Open-back versus Closed-back Headphones

Open vs Closed back headphones

There’s obviously no right or wrong choice here - everyone has varied opinions, requirements and listening environments, but here’s a brief rundown of the pros & cons of each design.

Open-back: The Good - Accuracy, Comfort

  • Open-back models can often sound more airy, clear or spacious versus their closed counterparts. With no enclosed ear cup to concentrate bass build-up, a more accurate bottom end picture is presented.
  • Some also say open-back headphones present a wider stereo image
  • Open-back headphones won't sound exactly like a pair of studio monitors because they cannot produce acoustic crosstalk, but the two listening experiences are still reminiscent of one another. (*-There are certain headphone amps that will mix this natural crosstalk into the stereo field though)
  • Reduced ear fatigue with better comfort over longer listening sessions.

Open-back: the not-so-good - Spill, Lack of Isolation

  • Open back headphones will spill their signal into your recording environment much more readily than closed back. Not ideal if you’re looking to reduce, say, bleed in a vocal take.
  • Similarly, when using your headphones for listening purposes, everyone can hear what you’re listening to, and any ambient sound gets right in and mixes with your music.

Closed-back: The Good - Isolation, Privacy, Focus

  • Ability to isolate users from unwanted external noise far better than open headphones. The closed back of the headphone cups will block out extraneous noise to a degree. Good for tracking close to a mic where you want to prevent headphone-spill as much as possible. Also more suited to commuting and noisy environments in a listening capacity.
  • Bass buildup may increase or ‘juice’ the bottom end

Closed-back: The not-so-good - Fatiguing over time, Possible low-end Bias

  • Prolonged listening may be uncomfortable due to heat from lack of ventilation
  • Bass buildup may increase or ‘juice’ the bottom end

Footnote: The Ugly

  • Try to avoid purchasing any headphone that lacks a decent level of comfort. Chances are you’ll be wearing them in longish stints, so factor that into your research.
  • Similarly with audio quality - more inexpensive headphones will behave like low quality speakers in that they will colour your sound, possibly accentuating the bottom or top end to sound ‘more exciting’. This will reduce the accuracy of your mixes/recordings and really wear your ears down over time (the effect is concentrated because these speakers are mounted directly over your ear canal, remember).

Open-back headphones we highly recommend: Audeze LCD-X, LCD-1

Closed-back headphones we highly recommend: ADAM Audio SP-5, Audeze LCD-2C Closed Back

Headphones range

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