Tag: over ear headphones

Open Back vs. Closed Back Headphones

Open Back vs. Closed Back Headphones

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.

Sennheiser Urbanite

Sennheiser Urbanite Closed-Back Headphones

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

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.

Blue Mo-Fi Headphones

Blue Mo-Fi Closed-Back Headphones

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.

Open-Back

Sennheiser HD800

Sennheiser HD800 Open-Back Headphones

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.

 

Headphones at Sonic Electronix

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Headphone Amplifier Buying Guide

Get the Best Possible Sound from Your Headphones with a Headphone Amplifier

Buying a Headphone Amplifier

 

Do you own a pair of headphones that you want to get the most out of? Are you considering tossing them aside for another, possibly more expensive pair? Before you go spending more money on yet another new pair of headphones, consider an alternate choice: a headphone amplifier. Headphone amplifiers use the same principle as a car amplifier (making your music cleaner and louder), and condenses it to pocket or desktop form for a personal listening experience. Headphone amps come in many different sizes, from the miniscule pocket sized amps for when you’re on the go to the full sized desktop amps for when you want to just kick back and get lost in some music in the comfort of your home.

The Basics
Portable Headphone Amp

Let’s start with some basic background information, all headphones require a headphone amplifier to function, and nearly every audio device includes a built-in amplifier (your smartphone, tablet and computer already have one). This will probably lead you to ask why you need to buy another amp to make my sound better. The answer is relatively simple; these built-in amps are small, weak and unable to power your headphones to their full potential like a standalone headphone amp*.

Knowing Your Needs

 

Headphone Amps Make Your Music Sound Better
 

Now, when looking into buying a headphone amplifier, the most important thing to know is what you are going to be using it for. If you’re someone who likes listening to music when you’re out and about, travelling or just moving around the house, you’re probably going to want to pick up a portable headphone amp.
Portable Headphone Amplifiers
Portable Headphone Amps Can Fit Virtually Anywhere

Portable headphone amps are just what you would expect; compact, lightweight and easy to carry around with you. Portable headphone amps are typically powered by an internal rechargeable battery or USB connection and have at least one 3.5mm or 1/4” input jack. Intended mostly for use with smartphones, MP3 players, tablets and other portable music players, these amps will also often come with integrated controls for volume, EQ settings for bass, treble, gain and balance and some can even remotely control songs from your device. Select portable amps can also keep your device charged during use so you never have to worry about running out of juice.
Desktop Headphone Amplifiers
Desktop Headphone Amplifier

On the other hand, if you love nothing more than coming home after a long day and relaxing in your favorite chair with your music, a desktop headphone amplifier is the way to go. Desktop amps can be much larger than their portable counterparts and are designed primarily for use with your PC, music server or laptop. Many desktop amplifiers come with a built-in Digital Analog Converter (DAC) which converts the digital signal coming from your device to an analog signal into your headphones to provide an even more clean, crisp sound (some portable headphones also have a built-in DAC, but it is primarily a desktop feature). Desktop amplifiers can also come with integrated full EQ settings and sound controls.
Other Important Information
Grado RA-1 Headphone Amplifier

Other things to take into consideration when looking for a headphone amp include the specs of your headphones themselves. The efficiency (sensitivity) of your headphones indicates how loudly they will play given a specific amount of power. This rating is typically stated as a certain decibel level (dB) reached with 1 milliwatt (mW) of power. The more efficient your headphones the higher the number, with anything over 100dB considered incredibly efficient. The output impedance of the amplifier is another key piece of information to be aware of; the overall sound quality improves the lower the amplifier’s impedance.

Headphone amps can also function as splitters with multiple headphone inputs which are great for listening parties. Headphone amplifiers can also come with 3.5mm or 1/4” input jacks to support even the highest quality of headphones. High end audiophile-grade headphone amplifiers come with optical inputs to provide the cleanest sound possible.

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