When looking for a new pair of headphones, if you dig deep enough into your research you’re going to come across open back and closed back headphones (also referred to as the acoustic principle of a headphone). If you aren’t a headphone connoisseur you may wonder what the difference is between the two. The basic answer is that both are exactly what they sound like; a closed back headphone has fully enclosed ear cups to give you excellent noise isolation whereas open back headphones have open ear cups that allow sound to flow out into your surrounding environment (not exactly rocket science). Headphone drivers produce sound in two directions (toward your ears and away from them), closed-back headphones block the sound headed away from your ears while open-back headphones let that sound go out into the world.
There is, however, a little more to the open-back vs. closed-back headphone difference than just whether your headphones fully seal your ear or leave it open to the environment. Each design offers its own specific advantages and disadvantages and, if you’re looking for the perfect pair of headphones, it is important to understand the differences between the two as well as their intended applications.
Closed-back headphones are the most commonly available headphone type, in part, because they are more versatile than their open-back counterparts. One of the primary advantages closed-back headphones offer is noise isolation. They’re designed to keep sounds from the surrounding environment out while not letting any of your music escape into the world.
From a sound perspective, there are some drawbacks to closed-back headphones. In general, closed-back headphones can limit the soundstage of your music. Basically, this means that they can make your music sound like it’s coming from a single point rather than spread out across a stage (also described as the music being “in your head” rather than all around you). Closed-back headphones typically offer fairly robust bass performance because of the fully enclosed chamber. They also allow you to really focus on the technical aspects of your music.
If you’re in the market for a pair of headphones for travelling, studying at the library, while at the office, hitting the gym or even working at a music studio, closed-back headphones are the way to go.
A pair of open-back headphones provides you with a completely different listening experience than a closed-back headphone. Open-back headphones feature grills or perforations on the earcups that allow air and sound to flow in and out of the headphones. Drawbacks of this design include anyone around you hearing your music and the ambient noise around you seeping into your music. As a result, you’re really only going to want to use them in quiet environments where you aren’t going to disturb anyone.
Because of their design, open-back headphones, as you’ve probably realized by now, are capable of producing a much wider sound stage than closed-back headphones. Open-back headphones generally offer much more realistic sounding audio because of the wider soundstage. This gives you a much more immersive listening experience and makes you feel like you’re at a show.
As a result of their open design and lack of isolation, open-back headphones are only recommended for using in your home or any quiet environment where you’re alone and not going to bother anyone. You won’t be able to fully enjoy open-back headphones in a noisy environment because your music will get so tainted by the ambient noise around you.
Choosing What’s Best for You
Nobody can tell you what the right style is for you, it all depends on your listening preference and what you’re planning to use it for. If you’re just looking to get lost in your music at home after a long day at work, a pair of open-back headphones might be the way you want to go. On the other hand, if you’re in the market for a pair of headphones at the office or for studying in a library, you’re probably going to want to pick up a pair of closed-back headphones.
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