Closed Back vs Open Back Headphones - Advantages & Disadvantages

AUDIOPHILE ON TAKES A LOOK AT WHAT IS BEST IN THIS OPEN BACK HEADPHONE VS CLOSED BACK HEADPHONE SHOWDOWN.

Whether you are looking for closed-back headphones or open back headphones there are a lot of different products on the market.  There has never been a better time to buy a new set of headphones but some buyers might want to know a little bit more about the type of headphones before they buy.  The physical differences between and open back and closed back headphones are pretty simple but there are a few considerations that make the for differences in both the sound quality and how you are going to use them.

Physical Differences Between Open & Closed Back Headphones

Grado headphones are some of the most famous and well loved open back headphones.

Grado headphones are some of the most famous and well loved open back headphones.

The ultra premium fostex TH-900 are a perfect example of an audiophile closed back headphone.  Note the lack of driver venting due to the closed earcup.

The ultra premium fostex TH-900 are a perfect example of an audiophile closed back headphone.  Note the lack of driver venting due to the closed earcup.

In case you didn't know, the difference between an open back headphone and a closed back headphones is pretty simple. It lies in the venting of the drivers.  A closed back headphone has the driver sitting isolated inside a closed off earcup. An open back headphone on the other hand usually has vents or grills to allow the free passage of air around the dynamic, electrostatic or planar driver.  Each of these designs has their own unique advantages and disadvantages so lets take a look a the key points in favour of each style of headphone.

Advantages of Open Back Headphones

The Best Overall Sound Quality

In my experience, it is almost always the case that users wanting the best and no compromises sound quality from headphones should be looking squarely at Open Back headphones. 

Headphones like the Focal , Audeze LCD series and Sennheiser HD800s are easily some of the best sounding headphones in the world today.  They have one thing in common, they are all open back headphones. 

The ability of the driver to breath combined with a usually more out of the head and open listening experience seem to get open back headphones closer to speaker systems that their closed off brethren.

Goodbye Sweaty Ears

Think about it if your ears arent enclosed in a tiny box as you find with closed headphones then just like the drivers they are free to breath.  By using an open back headphone you go a long way in mitigating that build up in heat and can enjoy longer more comfortable listening sessions.

Weight

Pound for pound if you are using less material thanks to the ommision of outer cups then the headphones should, in theory at least weigh less.  Again just like with the build up of heat the weight factor can play a big part in comfort over long sessions.

More Advanced driver options

Whilst it is true that the likes of Audeze and Oppo are now offering planar mangnetic drivers inside closed headphones this technology is far behind that in its existence in open headphones.  Companies have been making both Planar and Electrostatic headphones in open formats for years and the technology is established and mature.  Whilst closed back is advancing it is still reliant on the dynamic driver format.

 

Advantages of Closed Back Headphones

Noise Isolation

Easily the best part of closed back headphones has to be their ability to isolate users from unwanted external noise far better than open headphones.  User's ears will sit in a closed earcup thus greatly reducing the noise that will seep in from the outside world.  This makes them far more suited to commuting and noisy enviroments and canhelp to preserve your bubble and sometimes your sanity.

Generally more advanced as portable headphones.

With the advantage of noise isolation most headphone companies design their portable headphone offerings to be of the closed back variety.  As such you get a lot more closed headphones that are design to be taken with you when you leave the house.  Features such as smaller for factor, foldable headbands, and rugged design elements can very much play a part in a buyer's decision-making process.

They Usually Have Greater Bass Quantity

Whilst an open back headphones can certainly have good bass quantity and very good quality they usually tend to have less impact than a closed headphone.  By trapping the air in a confined space closed headphones have more of an ability to create more of an impact.  Whilst this is not always the most important factor in sound a lot of people regard deep pumping bass as a major selling point and usually closed headphones are better in this scenario.

 

Conclusion - Whats the Scenario?

Myself I use both types of headphones.  At home, I use my Kingsound KS-1 Electrostatic headphones that are open back and they sound awesome but when I am out and about I will use the Master & Dynamic MH30.  Both have their place and if you are only going to buy one take a look first at how you intend to use your headphones.  Open headphones might be the out and out sound kings but there are closed back can also sound very very good.  It really just comes down to how and where you will be listening then choosing the best inside your budget.