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Headphones and Earphones Audiophile 101 | Part 2: Open vs. Closed Headphones

Headphones and Earphones Audiophile 101 | Part 2: Open vs. Closed Headphones

A lot of people want to know the difference between on-ear and over-ear headphones. Trying to decide between them? Before making a decision, it makes sense to get a handle on the benefits and drawbacks of each. 

1.Open-back Headphones

 Open-back headphones are, like the name suggests, open in the back. There’s no enclosure of the drivers so the sounds can go in and out unobstructed.  it can be either circumaural or supra-aural


1.1Advantage of Open-back Headphones 

  • Space to breathe: If you’re planning to leave the headphones on for a long time, you won’t have to worry about heat and moisture buildup inside the earcups. Your ears can “breathe,” so you’ll be more comfortable during extended sessions.
  • Audio quality: It makes for better soundstage which is the spatial feeling you get about the space the sound is coming from. It can often sound more airy, clear or spacious versus their closed counterparts. Open headphones are useful if you need to remain aware of your external surroundings. Basically, makes it easier to imagine you’re right at the concert hall—or studio—listening to the music live.  open-back models 
Getting a pair of open-back headphones is a clear sign you’re advancing from a casual listener to someone who thinks a little harder about music. “How do I want to feel when I listen to music?” “What kind of listening experience do I want to have?” If you’re starting to ask these kinds of questions, open-back headphones will be a great choice.

1.2 The downsides to open-back Headphones?

Well, open-back headphones probably aren’t the best choice for the library. They’re open to the world around you, so others might hear your music. Granted, it all depends on how loud you crank it. If you listen to relatively low volumes, you might get away with open-back headphones at the office.
The other drawback is that you’ll still be able to hear noises from your external environment. If you’re at the bus stop, you’ll still hear traffic whizzing by. If you’re at the coffee shop, you’ll still hear the baristas clinking and clanging away. And so on.
Because they are non-isolating, they are not a good choice for recording studio applications. If used by a singer, for example, the headphone sound can leak and be picked up by the microphone influencing the final recording. Their positive quality is an open, airy sound that isn’t fatiguing to the ears, which makes them a good choice for general listening.

2.Closed-back Headphones 

This type offers the greatest sound isolation. The backs of the earpieces are completely closed, which, along with an effective seal around the ear, prevents sound from passing in either direction. This design is especially good for monitoring in loud environments, and for use in recording because they keep sound from leaking out and being picked up by microphones. They also tend to have a strong bass response, so DJs mixing dance music prefer them. On the downside, they can cause ear fatigue when used for extended periods. 

2.1 Advantage of Closed-back Headphones 

The closed-back design is the most common and offers better passive noise isolation. The drivers are enclosed inside the casing, and that changes the sound quality and blocks the unwanted background noise.
Closed-back headphones are better for uses where you want to keep your music private and don’t want to bother other people with sound leakage. This is cases like commuting, working out in the gym, office use, or just normal home listening.

2.2 The downsides to Closed-back Headphones

The major drawback of closed-back headphones is that they will never be sonically as good as open-back headphones. The reason for this is that as the headphone drivers move front and back, there are sound waves directed at the internal parts of the cups, thus causing undesirable reflections that hinder with the sound. The other drawback that makes these headphones inappropriate to be used while running/cycling/walking in a public place is the fact that you are so isolated from your surroundings, that you may not hear important signals, such as a car approaching while you are taking a walk on the road.

3.Semi-open Headphones

This type of headphone, as the name suggests, falls between fully open design and a closed-back design. While some sound leakage can occur, there is less than with an open-back design. Semi-open headphones usually offer a realistic stereo field, low distortion, and extended low-frequency response. They are often used for recording where there are no open microphones to pick up sound leaking from them.

4.Open-back vs. Closed-back

Both open and closed-back headphones can be either large full-size over-ear models or the smaller on-ear types. Most audio professionals (DJs, mixers, recordists, studio producers) use closed headphones to allow for better concentration and isolation. Nowadays, the very best closed headphones can almost compete in sound quality with the best open headphones. You can’t say one design is better than the other in general because both have their pros and cons.
  • Soundstage, positional accuracy of the sound (which is better sound quality) is better with open-back headphones.
  • Awareness, hearing the background noise so you can react to a possible danger is also better with open headphones.
  • On the other hand, noise isolation and block the noise is better with closed-back headphones.
  • Also, the sound leakage is minimal with closed headphones so you can keep your music private.
Know your own needs and make a better decision so your new pair of headphones do exactly what you want.

5.Summary and suggestions

Basically, you need to be thinking about two things: where you listen to your music and how you like to experience it.
  • Over-Ear Open-back Headphones

Headphones for home and office use that don't provide isolation from outside noise, and have cushions that completely surround the ears. Generally, the best sounding headphones are in this category, and most ultra-high performance cans are of this type.
  • Over-Ear Closed-back Headphones

Headphones for noisier environments that have cushions that completely surround the ears. Good for pro-audio, student, DJ, and other applications where some isolation from outside noise is needed. But noise-canceling and in-ear headphones provide much better isolation.
  • On-Ear Open-back Headphones

Smaller than full-size, these headphones have ear cushions that rest against the ear. Their open design does not isolate from outside sounds, but this type generally sounds better than sealed ear-pad headphones. Good for general purpose uses around the home and office; their small size makes them convenient for backpacks and easy storage.
  • On-Ear Closed-back Headphones

Smaller than full-size, these headphones have ear cushions that rest and seal against the ear. Their closed design provides some isolation, but also typically makes for poorer sound than other types. These are good headphones for light commuting, kids in the car, and other general-purpose applications where convenience and packability are important.
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