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Open Headphones or Closed Headphones?

Updated on January 23, 2015

Does It Matter?

Open and closed headphone designs exist because each has its own advantages. The best headphones are the ones that work best for your purpose. If your looking for the best sounding headphones, then open or closed may not matter specifically (although some audiophiles might argue for one or the other). So far as wireless headphones, they can be open or closed.

In some circumstances open or closed really doesn't matter. A great casual listening experience can be had by either design, it really comes down to a particular set of headphones. In other applications, open or closed back becomes more important—even essential. Let's go over the differences in the two designs.


Open Back Headphones

Open back headphones have openings in the ear cups (slots, ports, perforations) that allow the sound to escape. In situations where noise leakage is a not problem, open headphones are fine. Since the open design allows sound to pass through, it can also allow outside sound in. This is an advantage in cases where you want to hear what's happening around you, but also want the convenience of headphones. Let's say you are listening to music while doing house work, but listening out for the doorbell at the same time.

For pure listening purposes, open back headphones may provide a more neutral or natural sounding experience. Specific headphone models and designs ultimately determine listening quality as well as the subjective aspect. On the flip side, closed headphones may offer more punch in the bass and lower mid range frequencies.


Closed Back Headphones

Closed back headphones have solid cups and are designed to avoid leaking sound. They can help prevent sound from leaking inside to outside, and outside to inside. When recording or broadcasting, sound leakage reaching the microphone can diminish mixing control and create other problems on the recorded tracks. These include filtering/phase issues, click (metronome) leakage, and leakage of older replaced performances.

When using a microphone, closed back headphones can help prevent feedback (that loud squealing sound) that can be an issue with open designs. In this case feedback is caused by the microphone "hearing" itself from the headphone leakage creating a loop (cycle).

Closed back headphones are also provide privacy from outside noises and prevent your sound from escaping into others privacy. If you commute by public transportation, closed headphones may be a better all-round choice for you and your fellow commuters.

Sum It Up

Closed back headphones are the best choice in situations where isolation is important. In a recording or broadcast environment this is most certainly the case. If isolation is not an issue, look for the best sounding models vs cost regardless of type. Pay attention to construction quality with any headphone design since cheaply made headphones tend to fall apart. If at all possible, listen to and compare several choices to determine which ones sound the best to you. Read reviews if you're ordering online, but test them yourself before purchasing if possible. Also, don't overlook comfort, which is a big deal if you use them often.

If possible, check the proposed headphones with your devices. A particular headphone may be louder or softer with the same device due to efficiency differences. Make sure the headphones have the right connection for your device(s). Headphones often come with mini jack (3.5mm) and a mini jack to ¼” jack adapter, but it’s possible you will need to purchase an adapter.


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