other, one playing in one ear and the other one in the opposite ear. Better still, imagine someone playing and recording a drum beat at a rate of 5 taps per second (5Hz – 5 cycles per second). Then a separate recording of a drum beat is made at a rate of 10 taps per second (10 Hz). You then make an audio track where the left ear/channel hears the 5 drum beats recording and the right ear/channel hears the 10 beat recording. With headphones on, each ear can only hear each respective drum beat and not the other. So you are hearing two different beat recordings at the same time, but it’s different in each ear. A split hemisphere isochronic tones track works just the same. You hear two beats at the same time, not two tones as with binaural beats that create a single beat, but two different speeds of beats in each ear. This is what enables you to stimulate and influence each side of the brain with a different frequency of beat. Binaural beats can only stimulate and influence a whole brain effect using a single beat.
With regard to listening without headphones specifically, you might find it irritating if you are someone who suffers from motion sickness, depending on how the track is created. If you were listening to binaural beats, they really need headphones to work properly. If you are in a room and closer to one speaker you may not even hear binaural beats properly, and if sitting off centre in the room generally, that may have unsettled you if you have motion sickness as the tones try to form a beat in your head. If it was just a standard isochronic tones theta track that shouldn’t be irritating if you have motion sickness.
Whenever we become very relaxed and the usual chatter of the mind slows down a little bit, if we remain aware and do not slip into sleep or unconsciousness, we begin to perceive things that we had not noticed before. This is slightly different than the issue of “expectations” discussed previously, although a relationship to them can develop which will be discussed below. These have to do with the fact that in our typical state of consciousness our mind is racing so fast and so loud, and our body is so engaged with activity and physical tension, that we are unaware of some subtle perceptions that are there all the while, but which get buried beneath all the physical and mental noise.
“Stress and sleepless nights are closely linked,” Buenaver says. “If you’re in pain, tend to worry, or are coping with a difficult situation in your life, you may have more stress hormones than usual circulating in your body. A poor night’s sleep adds even more. And those hormones may never be fully broken down. It’s like running an engine in fifth gear all the time.”
So, in summary, binaural beats certainly do not work the way the sellers claim, but there's no reason to think they're any less effective than any other music track you might listen to that effects you in a way you like. If they make you sleepy (like they all do for me), use them to go to sleep. If they relax you or get you amped, use them for that. But don't expect them to be any more effective than regular music. If someone you know claims that they are, put them to the test, and bust the myth.
In physics, entrainment is the process of two oscillating systems coming to assume the same periodic rhythm, such as is observed when two clocks slowly synchronize their ticking and tick together in harmony after some time. Pendulums also achieve this same synchronicity when swinging in close proximity to one another, a phenomenon first observed and written about in 1665 by Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch scientist.

Effects on cortisol: The hormone cortisol is commonly associated with stress, and when levels are higher than usual, it can have a negative impact on the body. High levels of cortisol can lead to a range of conditions, including Cushing syndrome, menstrual cycle and female libido changes, anxiety, and depression. Dr. Giampapa noted a reduction of cortisol of up to 70-80 percent in several study participants.

When signals of two different frequencies are presented, one to each ear, the brain detects phase differences between these signals. "Under natural circumstances a detected phase difference would provide directional information. The brain processes this anomalous information differently when these phase differences are heard with stereo headphones or speakers. A perceptual integration of the two signals takes place, producing the sensation of a third "beat" frequency. The difference between the signals waxes and wanes as the two different input frequencies mesh in and out of phase. As a result of these constantly increasing and decreasing differences, an amplitude-modulated standing wave -the binaural beat- is heard. The binaural beat is perceived as a fluctuating rhythm at the frequency of the difference between the two auditory inputs. Evidence suggests that the binaural beats are generated in the brainstem's superior olivary nucleus, the first site of contra-lateral integration in the auditory system (Oster, 1973). Studies also suggest that the frequency-following response originates from the inferior colliculus (Smith, Marsh, & Brown, 1975)" (Owens & Atwater, 1995). This activity is conducted to the cortex where it can be recorded by scalp electrodes.  
All techniques, whether mantra, focus on the breath, contemplation of a koan, or any other, are simply the vehicles we use to take us into (hopefully) a meditative state. Put another way, the purpose of repeating a mantra is not to get proficient at repeating a mantra. The purpose is to take us to a meditative state where the mantra slips away and is no longer necessary.
When stress attacks, it can feel like your whole world is crashing down. Remind yourself what’s good in your life with a quick gratitude round-up. “Studies show gratitude techniques like counting your blessings can be a significant stress reducer,” Dr. Serani says. “Gratitude research reports that those who utilize daily gratitude reflections have higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism, and lower levels of depression and stress.” Reminding yourself of the good things in life can put stress in perspective. “Studies show that cultivating an optimistic mindset can help you maintain a positive mood,” Whitaker says. “When you are positive and grateful, you are able to handle difficult situations better.” Just look out for these stress relievers that actually backfire.
Science shows that massages reduce stress, but you don’t have to go to the spa—you can give yourself one right now. “Learning how to self-massage your foot, head, neck, or shoulders reduces the stress hormone cortisol, boosts your immune system, and increases the feel-good hormones oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin,” Dr. Serani says. You can even use a tennis ball or cold water bottle on your feet or neck. In addition, try rubbing pressure points like the webbing between your thumb and index finger, or your inner wrist. Another technique is the EFT tapping technique, literally tapping certain points on your body such as in between your eyes, your temples, and the center of your collarbone. “Tapping brings cleansing energy to the meridian points, as your mind directs the energy to what’s unbalanced in the body,” Whitaker says. “This restores your mind and body’s natural balance, which aids in releasing stress, worry, fears, and disharmony.”

How does brainwave entrainment work? Consistent, precisely engineered audio frequencies in the form of binaural beats cause the brain’s frequencies to match the stimulus. Your brain perceives two beats with slightly different frequencies (which are inaudible to the ear) through your headphones. It takes the difference between the two, and matches its own frequency to it. This is called the “frequency following” response.