Sound Leakage in Headphones: What It Is and What You Can Do About It

Sound leakage in headphones is a serious problem that affects the quality of your listening experience and makes it hard to understand speech. Many people don’t realize that their headphone leaks sound until they start playing music or videos in an environment where there are other people around and soon realize that people next to them can hear what they’re listening to.

It’s important for headphone users to understand the different types of sound leakage and how much certain models leak so they can find a solution that solves their problem without compromising on quality or price.

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What is Sound Leakage?

Sound leakage is the sound that passes from headphones to the outside world. If your headphones can leak sound it means someone next to you, or in the same room, can hear your music. If you can’t hear your music clearly when someone is in the same room then the sound leakage must be large.

If people in the room around you can hear your music then it’s possible that your headphones are leaking sound. The situation would get worse if there are more than one person in the room, like when you’re at a party, because of how background noise travels.

Types of Sound Leakage:

Passive Sound Leakage:

Passive sound leakage is the most common type of sound leakage and is caused by a headphone’s physical design. In order to prevent the muffs from touching the headband, many headphones have a gap between them which is important for their fit but also allows sound to escape.

Similarly, while most headphones include padding between the ear cups and muffs, there are some models that do not include any type of padding at all which allows even more sound to pass in and out of the headphone.

Active Sound Leakage:

Active sound leakage is much less common but can occur when a microphone comes with a noise canceling function. Some headphones come with microphones and allow you to answer phone calls or use voice commands.

However, these features may make the microphone sensitive to background noise, making it hard for people talking to you on the other end of the line to hear you clearly. You can reduce this effect by turning off or disabling active microphones, especially if you’re not interested in using the phone function.

Performance Effect:

In the past, headphones were drawn from a very narrow range of performance. In other words, they were characterized by very low sound leakage with a tight bass response as well as a bright treble. High-end headphones aimed at audiophiles have been available for years but these models have cost up to $1000 and have never been considered good enough for the casual listener.

This is why it is important to look at sound leakage in head phones with a critical eye rather than just judging them based on their price or quality.

What Affects Sound Leakage?

The main factor affecting sound leakage from headphones is the design of how they are put together. Headphones can leak sound in three basic ways: through the ear cups themselves, through the headband, and through the cord.

The biggest reason for sound leakage is because headphones are made in such a way that parts touch each other when in use. This allows sound to pass in and out of the headphone easily. Many types of headphones are designed to be collapsible or foldable when not in use, making them convenient when traveling but also much more likely to leak sound when in use.

What to do about it?

The best way to prevent sound leakage is to make sure you’re using headphones in the proper environment. Using headphones when there are other people around you, especially in public areas like airports or train stations, can make it harder to understand what the person next to you is saying.

You can also turn off noise canceling or minimize sound leakage by choosing noise-canceling microphones which won’t pick up background noise and will only pick up your voice; unfortunately, this can make your conversation more difficult to understand.

However, many models of high-end headphones come with active noise cancellation which are ideal for sleep & can isolate vocals and instruments much better than passive sound canceling microphones.

How To Reduce Sound Leakage?

The best way to reduce sound leakage is simply avoid buying headphones with Bluetooth interference. This may seem like an obvious solution but when you’re buying headphones online, it is hard to tell which headphones are good and which are bad without testing them in person.

If you’re unsure about the sound leakage of a particular headphone model, test it before you buy with our sound leakage test kit.


Sound leakage can be a real issue for both personal and professional use. It is important to understand the different types of sound leakage in order to find a solution that fits your specific needs.

If you’re choosing between two different models, keep in mind that the type of music you listen to will determine what level of sound leakage is acceptable.


Q: Why do Headphones leak sound?

A: This is due to the headphones not being able to contain all of the air vibrations that produce sound. While ear cups and design elements can heavily reduce sound leakage, it’s difficult to completely eliminate it without making the headphones impractical for use.

Q: What is sound leakage and how to fix it?

A: Sound leakage, also commonly referred to as sound bleed, occurs when the noise inside your headphones leaks outside to the point where it’s audible to those around you. This is due to the headphones not being able to contain all of the air vibrations that produce sound.

Q: Are open-back headphones more likely to leak?

A: This means over-ear, open-back headphones are more likely to leak than True Wireless in-ear earbuds. To illustrate, you can watch this video that demonstrates the difference between open and closed back headphones. Why is reducing headphone sound leakage important?

Q: How does a sound leak affect your hearing?

A: This is because a sound leak will affect everyone around you, and as a consequence stop you hearing high quality music at lower volumes. The louder your volume is, the more everyone is affected. How does sound leakage affect headphone performance?