Open Vs Closed Backed Headphones
How headphone design influences the way they sound
Today, buy headphones is much like walking into an ice cream parlor and having to pick a flavor from a seemingly endless selection of flavors. Most headphones promise to have ‘superior’ sound fidelity, ‘robust’ build quality, be ‘ultra’ comfortably to wear and are available in just about every color known to man.
The reality is however, not all headphones are the same and, in this post, we will look at a major differentiating design element which greatly determines which pair of headphones is best suited for your needs; open and closed back design.
Essentially, all headphones are basically a connected pair of small speakers placed over a user’s ears supported by a headband. Open and closed back refers to the design of the housing or casing of the speakers. This design element greatly influences how a pair of headphones sounds as well as determining the best application for a specific pair of headphones.
Open Back Headphones
Open back headphones or just open headphones are the most common and popular design of headphones available today and seen as ‘general use’ headphones. As the name suggests, the headphones are designed with an open housing for the speakers. Essentially this means that the design allows for some outside sound to still enter the listener’s ear and for some sound to escape the headphones and be audible to those close to the wearer.
Pros of Open Back Headphone
- Open and more natural sounding
- Allows better situational awareness
- Lightweight and more comfortable to wear
- Ventilation mostly prevents ‘hot ‘n sweaty’ ears
- Readily available across a wide range of prices
- Many brands, styles and colours to choose from
Cons of Open Back Headphone
- Surrounding noise interference
- Compensated volume levels can be harmful
- Reduced quality and clarity of lower frequencies
- Leaked audio can be disturbing to those nearby
Best suited for: everyday listening, quieter environments, personal gaming and multimedia
Not recommended for: noisier environments and professional applications like DJing, audio recording and esports
Recommended open back headphones
Closed Back Headphones
Closed back headphones or just open headphones are the most common and popular design of headphones available today. In comparison to open back headphones, these headphones are designed with a closed housing which isolates and insulates the speakers. The result is a design that blocks out outside sound interference and eliminates sound escaping the headphones.
Pros of Closed Back Headphone
- Ideal for noisier environments or applications
- Essential for sound booth recording
- More focused stereo sound reference
- Better sonic clarity and audio consistency
- Better lower frequency response
- Functionable at lower volume levels
- Generally better build quality
Cons of Closed Back Headphone
- Music can be ‘coloured’ at higher volumes
- Audio can feel closed and compact
- Heavier design can result in discomfort after prolonged use
- Lack of ventilation can lead to ‘hot ‘n sweaty’ ears
- Less options available regarding brands, designs and colour options
- Generally higher price tag in comparison to open back headphones
Best suited for: noisier environments and professional applications like DJing, audio recording and esports
Not recommended for: everyday listening and long listening sessions
Recommended Closed Back Headphones
Taking the above into consideration when buying your next pair of headphones, you can better select a pair which will suit your needs and environment and ultimately provide you with the best audio experience.
About Brendan Ihmig
Brendan is an accomplished studio and stage guitarist, a project studio owner and former music teacher. He is a freelance writer, branding and marketing consultant, and a professional speaker. Connect with Brendan on Twitter