Open-back vs. closed-back headphones: Which is better? It’s a common question, but there’s no simple answer. Both types of headphones have their benefits and downsides, so it really comes down to the sound you’re after.
Open-back headphones are notorious for their sound leakage, so it’s not surprising that closed-back headphones have become the most popular type of headphone. Closed-back headphones offer a number of benefits, including isolation from external noise and a more focused listening experience.
It sounds simple enough, but there are also benefits to open-back headphones, like greater depth of field and soundstage, and they can be much less fatiguing in long listening sessions.
So which style is better? As with many things in life, you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons before making any decision. Let’s explore them both in greater detail…
- What Are Open-Back Headphones?
- What Are Closed-Back Headphones?
- What Are Semi Open-Back Headphones?
What Are Open-Back Headphones?
Open-back headphones are headphones with an open design on the back side of each earcup. The back of each earcup is exposed and allows sound to travel freely through the back of the headphone and out into your environment.
This means that not only do you hear what’s coming through the headphone drivers, but you also hear all the sounds in your surroundings. This can be great if you’re wearing headphones while at work or just hanging around the house, but less than ideal if you’re trying to keep distractions at bay while listening to music or wearing them in public.
Open-back headphones usually aren’t ideal for casual listening on the go, because they don’t block out ambient noise very well. Plus, you’ll hear people around you, and they’ll hear what you’re listening to. This can be a good thing if you’re in an office or at home, but probably not so much if you’re using them on a noisy bus or train.
Advantages of Open Back Headphones
Open-back headphones are preferred by professionals for mixing and mastering recordings because they provide a more natural sound with better stereo imaging and a wider soundstage.
Since the drivers are not enclosed, the sound from the rear of the driver travels directly to the ear. This creates a much more natural and realistic sound that you would get in person by listening to a live performance.
The open design also allows you to hear what’s going on around you, so you never miss out on important things happening in the environment, like someone trying to get your attention or an emergency vehicle approaching.
Disadvantages of Open Back Headphones
The main disadvantage of open back headphones is that they leak sound. This means that other people can hear what you’re listening to, which could be a problem in some situations. If you need to keep your music private, then closed-back headphones are probably better suited for you.
Another disadvantage is that they do not block out any external noise, so if there is a loud noise around you, it will be audible through these headphones as well as what’s playing on them at high volumes (this can be solved by using noise cancelling headphones).
What Are Closed-Back Headphones?
Closed-back headphones are the opposite of open-back headphones, meaning that they seal the ear from the outside environment. The back of the ear cup is sealed, preventing any sound from the driver from leaking out, and any sound from entering.
Closed-back headphones are best for studio applications where you don’t want your music to be heard by anyone else in the room, or for recording applications where you don’t want to pick up sounds from outside sources.
Being closed off also means closed-back headphones can offer a little more isolation and reduce external noise. This can be helpful when listening on an airplane, train or bus.
In general, closed-back headphones are preferred by users who want to hear only the audio being played through the headphones (and not external sounds) and by those who prefer to keep their music private (and not audible to others).
Advantages of Closed Back Headphones
There are several advantages to closed-back headphones:
- Sound isolation: If you’re in a noisy environment and you don’t want to hear what’s going on around you, closed-back headphones prevent sound from getting in. This is even more important if you’re recording something and don’t want outside noise to make its way into your recording.
- No leakage: Closed-back headphones prevent sound from leaking out. So if you’re playing music for yourself but don’t want anyone else to hear it, closed-back headphones are ideal.
- Enhanced bass: Closed-back headphones provide an enhanced low frequency response compared to open-back ones, which makes them great for listening to music with deep bass. However, they also tend to be more expensive than their open counterparts.
Disadvantages of Closed Back Headphones
The biggest problem is the sound isolation. While it’s great for recording, it means that if you’re listening to music, you can’t hear what’s happening around you. They also leak a little bit of sound even when turned off, so people near you will be able to hear what you’re listening to.
Finally, closed back headphones have a different tonal quality than open-back headphones, with a more pronounced bass response and a muffled high end. This can make them unsuitable for professional use in some cases.
What Are Semi Open-Back Headphones?
Semi-open headphones are a hybrid in-between closed-back cans and open-back cans. The design is exactly what it sounds like: it borrows elements from both its counterparts.
In a semi-open headphone, the back of the earcup is partially exposed. This lets some sound leak in and out. For example, you may hear some audio from your surroundings, although less than with open-back headphones. Most of the sound will still be blocked out by the housing of the speaker itself.
Similarly, others around you will hear some of your audio, but not all of it like they would with an open back headphone design.
Semi-open headphones are perfect for playing music in a room where there’s no risk of annoying others with too much seepage while still allowing you to hear some ambient noise so that you don’t get lost in your own world.
For instance, if you want to listen to music while working out at home or listen to talk radio shows while doing chores around the house, semi-open headphones are a good choice.
Are Open-Back Headphones Good for Gaming?
Open-back headphones are good for gaming in that they allow air to flow through the earcup, which helps reduce ear fatigue. They also tend to have a more accurate and natural sound stage than closed-back headsets do.
The majority of audio enthusiasts prefer open-back headphones. However, they’re not recommended for competitive gaming because they allow some sound leakage both in and out of the headset. This means you won’t be able to hear environmental sounds as well, and you’ll also give away your position if someone else can hear your headphones.
As an alternative, closed-back headphones may be a better choice for competitive gamers because they don’t leak any sound at all. This means you can take advantage of the positional audio cues that many games have and also keep your location a secret from other players.
Are Closed Back or Open Back Headphones Better for Mixing?
Open-back headphones are good for mixing because they offer an open and spacious soundstage, which can be very useful while monitoring. This is especially true if you don’t have a great mixing room to work in. You can take your open-back headphones with you wherever you go and still get accurate results.
Can Others Hear Open-Back Headphones?
Yes, others can hear you if you’re listening to something at a high volume. It’s not as bad as some people make it sound, though. In most cases, the sound leakage is comparable to that of normal, closed-back headphones. The difference is that the frequency range of the leakage is different.
Why Do Open-Back Headphones Have Less Bass?
Open-back headphones have less bass because the back of the ear cups is open, which allows for a little sound to escape. The sound that escapes interferes with the sound produced by the headphones, which causes a cancellation effect. Closed-back headphones produce less bass than open-back headphones because sound waves are being made and broken at the same time.
To sum it up, an open-back headphone is a better choice for those who want to be heard while still being able to hear the noises in their surrounding environment, while a closed-back headphone offers better sound isolation.
To decide which style of headphones is best for you, first ask yourself what you want out of your headphones. If you’re looking for a better sound experience, then an open-back headphone would be a good choice for you. If you need great sound and noise isolation, however, you may want to consider closed-back headphones.