Whether you are looking for closed-back headphones or open-back headphones there are a lot of different products on the market to choose from. There has never been a better time to buy a new set of headphones but some buyers might want to know a little bit more about the type of headphones before they buy.
The physical differences between an open back and closed-back headphones are pretty simple but there are a few considerations that make significant differences in both the sound quality and how you are going to use them.
So to make things a little easier we thought we would put together this quick guide of the main differences between these two headphone styles.
Physical Differences Between Open & Closed-Back Headphones
In case you didn’t know, the difference between open-back headphones and closed-back headphones is pretty simple. It lies in the venting of the drivers. A closed-back headphone has the driver sitting isolated inside a closed-off earcup. An open back headphone on the other hand usually has vents or grills to allow the free passage of air around the dynamic, electrostatic, or planar drivers. Each of these designs has its own unique advantages and disadvantages so let’s take a look a the key points in favor of each style of headphone.
Advantages of Open Back Headphones
1. Open-back headphones have better sound quality
In my experience, it is almost always the case, that users wanting the best sound quality from their headphones should be looking at open Back headphones. There are some exceptions to this rule but the vast majority of audiophile-grade headphones are well vented.
Headphones like the Focal Utopia, Audeze LCD series, and Sennheiser HD800 are easily some of the best-sounding headphones in the world today. They also all have one thing in common. They are all open-back headphones.
The ability of the driver to breathe without hindrance caused by pressure, combined with a usually more out of the head and open listening experience seems to get open-back headphones closer to real Hifi speaker systems than their closed-off brethren.
It’s a very unique airy and expansive sound that you can find here whereas a closed-back headphone traditionally has a boxer sound with deeper bass response.
As I said there are some really exceptional closed-back headphones as well but its more likely that a given brands flagship headphone will be open-backed than closed.
2. Goodbye Sweaty Ears
Think about it. If your ears aren’t enclosed in a tiny box. If they can get nice fresh air circulating around them then you will be a lot more comfortable. By using an open back headphone you go a long way in mitigating a build-up of heat and can enjoy longer more comfortable listening sessions.
The grills on the back of these headphones doesn’t just vent the drivers, it vents your ears. It allows for the ease of heat dispersal and passive cooling. Closed back headphones can get particularly hot and many people find they need to take a break every few hours. If you can identify with this problem then it might be worth checking out open back headphones as a possible solution.
Pound for a pound you are using fewer materials thanks to the omission of full outer earcup shells. On a closed-back headphone, you get a lot of excess material on the earcups but thats not the complete story. In closed back headphones manufacturers also have to mitigate unwanted resonance in the chamber so in the back of the headphone you will often find extra material to provide sound dampening.
That weight, in this case is also distributed further from your ears on the outside of the cups meaning they can feel heavier than they actually are due to the concept of leverage. Again, just as we explained with the build-up of heat the weight can also play a big part in comfort over long sessions.
4. More Advanced Driver Options
Whilst it is true that the likes of Audeze now offer planar magnetic drivers inside closed headphones this technology is far behind the same driver technology in an open-back headphone.
Companies have been making both Planar and Electrostatic headphones in open formats for years and the technology is established and mature. Closed-back designs are advancing but for the most part they are still heavily reliant on the dynamic driver format.
By choosing to purchase an open back headphone you are opening yourself up to being able to choose from multiple designs and technologies that are far more mature than their closed back counterparts.
Advantages of Closed Back Headphones
1. Noise Isolation – Closed-back headphones are better at blocking noise
Easily the best part of closed-back headphones is their ability to isolate the user from unwanted external noise. They do this far better than with open headphones.
The user’s ears will sit in a closed earcup thus greatly reducing the noise that will seep in from the outside world. This makes them far more suited to commuting and noisy environments and can help to preserve your bubble and sometimes your sanity.
Some closed-back models, especially those focusing on the DJ market like the Sennheiser HD-25 and V-Moda Crossfade can block out the majority of background noise and are the best for users working in noisy environments who don’t want to buy noise-canceling headphones.
2. Better as portable headphones.
With the advantage of noise isolation, most headphone companies design their portable headphone offerings to be of the closed-back variety.
As such you get a lot more closed headphones that are designed to be taken with you when you leave the house.
Features such as a smaller form factor, foldable headbands, and rugged design elements can very much play a part in a buyer’s decision-making process.
3. They Usually Have Greater Bass Quantity
Whilst open-back headphones can certainly have good bass quantity and very good quality they usually tend to have less impact than a closed headphone. By trapping the air in a confined space closed headphones have more of an ability to create more of an impact. Whilst this is not always the most important factor in sound a lot of people regard deep pumping bass as a major selling point and usually closed headphones are better in this scenario.
Conclusion – Choosing between Closed and Open headphones is dependent on use cases!
I use both types of headphones. At home, I use my Stax SR007 headphones. These are open back and they sound awesome but when traveling I will be using the Sony WH-1000xm3 ANC headphones because their combination of closed-back design and noise cancellation work best in that scenario.
Both have their place and if you are only going to buy one take a look first at how you intend to use your headphones. Open headphones might be the out and out sound kings but there are closed-back can also sound very very good.
It really just comes down to how and where you will be listening.Think about that then choose the best option that suits that within your budget.
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