What Are Open-back Headphones? Open-back Headphones VS Closed-Back Headphones

Open-back headphone2

If you’re not familiar with all the terminologies required to understand what we’re talking about, sorting through audio reviews can be a little intimidating. It’s not surprising that buzzwords and jargon can cause your eyes to a little bit glaze over given how complicated personal audio can be. Even if you spend a lot of money on a set of cans that you intend to use every day, some of these things can’t be ignored.

Open-back versus closed-back headphones is one of these phrases. The idea is straightforward, but there are less obvious reasons to choose one kind of headphone over another.

Note from the editor: On June 15, 2021, technical information was updated in this article.

What Are Open-back Headphones?

Open-back headphones allow air to flow through their ear cups from the speaker driver’s back. As a result, the rear enclosure’s resonances and low-frequency buildup aren’t a problem. Due to their ability to sound more natural and clear, many expensive high-end headphones have open backs.

But in reality, that only applies when there is no nearby noise. Because open-back headphones can’t block outside noise that well, you’ll hear everything going on around you. On top of that, they also leak sound out. In terms of isolation, they don’t have much to offer. As a result, if you work in an office, your coworkers will be able to hear what you are listening to and will be able to hear them criticizing your musical preferences. You should leave these headphones at home even though they may sound great.

Because there is less to prevent moisture from entering the delicate electronics, open-backed headphones are also more likely to break than closed-back headphones. It’s important to handle these headphones gently.

The Basics

Closed-back headphones and open-back headphones are similar in appearance, but there is a key difference. Air and sound can freely pass through the earcup thanks to built-in gaps in the outer housing. A perforated housing prevents pressure buildup and promotes a more natural sound that is perfect for critical listening. They are incredibly light and comfortable to wear for extended periods of time.

A Brief History

The first open-back headphones to be made available to consumers were Sennheiser’s HD 414 in 1968. In addition to having a lighter, lower-profile design, they had a less boxy sound than closed-backs. In addition to using them alongside earlier models, customers and professionals fell in love with the design right away. Since then, companies like Beyerdynamic, Focal, and AKG have contributed to raising the performance, comfort, and affordability of open-back headphones to new heights.


Open-back headphones sacrifice isolation for better sound reproduction. Anyone nearby will be able to hear what you’re listening to because open-back headphones don’t cancel out any background noise. However, this absence of isolation results in a listening experience that is unparalleled. They make the singer sound like they’re treating you to a private concert in the comfort of your living room rather than like you’re in an isolation booth with them. Open-back headphones are great for mixing, critical listening, and general home use.

Key Points

  • Perforated housing lets air and sound travel freely in and out of the earcups
  • Deliver a spacious, airy sound
  • Provide no isolation

Open-back Headphones Are Good For:

  • Critical listening
  • Mixing and mastering
  • High-quality audio files
  • At-home listening

Open-back Headphones Are Not Good For:

  • Commuting
  • Blocking outside noise
  • Listening on the plane
  • Listening at the office
  • Listening at the gym

What Are Closed-back Headphones?

Closed-back headphones are ones that have the backs completely sealed off, only allowing sound to pass through to your ears. This means that while your music may not be as natural-sounding as it would on an open-backed set of headphones, closed-back headphones will block out a lot more outside noise, yielding much better isolation.

Low frequencies can sound amplified, or “bumped-up,” and won’t sound as natural due to the resonance of the sealed rear chamber. Another thing to think about is the possibility of your ears getting a little warm from prolonged use of closed-back headphones. However, these are generally the best option for listening to music while commuting or in public spaces.

You should bring closed-back headphones with you if you frequently travel by car, train, or airplane. Additionally, closed-back headphones allow you to listen to yourself while you record without much risk of your mic picking up more noise if you’re making music in a studio.

The Basics

Headphones with a closed-back design are constructed as their name implies. To prevent any sound from escaping, closed-back headphones have sealed housings. This provides you with impressive isolation by having the same effect on outside noise. You’ll notice that these headphones sometimes feel thicker and more substantial than their open-back counterparts.

A Brief History

Prior to 1937, radio/telephone operators and members of the military were the main users of closed-back headphones. Beyerdynamic unveiled the DT 48 headphones, the first consumer-grade headphones, after spotting a gap in the market. Although they couldn’t play stereo audio, they were incredibly popular. The Koss SP/3 stereo headphones, the first contemporary closed-back design, became a global phenomenon by 1958. Manufacturers have since pushed the boundaries of headphone design to create more lifelike sounds, improve isolation, and provide active noise cancellation. As a result, closed-back headphones have emerged as some of the most well-liked designs available right now.


Because they block out the outside world and put the music front and center, closed-back headphones are extremely popular. You’ll detect some passive isolation and a slight boost in the bass response. Closed-back headphones give the impression that you are in the studio with the people you are listening to by offering passive noise cancellation. For situations where attention and focus are essential, this performance trait excels. For studio use, closed-back headphones are the preferred option. They enable you to record soft sounds such as voices or instruments without being concerned that your microphone will pick up the sound coming from your headphones.

Key Points

  • Closed housing seals to your head and prevents sound and air leakage
  • Provide isolation from the outside world
  • Enhanced bass response

Closed-back Headphones Are Good For:

  • Casual listening
  • Listening at the office
  • Commuting
  • Recording audio

Closed-back Headphones Are Not Good For:

  • Venting heat around your ears
  • Working out
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What Are Headphones With A Semi-open Back?

Semi-open-back headphones have a closed back but don’t completely seal the rear of the speaker elements, allowing some air to enter and exit the chamber. While this does allow the headphones to have some of the advantages of open-back headphones, they will have all of their disadvantages as well. Although less than open-back headphones, semi-open-backed headphones will still leak sound and let in noise.

Semi-open-back Headphones Are Good For:

  • Casual listening
  • Listening at home

Semi-open Headphones Are Not Good For:

  • Commuting
  • Listening at the office
  • Blocking outside noise

One kind of headset isn’t necessarily better than the other, as you may have noticed. However, some situations call for particular designs.

Which To Buy?

Which type to buy is now our main concern, having learned a little bit about the distinctions between the two types of headphones. Although the primary consideration when purchasing headphones should always be listening enjoyment, this particular open-versus-closed argument actually pushes another factor to the fore. Your primary concern should be where you’re going to be using the headphones. Despite their fantastic open sound, open-back headphones are a terrible choice if you frequently travel in mixed company (such as in an open-floor office or on the subway).); no matter how great they sound there’s no way to get around how rude it is to blast your tunes off your head like you’re wearing some sort of speaker-studded helmet.

After taking into account the primary use location, it becomes a matter of preference. Some people adore the seclusion that closed-back headphones give you, and they want to be able to close their eyes and lose themselves in the music no matter where they are. Others prefer the (in our opinion, rather magical) sensation of open-back headphones, which makes them feel as though the band they’re listening to has been delivered right to the space they’re sitting in.

However, before making a decision about a pair of headphones, we’d strongly advise looking outside of your typical big-box electronics store shopping experience and seeing if there are any small-time record stores, music stores, instrument stores, or other stores in your area that are both more knowledgeable about headphones and will have a variety of headphones for you to try out. Wishing you luck as you look for the ideal cans!

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