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Open-back vs. Closed-back headphones

If you’re looking to buy a new pair of high-quality headphones, you’ve probably heard the terms open-back and closed-back headphones. Considering 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. Let’s compare open-back vs. closed-back headphones and see which one fits your needs more!

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 prefer them even if they use them in ambiances they did not intend to use.

Open-back headphones – Advantages and Disadvantages

Open-back headphones, as simple as they sound, allow air to pass through the ear cups to the speakers and your ears. They allow this 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, 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 suitable 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 more expensive.

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A secondary effect of having an open-back headset is reducing heat inside the ear cups, which can annoy 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 music. No more sweaty ears!

But many people don’t care about that or live in cold places where you don’t 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 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.

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 hear music in places with a ton of external noise, people talking, or other sounds, open-back headphones are not for you.

Not only they won’t prevent external noises from coming through your ears, but they 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.

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

As you can see, it’s all about the design and where you want to use them. Open-back headphones are fabulous for quiet places but lack the privacy you can get from closed-back 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 you probably 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 external noise and have some privacy makes closed-back headphones an excellent option for most people. If you go for noise-canceling headphones, you can feel like you’re in heaven while flying on a plane. Not so much for closed-back headphones.

This makes them an excellent option for trips and 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 making noises in the discotheque.

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

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 adjust their equalizer settings for bass.

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

If you enjoy light headsets because they can’t use a heavy pair for more than a few minutes, you’ll have a more challenging time finding 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 feel like your ears are burning after a rock & roll session and live in hot places, the closed-back option might not be the best for you.

Open back vs. Closed back 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 people around you
  • More expensive and less variety

Closed-back advantages

  • Privacy (great for crowded places and offices)
  • Deeper bass
  • Perfect for traveling or commuting
  • More models available at lower 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, test each pair before pulling the trigger and buying a pair of headphones online. You never know, but some people prefer one design over the other no matter what they do. Please leave your questions or comments below.