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Open-back vs Closed-back headphones

Headphones are an important part of our daily lives. From busy transit lines to quiet office spaces, you’re guaranteed to see someone wearing them at any given time. 

However, among the plethora of headphone options that we have on the market now, the good ones cost quite a bit. If you’re going to pick up a pair of headphones, it pays to know which type to get.

In this article, we’re comparing open-back headphones to their closed-back counterparts, so you know which one to pick when you’re making a decision next.

Also read: How to make a Bluetooth speaker louder?


Build type

Closed-back headphones may be the most common type of headphones out there, but they’re definitely not as high on the scale as open-back ones.

In-ear earphones vs On-ear headphones vs Over-ear headphones
Photo by Tomasz Gawlowski

You see, as the name suggests, closed-back headphones have a sealed back behind the drivers, giving the sound nowhere to go but your ears. On open-back is the exact opposite; the back panel has vents allowing air to pass through the speaker driver.

It eliminates the problem of having to deal with any resonance or low-frequency buildup caused by the rear enclosure and helps make the sound more natural and clear. 


Immersion

Closed-back headphones create an isolated bubble around you which gives you a feeling of the music inside your head. Open-back headphones literally open the experience up instead. 

The absence of any rear panels means that you get more of a surround sounds feeling, as if you’re in the studio with the musicians. This is also the reason why most high-end headphones are open-back. 

Also read: 2-way vs 3-way speakers: Key differences


Isolation

While the open-back design may help get you clear and a more surround sound experience, it can be ruined by any noise around you that you don’t want to listen to. There’s some audio isolation here but not enough to block out the pesky coworker slamming keys on their mechanical keyboard. You’re also going to bleed sounds which means people around you will hear what you’re hearing.

Bose 700 vs Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones: Which one to choose?
Closed-back headphones offer better isolation.

Closed-back headphones, on the other hand, are pretty good at isolating outside noise. Since the earcup is completely sealed, they form a passive audio shield just by sitting on your ears. A lot of closed-back headphones go the extra mile and add active noise cancellation, further ensuring that you hear nothing but whatever it is you want. 


Open-back vs Closed-back: Pros and cons

Here are a few pros and cons of both types of headphones.

Open-backClosed-back
Very little outside noise isolation.Good outside noise isolation.
Somewhat surround sound-like effect.Feels like the music is playing in your head.
Generally pricier.Available in a lot of different price ranges.
Issues with sound bleeding.Minimal sound bleeding.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, the choice comes down to your use case. If you’re picking up headphones for everyday use, whether on the subway or in the office, closed-back headphones are the way to go. 

However, if you intend to listen to music at a quiet place, let’s say your living room without much noise around and where you’ll be okay with people hearing what you hear, an open-back pair of headphones can pleasantly surprise you.

Also read: What is a Subwoofer? How is it different from woofers and speakers?

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