Modern headphones come in all shapes and sizes and we are spoilt for choice. This is great as there is something for everyone. It can, however, cause a bit of confusion. One of the things many people wonder about is – what is the difference between open back and closed-back headphones? We will help to answer that question so that you can find the best option for your needs.
Your choice of headphones is a personal decision and will depend on what you intend to use them for, where and how you use them. Understanding more about them will make selecting the perfect headphones an easier and more accurate choice.
The difference between the two lies in the design and the way in which the housing is constructed. One is not necessarily better than the other but the best one is the one that performs better for your specific needs.
Let’s take a look at the options available.
Open Back Headphones
The idea behind open-back headphones is that they are designed to allow the flow of air so that they can move past the ear cups and reach the headphone speakers. The result of this is that pressure is reduced. Pressure build-up can have a negative impact on the sound quality and create an echo.
Open-back headphones deliver a more natural and real sound. The clarity is better, in the right environment.
The design makes them lightweight and comfortable. They are ideal for extended listening enjoyment.
The downside, as you can imagine, is that more of the ambient or background noise can be heard. The vents, as helpful as they are, allow outside noise in. This could make the audio experience worse.
The other issue is that they do not contain the sound effectively. This means that those around could hear or even be disturbed by your music or audio.
You need to consider the environment in which you intend to use the headphones to determine if open-back headphones will be a benefit or a problem. While it is great to have clarity and reduced echo, you do not want to hear external noise or be a disturbance to those around you.
Lastly, it is important to also note that the open-back design also reduces the durability of the headphones somewhat. They are not as tough and durable as those with a closed-back design. They are slightly more fragile and need to be treated with a bit of extra care.
If you are serious about your listening enjoyment and are able to listen in a quiet environment, the quality and clarity of open-backed headphones are hard to beat. Used at the wrong time, in the wrong place, however, they could ruin your enjoyment.
When to use open-back headphones:
Use this design for:
- Quiet listening at home
- Critical audio content
- Top-quality audio listening
Do not use them for:
- Listening to music or audio in public or when commuting
- Airline use
- Office use
Closed Back Headphones
As the name suggests, these headphones have a solid design without any vents or openings. They are much more effective at blocking out external sounds or ambient noise. They also contain the audio so that those around you will hear little to nothing, even when you listen at a high volume.
The negative aspect of this design is that the sound is not quite as natural as the experience on open-backed headphones. You might experience some distortion or echo as the pressure builds up.
They are not quite as cool and comfortable as open-backed models. You might even find that they get a bit hot after using them for a while as they do not “breathe” like open-backed headphones.
They are ideal for commuters or for long flights and essential to musicians and sound engineers. They block most of the external noise and allow you to focus on the audio you want to listen to.
They are a lot more robust and can handle slightly rougher treatment. Once again, you need to consider where and how you expect to use the headphones most often to determine the best option. Better still, get one of each if you can. There are many quality headphone options that offer great value for money.
Use this design for:
- Traveling or commuting
- Office listening
- Sound recording
Do not use them for:
- Critical audio
- When perfect clarity is needed
- Hot environments
A compromise – Semi-open back headphones
Given that both designs offer advantages and disadvantages, it makes sense that there is some sort of compromise. Semi-open headphones give you the best of both worlds. While the back is mostly solid is does still allow for some airflow. This reduces pressure and improves the quality of the audio.
Naturally, this design will let in some background noise and will allow some of your audio to escape but not to the same extent as open-backed headphones. It is a great compromise for most environments and especially useful for home use.
They might not be ideal for commuting or traveling but in most environments, they offer a great balance of benefits.
If you are recording or mixing music, it really depends on your priorities. If you need to focus on a single aspect then closed-back headphones are probably the way to go. If you are working with multiple sources and need superior quality then open-back headphones might be a better idea.
The most important point to help guide you is to understand the environment in which you will use the headphones. Where, when, how, and for what audio do you plan to use them. In some situations, closed-back headphones will be the best choice. At other times, an open-backed headphone will be a better idea.
We have given you the basics so that you can make an informed decision and invest in the very best headphones for your needs.
This article was last updated on April 14, 2021 .