Understanding the Differences Between Open-Back and Closed-Back Headphones

Shopping for headphones can be confusing. Are you overwhelmed with the variety of open-back and closed-back headphones? You’re not alone!

In this guide, we will uncover the nuances and differences between the two. Whether you’re looking to understand sound quality or simply know which one is best for you, you’ll gain an informed perspective.

Headphones are an essential tool for any musician, audiophile, or podcast enthusiast. Finding the right headphones can be an overwhelming task, but understanding the differences between open-back and closed-back headphones is an important first step.

This guide will provide a comprehensive overview of open-back and closed-back headphones. We’ll examine their construction, sound characteristics, common features, acoustic leakage, comfort factors, levels of isolation, audio recording use cases, and more. Ultimately our goal is to equip you with a better understanding of both types of headphones so that you can make the best decision when choosing your own set.

Explanation of the importance of understanding the differences between open-back and closed-back headphones

Selecting the right headphones for your specific needs is crucial to ensuring you get the most out of your audio experience. With Open-back and closed-back headphones being two of the most popular options in the market, it’s essential to understand their key differences and the impact this can have on your listening experience.

Open-Back Headphones: Open-back headphones allow sound to pass through freely, resulting in a more “open” feel and allowing air to flow through the earcups. This allows for a more spacious soundstage that accurately emulates an acoustic environment and as such these type of headphones are ideal for monitoring music, audiobooks and film or TV soundtracks.

Closed-Back Headphones: Closed-Back headphones feature shells (earcups) that completely enclose your ears preventing any external sound from entering or leaving, thus providing insulation and noise isolation. As well as increasing comfort levels so there is no pressure on your ears, these type of headphone provide a tight seal around your ears which blocks outside noise interference making them perfect for focused listening whether you are playing video games or recording/mixing music.

Both design have their pros and cons, so carefully consider what it is that you need out of your audio experience before deciding which type best suits your needs.

Overview of the article

This article plans to give readers a complete guide into the differences between open-back and closed-back headphones. It will provide an in-depth overview of both types of headphones, as well as their main pros and cons.

Furthermore, it will explain which sound quality is better, and how closed-back headphones offer enhanced noise isolation capabilities compared to open-back ones. Additionally, readers will learn how the use of their headphones should be determined based on the type of activity they plan on doing while wearing them, as well as tips on how to get the best sound quality out of their device.

Finally, readers can expect a conclusion that summarizes all of the features and drawbacks associated with each headphone type.

Open-Back Headphones

Open-back headphones, also known as “open-aired” or “open-air” headphones, are designed to have their earcups open and exposed at the rear. This provides for an increased sense of openness and airiness that cannot be achieved by closed-back headphones.

The open design allows sound from the speakers to move freely from the front to the back of the headphone, resulting in a more natural sounding audio experience with greater sense of presence, spaciousness and detail.

The downside is that sound leakage is much more prominent on open-back headphones so these should not be used in noisy environments where you wouldn’t want your music or conversation overheard by others nearby.

Definition and explanation of open-back headphones

Open-back headphones refer to a certain type of earphones that feature an open-air design with holes or vents on the back housing of the ear cups. This design allows air to pass between the driver and your ear, reducing the pressure buildup. As a result, open-back headphones generally have a less bass-heavy sound with emphasis on midrange and treble frequencies and an extended soundstage for a more natural listening experience. They also provide less sound isolation than other types of headphones, so any outside noises will be more audible.

The main advantage of open-back designs is that they can create an organic and spacious soundstage compared to closed-back designs which can cause waves reverberation within your head. Open-backs also provide a unique level of comfort as the weight is evenly distributed around the top of the head instead of completely resting on your ears like other types of headphones do. This makes them ideal for extended periods of listening since you won’t experience uncomfortable feelings in your ears when using them.

While they are better suited for home use due to their low level of sound isolation, open backs are also popular among audiophiles who value transparency in their audio output over noise reduction reasons due to their airy sound signature. Open back models tend to be pricier than closed back ones due to their superior craftsmanship and extra attention paid by manufacturers in order to retain consistency between units thus making them great for those who don’t mind spending that little bit extra for audio excellence.

Advantages of open-back headphones

Open-back headphones provide more natural sound and better quality stereo imaging than closed-back headphones. Because there is an open rear air space, they allow air circulation, permitting sound to pass through with little distortion. This means that audio reproduction is more open and natural than with closed-back headphones.

Open-back headphones often offer a wider sound stage, allowing a greater sense of depth of field in which instruments and vocalists are separated in space rather than just left or right. They also offer more clarity at higher frequencies, allowing higher notes and details to emerge from the mix without feeling overly harsh.

Another advantage of open-back headphones is that they tend to be more comfortable for extended wear due to their less restrictive fit versus closed-back designs. Many audiophiles appreciate this feature for long studio sessions or for enjoying music over extended time periods. The breathability of the open headphone design also reduces heat build-up during periods of use.

Improved soundstage

Open-back headphones are preferable for those wanting a natural soundstage with improved accuracy and spaciousness, as the open design allows air to move freely between the speaker element and outer enclosure. This results in a greater naturalness of sound across the frequency spectrum as compared to most closed-back earphones.

Additionally, open-back headphones allow more breathability, which provides better comfort over extended listening sessions while avoiding irregular sweat build up that can be experienced with sealed headphones. The immersive feeling that open-back headphones offer is more appreciated by audiophiles.Open-Back vs Closed-Back Headphones - Shure USA

Better ventilation

The open-back headphones structure has some added benefits compared to closed-back headphones. For starters, they provide superior ventilation and breathability due to their ventilated design. Air can pass through the void between the driver and your ear, delivering a feeling of airiness that can be quite pleasant. This also means less heat will build around your ears over long listening sessions, as it doesn’t get trapped in the earcup like with closed-back models.

This is also why most audiophiles prefer open-back headphones for listening to long albums or mixing music as they won’t need to worry about sweating while wearing them. Since air pressure is generally lower in and around the main driver of open-back headphones, this allows certain frequencies (mostly the high ones) to rise up more clearly and thus providing a smoother sound quality.

That being said, this type of headphone usually emphasizes upper frequencies creating what is known as “inverse masking” – offering more detailed audio without creating fatigue on one’s ears over time.

Reduced sound distortion

In open-back headphones, sound distortion is reduced because the driver doesn’t have to work as hard. It doesn’t need to push air through a closed-back structure, which takes more energy and can cause distortion.

For example, if you were to increase the volume on your music or audio track, you would find that the sound in your open-back headphones remains clear and precise while there is a certain level of distortion in closed-back headphones. This is because the sound waves released by an open-back headphone are not enclosed by a solid shell which causes them to reverberate outwards and dissipate naturally. Closed-back headphones have solid shells that contain these reverberations which can lead to distorted sounds if not handled correctly.

Disadvantages of open-back headphones

Open-back headphones have their disadvantages as well. Firstly, they will to allow ambient noise to come in and mix with the audio you’re listening to, resulting in sound leakage and distracting background noise. In fact, sound can escape open-back headphones so easily that you should be careful not to expose your neighbors (or recording engineers) to your music!

Open-back models also lack the bass response of closed-back designs and are more prone to interference from other electronic devices. Finally, some people just find that the open nature of open-back headphones makes them feel less secure and slightly more prone to fall off during active use.

In short: if sound isolation or blocking out the world is what you’re after, open-back headphones may not be right for you.

Poor noise isolation

The difference between open-back and closed-back headphones is mainly in their sound quality and the amount of noise isolation they provide. Closed-back headphones are designed to fit snugly around the head, forming a seal that helps isolate outside noise and prevent sound leakage. Open-back headphones are designed differently and provide less noise isolation, allowing some sound leakage to occur. As such, closed-back headphones are generally better for listening in noisy environments such as airports or other public places, while open-back headphones often offer better sound quality when listening in quieter conditions.

In terms of poor noise isolation, open-backs typically have bigger perforations that allow more external sound to enter the earcup. Meanwhile, closed-backs use foam padding or fabric covering to create a tight seal around the ears so that external sounds don’t interfere with enjoyment of your music. For example, if you’re commuting or sitting in an office cubicle with a lot of ambient noise around you an open back headphone isn’t ideal. A closed back design would be much better in this circumstance as it will help block out some of the background noises and allow you focus on what’s important – your music!

Sound leakage

The primary difference between open-back and closed-back headphones is the amount of sound leakage that each will produce.

Open-back headphones allow sound to flow freely through their grills and out into the room. This is great for producing realistic 3D audio, as sounds can move around the environment without any impediment. However, it also means that users who listen to music at higher volumes or bass frequencies are likely to disturb those around them.

Closed-back headphones completely seal off the headphone’s internals, which helps reduce sound leakage significantly. They direct sound only inward, towards the ear; this allows users to listen at higher volumes without disturbing those in their vicinity.

Examples of open-back headphones

Open-back headphones are known for their sound clarity and sense of space, elements rarely found in closed-back headphones. However, there are a few cons that come with open-back headphones. The most notable of these is the fact that sound can leak out of the headphone and be heard by those around you. This makes them unsuitable for use in noisy environments, such as a train or plane, since anyone sitting around you will hear anything coming out of your headset. That said, they are still great for home listening and monitoring applications where leakage is less likely to be an issue.

If you’re looking to buy some open-back headphones, here are some great options to get you started:

-Audio Technica ATH-AD2000X -Fostex T50RP MK3 -AKG K712 PRO -Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro -Sennheiser HD 800 SWhat's the Difference Between Open-Back and Closed-Back Headphones, and  Which Should I Get?


In conclusion, both open-back and closed-back headphones have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Open-back headphones allow for a more natural soundscape, but they lack in isolation and leakage control which can be an issue if you like to use your headphones in public spaces. Closed-back headphones maintain the volume of sound while keeping any leaks or outside noise at bay, though they can result in a slightly flat soundstage.

Based on the type of listening experience you’re after, it’s best to determine which type of headphone will suit your needs better before buying.


Why are open back headphones better than closed-back?

Open back headphones are better than closed-back headphones in certain situations because they offer a more natural and spacious soundstage. They also tend to have a more accurate frequency response, which makes them ideal for critical listening and mixing. Additionally, they are generally more comfortable to wear for long periods of time because they don’t create a sealed environment around your ears.

What is the sound difference between open and closed headphones?

The sound difference between open and closed headphones is that open headphones tend to have a more natural and spacious soundstage, while closed headphones offer better isolation and a more focused sound. Open headphones also tend to have a more accurate frequency response, which makes them ideal for critical listening and mixing.

Why buy closed-back headphones?

Closed-back headphones are a good choice if you need isolation from outside noise or if you want to keep your music to yourself. They are also a good choice for bass-heavy music, as the closed design can create more low-end emphasis. Additionally, closed-back headphones tend to be more affordable than open-back headphones.

Do open back headphones breath better?

Yes, open back headphones tend to “breathe” better than closed-back headphones because they allow air to flow in and out of the ear cups. This makes them more comfortable to wear for long periods of time, especially in warmer environments.

Do I want closed or open back headphones?

Whether you want closed or open back headphones depends on your specific needs and preferences. If you need isolation from outside noise or if you want to keep your music to yourself, closed-back headphones may be a better choice. If you prioritize a more natural and spacious soundstage and don’t mind some sound leakage, open-back headphones may be a better choice.

What is the difference between 80 ohm and 250 ohm headphones?

The main difference between 80 ohm and 250 ohm headphones is the amount of power required to drive them. 80 ohm headphones require less power and can be driven by portable devices like smartphones and laptops, while 250 ohm headphones require more power and may require an external amplifier to sound their best.

Why do closed-back headphones have more bass?

Closed-back headphones have more bass because the sealed ear cups create a more focused sound, which can emphasize low frequencies. This effect is known as the “proximity effect” and can make closed-back headphones a good choice for bass-heavy music.

Can others hear open back headphones?

Yes, others can hear open-back headphones to some extent because they leak sound. However, the amount of sound leakage varies depending on the specific headphones and the volume level. Generally, open-back headphones are not a good choice if you need to keep your music to yourself.

Are open headphones safer?

Open headphones are generally considered safer than closed-back headphones because they allow you to hear your surroundings more clearly. This can be especially important if you are using headphones while walking, running, or cycling in a busy area. However, it’s important to keep the volume at a safe level to avoid damaging your hearing.

Do closed-back headphones leak sound?

Yes, closed-back headphones can leak sound, but to a lesser extent than open-back headphones. The amount of sound leakage depends on the specific headphones and the volume level. Generally, closed-back headphones are a good choice if you need isolation from outside noise or if you want to keep your music to yourself.

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