Before spending a sizeable chunk of money on a nice pair of over-the-ear-headphones, it’s best to do your research. Don’t let all the intimidating terminology discourage you from making an informed purchase decision.
Over-the-ear headphones, also known as circumaural headphones, come in two designs that have different uses. Open-back vs closed-back headphones is a choice you will have to consider when buying your headphones.
The answer to which one is better is a bit complex. The physical differences are easy to observe but the differences in performance can depend on usage, personal preference, and working environment. This article will outline the pros and cons to help you choose what’s best for you.
What Are Open-Back Headphones?
Open-back earphones allow air to flow in and out of the back of the earcups through perforations or grills. These are usually more expensive and designed for professionals in the audio world.
Advantages Of Open-Back Headphones
An “open” listening experience: The airflow in open-back headphones stops pressure from building up in the earcups around your ear. This results in clearer sound and improved stereo imaging as there are no echoes. There are many great examples of open-back headphones that provide a very natural organic sound.
Less ear fatigue: The ventilation in open headphones allows you to listen for longer periods without heat and sweat build-up. You don’t get that feeling of being enclosed in a claustrophobic bubble and allow your ears to breathe.
They are also less heavy than closed-back headphones. Not having an outer cup covering means less material and less weight on your ears. That, plus the airflow means improved comfort if you are someone who wears headphones over long periods.
Advanced driver options: A few companies may be offering planar magnetic drivers with closed-back headphones but such advanced options are far more accessible in open-back headphones and are an established technology.
Planar and Electrostatic headphones have been made in open formats for years. Closed-back headphones still pretty much rely on the dynamic driver format. If this kind of advanced listening is something your job requires, then open headphones are your best bet. Though, they may have fewer models to choose from overall.
Disadvantages Of Open-Back Headphones
More sound leakage: The open structure of these headphones also leads to sound escaping from the back along with air. People around you will be able to hear whatever you are listening to, so these headphones are not the best for use during your commute or in enclosed spaces with other people. Nobody wants to be that guy who loves his music but everyone else hates him.
Less sound isolation: Another effect of the open headphone structure is that outside sound can easily enter the earcups. Without the enclosed bubble, your audio will sound more organic but it might be interrupted by outside sounds.
Fragility: Finally, open headphones may require more careful handling than closed ones. They have less coverage over the earcups and moisture and dust has a greater chance of entering through the vents.
What Are Closed-Back Headphones?
Closed-back headphones are the opposite of open-back ones. These are fully sealed around the back and the only way sound or air can escape is through the ear insert areas. If you have ever owned over-ear headphones before, they are most likely to be closed-back and there are lots of good options for closed headphones out there to choose from.
Advantages Of Closed-Back Headphones
Better noise isolation: The thick padding around your ears and insulating plastic covering makes closed-back headphones much better for keeping outside sounds from interfering with your audio. Though not as much as noise-canceling headphones, closed headphones can provide up to 10dB of noise reduction.
Less noise leakage: The insulated structure of closed-back headphones also does not allow sound to leak out unless you are listening to them at very high volumes. This makes them much more portable and can easily be used while traveling or around other people without disturbing them. These headphones are best if you are using any kind of microphone, such as while gaming or recording in a studio, as the mic will not pick up any interference in the form of noise leakage.
Better bass quality: If you are the kind of person that likes their base booming, then closed-back headphones will work for you. By trapping the air inside, these headphones will make your bass lower and pump louder. This is also known as the proximity effect, where if a sound is closer to you and goes directly into your ear, the bass will pump louder.
Disadvantages Of Closed-Back Headphones
Ear fatigue: Other than the possibility of a less organic sound and below-par stereo image, the major problem with closed headphones is ear fatigue. They lock in your ears, often making them sweaty and sore over longer listening periods, especially if you buy lower quality, cheaper option. If you don’t have extended listening times and breathability is something you put great value in, we suggest also looking into on-ear headphones compared to over-ear ones to gain a greater understanding of your choices.
Conclusion: Your Choice
In conclusion, when it comes to open vs closed headphones there are different situations where either choice might be suitable for you. If you are looking for hi-res audio to use while mixing and mastering music or just to listen in a quiet environment for longer times, open-back headphones would be best for you. Whereas, for traveling, gaming, and music recording you might want to go for a closed-back option.