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Open-back vs Closed-back Headphones: Which Is Right For You?

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You’re looking to buy a new set of headphones, but your google search has thrown you. You have the option between open-back and closed-back headphones, and you have no idea of the differences between the two. Luckily, we are here to clear up the variations between the two.

What’s The Difference Between Open-back And Closed-back?

The big difference between open-back and closed-back headphones may not come as a surprise to you. Without sounding too obvious, open-back headphones allow the sound to travel out the back of the headphone; closed-back headphones do not allow this.

The driver’s venting is the main difference here, with closed-back headphones not allowing the venting of the sound. Open-ear enables the air to pass freely around the electrostatic, planar or dynamic drivers in the headphones.

Both have their benefits and drawbacks, but knowing which is better in specific environments and which style suits your needs is crucial.

We will check out precisely the pros and cons of both styles of headphones, take a look at some examples, and find which kind of headphones are suited for you.

Open-Back Headphones

This style of headphone usually has a cheese grater looking design on the other side of the ear-cup. This is meant to prevent the sound from building up in the earphone resulting in enhanced clarity.

The enhanced airy, expansive and unique sound heard in open-back headphones is very similar to that you would listen to from a Hi-Fi set, and this ultimately provides users with a more authentic and purer sound. It is because of this that audiophiles and experts are more naturally drawn to open-back headphones.

In addition to this, the need for fewer components allows this style of headphone to weigh less and provide more air to your ears whilst in use. This provides comfort and style to be enhanced. The way the driver can perform without pressure and build up produces clarity in these headphones, which tends to be unrivalled by its closed-back headphone cousins.

Due to the maturity and legacy of the open-back headphone, they have long-standing technology that incorporates several different drivers for better sound quality.

The best quality open-back headphones can be costly and probably only for real audiophiles and sound engineers. The likes of the Audeze LCD and the Sennheiser HD800 produce unique sounds and offer a sound similar to that of a robust speaker system but come at a very high price – we are talking like a couple of grand!

Instead, the like of the Philips Fidelio X2HR is an excellent example of high-fidelity open-back headphones for under £200, which are much more accessible to average headphone listeners and do an outstanding job.

Advantages of Open-back Headphones

  • Better, more atmospheric and unique sound
  • Less sweaty ears
  • More mature technology
  • Weigh less
  • Preferred by experts

Disadvantages of Open-back Headphones

  • No noise-cancelling
  • Less portable, and people can hear what you’re listening to
  • Exposed to elements

Closed-Back Headphones

With closed-back headphones, they will keep the sound within the cup – which can, admittedly, often cause the music and sound to appear stuffy – but also manage to keep external sound out of your music listening experience.

Often, in the modern world, people are using headphones in high-noise level environments, whether on public transport or in busy streets, where the noise-cancelling effect of closed-back headphones is invaluable. Indeed, what the closed-back headphones may lack in pure sound is in other functionalities.

This headphone style is much more portable, often designed to be very comfortable and snug and almost certainly have a much better bass sound to them than their open-back brethren. This allows you to catch up on the latest and best tiny-desk concerts, even in the busiest of places.

Due to the noise-cancelling effect, many in the industry believe the sound quality of open-back headphones makes both recording and performing very immersive and purer. Immersion can become a bit too much with closed-back headphones, which make your ears super sweaty and can make it all a bit uncomfortable.

The versatility and way you can use closed-back headphones generally mean that they are favoured with people happy to cop the sound quality for convenience.

The headphones market is much more catered for the closed-back option. Indeed, most of the headphones you will come across tend to be closed-back. This means not only is it competitive and intricate, but you can also very often get top quality products and not blow the bank.

These seemingly cheap yet very high-quality headphones show how broad the closed-back headphone market is and offer quirky features appealing to many whilst retaining that top sound quality.

Advantages of Closed-back Headphones

  • More Portable
  • Noise-cancelling
  • Immersive sound
  • Better bass quantity
  • Snug fit

Disadvantages of Closed-back Headphones

  • Sweaty ears
  • Generally worse sound quality – often stuffy
  • Can damage eardrums

Semi-Open Back Headphones – Have They Got A Place In The Market?

Manufacturers have tried to blend the two styles of headphones into one. This ultimately sees an attempt to bring the best of both worlds together. Finally, semi-open back headphones have less isolation than closed-back and less open-air than open-back headphones, which allows the user to feel the difference.

In an attempt to bridge the gap between the two, semi-auto headphones often get caught trying to tick too many boxes.

When it comes to striking a balance between the two, it can be challenging. That’s where headphones such as the Beyerdynamic DT 880 PRO are ideal for bridging this gap. They combine the best of both headphones and allow for crisp sounds and deepest of bass pounding.

We Know Which We Prefer

When it comes to headphones, it is pretty hard to look past closed-back headphones. They offer portability, comfort and reasonably good sound quality. What they lack in sound, they certainly make up for in other features.

Of course, with headphones, you want the highest quality sound available to you. With open-back headphones, you surrender the ability to benefit from the headphone anywhere but in a quiet studio or room. For this reason, many have turned to closed-back or semi-open back headphones. These bridge the gap between the modern world of convenience and great sounds.

We think it’s worth conceding that little bit of sound quality for the immersive sounds that closed-back headphones offer.

Kelvin Wan
Kelvin Wan
Kelvin is Upbeat Geek's audio tech expert. He keeps in the loop with the latest releases from soundbars to earbuds. Kelvin enjoys travelling and concertgoing, and has a creative career is fuelled by music - a wide array of it we must say. Kelvin's always been a tech head, working with and reviewing different audio setups, from speakers and amps to any type of headphone you can think of. He knows how to uncover the science behind the tech and explain it in 'me and you' terms. His favourite artists consist of Coldplay, Dave, Justin Bieber, Kanye West and Woodkid, (we told you it was a wide array!)

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