When you’re in the market for new headphones, it can be daunting as to where you should start your search.
The options and variety in headphones seem to exponentially grow every year as audio technology rapidly advances, and there has never been a better time for the consumer to pick up a new pair of headphones.
Despite all the differences and innovation in the industry, over the ear headphones have for a long time, and still can be classified into two major categories: open back headphones and closed back headphones.
Although a fiery open back vs closed back headphones debate exists among audiophiles, it largely just depends on the context in which you plan on using them.
Do you need headphones for a professional studio where you’ll be interviewing guests for a podcast, or are you planning on using a pair at the office to block out external noise and concentrate on your work?
This article is a thorough outline of the differences between open-back and closed-back headphones, the pros and cons of each, and the various scenarios and situations where one style might suit you better than the other.
Keeping your priorities for over the ear headphones in mind, this article should help guide you in making the most informed decision that will satisfy your audio listening needs.
What Are Open-Back Headphones?
The major physical difference in the design of open back vs closed back headphones is the design of the driver on each earcup. A headphone driver is a unit that converts electrical signals into sound, almost like a tiny loudspeaker. Open-back headphones have dynamic sound drivers that are vented to the outside world.
The free passage of air through the earcup allows the sound from outside to seep into your ears, along with the sound produced by the driver.
How does this affect the listening experience? Simply put, being able to hear from outside creates the effect of a natural sound-source.
Sounds are airier and larger sounding, giving the effect of hearing all around you and not just inside your head. This effect is known as soundstage, and it aims to replicate the listening experience of a stereo system.
Besides letting the headphone driver breathe and create the airy soundstage effect, open back headphones are great for letting your ears breathe.
As the earcups are open, heat and moisture aren’t trapped in your ear. This ventilation is especially key for prolonged hours of use, where comfort is a crucial factor in the headphones you choose
When Should You Buy Open Back Headphones?
Open-back headphones are the weapon of choice for studios, audio engineers, and other professionals who need to hear the sound as accurately as possible.
That being said, in such environments, one is usually listening in a place where audio leakage to the outside isn’t bothering anyone.
A quiet environment such as a studio is the best place to maximize the listening experience of open back headphones as outside sounds won’t be interfering with the audio.
If you are planning on using the headphones to study at the library for instance, while it is true that you will get the most accurate sound, you will be disturbing others with the audio leakage.
Open-back headphones are great for gamers as well, as the soundstage effect creates a more lifelike and dynamic listening experience.
In games such as first-person shooters where listening for location is a strategy, the soundstage effect can come in especially handy.
What Are Closed Back Headphones?
While open back headphones are designed with drivers that interact with the outside world, closed back headphones are designed with drivers that sit isolated within each earcup.
The lack of driver venting means that all sound comes from inside the headphone, and not the air on the outside. So there’s no soundstage effect, but rather an effect of music being played inside your head.
All the sounds produced by a pair of closed-back headphones are sealed off into your ear, so they cannot escape out as they do in open-back headphones.
This also creates an effect of noise-cancellation, blocking sounds from getting inside your ears. While the sound quality won’t be on par with open back headphones, you won’t risk bleeding audio out and being disturbed by the sounds around you.
When Should You Buy Closed Back Headphones?
Closed-back headphones are the absolute best choice when you are planning on using them in an environment around others who may not want to share your listening experience with you.
This means if you’re planning on using the headphones in libraries, commutes on public transit, or offices, it’s a better choice out of courtesy for others.
Noise cancellation is great for focusing as well if you are in noisy environments like a coffee shop and want to block out external sounds.
In the end, there is no superior category of headphones when it comes to open back vs closed back headphones.
It all comes down to how you plan on using the headphones and where you will use them. Open back headphones allow sound in and out of the headphones, creating an experience of sound being produced all around you.
Closed back headphones trap the sounds they produce inside your ears, creating an experience of sound being produced inside your head.
Open back headphones are great when you prioritize accuracy over noise cancellation and vice versa for closed-back headphones. A general rule of thumb is closed-back headphones are best for casual listeners, whereas open back is best for professional settings.