Open back vs closed back headphones is a perennial dilemma for all audiophiles. What is the difference between them? Getting straight to the point, it’s the difference in the way their housings are constructed.
For personal listening and professional applications where external noise or using your phone’s speaker is an issue, a closed-back design will be your best friend.
For casual listening at home or behind closed doors, you may like a pair of open-backs. Here’s more.
Prior to 1937, closed-back headphones were chiefly used by the military and radio/telephone operators. Sensing a gap in the market, Beyerdynamic introduced the DT 48 headphones — the first consumer-grade headphones. They became incredibly popular but were unable to play audio in stereo.
By 1958, the first modern closed-back model, the Koss SP/3 stereo headphones, took the world by storm. Since then, manufacturers have been pushing the limits of headphone design to produce more realistic sounds and better isolation and to deliver active noise cancellation.
As a result of that, closed-back headphones have become extremely popular among audiophiles today.
What lies inside
Closed-back headphones are built exactly how the name suggests. The housing of closed-back headphones is sealed to block any sound from escaping.
This has the same effect on outside noise, as well, giving you fantastic isolation. As a result, these hospitals tend to feel more substantial and chunkier than their open-back counterparts.
Closed-back headphones are so popular because they shut out the world and let the music take center stage. You’ll notice a slight boost in the bass response (especially in non-monitor headphones) and a certain amount of passive isolation.
By providing passive noise cancellation, closed-back headphones make you feel as if you’re in the studio with those you’re listening to. This performance characteristic is excellent when focus and concentration are paramount.
Closed-back headphones are the first choice for studio use, too. They let you track quiet instruments or voices without worrying that the mic might pick up headphone sound.
- Closed housing seals around your ears and prevents sound and air leakage
- Provides isolation from the outside world
- Enhanced bass response
In 1968, Sennheiser’s HD 414 headphones became the first open-back headphones to hit the consumer market. They were less boxy-sounding than closed-backs and came with a lightweight, low-profile design.
This made them extremely popular. Consumers and professionals immediately fell in love with the design, using them alongside the models of years past. Since then, brands like Beyerdynamic, Focal, and AKG have helped push open-back headphones to new levels of performance, affordability, and comfort.
What lies inside
Open-back headphones have a similar design to closed-back headphones with an important distinction. The outer housing has built-in gaps. This lets air and sound go through the earcup.
A perforated housing eliminates pressure buildup and encourages a more natural sound that’s ideal for critical listening. They’re lightweight and incredibly comfortable for prolonged usage.
The improved sound reproduction of open-back headphones comes at the expense of isolation. Open-back headphones are not capable of blocking any ambient noise, which means that anyone nearby will hear what you’re listening to.
However, this lack of isolation delivers a listening experience in a class of its own. Instead of sounding like you’re in the isolation booth with a singer, you get the experience of being in a concert within the confines of your living room. Open-back headphones are excellent for critical listening applications, mixing, and everyday use at home.
- Perforated housing lets air and sound travel freely in and out of the earcups
- Delivers a spacious, airy sound
- Provides no isolation