5 best headphones that don’t leak sound


When you are working in a peaceful and relatively quiet environment like a workplace or a library, sharing your music preferences with your colleagues or random strangers can be annoying at best and rude at worst. It can affect your privacy and intrude on the silence that is obviously preferred in such a setting. If you have ever found yourself in such a situation, you probably own a headphone that leaks sound. 

Headphones leak sound when you listen to tracks at high volume. This is most noticeable with on-ear headphones. Noise-isolating headphones are made with special sound-absorbing materials that reduce sound leakage or music bleed by absorbing the sound vibrations in the air. 

On the other hand, if you have to put up with ambient noise such as the sound of an airplane or screaming children, your music experience can be completely ruined. Again, a pair of noise-isolating headphones can help as when you put it on, it creates a seal around your ear that prevents outside noise from coming in and interfering with your music listening experience.

Although sound leakage can’t be eliminated completely, it can be reduced to an extremely negligible level. So, if you buy a pair of quality headphones that don’t leak sound, you can save yourself from embarrassment and improve your music listening experience.

Now, before you pick up a pair of headphones that don’t leak sound, you should know a few details.

What’s the difference between Noise Cancelling and Noise Isolating headphones?

Noise-canceling headphones do exactly what their name suggests. They actively record ambient noise through a dedicated microphone to create and send opposite sound signals to your headphones. The final result is that you perceive no ambient sound as both signals cancel out each other. Their effectiveness depends on the manufacturing brand. Active noise canceling (ANC) headphones require extra power to function properly. 

Noise isolation headphones physically isolate your ears from the ambient sounds by creating a seal around your ears when you put them on. These types of headphones have tight-fitting earpads and are built with materials that can block sound from coming in going out. Due to having closed backs instead of open-air design, noise isolating headphones can prevent sound leakage to a greater extent than noise-canceling headphones when it comes to isolating high pitched sounds. These types of headphones don’t require additional power to work their magic.

Which one should you go for?

Noise-canceling headphones are naturally expensive as they add a convenient technology to their design. Cheaper models exist but they sacrifice sound quality by a significant margin. Such headphones are heavier as well as these usually have an inbuilt battery for powering the ANC (Active Noise Canceling) circuitry. 

Noise-isolating headphones offer a huge array of selection from expensive models that can satisfy audiophiles to cheaper models that fit the budget of a college student. You don’t have to compromise on audio quality and more often than not, passive noise isolation enables you to experience the best sound quality that can be reproduced by a headphone.

If you like to indulge in classical music, noise-isolating headphones will serve you in more ways than one. Whether it is the bass from the cello or keystrokes of the piano, every sound can be delivered to your ears without any adulteration or distortion so that you can experience rich sound as intended by the music producer.

Is there any gimmick to be wary of?

Just like how cameras can’t be judged by their megapixel counts alone, noise isolating headphones shouldn’t be judged by the “dB noise isolation” measurement. Other than the intensity of sound, frequency is also at play when a headphone is isolating ambient sound. Some of those frequencies can be isolated easily and manufacturers usually go for the cream of the pie. 

For eg., If a manufacturer claims that their headphones can isolate 30 dB of noise, you should check whether it can isolate 30 decibels at all frequencies. 

Here are some of the best noise isolating headphones you can choose from:

1. Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

Audio Technica ATH-M50x

This pair of Hi-Fi entry-level headphones were an instant success right from their initial release back in 2014. It united both general consumers and audio enthusiasts to rally behind its name.

Passive noise isolation

At just around a hundred and fifty dollars, the Audio Technica ATH-M50x offers you a punchy sound with its unique design. It can deliver quality performance and reproduce just about any type of music. These headphones feature a closed-back design, and with noise isolation up to 36 decibels, it can easily take you to the realm of solitude. When you put these on, you won’t be bothered by honking cars or traffic noise anymore. It lets you enjoy rich sound quality even amidst the chaos.

Design

The ATH-M50x also boasts a brilliant design with swiveling earcups that don’t make the headphones clunky while you wear them on your neck. It comes with removable cables of varying lengths and is frankly one of the most underrated features that should be present on every pair of headphones. Don’t be fooled by its big size. It has a foldable design that makes it very portable.

Build Quality

The build quality of this headphone is the same as its legendary predecessor, the M50s and is made from premium metal and plastic components that can face harsh everyday conditions. This reliable model will accompany you on your musical journey for several years and may become too precious to part with in the future. 

Audio Quality

These headphones put forward their true potential with a high-end DAC. Vocals are always punchy and a tight base is present without overpowering the overall sound quality. Both highs and mids are well defined and due to their impactful sound, they may come off as harsh upon first listening. But without the DAC, these headphones might be the romance of bass heads.

Pros

  • Unrivaled build quality in its price segment
  • A flexible head that can extend a lot to accommodate people with big head size
  • Collapsible design and a high-quality carrying bag that lets you throw it in your bag and be on the move 
  • Detachable cord isolates the most vulnerable part of any wired headphone for easy replacement
  • One of the top contenders in terms of noise isolation performance

Cons

  • Without a premium DAC, it can be a bit bass-heavy
  • Small ear cups may put your ears in contact with the headphones on the inside
  • Comfort doesn’t last long if you use them with glasses

2. Beyerdynamic DT 770 M

Beyerdynamic DT 770 M

Beyerdynamic DT 770 M never fails to impress sound enthusiasts and is arguably the best noise isolation headphones not just within its price range, but well beyond that. However, to experience its full potential, you should not use it with your phone or laptop as it has a high impedance of 80 Ohm. It is best to pair the product with a good quality headphone amp.

Passive noise isolation

These headphones have a closed-back design and are made for monitoring purposes. These are great for music producers who are just getting started with their careers. It can isolate an incredible range of ambient noise and have a solid grip around your ears. Even without any music playing, these can isolate a great deal of noise and if you ramp up the volume to the middle level, you are more or less immune to outside noise. 

Make sure to install a smart doorbell as you probably won’t be able to hear the neighbor or delivery guy. It can isolate noise up to 35 decibels and are top of the line among its circumaural brethren.

Design

Even though it shares most of its design features with the DT 770 Pro, the DT 770M stands out with its cable design. The cable of this model is much more resilient, longer, and features a dedicated volume control that is separate from the onboard digital volume control on your phone. 

The headband on these earphones has been padded with premium leather material while the earpads are soft on your skin. Even though the model looks bulky, these aren’t uncomfortable and allow you to listen to music for an unhealthy number of hours. For even more comfort you can replace the stock earpads with those made from velour, but be prepared to compromise a bit on the noise isolation.

Build Quality

The durability of the DT 770 M is top-notch and won’t fail you for a long time. This model is composed of thick plastic that will stand up to daily wear without any issues. The flexible metal headband has been leather coated to keep it soft and prevent it from irritating your skull after hours of use. This model may be dubbed as the “tank” among headphones due to the high threshold of abuse it can tolerate. 

Audio Quality

If you are a fan of the popular DT 770 Pro and expect a similar sound signature, you have to smash down all your assumptions. Still, you would be left impressed nonetheless. These are the pinnacle of closed-back design and other than killing off ambient noise, they also do a stellar job of producing refined and balanced output at all frequencies.

These are probably one of the best monitoring headphones at this price category as these don’t add their own “oomph” to the sound. Mostly flat with just a bit of bass brings audiophiles and casual music listeners to the negotiation table with equal leverage. 

Pros

  • Provides the highest value for the dollar
  • Can be worn over your ears for long durations without discomfort
  • Parts susceptible to damage can be replaced with ease
  • Can isolate sound up to 35 decibels

Cons

  • Might be a letdown for bass heads
  • Mids may not be impressive enough for audiophiles
  • Needs an amplifier to play music at high volume with smartphones or laptop

3. Etymotic Research HF5

Etymotic Research HF5

The Etymotic Research HF5 is one of the rare breeds of earphones that can isolate noise amazingly well without making you break the bank. 

Passive noise isolation

The HF5 from Etymotic Research is probably the best pair of in-ear headphones you can buy for isolating ambient noise. These are rated to isolate sound anywhere from 35 to 42 decibels. This is pretty high compared to the sub 100 dollar price tag. With the different ear tips provided with this headphone, you can adjust noise isolation levels and choose to ignore your spouse or maybe even a bomb going off in the adjacent room.

Design

Design of the Etymotic Research HF5 is quite uninspiring and doesn’t do justice to the price tag. The ear tips that are responsible for phenomenal noise isolation are also responsible for ear fatigue that doesn’t take too long to kick in. 

Build Quality

Even though it lingers around the 100 dollar price tag, it doesn’t do any justice to the build quality compared to its comrades. Within a few hours, the ear tips can bring a lot of discomforts as well, but nothing to be classified as irritation or pain. The plastic construction makes the headphones lightweight, but not very durable.

Audio Quality

Depending on your music taste, you will become a religious follower of the HF5 or steer away from it due to its low bass output. In terms of accuracy, they score almost a perfect 10. The soundstage is also incredibly detailed. For classical music or anything with a little bass requirement, these headphones are perfect. 

Pros

  • Noise isolation is excellent and works great to eliminate outside noise
  • Sound quality is highly accurate
  • Comes with a versatile range of ear tips

Cons

  • Bass performance is poor
  • Isn’t durable enough like its comrades

4. Sennheiser HD25

Sennheiser HD25

Remember the Sennheiser HD25-1 II which won countless hearts? The HD25 is its upgraded big brother with improved drivers. Since their release, these have become an instant classic and with minor changes from time to time, these have been the cavalry of Sennheiser for the past 2 decades. 

Passive noise isolation

These headphones can isolate noise up to 30 decibels so that you can have your “me time” even in the crowd. Among the supra-aural headphones, this pair is the uncrowned king but lacks in sound leakage when compared to in-ear or over-ear headphones. 

Design

The split headband is more flexible and spread out the weight evenly for superior comfort. Perhaps its classic appeal is one of the reasons Sennheiser didn’t modify its design by a considerable margin. But in terms of long hours of use, these can cause irritation like most headphones with on-ear design.

Build Quality

Sennheiser hardly fails in the durability department and the story remains the same with these pair of headphones. Their basic design may not impress many music lovers, but time would hardly have any adverse effects on this headphone. 

Audio Quality

You will find the HD25 to be well balanced on a wide variety of ranges. Bass is also on point and can be great for its target consumers, but may bring disappointment to bass heads. Without the aggressive treble at high volume, these have everything needed to be an impeccable pair of studio headphones. 

Pros

  • Along with having a comfortable on-ear design, these give you noise isolation of 30 dB
  • A balanced soundstage that sounds well even when listening to multiple genres
  • An iconic design that is recognizable almost instantly

Cons

  • Lack of foldability makes it less than ideal for commute

5. KRK KNS-8400

KRK KNS-8400

KRK KNS-8400 doesn’t enjoy the popularity of the rest of its peers in this list but can be a delightful surprise or rather an astonishing easter egg for audiophiles.  

Passive noise isolation

When compared to the DT 770 M from Beyerdynamic, these headphones lack a bit in terms of noise isolation, but 30 dB of noise isolation isn’t bad for studio monitoring. Most of the background noise is eliminated so that you can focus on your music.

Design

KRK has made this headphone with a unique design and high-quality plastic to keep its weight to a minimum. While commuting, you can clip these around your neck without any irritation. Also, the memory foam earpads make them super comfy.

Build Quality

With earpads and cable being removable, you have the option to increase or adjust its durability with better components. The high-quality plastic manufacturing makes them durable enough to last for years.

Audio Quality

In terms of sound quality, these headphones are superb and can produce rich detail. You would be able to quickly identify good recordings from the bad as both rich detail or lack of it won’t be missed by your ears. 

On the other hand, listeners of dynamic music may feel a bit disconcerted due to the high accuracy and flat signature of these headphones. Basically, if you are starting your journey of being a music enthusiast, these headphones would help you listen to much more than what you have been missing out. 

Pros

  • 30dB of passive noise isolation
  • Memory foam earpads conform to the shape of your ear for eliminating fatigue
  • Both the earpads and cable can be detached
  • A flat and crisp sound that will appeal to audiophiles

Cons

  • Little bass makes it unsuitable for modern pop music
  • The soundstage isn’t very strong

Conclusion

In the list above, Beyerdynamic DT 770 M fares as the best overall balanced and high-end earphones that would not just save you from embarrassing situations in public, but let you experience music in its purest and intended form as well. If you are on a budget and can handle your headphones with a lot of care, the Etymotic Research HF5 would be perfect for you.

Rune Bearson

As you can see, I love my headphones! I use them every day when commuting, watching YouTube videos, playing guitar/piano and doing chores. I'm a podcast addict and I like all kinds of music from metal to chillout ambient.

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