Closed-back headphones are by far the most popular type of headphones. You can find plenty of options at different price points and at different formats as well (Over-ears, on-ears, and even in-ear buds are technically closed-back as well).
And while that’s a good thing, it also makes it much tougher to separate the good options from the bad ones. Thankfully, we happen to have quite a lot of experience with headphones and we’ve had the opportunity to try out multiple pairs. That’s why we decided to share our knowledge and experience with you!
So, let’s get right into it!
Things to Keep in Mind
When you’re checking out headphones, it always helps to keep some things in mind. Things that you can help you separate the good from the bad options.
Here are some of the most important ones:
- Sound isolation: One of the things that closed-back headphones do very well is noise isolation. This can include both outside noises from the environment and the ones that the headphones themselves produce (Leakage)
- Noise cancelation: Noice canceling is different than noise isolation. It’s a kind of technology that’s much more effective for things like traveling and outdoor usage
- Microphone: Many headphones come with a microphone – but definitely not all of them. If you need a headset for gaming, definitely restrict your options down to those that offer a mic. Otherwise, you’ll need to spend extra money for a dedicated microphone down the road
- Sound: Sound is obviously very important. But, usually, there’s no such thing as good and bad sound – at least not when comparing similarly-priced headphones. Instead, some headphones provide a strong, thumpy base with sharp treble while others are more neutral-sounding
- Comfort: If you plan on using your headphones for long periods of time, comfiness is very important. Clamping force, ear-pads, and general cushioning are a few things to look out for on this aspect
- Build quality: Unlike open-back headphones, closed-backs are often designed with portability in mind. This means that you are much more likely to put them in strenuous situations and that’s why paying more attention to their build quality is a must
Our 5 Best Closed Back Headphones
Now that all that is out of the way, it’s time to start checking out a few headphones. However, since all of them are different and choosing one is more a matter of personal preference rather than having something that’s generally better, we’ll go ahead and list several different types/categories.
Best Closed Back Headphones for Gaming
If you’re looking for a gaming headset, the HyperX Cloud Alpha or Cloud Alpha S are probably your best bet. They’ve got everything that you’ll ever need from a gaming headset. And if you don’t want it to be a headset, you can simply get rid of the removable microphone which turns them into normal, decent headphones!
- Weight: 0.7 pounds
- Microphone: Detachable
- Noise isolation/cancelation: Only decent noise isolation
Those of you who love gaming probably already know about the Cloud 2s that are arguably the most popular of the Cloud series. But, we’d say that the Cloud Alphas and Cloud Alphas S are superior in pretty much every single way. That’s why we’re going to recommend these instead of their predecessors.
Speaking of which, as far as we know, the only difference between the Cloud Alphas and the Cloud Alpha S is that the Alpha S comes with physical adjustment buttons that allow you to control the base with “hardware” instead of software and a slightly different control scheme. Other than that, they are pretty much the same.
One of the main reasons we picked this headset for gaming is because of how comfortable it is. In fact, many people claim that these are the most comfortable headphones/headset they’ve ever tried. However, we’ll personally have to give that title over to either the Sennheiser HD 598s or the SHP9500s from Philips (Open-back design, though).
Other than that, their sound is also surprisingly good. The base can get anything from accurate and smooth to boomy while mid-range reproduction is superb as well. The high-end is admittedly lacking a little bit and can even be harsh; depending on your EQ settings. But that’s not going to be a huge issue for gaming anyway.
- Decent noise isolation
- Great when it comes to preventing leakage
- Great base and mids
- Very comfortable
- Superb build quality
- Can be used both for gaming and casual use
- Detachable mic
- Good value
- Relatively lightweight
- Standard 3.5mm jack
- The in-line controls on the Cloud Alpha restrict you from using any other 3.5mm cables (Unless you don’t need these controls. The Alpha S comes with a separate audio card for controls, so, that’s not an issue there)
- High-end gets a bit too sharp at times
Best Budget Closed Backs for Audiophiles
Audiophiles will usually prefer open-back headphones instead of closed-backs. But, at the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference and needs.
Some people enjoy the narrower soundstage and the extra noise isolation that comes with closed-backs. Not to mention that if you want something both for indoor and outdoor use then you really have no choice anyway.
- Weight: 0.55 pounds
- Microphone: No
- Noise isolation/cancelation: Mediocre noise isolation and leakage prevention
One of the main reasons that we picked these as a good option for audiophiles is because of their neutral sound. However, keep in mind that they are not the best for bass lovers. This is what neutral sound means – there is little to no coloring.
Of course, you can always make them “kick” a bit harder with an equalizer. It’s just that they are not primarily designed for that kind of sound.
The ATH-M40x is good for monitoring use and enjoying music as it was recorded. But, as we mentioned above, bass-heavy genres like heavy metal and electronic may not sound that good due to the natural lack of thumpy base.
They are fairly comfortable as well but we’d say that the clamping force can be a bit too much for some people. Other than that, the pads are rather comfy and there’s quite a bit of padding on the top as well.
Speaking of comfiness, you can also use them for gaming – but only if you’re intending on buying a dedicated mic as well. And don’t forget that their imaging is slightly worse than the Cloud Alphas. So, if you need a jack of all trades, maybe go with the Clouds instead. And if you primarily need neutral sound, stick with the M40x.
- Relatively neutral sound (Can also be a huge con for some)
- Pretty comfortable for short sessions (Clamping force can get a bit too much for some people over long sessions)
- Removable cable is always a plus
- Superb value
- No microphone
- Weak base (A pro for audiophiles who want true sound reproduction)
- No volume controls at all
Best for Comfort and Commute
These are quite possibly the most lightweight and most comfortable, high-quality headphones that we’ve ever used. Other than that, they also come with quite possibly the best noise cancelation we’ve seen yet. So, they are definitely a great pick if you want something super comfortable that’s great for outdoor usage as well.
- Weight: 0.47 pounds
- Microphone: In-line
- Noise isolation/cancelation: Great noise cancelation technology
In case you’re not familiar with it, noise cancelation works in a very different way.
Unlike noise isolation which mostly relies on a tight fit and the build material to block external sounds, noise cancelation uses the microphone to capture outside noises and re-play them out of phase in your head. This effectively blocks most repetitive noises such as the humming of an airplane engine, a bus engine, and anything like that.
As far as comfiness is concerned, their very low clamping force in combination with the smooth ear-pads and padding makes them extremely comfortable. You’ll barely feel them in your head. But, this is also exactly what makes them very unstable while running – and that’s definitely something to keep in mind if you want a pair of headphones for working out.
If your primary focus is on gaming then these are definitely not worth it. You’re spending a lot of money on ANC (Active Noise Cancelation) and it’s mostly wasted in gaming – unless you’re playing on an airplane.
- Superb noise canceling
- Great for outdoor usage
- Decent sound in terms of base and mid-range
- In-line controls and the built-in microphone are always a welcome addition
- Very lightweight
- Very comfortable
- Good build quality
- Up to 35 hours of battery life (ANC)
- A bit expensive for the sound that they offer
- They leak quite a lot of sound when you turn the volume up
- Battery life is one more thing to worry about with ANC headphones
Best Closed Back Headphones for Sports
Sennheiser is one of the biggest names, if not the biggest when it comes to headphones. It would be hard to talk about such things without mentioning at least one pair from them. The PXC 550 Wireless, in particular, is pretty good for some light jogging and exercises.
- Weight: 0.51 pounds
- Microphone: Integrated
- Noise isolation/cancelation: Decent noise isolation but mediocre noise cancelation
Usually, as far as exercising is concerned, in-ear headphones are the superior choice. After all, those with a locking mechanism are not getting off your ears no matter what.
But, if you prefer over-ears, Sennheiser’s offering is one of the best picks. Despite having a rather weak clamping force (Unless you’ve got a big head), they still sit in place during mild workouts. This is probably thanks to the big, soft ear-pads and the heavily cushioned headband as well.
Speaking of cushioning and ear-pads, the overall comfort level is relatively high as well. Definitely nowhere near the Quiet Comfort 25 – but they are still pretty comfortable nonetheless.
The fact that they are wireless is another plus for working out. Just don’t forget to charge them. You can expect to get about 20 hours of battery life with them or even more depending on the volume level and whether ANC is activated or not.
As far as sound is concerned, Sennheiser usually aims to deliver neutral sound, but the PXC 500s tend to be a bit bass-heavy. We’d say that they are not bassy enough for bass lovers but also not neutral enough for audiophiles. So, imagine something in-between. Mids, on the other hand, are very well-balanced – but the treble response could be a bit better; especially for something so expensive.
- Sits tight on your head without too much clamping force
- Pretty comfortable
- Great for working out as far as over-ear headphones are concerned
- Integrated microphone
- ANC (Active Noise Cancelation)
- Decent sound quality
- Good battery life
- ANC could be better
- Maybe a bit overpriced for what they offer
- Not a great option for people with big heads
As you’ve probably already noticed by now, as far as sound is concerned, each of our picks has at least one weakness. Some of them are lacking base while others are a bit too sharp. So, if you need a pair of headphones that sound as balanced as possible, we’d say that Sony’s MDR-7506 is quite possibly your best bet!
- Weight: 0.46 pounds
- Microphone: No
- Noise isolation/cancelation: Bad noise isolation
Pay attention here. Balanced audio doesn’t always mean “neutral” audio. You can raise your lows and highs and they would still be balanced but they are not going to be neutral. Neutral means as close to the recording as possible. If that’s what you’re after, maybe go with Audio-Technica’s M40x.
The MDR-7506 offers balanced sound – smooth and strong base that’s not overpowering along with decent mids and highs. If that’s what you’re after, then you can’t go wrong with these. They are one of the best closed-back headphones we’ve ever seen in terms of audio.
They are also very comfortable and very lightweight. The fact that you can fold them on top of that makes them a great option for portability. But, it’s worth noting that their noise isolation isn’t that good at all which makes them a somewhat bad pick for commuting.
- Very lightweight
- Good sound
- Smooth base
- Decent value
- Build quality could be better
- Bad noise isolation
- No microphone or any controls
These are our top picks for now. If all that information is a bit too much to take in at once, here is what we mentioned as quickly as possible:
- Kingston HyperX Cloud Alpha S: Most suitable for gaming, but, their removable microphone and decent noise isolation also makes them suitable for casual use outdoors or indoors. Just keep in mind that they can get a bit too sharp and that the in-line controls of the non S variant are not the best thing
- Audio-Technica ATH-M40x: Neutral sound on a budget. All-around great headphones unless you love heavy base or you absolutely need a microphone and hardware controls
- Bose Quiet Comfort 25: By far our most comfortable pick. ANC makes them a great pick for commuting as well with the only downside that they are a bit expensive
- Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless: One of the best options for jogging. They are as stable as over-ear headphones can get and that’s while still retaining a rather low clamping force. Just keep in mind that despite carrying the Sennheiser name, they are not exactly neutral-sounding
- Sony MDR-7506: One of the best-sounding closed-back headphones that you can get. These deliver smooth base while still retaining clarity on the mids and highs which is rather impressive. In terms of downsides, we’d say that they feel rather fragile and that there is very little noise isolation as well
And that’s about it. If there’s something that you still struggle to understand, feel free to let us know about it in the comments section down below!