A great set of headphones are an essential tool for us, more so for musicians, producers, or sound engineers. Critical musical tasks like mixing and editing sounds, or checking live sound mixes on different occasions, all require decent headphones.
One of the defining characteristics of the headphones is whether the design is open-back or closed-back. Both of them serve a distinct purpose but are used for just about everything.
The form of the headphones is what most distinguishes them from one another; open-back headphones allow sound to pass through while closed-back headphones are intended to isolate it. This guide will go over both of the headphones and help you decide on which one you should get.
What Is an Open-back Headphone?
An Open-back headphone usually has small little vents at the back to allow air to pass in and out the drivers behind. Since the air passes in and out, it provides you with an open and immersive sound experience.
While the headphones may have a wider and more natural feel to it, this also means that the people around you will also hear what’s going on inside. But, because it has such open isolation, open-back headphones are lighter causing less ear fatigue.
Pros to an Open-back Headphone
Open-back headphones typically provide richer, larger airflow routes, and more expansive sound with greater audio quality since air can travel freely. It almost feels like the audio is coming directly from your environment and not generated by the headphones
Since the sounds freely move in and out without any restriction, open-backs are widely used for critical listening tasks like editing, mixing, and so on. Great for areas where only you are listening and want the best audio level possible
Since they allow sound in and out of the headphones, this makes the headphones more comfortable, especially for longer listening sessions. Because the design is not so closed in, they eliminate ear sweating in turn providing better comfortability.
Furthermore, they usually have bigger ear cups for listeners which does benefit sound staging.
More Drivers to Choose From
A driver converts an electrical signal into sound. These drivers can affect how the sound on your headphones is produced.
Nowadays, more and more open-back headphones have started to come with varieties of drivers like Electrostatic, and Planar magnetic drivers. This means that you have a lot of options when it comes to improving and enhancing sound quality. The different driver types deliver different functionality. Mainly three types of drivers are used in headphones:
- Planar Magnetic Drivers: Planar drivers are kind of a mixture between a regular dynamic and electrostatic driver. The driver produces sound through a slim conductor that lies between two magnets.
The main advantage of owning a planar magnet is the smooth and accurate sound production and the ability to withstand sound distortion.
- Electrostatic Driver: These types of drivers make use of a very thin diaphragm that lies between two different metal plates. The presence of the metal plates enables an electrostatic headphone to produce a wider range of sound frequency than other headphones.
It is also known to have a faster response to different sounds because of low body mass compared to others.
- Dynamic Driver: Dynamic drivers are the most common type of drivers found in most headphones. It uses a single diaphragm and coil connection to produce sound.
They are widely known for being cheaper than other driver options and are best suitable for loud, and bassy sound.
Cons to an Open-back Headphone
No Noise Isolation
Due to the headphones having an open flow of air, you are likely to hear unwanted noise coming from the background. This also means that other people around you can hear what you are listening to.
This makes the headphones undesirable for outdoor activities.
Open to More Damages
The open-back headphones are lighter compared to closed-back, Since they use less materials. This means, some models are more prone to damages.
What is a Closed-back Headphone?
Unlike an open-back, closed-back headphones do not have small vents for airflow and are completely shut. This means there is no air passing in and out of the headphones. They are the perfect fit for private listening, or if you do not want any sound from the background in.
Since they are completely shut off from any type of sound leakage, they tend to have a less natural response and sound quality.
Pros to a Closed-back Headphone
Better Noise Isolation
The most notable feature of closed-back headphones is the ability to block background noise from entering the headphones. Since they have no vents on the outside, only a small amount of air passes through the headphones. This makes the headphones a great option for outdoor activities.
Since there is no external noise entering, this also means that no sound is leaked outside from within. This is great for people who care about privacy and don’t want others to hear what they are listening to. They also prevent sound bleeding which can make a difference if you are a musician or an artist recording music.
Best Option for Outdoor Use
As we mentioned earlier, the noise isolation feature makes it a great option to use out in the open. Since there is no audio leaking and no background noise incoming, it is considered ideal for outdoor use.
One of the best perks of closed-back headphones is the price. Most closed-back headphones are comparatively cheaper than open-backs.
With open-back, the headphones are made to provide the best sound quality possible which can cause them to be pricey. Also, closed-backs usually only use dynamic drivers which brings down their cost.
Cons to a Closed-back Headphone
One of the main disadvantages of closed-back headphones is the lack of comfort. Since there is no air coming in and out, no ventilation causes heat to build up inside resulting in ear fatigue.
This might not be a big deal for most, but if you plan to use it for a longer period then it can be troublesome. All the air trapped inside causes sweating.
Closed-back headphones typically only use dynamic drivers. They do not utilize other ranges of drivers like the open-backs. So, they can lack audio enhancements and sound more natural.
This might not sound like a problem to most, but critical listeners who focus on little details can differentiate and feel the disadvantage.
Who are Open-back Headphones and Closed-back Headphones For?
If you are someone who wants better open and naturally rich sound and does not mind the audio going out then Open-backs are for you. It is ideal for mixing and mastering audio because of the rich audio quality. So, sound engineers stand to gain much from it.
Also, if you prefer listening in a more private environment then it is for you. Also, choose open-backs if you listen through your headphones for a long period.
Similarly, if you listen in more public areas, closed-back headphones are for you. If you like going out with your headphones and want the utmost privacy, then this is for you. It is more versatile than an open-back because it is suitable for all types of environments.
However, if you tend to wear your headphones for long, closed-backs can cause a bit of sweating and ear fatigue. In this situation, an open-back is more favorable because of constant airflow going in and out.
Your budget and use case also matters when choosing the right headphone. Closed-back headphones are widely found in the market and most commonly used by people due to being a cheaper option over open-backs.