What Are Open-Back Headphones? (Pros & Cons)

Open-Back Headphones

In the world of audio, open-back headphones are fairly common, particularly among audiophiles and audio engineers. However, when it comes to earbuds, tradition favors noise cancellation, portability, and simplicity of use.

It seems that convenience and high sound quality are two opposing forces that can never get along. But open-back earbuds are helping to change this. Let’s examine what they are, how they operate, their advantages and disadvantages, whether or not they are worth the money, and the distinction between open-back and closed-back headphones.

Open-back Headphones

Open-Back Headphones2

The Basics

Closed-back headphones and open-back headphones are similar in design, but there is a key difference. Air and sound can freely pass through the earcup due to built-in gaps in the outer housing. For a more natural sound that is best for critical listening, a perforated housing reduces pressure buildup. They are incredibly lightweight and comfortable to wear all day.

A Brief History

The first open-back headphones to be made available to consumers was Sennheiser’s HD 414 in 1968. Compared to closed-backs, they had a less boxy sound and a lightweight, low-profile design. In addition to using them alongside earlier models, customers and professionals fell in love with the design right away. Open-back headphones have since reached new heights of performance, affordability, and comfort thanks to companies like Beyerdynamic, Focal, and AKG.


Open-back headphones’ enhanced sound reproduction comes at the expense of isolation. Anyone nearby will be able to hear what you are 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 sound more like a singer is treating you to a private concert in the comfort of your living room rather than like you are in an isolation booth with them. Open-back headphones are great for mixing, critical listening, and general home use.

Advantages of Open Back Headphones

More Open Soundstage

Open-back headphones sound better, which is their main benefit. They produce a wider, more expansive soundstage with a richer aural environment.

Solid cups do not reflect or dampen sound waves, which allows them to pass freely. Instead of sounding obviously coming from the headphones around your head, they sound more like speakers in a room with good room acoustics. They can also be used effectively as gaming headphones where spatial audio is crucial.

The decreased practicality may not be worth it for many people despite the improved sound characteristics. But suppose you’re an audiophile who spends a few thousand dollars on a set of headphones. You’re looking for absolute audio perfection and don’t want to make any compromises in terms of sound quality.

More Comfortable

The open back also allows you to get fresh air in your ears. Compared to closed-back headphones, everything feels airier and less congested.

They’re popular among gamers who play for extended periods of time in their rooms in large part because of this. They are looking for comfort and don’t care about sound leaking out or outside noise intruding.


Open-back and closed-back headphones only differ slightly in weight. The plastic cups just don’t weigh that much. You probably won’t be able to tell the difference in your hands. However, it can start to be noticeable when worn over your head for extended periods of time.

Disadvantages of Open Back Earphones

Sound Leaking and Poor Noise Isolation

The open-back headphones’ tendency to leak sound is a major drawback for people who value their privacy. Though they won’t be able to hear your music as loudly as you do, those around you will undoubtedly be able to hear it. To see what I mean, simply remove your current headphones or earbuds and hold them at arm’s length with the drivers facing you.

They also allowed all of the background noise from the area to enter. So they won’t help if you were hoping to block out the sound of the baby crying in the seat behind you on the plane.

Not Suitable for Use in Harsh Weather Conditions

Open-back headphones are much more sensitive to rain and snow, which is another drawback, albeit a minor one. They don’t have a plastic cup to shield the speaker, so this makes sense.

It’s also important to remember that wearing closed-back headphones in a cold environment is probably not a good idea. But with open-back headphones, it’s particularly crucial.

Why Make Open-Back Headphones?

At first glance, open-back earbuds don’t make sense because TWS earbuds today already come with Transparency Mode that amplifies ambient noise using the mic on the earpieces, so you can hear your surroundings clearly.

In contrast to the alternatives, open-back earbuds have one significant advantage: they make the experience portable and appropriate for outdoor use. When performing outdoor tasks and activities, you can use them to take advantage of the natural sound that audiophiles are constantly praising.

In other words, they deliver a sound that is comparable to open-back headphones within the body of TWS earbuds. The Sony Linkbuds and the Audeze LCDi3 are two devices with this form factor as examples. The former is a set of open-back TWS earbuds designed for casual users, while the latter is a set of open-back in-ear monitors (IEMs) for audiophiles.

Open-back earbuds are still a niche product, despite how innovative they are. They’re trying to solve a problem that’s already been solved, just in a “better” way. Furthermore, since they are obviously incapable of having Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), they won’t change to meet your evolving requirements for times when you need to isolate yourself from ambient noise.

Closed-back Headphones

Closed-back Headphones

The Basics

Closed-back headphones are constructed just as the name implies. To prevent any sound from escaping, closed-back headphones have sealed housings. You’ll experience impressive isolation thanks to this, which also reduces outside noise. These headphones can feel heavier and more substantial than their open-back counterparts, as you’ll notice.

A Brief History

Prior to 1937, the military and radio/telephone operators were the main users of closed-back headphones. Beyerdynamic unveiled the first consumer-grade headphones, the DT 48 headphones, after spotting a gap in the market. They gained enormous popularity but were unable to play stereo audio. When the Koss SP/3 stereo headphones debuted in 1958, they revolutionized the closed-back headphone market. Since then, manufacturers have pushed the boundaries of headphone design to create more lifelike sounds, better isolation, and active noise cancellation. As a result, some of the most well-liked headphones on the market right now are closed-back models.


Because they block out the outside world and put the music front and center, closed-back headphones are extremely popular. You’ll detect a slight increase in the bass response as well as some passive isolation. Closed-back headphones provide passive noise cancellation, which gives you the impression that you’re in the recording studio with the people you’re listening to. This performance trait excels in situations where concentration and focus are critical. For studio use, closed-back headphones are the preferred option. They enable you to record soft sounds like voices or instruments without being concerned that your microphone will pick up the sound coming from your headphones.

Advantages of Closed-Back Headphones

Better Sound Isolation

The main benefit of closed-back headphones is that they greatly reduce the amount of outside noise you hear while wearing them. They are, of course, the best headphones to use in public areas because of this. They are also utilized in recording studios for this reason.

Keep in mind that closed-back headphones and noise-canceling headphones are not the same things. Although all noise-canceling headphones have closed-backs, these particular closed-back headphones have active noise cancellation to lessen background noise.

Although they do block out background noise, closed-back headphones do more. Additionally, they block out sound.

If you think about it, a solid wall does a much better job of keeping sound inside than a screened window. Closed-back headphones work on the same logic. As a result, they are the ideal kind of headphones to wear while you are out and about because you probably don’t want anyone to know what you are listening to.

Improved Bass Response

Closed-back headphones generally have a less “organic” sound compared to open-back headphones.

Closed-back headphones, however, frequently perform better when it comes to bass response. The closed ear cup design seals the ears inside a compartment, making it easier for them to reproduce sub-bass (extended low-bass).

It is important to note that planar magnetic drivers found in high-end open-back headphones allow for the reproduction of deeper lows. On the other hand, closed-back headphones typically produce a more bass-heavy sound signature that bassheads will enjoy.

More Affordable

As a rule, closed-back headphones are significantly less expensive than open-back models. You will probably be limited to closed-back headphones if money is an issue. Listed below are a few of our suggestions.

The only people who typically use open-back headphones are audiophiles who don’t care about sound leakage and simply want the best sound. $1000+ cans on the market from the likes of People typically don’t want to spend that much money on headphones with the audio being affected by sound reverberating off plastic cups, so HiFiMan or Audeze are typically open-back.

Of course, at the highest end there is also plenty of premium closed-back headphones, such as these from French audio manufacturer Focal:

Disadvantages of Closed-Back Headphones


Sound bouncing off the cups is the most obvious drawback of closed-back headphones. In essence, the closed back turns the room into an echo chamber. This could lead to things like diminished standing waves or frequency response suck-outs, which reduce the naturalness of the sound.

For casual listening, though, that’s not a big deal. Closed-back headphones don’t perform as well for critical listening as open-back headphones do, though. They also cause more ear fatigue than open-back headphones after prolonged listening.

Sweat and Discomfort

You might sweat while wearing them, which is another drawback. Keep in mind that because of the air being essentially trapped between your skin and the headphones, it can get quite warm inside.

Since the majority of people don’t wear headphones for hours at a time, this isn’t a major concern. However, some people do spend hours at a time wearing headphones. Additionally, closed-back headphones may be too uncomfortable for them.

What to Use in the Real World

A great first step in selecting a new set of cans is understanding how the construction affects the overall sound. However, when comparing the open-back vs. closed-back headphones debate, you need to know more. Sweetwater decided to create a list of typical listening scenarios and suggest the kind of headphones we’d use in each one because we know you’ll be using your headphones in the real world.

Studio Use

You’ll need a good set of headphones for the studio. Closed-backs are king, for the most part. Monitoring headphones like the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x are excellent for reducing click bleed when recording vocals and quiet instruments. It’s also a good idea to wear a pair of Beyerdynamic DT 770 M 80s to protect your ears while tearing through solos on a dime Marshall.

Open-back headphones are the best option if you’re mixing and mastering at home without a set of studio monitors, though. They typically have the flattest response of any headphones you’ll come across. Additionally, they provide an excellent representation of how your tracks will sound coming from the listener’s headphones. We advise you to test out the AKG K240 semi-open studio headphones.

Listening at Home

You have complete freedom to select any headphones you want when you’re at home. If you prefer open-back headphones, use the Shure SRH1840s when you’re by yourself or with someone who doesn’t mind hearing some soft music. Sennheiser’s HD 280 Pro closed-back headphones provide 32dB of isolation, which will work wonders for you if you have overnight guests or need some quiet time while your upstairs neighbors are having a fit.

Listening in Public Places

It’s not always a good idea to play your music in public, especially if you’re flying 30,000 feet over the Pacific. While we agree that the Beastie Boys are awesome, the other people on your flight probably won’t. In any area where playing music through your phone’s speaker is inappropriate, you should use closed-back headphones. Try the JBL Lifestyle Live 400BT on-ear headphones for use in public transportation and other settings.

Listening in the Office

This one is straightforward: closed-back, assuming you don’t have a door. Using closed-back headphones makes sure that only you can hear your music. We can assure you that wearing a chic set of AKG K92 closed-back headphones will be appreciated by your neighbors. Try a pair of active noise cancellation headphones, such as the Shure AONIC 50 wireless headphones, if your office is noisy and you find it difficult to concentrate.


You need headphones that are comfortable to wear for extended periods of time when gaming, creating music, or cooking. Specifically, the open-back vs. closed-back headphone choice is really up to you. Closed-back headphones are great if you need to be laser-focused while streaming or have noisy roommates. Opt for open-backs if you must be able to hear what is going on around you or keep your voice at a manageable volume. The open-back trend has caught on with even pro gamers like Ninja. To monitor the volume of his voice, he wears Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro headphones while streaming.

Wrapping Up

In the end, everyone has a preference. No matter what they’re doing, one person might prefer to always wear closed-backs, while another person might prefer open-backs. In the end, it’s up to you. Your listening environment and purpose, however, matter just as much as your personal preferences. Closed-back headphones are advised for noisy environments. Open-back headphones will be a great option if you prefer to hear what is going on in your environment while listening.

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