You’ll typically find two types of headphones on the market, open-back and closed-back headphones. However, both come with different applications, pros, and cons.
As their names suggest, open-back headphones come with ear cups that are not entirely closed, whereas closed-back headphones have completely sealed ear cups. You’ll also find semi-open (also known as semi-closed) headphones that sit between open-back and closed-back headphones.
These differences in the design of ear cups can lead to differences in sound quality, noise isolation, comfort, durability and applications.
Therefore, whether you’re an audiophile, music professional or gamer, you must understand the difference between both types of headphones to make an informed purchase.
In this post, we’ll discuss the complete open-back vs. closed-back headphones comparison.
What Is the Difference in the Sound Quality of Open-Back and Closed-Back Headphones?
Difference in Soundstage
Open-back headphones have a wider soundstage when compared to closed-back headphones. In simpler words, the open-back design provides a more spacious and realistic feeling to the listener as sound travels through the open ear cups.
On the other hand, closed-back headphones have a narrower soundstage. The enclosed ear cup design traps the sound inside. The result is a more bass-rich and immersive listening experience.
Difference in Stereo Imaging
Due to their open ear cup design, open-back headphones deliver better stereo imaging, which means that the listener can get a better sense of the positioning of vocals and instruments in a track.
Since closed-back headphones have sealed ear cups, the sense of positioning and space is missing in the sound. Therefore, they lack in terms of stereo imaging of the sound.
What Is the Difference in Noise Isolation Provided by Open-Back and Closed-Back Headphones?
Since open-back headphones comprise open ear cups, they are not designed to block external noise. Therefore, they do not provide noise isolation.
Open-back headphones allow sound to travel through the open ear cups to enhance the spatial feel; therefore, they are highly sensitive to background noise.
Closed-back headphones provide excellent noise isolation as they’re designed to completely block external noise.
What Is the Difference in the Comfort Provided by Open-Back and Closed-Back Headphones?
Open-back headphones are better in terms of comfort as their open ear cups are typically made of lightweight material. The open, airy design makes them suitable for extended use as it allows better ventilation, especially during the sultry summer months.
Closed-back headphones may not feel as comfortable as open-back headphones for prolonged use as the sealed ear cups can lead to heat buildup and sweating.
What Is the Difference in the Durability of Open-Back and Closed-Back Headphones?
The durability of open-back and closed-back headphones depends on their design and build.
Open-back headphones typically have a delicate design, which can make them vulnerable to wear and tear. Moreover, the open ear cups can become an easy passage of dirt, dust and grime. Since closed-back headphones have sealed ear cups, they are more robust.
The durability and longevity of both types of headphones can also differ based on how you handle them.
What Are the Different Applications of Open-Back and Closed-Back Headphones?
The best open-back headphones come with a more open and spacious soundstage. Therefore, they can be a great choice if you’re looking for headphones for music listening.
This one’s a tough choice.
Both open-back and closed-back headphones can make good gaming headphones as they come with their own advantages and disadvantages for gaming enthusiasts.
Open-back headphones deliver a wider soundstage; therefore, they can help in tracking the position of opponents and other sounds in games. Moreover, since they come with open ear cups, they allow more ventilation during exhausting and extended gaming sessions.
Even though open-back headphones provide a more immersive gaming experience, they allow the entry of external noise, which makes them unsuitable for noisy environments.
On the other hand, closed-back headphones are entirely sealed and block external noise. Therefore, they allow you to better focus during gaming sessions.
While closed-back headphones also allow an immersive gaming experience, the closed ear cups can lead to sweating and cause discomfort during long gaming sessions.
Professional Music Production
For example, open-back headphones are great for mixing and mastering. Whereas, closed-back headphones are highly preferred for recording and monitoring.
Open-back headphones come with a wider and natural soundstage, and deliver better stereo imaging. Therefore, they allow music producers to better position elements in a mix.
Using open-back headphones, music producers can listen to different instruments and vocals more accurately, and place them accordingly to produce great results.
Closed-back headphones are completely sealed. Therefore, they do not leak sound, which makes them great for recordings.
Also, they provide excellent noise isolation, which makes them ideal for monitoring mixes and critical listening, especially the low-frequency elements.
Pros and Cons of Open-Back vs. Closed-Back Headphones
Things We Liked About Open-Back Headphones
- Wider and more natural soundstage
- Better stereo imaging
- Comfortable for extended use
- Suitable for audiophiles
- Suitable for mixing and mastering
Things We Did Not Like About Open-Back Headphones
- Do not provide noise isolation
- Sound leakage
- Not suitable for studio recording and monitoring
Things We Liked About Closed-Back Headphones
- Provide excellent noise isolation
- Deliver bass-rich sound
- Suitable for studio recording and monitoring
- Less sound leakage
Things We Did Not Like About Closed-Back Headphones
- Narrow soundstage
- Limited stereo imaging
- Less ventilated; may not be comfortable for extended wearing
We sincerely hope you found our open-back vs. closed-back headphones comparison useful.
We haven’t discussed semi-open headphones in length, as they share the properties of both open-back and closed-back headphones. You can use them for music listening, gaming and music production.
As you’re clearly seen above, both types of headphones are winners in their virtues. Therefore, to make an informed purchase, you need to clearly know your requirements.
If you’re an audiophile, you can pick open-back headphones without thinking twice. They provide more natural sound.
If you’re a gaming enthusiast, you can try both open-back and closed-back headphones depending on whether you’re looking for an isolated and immersive gaming experience, or a more comfortable one.