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Open Back vs. Closed Back Headphones


Most people spend their whole lives only knowing about closed-back headphones. But, if you’ve ever tried venturing into the premium market, there is a good chance that you already know about another category as well: open-backs.

Both options have their own pros and cons and that’s why we decided to compare open-back VS closed-back headphones for you. Choosing the correct (or wrong) pair of headphones can make a whole world of difference for your listening experience. 

So, without any further ado, let us get right into it!

Closed-Back Headphones

Closed-back headphones are by far the most popular choice for a variety of different reasons. 

First of all, you can find closed-backs anywhere from 5 bucks all the way up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars. There are tons of budget, mid-range, and high-end options as well while open-backs are generally not that cheap. So, that’s a big plus for closed-backs. 

Second of all, closed-backs are generally boomier. Their enclosed design allows for more bass to be pushed into your ears which is something that most people enjoy. 

Leaving that aside, they generally also offer more features. Features like better noise isolation, noise-canceling (more on that later), a dedicated microphone, and wireless options as well. Now, we’re not saying that there are no open-backs with such attributes. But, they are certainly extremely rarer for reasons that we’re going to be mentioning in the next section. 

Closed-back headphones also tend to sound more in your head. It’s like the music comes out as a loud thought if that makes sense. It’s more like you’re in a studio. After all, they block most of the external noises while also not leaving any extra space for the audio – which, sometimes, gives you a bit more detail. That’s why professionals tend to prefer closed-backs for monitoring, recording, and anything in-between. 

As far as home-users are concerned, there is no superior choice. Some people love the kind of sound that closed-backs provides and others hate it. But, keep in mind that closed-backs are generally superior for outdoor use thanks to their noise isolation properties. 

The HyperX Cloud series along with the M40x from Audio-Technica are two of the most popular closed-backs and both are designed for very different purposes.

Open-Back Headphones

Open-back headphones are the exact opposite of closed-backs in almost every single way. As the name implies, open-backs are, well, open. They freely allow air to pass in and out of them which means that whatever you can hear, others around you will be able to hear as well. And that’s also why there’s almost zero noise isolation. 

Speaking of noise isolation, open-backs with noise cancellation are almost non-existent as well. If you’re not familiar with these terms, noise isolation is how much noise headphones can block with their raw build. Noise cancellation, on the other hand, uses a microphone to capture outside noises in order to continually re-produce out of phase sounds and basically eliminate any unwanted noise. 

Such features don’t make a lot of sense for open-back headphones because they are basically made for indoor use. If you try to use them while traveling, not only you’ll be able to take the airplane’s engine noise in all of its glory – but the other passengers will also be able to enjoy your music as well. 

Adding insult to injury is the fact that open-backs are also severely more expensive. Even the cheapest options only sit at about $75 or $50 – if you’re lucky enough. 

With all that said, one massive benefit of open-back headphones is the kind of sound that they provide. Everything is so much more natural and spacey. Rather than listening to a studio recording, music sounds more like the band is playing next to you. 

This kind of audio also makes open-backs great for casual gaming. Not so much for competitive gaming, though, since microphones can sometimes pick up the sound that comes out of the headphones. 

The SHP9500s from Philips and the HD 599s from Sennheiser are two very popular open-back examples. 

What’s The Best Option? 

So, as we mentioned above, open-back headphones and closed-backs are very different indeed. But, when everything is said and done, there is no superior option. 

Both kinds come with their own pros and cons. At the end of the day, it’s all a matter of personal preference and needs. 

For example, open-backs may be bad for outdoor use – but many people just need something for their PC. Closed-backs may provide more bass – but there are also a lot of people who just hate bassy sound. 

Let us go through some of the different things that both types of headphones offer and see their individual pros and cons. Hopefully, that’s going to make your decision process much easier. 

1: Sound

Sound is the main thing that we obviously need from headphones. Due to the way that they are built, open-back and closed-back headphones reproduce sound very differently. 

Open-backs sound more natural and spacey. It’s as if there is a bit of distance between you, the instruments, and the vocals; as if the sound comes from around you rather than from inside the headphones. 

However, due to their open design, open-back headphones also tend to produce a weaker base compared to their closed-back siblings. And while you can always use an equalizer and/or an amp for a more thumpy experience, closed-back headphones will always have the advantage in the base department. 

That said, most audiophiles prefer the natural, airy sound that open-backs provide. So, that’s definitely something to keep in mind. 

Closed-back headphones tend to be more bassy and the sound is a bit closer to your head. After all, as we mentioned above, there is nowhere for it to escape. 

This kind of sound can be both a pro and a con depending on who you ask. The type of music that you listen to also makes a big difference. For example, classical music and acoustic songs tend to sound much nicer on open-backs. Heavy types of music like electronic, heavy metal, and dubstep, on the other hand, are usually more suitable for closed-backs. 

Just keep in mind that everything is a matter of personal preference here. If you enjoy heavy metal with open-backs instead of closed ones, power to you. 

2: Soundstage

Soundstage is kind of the “space” that headphones create. Some headphones have a wider soundstage than others. But, generally, open-backs are almost always more spacey. They make you feel as if you’re listening more to speakers rather than headphones if that makes sense. It’s as if the sound is around you, rather than inside your head. 

Closed-backs are the exact opposite. Even though some of them do a better job with soundstage than others, they are almost always going to sound more in your head. They create a kind of studio-like environment. 

Ironically enough, open-backs are more suitable for gaming due to their wider soundstage. Anything from listening to ambient sounds all the way to listening to footsteps is just a better experience. However, due to the fact that they are very bad with noise isolation, most manufacturers prefer making closed-back gaming headsets. 

Overall, if you want a wide soundstage, open-back headphones are the way to go. 

3: Noise Isolation and Leakage

Closed-back headphones are better at this. Full stop. The only way for open-backs to sound as wide and natural as they do is by allowing air to pass freely both in and out. That’s why they are the worst of the bunch when it comes to noise isolation and leakage. 

With open-backs, not only you’ll be able to listen to ambient, surrounding sounds. But, everyone around you will be able to listen to whatever you’re listening to as well. That’s also why open-back headphones are not suitable for outdoor usage and commute. 

Not to mention anything about noise cancellation. Since open-backs are primarily made for indoor use, manufacturers generally don’t bother implementing such features into them. Noise cancellation would probably not work that well with an open design anyway. 

So, if noise isolation and leakage prevention take priority for you, definitely look into closed-back headphones. 

4: Comfiness

You may think that ear-pads, weight, and clamping force are the main things that you should look out for as far as comfiness is concerned. And while that’s mostly true, the overall design can make a lot of difference as well. 

Closed-back headphones, due to their design, often provide less breathability. If you use them for extended periods of time, your ears may feel hot. Some people can also experience a sort of pressuring sensation that’s identical to being underwater which is definitely unpleasant as well. 

Open-backs, on the other hand, tend to be more breathable and, well, open. That’s more pleasurable for many people. Also, since open-back headphones are primarily made for indoor use, their clamping force tends to be much lower as well. 

With all that said, do keep in mind that headphones, even with the same approximate build, can vastly differ from each other. We’re only just mentioning the average line here. 

Just because a pair of headphones is open-back doesn’t mean that they are also going to be very comfortable and vice versa. Always check out reviews before buying to make sure that something is up to your standards and needs. 

Generally, if comfiness is your number one priority, open-back is the way to go. 

5: Gaming

Gaming is a tough one. Open-back headphones provide a wider soundstage which is crucial for a decent gaming experience. But, at the same time, they have horrible sound isolation which can prove to be troublesome – especially if your microphone picks up the noise that comes out from your headphones. 

Closed-backs offer great sound isolation which is very important for competitive gaming. Then again, their soundstage is almost always inferior to open-backs and that’s something that can also harm your gaming experience. 

So, at the end of the day, we’d say that it’s a matter of personal preference and needs. 

If you want to prevent external noises from reaching you and you also don’t want to annoy someone who is standing next to you, go with closed-backs. 

However, if you don’t have to worry about noise and you know that your microphone isn’t going to pick up headphone sound, open-backs will all-around offer a better experience. 

With all that said, do keep in mind that most popular headsets are actually closed-back (Clouds, Arctis, Kraken, etc). So, if you’re dead-set on going with open-backs, be prepared to either mod them or buy a separate, dedicated microphone. 

Wrapping Up

That’s all we’ve got for now. To summarize everything that we talked about as quickly as possible: 

  • Closed-back headphones: They offer great noise isolation and strong base but their soundstage is narrower while most closed-backs are not as comfortable
  • Open-back headphones: Wider soundstage, more natural-sounding, and generally more comfortable. But, their design also loses a bit of base while also completely sacrificing noise isolation 

Overall, both options have their own pros and cons. Open-backs are generally superior if you prefer natural sound and you only your headphones at home. But, closed-back headphones are usually better for bass lovers and also people who like using headphones outdoors. 

If you still have any questions, feel free to reach out to us in the comments section!

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