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Sound leakage from open-backed headphones?

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Julian
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Sound leakage from open-backed headphones?

#250749

Postby Julian » September 10th, 2019, 2:15 pm

I'm considering getting a pair of fairly high-end open-backed (as opposed to closed-backed) headphones for late night listening. They will be strictly for use at my well-soundproofed (secondary glazed) home so I am well aware of, and am not concerned about, the fact that open-backed headphones offer almost no background noise isolation and need to be used in a quiet environment. The other issue however is that they also leak sound out which is what I am interested in trying to quantify better. I will be listening alone but want to be able to listen to stuff at higher volumes late at night without concern about disturbing people in neighbouring flats so my question is just how much sound do typical open-backed headphones leak into the room?

Is it possible to characterise typical open-backed headphone leakage in percentage terms, e.g. if they are basically as loud to someone standing at the wearer's shoulder as they are to the wearer then I would call that 100% leakage and if they were in fact totally isolating so no one except the listener even knows they are playing (which obviously I know is not the case by any means) that would be 0% leakage?

I'm trying to gauge how much noise I might be making at 1:00am if I was listening to mostly blues/rock/indie/pop stuff at perhaps 90% of live gig volume. Will this sound in the room as if I have a desktop/bedside radio set at a low or at least reasonable volume or might it sound as if I have that radio turned way up to antisocial levels?

- Julian

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Re: Sound leakage from open-backed headphones?

#250758

Postby mike » September 10th, 2019, 2:50 pm

Julian wrote:I'm considering getting a pair of fairly high-end open-backed (as opposed to closed-backed) headphones for late night listening. They will be strictly for use at my well-soundproofed (secondary glazed) home so I am well aware of, and am not concerned about, the fact that open-backed headphones offer almost no background noise isolation and need to be used in a quiet environment. The other issue however is that they also leak sound out which is what I am interested in trying to quantify better. I will be listening alone but want to be able to listen to stuff at higher volumes late at night without concern about disturbing people in neighbouring flats so my question is just how much sound do typical open-backed headphones leak into the room?

Is it possible to characterise typical open-backed headphone leakage in percentage terms, e.g. if they are basically as loud to someone standing at the wearer's shoulder as they are to the wearer then I would call that 100% leakage and if they were in fact totally isolating so no one except the listener even knows they are playing (which obviously I know is not the case by any means) that would be 0% leakage?

I'm trying to gauge how much noise I might be making at 1:00am if I was listening to mostly blues/rock/indie/pop stuff at perhaps 90% of live gig volume. Will this sound in the room as if I have a desktop/bedside radio set at a low or at least reasonable volume or might it sound as if I have that radio turned way up to antisocial levels?

- Julian


Hi Julian

I've just done a small test using my open backed Audio Technica ATH-911 (well recommended back in their day - around 1990 I would have thought)

Playing at a volume higher than I would normally, and then taking them off and holding the earpads together at arms length, they are like a quiet to very quiet radio. I wouldn't like to hazard a guess as to % leakage.

I wouldn't play at the level you suggest though, as I have found you lose the sensitivity of your ears knowing you are playing at a high volume, as you are isolated from the norms of noise around you, and this can become damaging to you hearing. I also find I have to resist increasing the volume during listening.

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Re: Sound leakage from open-backed headphones?

#250765

Postby UncleIan » September 10th, 2019, 3:16 pm

Julian wrote:I'm trying to gauge how much noise I might be making at 1:00am if I was listening to mostly blues/rock/indie/pop stuff at perhaps 90% of live gig volume. Will this sound in the room as if I have a desktop/bedside radio set at a low or at least reasonable volume or might it sound as if I have that radio turned way up to antisocial levels?


The only way the neighbours would know is if you were singing along or tapping your feet. Even those irritating gits on trains never had anything that would have been loud enough to disturb anyone through a wall/floor/ceiling.

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Re: Sound leakage from open-backed headphones?

#250791

Postby Gaggsy » September 10th, 2019, 4:34 pm

I'd have thought the sound leakage was no more than a few %. Certainly nothing to disturb the neighbours.

I use closed back headphones at quite a high volume at night. When they're on my head nothing can be heard by someone standing next to me. If I take them off and hold them at arms length with the open side pointing at me, it's a very low volume tinny noise, not even enough to awaken a sleeping spouse alongside me.

Would be interested to know what you're buying.

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Re: Sound leakage from open-backed headphones?

#250937

Postby Julian » September 11th, 2019, 9:56 am

Closed-back headphones are very different to open-backed where there is no casing around the speakers, they are essentially held in mid air slightly away from each ear by a frame that goes around the circumference of each speaker. There are decorative/protective grilles in front and behind but apart from that the back of the speaker is completely open (hence the name). It's supposed to give open-backed headphones a less boxy feel than closed-back and make the sound stage wider (less "inside your head") but the trade off is apparently that it can be harder to get strong bass. My understanding is that it's not as simple as that in practice because good open-backed designs are able to at least partially, mostly or almost completely overcome the limitations inherent in the basic design starting point and the same for good closed-back designs.

Gaggsy wrote:I'd have thought the sound leakage was no more than a few %. Certainly nothing to disturb the neighbours.
...
Would be interested to know what you're buying.


I'd be interested to know what I'm buying as well! It's still early days in my investigations and I haven't even settled on what sort of price bracket I'm looking at yet, it might be a case of listening and getting a feel how the incremental gains stack up as I work up in price and deciding where my "not worth spending more" cutoff is so I probably have a lot of listening to do. Unfortunately I do want a pretty decent pair so my starting point is probably going to be £500 and even at that level it becomes difficult to just walk into any PC World or Richer Sounds (or similar) and expect there to be a demo pair of something on my shortlist available without prior arrangement so I think it might take a bit of time to reach a decision. Right now some models from a French manufacturer "Focal" are definitely on my listen-to list, particularly the Eligia (closed-backed), Ellear and Clear (both open-backed). I'll probably give the Sennheiser HD800S a listen as well although from reviews I fear I might find that a bit too sterile. I'm still researching other options.

- Julian

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Re: Sound leakage from open-backed headphones?

#253966

Postby 88V8 » September 25th, 2019, 11:46 pm

Take a CD or summat with you to the shop, so you are sure they render your taste in music as you would wish.

Although I have used them in the past, I think prolonged listening thru phones rather spoils one for normal listening via speakers.

V8

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Re: Sound leakage from open-backed headphones?

#254555

Postby Julian » September 28th, 2019, 11:41 am

88V8 wrote:Take a CD or summat with you to the shop, so you are sure they render your taste in music as you would wish.

Although I have used them in the past, I think prolonged listening thru phones rather spoils one for normal listening via speakers.

V8

CD? So 1980s. I'll be doing the "summat". :) Good advice though; thanks.

I've got a Chord Mojo+Poly that I'll be taking along (https://www.trustedreviews.com/reviews/chord-mojo-poly). Normally at home I use it(*) as a wireless Roon endpoint (https://roonlabs.com/howroonworks.html) to stream ripped CDs and Tidal but it also takes an SD card. At the moment I have a sheet of A4 paper on my desk where I'm scribbling down tracks that I want to load onto the SD card to take to my listening tests. It'll probably be the week after next before I get round to going into London to audition some stuff.

It'll be interesting to see how my balance of speaker vs headphone listening evolves once I get decent headphones. I have a feeling that I might end up not using headphones that much and the sort that I plan to get certainly won't be appropriate for taking on the train or out when walking (too big and expensive) so they will only be home use. I'm almost getting them as a tick-list item because in just over 40 years of music listening (I got into music relatively late) I've never owned a decent pair of headphones. Then again I might surprise myself and find that my speakers end up being relegated almost entirely to TV use. It seems to make sense to at least have options when I can quite easily afford it.

- Julian

(*) or rather will use it once I get round to buying decent headphones

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Re: Sound leakage from open-backed headphones?

#254607

Postby monabri » September 28th, 2019, 4:21 pm

I would have thought that it would be mainly the higher frequencies "escaping" and wouldn't these be absorbed by furnishings or reflected from the walls. The bass transmission to the neighbours would be minimal.

I must admit, Chord and Roon seem very technical! The mojo/poly looks like it was manufactured in the 80s ;)

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Re: Sound leakage from open-backed headphones?

#257171

Postby Julian » October 11th, 2019, 3:00 pm

Gaggsy wrote:I'd have thought the sound leakage was no more than a few %. Certainly nothing to disturb the neighbours.

I use closed back headphones at quite a high volume at night. When they're on my head nothing can be heard by someone standing next to me. If I take them off and hold them at arms length with the open side pointing at me, it's a very low volume tinny noise, not even enough to awaken a sleeping spouse alongside me.

Would be interested to know what you're buying.

Hi Gaggsy,

I finally got round to going into London to listen to a few candidates I had on my shortlist after extensive research on the internet (that's a rabbit hole down which one can lose days of one's life researching something as subjective as audio equipment!). I now owe you an answer on what I bought.

I ended up going closed back as it happens, not because of noise leakage and/or isolation but because the model I bought was available in both open and closed back versions and on listening I agreed with some comments that I'd read in reviews online that for this model the closed back version really doesn't sacrifice much at all in terms of sound quality vs the open back version. I honestly couldn't tell the difference between the two so I went for the closed back to give myself a bit more future flexibility in case I ever want to use them in a noisy environment or in company.

What I went for was the Audeze LCD-XC (https://www.audeze.com/pages/lcd-reference) - as opposed to the LCD-X which is the open-backed equivalent that uses exactly the same drivers. They had a nice punchy bass and a real sense of rhythm (very dynamic) which is pretty important to me. They also weren't overly sharp at the top end whereas some of the other headphones that I listened to were (one of which was 3 times the price). The only downside is that they are quite heavy but it wasn't anything that I couldn't handle, I don't plan to go jogging with them, and although heavy they did feel stable on my head.

I haven't actually got my LCD-XCs yet but I did spend quite a while listening to them yesterday afternoon so hopefully my positive reactions in the shop will continue once my pair arrives in 2 or 3 weeks time. (I did the decent thing and, although there was at least one place online that could have delivered them to me on next-day delivery i.e. today, I felt it was only fair to order them through the shop that had hosted me for over 2 hours listening to the various headphones I wanted to hear.)

- Julian

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Re: Sound leakage from open-backed headphones?

#257263

Postby 88V8 » October 11th, 2019, 11:04 pm

Julian wrote:I did the decent thing and, although there was at least one place online that could have delivered them to me on next-day delivery i.e. today, I felt it was only fair to order them through the shop that had hosted me for over 2 hours listening to the various headphones I wanted to hear.


Good for you. If more people did that, we'd have a healthier High Street.

Thankyou for updating the thread. If you want to get more lost in the arcana of audio, you might try the AV forums
https://www.avforums.com/forums/

V8


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