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How Loud Are Open Back Headphones? Pros, Cons, and Sound Leakage

How Loud Are Open Back Headphones_ Pros, Cons, and Sound Leakage

You probably already know that open-back headphones leak. But how loud are open-back headphones?

The short answer is that everyone in your proximity can listen as clearly as you.

But of course, we won’t end there. This article covers everything you need to know about open-back headphones, their purpose, and if you need to get one.


  • Open-back headphones let sound leak outward and inward, mixing with the background.
  • They are only for studio or home use and are too fragile to be exposed to elements.
  • It’s designed for production and mixing and lets you perceive what the average listener will take in.
Table of Contents

What Are Open Back Headphones?

There are only two kinds of headphones, open-back headphones, and closed-back headphones. The difference is in how their respective ear cups are designed.

Let’s start with closed-back headphones.

Closed Back Headphones

Closed-back headphones are more common since we usually choose to use headphones so that we can only hear the audio and cancel outside noise.

Closed-back headphones create a seal around your ears to isolate the inside audio from outside noise.

The ear cups of closed-back headphones are solid outer shells that act as barriers to separate the sounds. This is what makes them noise-canceling headphones.

Closed-back headphones are designed for listeners that have to block out noise. They’re for your commute to work or a session at the gym.

But in a studio or quiet environment where you can listen alone, you won’t need noise-canceling headphones. There won’t be external noise to cancel out in the first place.

This is where open-back headphones come in.

Open Back Headphones

Open-back headphones do not have a seal or any barrier between the drivers and the outside environment.

Their ear cups have an open design and are perforated in the outer part, allowing air to pass in or out. 

But open-back headphones are more than just letting everyone else in the room hear the sound coming from your headphones.

With open-back headphones, the sound quality is MUCH BETTER.

The audio is much more natural, as if the music comes from around the room instead of just your headphones.

Sound Stage

Open-back headphones have a wider soundstage. And the stronger the sound stage is, the more the music sounds like it is coming from further away from you. 

There is more sound separation, and you will get a more immersive listening experience in different directions and dynamic sections.

It’s more than the sound isolation that stereo sound does, where you can isolate the right side from the left side.

So if you are listening to music recorded by a full band, you will be able to hear it as if the guitar is just right beside you or the drums are behind you, and the piano is far back in the room.

The sound stage gives the audio you’re listening to more dimensions and layers. 

And when it mixes in with the natural sound from your environment before it reaches your ears, it makes you feel as if you were in the same studio when they recorded the music.

Sound Leak

But of course, since it has a more open sound, you can hear everything else in the room, and all that ambient noise will get mixed in with whatever you’re listening to.

There will also be a big sound leakage from open-back headphones, and the vibration of the diaphragm will push the audio outward and inward.

This means that if someone else is in the same room as you, you will be able to hear their voice louder as if their voice has its speaker element.

The sound leak can be both a pro and a con. It’s a con because you get no active noise cancellation and can get distracted by outside noise.

When the headphones’ music leaks and mixes with the background sound, as mentioned earlier, it has a different and more immersive effect, which is a pro.

Semi-Open Back Headphones

There is also an in-between headphones option called semi-open headphones.

It’s a cross between the two other headphones, featuring some barrier from the outside while still allowing some sound leak.

What Are Open Back Headphones Used For?

Open-back headphones are mainly designed for audio professionals to be used in a studio alone. 

The open-back design is for music creators to be able to hear the sounds they produce more naturally.

Open-back headphones are best to use when mixing. 

It gives the producer a more accurate representation of what the listener can hear, especially since not every person who will listen owns closed-back headphones.

Open-back headphones are also for audiophiles who want to hear the most authentic and detailed sound.

And since open-back headphones are designed for studio use, they are also more comfortable for your ears.

Open-back headphones give you less ear fatigue for long periods, even when the volume is loud.

Pros and Cons of Using Open Back Headphones

Let’s weigh both sides!


  • Much more natural sound
  • A better, more immersive listening experience
  • Less ear fatigue
  • Best for a critical listening experience


  • No noise isolation. All the background noise gets mixed into your audio.
  • Sound leakage. You won’t be able to bring it outside for casual listening.
  • More fragile than closed-back headphones since their sensitive electronics are exposed.

What Is Sound Leak?

Sound leakage happens when the audio is pushed inwards and outwards of your open-back headphones. It’s sound escaping from your headphones.

Some closed-back headphones also have a sound leak, but open-back headphones have a much higher volume of sound leakage.

Sound leakage isn’t an issue when working in your studio or even in a different place, as long as you’re alone.

But it can be annoying if you take your open-back headphones outside in public spaces and everyone is disturbed by your loud music.

How to Test for Sound Leakage

You should test the leak sound of your open-back headphones before buying. The easiest way is to bring a friend shopping with you.

After making a short list of potential open-back headphones to buy, test each pair of headphones in your list and have your friend try them out.

If the store you go to has a little studio space where you can test the headphones, that’s even better!

How loud are open-back headphones? 

Make sure you have the door closed, then have your friend wear one pair of open-back headphones.

Now, put on some music and listen to how much sound is leaked.

Keep doing this until you settle on your pair of best open-back headphones.

If I were you, I would also try different music genres and varying volume levels before testing a new pair of headphones.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are you still curious about a few more things about open-back headphones? We’ve got you!

Do All Open Back Headphones Create Sound Leak?


Every pair of open-back headphones leak sound since they have no barrier separating the audio inside from the noise outside.

As it lets the air pass through, sound waves also pass freely.

But different open-back headphones also have different levels of how much sound leakage it produces.

But how loud are open-back headphones? That brings us to the next question…

How Loud Are Open-Back Headphones, Exactly?

Generally, an open-back headphone is 30dB louder than a closed-back headphone. This means everyone in your immediate proximity can hear everything you play on your headphone.

And if you are playing audio loud enough, it can even be heard from across the room!

But the specific answer to how loud are open-back headphones can differ depending on the brand and model.

The average volume increase is 30dB, but it can also be more or less. 

Can I Take My Open Back Headphones Outside?

Technically, you can. But I wouldn’t.

People around you won’t just make the sound; they can listen to everything and get disturbed by the loud sound.

You don’t want to be that annoying person that can’t even be bothered to switch to their closed-back headphones before they leave home.

Final Thoughts

And that’s everything!

We hope this article has helped you decide whether you should get a pair of open-back headphones.

About the author


After becoming obsessed with the beats that were the soundtrack to his youth, Nick became a student of hip hop, digging for vinyl records, looking for the perfect break. Before he got his hands on an MPC sampler, he would mash these records, beats, and breaks into mixtapes and live DJ sets.