Open-back vs. Closed-back headphones

If you’re looking to buy a new pair of high-quality headphones then you’ve probably heard the terms open-back and closed-back headphones. Considering there are many options in the market, yet these terms aren’t well known as they are focused on higher-value audiences or audio experts, we decided to write this article.

First, you need to understand these 2 different types of headphones serve different audiences and applications. Some users prefer them because of what they do and some users prefer them even if they use them in ambiances they were not intended to be used.

Open-back headphones – Advantages and Disadvantages

Open-back headphones, as simple as they sound, are headphones that allow air to pass through the ear cups to the speakers and your ears. The way they allow this is by having a mesh or grill that connects the interior with the exterior instead of being closed as most around-ear headphones happen to be.

Here’s an image that clearly shows the grill from an open-back headphone set:

open back vs closed back headphones

There are some advantages to it, so let’s go over each one of them.

First of all, since there’s no echo inside your ear cups because they are open. This helps to make the sound clear and more like you’re in a music studio instead of having a studio inside your head.

The sound is just clear and natural.

Because of this, open-back headphones are considered good for critical listeners or people who want to enjoy high-quality audio files without any distortion or echo. You get better sound quality.

This comes at an expense though, as open-back headphones tend to be on the more expensive side.

A secondary effect of having an open-back headset is the reduction of heat inside the ear cups, which can be annoying for some folks. As some air passes through the mesh of your ear cups to your ears, you’ll avoid that annoying feeling of having hot ears after listening to some music. No more sweaty ears!

But a lot of people don’t even care about that or they leave in cold places where you don’t even sweat while using headphones.

Another secondary effect of using open-back headphones is weight. Since they use less plastic or materials to cover the ear cups and avoid external noise, you’ll end up with lighter headphones, which can play a big part in terms of comfort after hours of listening to music.

However, the difference in weight might be imperceptible for some people so this is more of a personal nuance as it was with the heat as well.

Now let’s talk about the disadvantages…

As always, you’re trading one thing for others. Having open-back headphones means you’re not blocking out environmental noises, which could hinder your music experience.

For example, if you commute or you hear music in places where there’s a ton of external noise, people talking or other sounds, open-back headphones are not for you.

Not only they won’t prevent outer noises to come through your ears, but you will also leak some of your music to the outside world. Do you want a pair of headphones to listen to music while you’re at the office? Forget about open-back headphones as other people will be able to hear what you’re hearing as well.

Do you want a good pair of headphones to use them while flying in a plane? Nope, open-back headsets are a bad idea.

As you can see, it’s all about the design and where you want to use them. Open-back headphones are great for quiet places but lack that privacy you can get from closed-back headphones or noise-canceling headphones.

Let’s talk about closed-back headphones now.

Closed-back headphones – Advantages and Disadvantages

Closed-back headphones are way more common and it’s highly probable you have a set of closed headphones right there with you. Here’s a picture for you:

open vs closed headphones

The ability to isolate you from outer noise and have some privacy is what makes closed-back headphones a very solid option for most people. If you decide to go for noise-canceling headphones you can literally feel like you’re in heaven while flying on a plane. Not so much for closed-back headphones.

This makes them a very solid option for trips, commuting and they’re easy to use in crowded environments including the office, school, or similar places. DJs also use closed-back headphones as it would be impossible to hear the music with all the crowd screaming and doing noises in the discotheque.

Another great thing for most people is the bass power you can achieve in a closed-back headset. Bass is very important for a ton of music genres and by trapping the air in a closed space, closed-back headphones tend to have more impact, achieving a deeper bass experience.

Obviously, as we said above, this comes at a cost, since having a richer bass experience doesn’t always equate to having realistic, high-quality music. Yet a ton of people adjusts their equalizer settings for bass.

As for the disadvantages, you can pretty much think of two; weight and heat.

If you’re one of those who really enjoy light headsets because they can’t use a heavy pair for more than a few minutes, you’ll have a harder time trying to find a good pair of closed-back headphones. Luckily, the selection available is still way more diversified than open-back headphones.

This also means closed-back headphones tend to be less expensive.

Also, if you have sweaty ears or you feel like your ears are burning after a rock & roll session and you live in hot places, the closed-back option might not be the best for you.

Open vs. Closed headphones

To wrap things up:

Open-back headphones advantages

  • Sound quality (realistic sound)
  • Fresh air coming through your ears
  • Lightweight headsets. Avoid headaches.

Open-back disadvantages

  • No noise reduction or noise cancellation
  • Environmental noises can be heard through the grills
  • Your sound also leaks to other persons around you
  • More expensive and less variety

Closed-back advantages

  • Privacy (great for crowded places and office)
  • Deeper bass
  • Perfect for traveling or commuting
  • More models available at cheaper prices
  • Block outside noise

Closed-back disadvantages

  • Lower music quality but most people don’t care
  • Closed ear cups can cause your ears to sweat
  • Some models are heavy and can cause headaches

If possible, go and test a pair of each before pulling the trigger and buying a pair of headphones online. You never know but some people just prefer one design over the other no matter what they do.

Please leave your questions or comments below.

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