Open Back Vs. Closed Back Headphones

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Open Back and Closed Back - What Does That Mean?

To put it simply, open back and closed back headphones are precisely what you may think - open back headphones have the audio drivers in the earcups exposed on the outside, while they are closed off by plastic, wood, or metal in closed back headphones. This difference in the build of headphones has some critical ramifications that any headphone user must consider when jumping in.

The Soundstage Factor

There are many audiophile terms that go into what sound is desired in headphones, but the key thing affected by open back vs. closed back is the soundstage, the separation of instruments and how "wide" the audio is being interpreted by the brain.

Open back headphones are generally advantageous here. Without that seal around your ears, it may be easier for a pair of headphones to be able to place a guitar further to the left or right, or to have a string orchestra feel like they are separated on a wide physical stage. Closed back headphones tend to have the audio effect of the sound being "inside your head".

Advantage: Open Back

The Comfort Factor

Especially when considering long listening sessions, never underestimate the importance of comfort with a pair of headphones. It's important to remember that every manufacturer will have different levels of comfort, but a general rule of thumb is that open back headphones are better suited towards longer listening times. The air circulation around your ears will prevent them from getting sweaty over time unlike closed back headphones.

Advantage: Open Back

The Portability Factor

One of the biggest reasons many people need headphones is to travel with them and listen on-the-go. Closed back headphones is without contest the way to go here. Due to the design of open back headphones, sound leaks out and even listening at a reasonably low volume will be sure to disturb others in the room, bus, subway, lecture hall, or wherever you may want to use them. Closed back designs excel at blocking noise towards the outside, and many "noise cancelling" headphones actually block noise coming from the outside.

Advantage: Closed Back

The Bass Factor

If you're a basshead, having that thump rattle your brain is one of the greatest sensations. In this case, you're looking for closed back headphones. While good open back headphones can articulate bass very well, a major factor of that earth shattering bass effect is sealed air. Closed back headphones create that pressurized air by blocking airflow from the audio drivers to your ears, allowing for deeper and more impactful bass.

Advantage: Closed Back

The Personal Preference Factor

The most important thing about how good headphones sound is, well, how much you enjoy the sound! Audio is different for everybody, and everyone has their own personal likes and dislikes that can't be measured in purely objective terms. Additionally, many quality closed back headphones can outperform many open back headphones in any of these factors and vice versa. Always remember to consider each manufacturer and model in addition to these headphone types, so that you can achieve true audio bliss.

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