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Open back vs Closed back headphones

Music is a part and parcel in our life. So, we use various audio gears daily whether we are audiophiles or not. However, audiophiles are to burn most of their…
Open back vs Closed back headphones

Music is a part and parcel in our life. So, we use various audio gears daily whether we are audiophiles or not. However, audiophiles are to burn most of their bank funds to gain better audio. I don’t wanna blame them because hobbies are the spirit of living happily. Personal audio equipment mostly binds us with two things. Earphones and headphones. If you ever consider buying a pair of these, you will notice some buzzwords in reviews and videos like “Open back vs Closed back headphones” 

If you are searching for a headphone for your personal need, you often will get two similar keywords. Open back vs Closed back headphones will make you confused. What are they? What’s the difference between Open back vs Closed back headphones?

Firstly, you don’t need to be puzzled about that. A lot of you want to know the difference. Open back vs Closed back headphones have their own advantages and disadvantages. Firstly You need to fix your own preferences. Then consider the pros and cons of each segment. Finally, we can make the decision of getting a HiFi headphone. Let me make you clear.

Open Back vs Closed Back Headphones

We mainly get two types of headphones as the structure goes. 

  1. Open back headphones 
  2. Closed back headphones 

One more subsection is there called the semi open-back headphone. Besides, there are a lot more types of headphones that can be found like over-ear, on-ear, etc. Nonetheless, we are discussing open and closed headphones here. So, let’s stick to the main goal.

Audeze lcd 2 (open back headphone)

Open back Headphones

If you emphasize the name of the category, It says open. There is no solid enclosure to protect the driver from the outside world.  Open-back headphones will offer air and circumstantial sound to pass through the ear cups to the drivers. Therefore, there will be no pressure. This structure will offer unaffected natural sound. There will be no echoes inside headphones. It’s easier to keep the resonance frequency minimal. So, less unnatural peaks will appear. Therefore, Most of the expensive high-end headphones come with open backs design. The open back creates a more natural and clear sound.

The Shape of an open back headphone can be either circumaural or supra-aural.


Advantage of Open back Headphones 

  • Breathing space: This will set you free. Open-back headphones are for a longer listening period. There will be breathing space. Your ears will not heat or get moist. Therefore, you can enjoy your music longer without any pressure.
  • Better audio: Open-back headphones sound open. They usually offer a better sound stage. You will feel the sound is coming from outside of your head. The sound may feel natural because there is more ambiance. It will feel airy and clean. Some open-back headphones are enough to make a concert hall like experience. Thanks go to the designers and manufacturers for tuning those awesome headphones

  • Better awareness: Open headphones are useful if you need to remain aware of your external surroundings. Basically, makes it easier to imagine you’re right at the concert hall—or studio—listening to the music live.  open-back models

Open-back headphones are a bit more advanced than consumer-grade headphones.  

If you want to improve your music listening experience, the open-back route is the way to go. Furthermore, there are some disadvantages that come with goodliness. 

The downsides of open back Headphones?

  • Sound leakage: As the open-back headphones have nearly zero barriers between the driver and outside circumstance, It offers a lot of sound bleed. People around you will listen to everything that you are listening to. So won’t be ideal for bus, train and library use. Yet you can avoid leakage by using a lower gain (volume) level.
  • Outside noise: The openness comes with a lot of outside noise. You can certainly listen to the ambiance around you. The fan, traffic, humming of the office, or bus stop will be listenable. So, it won’t be ideal if you want a closed personal listening space.
  • Not ideal for recording studio: As they leak a lot of sounds outside, it won’t be an ideal choice for recording studios. If you want a clean leakage-free recording session, open-back won’t help you.

To sum up, The following situations will push you to get an open pair. Otherwise, you can avoid these types of headphones.

  • Intensive listening
  • High-res audio files
  • Casual listening at home

Please avoid Open-back headphones if you are planning the followings

  • Traveling
  • Isolating yourself from outside noise
  • Plane Journey
  • Office or library use

Closed-back Headphones  

Closed back headphones have a hard seal as driver enclosure. These enclosures isolate drivers from the environmental sound. Therefore these headphones provide better seal in terms of outside noise. They are mostly closed. This design helps to monitor in loud environments. It also helps in recording because they keep sound from leaking out and being picked up by microphones. Closed cans offer strong bass response as it has better seal. So, recording studios, DJs prefer them. Nonetheless, these can cause ear fatigue and suffocate the listener for a longer listening period. 

Meze 99 classics (closed-back headphone)

Advantage of Closed back Headphones 

  • Passive noise isolation: This is the key feature of closed back cans. The drivers’ enclosures seal outside noise to interfere. So, you can cut yourself from unwanted background noise.
  • Private listening session: If you want a private listening session where you don’t want to bother others, closed cans are most effective. If you are commuting, working out in the gym, working in the office, or reading in the library close back headphones will watch your back.

The downsides to Closed back Headphones? 

  • Not as good as open back: If we compare open back headphones with closed ones sonically, open back will be the winner. Moreover, there might be echoes at particular frequencies. There might be resonance frequency that can hinder. Mostly, it’s difficult to make a closed headphone sound natural and offer a wider soundstage.
  • It’s not safe sometimes: It’s not safe to use closed cans where you need to be aware of your surroundings. If you are running, cycling, walking in an open place, isolation may cause damage. 
  • Not as comfortable: Using a closed headphone can make you feel like suffocating. Furthermore, your ears may get warm and become sweaty. Longer listening periods need breathing and air circulation, which closed back headphones fail to offer. 

Despite everything, closed cans have their own use cases. The following scenarios will get benefits from closed headphones.

  • Casual listening
  • Office or library use
  • Traveling or in gym
  • Recording/mixing audio

I would suggest you to avoid closed cans under these certain scenarios.  

  • Longer listening session.
  • Places where you need to hear your surroundings. 

Semi-open Headphones: 

There is a third kind of Headphones that combines the goodliness from both of the open back and closed back headphones. These are called Semi-open headphones. For example: AKG k249, Audioquest nighthawk, Beyerdynamic DT 880 PRO

These headphones are a combination of Open and closed headphones’ design. The design offers enough vent for the drivers to breathe properly. And the unique enclosure keeps enough sealing for making the sound leakage minimal. Though it’s not completely sealed, the leakage is minimum to none. Semi-open headphones stereo separation of closed back can. It keeps the distortion low. Most importantly offers extended low-frequency response. They are often used for recording too.

Audioquest Nighthawk (semi-open back headphone)

Which one to get? Open back vs Closed back headphones?

Both of the segments have a lot of different sized headphones for everyone’s needs. On-ear, over-ear these are the most common situations. Audio professionals use closed headphones to allow for better concentration and isolation. However, technology has walked a long way. Designers are getting close to making a closed headphone sounds as good as an open one. Nowadays, the sonic difference between Hi-res Open back vs Closed back headphones are a bare minimum. It’s safe to say, None of them are better than the other. 

Just you need to narrow down your needs and preferences. 

  • If you are craving for better Soundstage, positional accuracy; open-back headphones will serve you well. Plus, these will create better awareness while listening.
  • On the other hand, if your priority is to get isolated, having a private listening experience, Closed back cans are your friend. 

Keep these points in mind

So, jot down your list, and pick your route. On-ear or over-ear offerings are for your personal preferences and comfort. 

Over-Ear Open-back Headphones

These Headphones are the biggest players in the world of headphones. Mostly suitable for home and office. They won’t offer you isolation or privacy. But the big cushions that completely surround the ears will offer you great comfort and breathing. Generally, the best sounding headphones are in this category.

On-Ear Open-back Headphones

They are Smaller than full-size cans. Ear cushions will rest against your ears. Their open structure will create openness and offer better sound than their closed counterpart.  Similarly they don’t isolate from outside noise. Their smaller size makes them convenient for backpacks and easy storage.

Over-Ear Closed-back Headphones

These Headphones are suitable for noisy environments. The ear cup cushions completely surround the ears. Audio Professionals, students, DJ, use these. Because these provide great isolation.  Furthermore, noise-canceling and in-ear headphones provide much better isolation.

On-Ear Closed-back Headphones

They are smaller than full-sized cans. These headphones have ear cushions that rest and seal against the ear. However, They typically offer the worst sound among all. These are suitable for light commuting, rough use, and run and gun type applications where convenience and packability are a must.

Finally, I hope I can provide you a brief experience of “Open back vs Closed back headphones”. Its always up to you what your scenario is, what kinda music you like. So, emphasize your surroundings and make your move. Always listen to your favorite music.

You can read our recent article. “Headphone Burn in Myth or Not”

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