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The Closed Back Headphone Style: Just the right fit for music listening that’s intimately detailed, especially on-the-go.
The most “intimate” headphone style for detail-oriented music fans. This is the headphone style for fans wanting to feel the most connected with music made by their favorite artists.
In a closed back headphone, the backsides of the ear cups are covered. This means the drivers are not ventilated. Essentially, this locks in sound and focuses it back onto the listener. Similar to open-back headphones, closed back headphones come in a variety of styles, including Full-Size, On-Ear, Portable, Wired, Wireless, Noise Canceling, Earphones, and IEMs.
The most ergonomically flexible headphone style. Typically, closed back headphones offer a sense of presentation that’s a little more “intimate,” “narrow” and more “in-the-head.” This can be a great feature for bass-heads or for any application where an up-close analysis of more “forward” sounding details are desired; especially for music junkies on the move.
The main difference between the two lies in the ventilation of the headphone’s drivers. The difference impacts the overall sense of presentation in ways that will matter to you and those around you.
It depends on the ergonomics of your listening application, the ergonomic scenario, your preferences for music genres and your preferred or dominant style of listening with headphones. There’s no right or wrong way to listen to music, so one is not necessarily better than the other. However, one headphone style (open back vs. closed back headphones) may benefit certain users more than others. We celebrate the unique ways we all listen to music. To learn more about which headphone style is best for you and your ergonomic scenario, see our Guide to Closed-Back Vs. Open-Back Headphones.
This answer depends on the headphone user’s ergonomic scenario or listening application.
Buy closed-back headphones, if you need to listen to high-resolution audio on-the-go in public settings, privately in the home, or even professionally in a studio environment. The closed back headphone style is the most ergonomically flexible choice of all.
Buy open-back headphones, if you want to listen to high-resolution music privately in your home, or any other private setting, including professional mixing or mastering environments. The open-back headphone style is the least ergonomically flexible choice. However, open back headphones present the most immersive soundstage and the best sounding sense of presentation for the most critical listening applications available in a headphone.
To learn more about the different ergonomic scenarios and the headphone styles best suited for your listening needs, read the Essential Guide to Headphones that Fit Your Lifestyle.
Open-back headphones offer headphone users the “widest” sense of presentation with the most musical soundstage, so this headphone style is generally preferred the most by audiophiles. However, before deciding that open back headphones are the right type for you, there are a few drawbacks to consider which can limit this headphone style’s ergonomic flexibility.
Closed-back headphones offer headphone users a sense of presentation that’s more “intimate,” “taller” as opposed to “wider,” and more “in-the-head.” An excellent feature for bass-heads on-the-go or for any listener wanting a more up-close inspection of details that are more “forward sounding”, overall.
Yes. Since open-back headphones offer the widest sense of presentation, this headphone style is the best at simulating the “wider” and more “musical” sense of presentation a pair of loudspeakers present. Because the closed-back design covers the earcups, closed-back headphones reflect sound back onto the headphone wearer’s ears, affording a different kind of sense of presentation that sounds more centrally oriented “in-your-head.” Therefore, closed-back headphones sound the least like a pair of loudspeakers. Instead, closed-back headphones offer arguably a greater intimacy with your music and deeper introspection with musical details.
Consider the ergonomics. The ergonomics of your listening scenario or application are unique. Purchase headphones that fit into the special ergonomic situation(s) that your lifestyle is designed around. Headphone styles (open-back vs. closed-back headphones) are designed to fit into specific ergonomic scenarios or listening applications better than others. Become more familiar with all the ergonomics, first, before acquiring closed-back or open-back headphones.
Since the ear cups in open-back headphones are “open” as opposed to being “closed,” the sound waves produced by the drivers are exposed to other people nearby as well. For this reason, open-back headphones generally fit into more private or secluded ergonomic scenarios. This is why open-back headphones are enjoyed the most when used at home or in private settings.
Do you want a private listening experience with some isolation from what's going on around you? If so, then choose closed-back headphones. Since the ear cups in closed-back headphones are “covered” as opposed to being “open,” the earcups’ inner chambers help contain the sound waves inside. The inner chambers created by the closed-back headphone’s earcups help prevent sound from escaping outside and disturbing others who may be nearby. When the sound waves are contained inside the earcups, the standing back waves reflect onto the headphone wearer’s ears creating the “in-your-head” sense of presentation. This all adds up to help listeners achieve a more intimate and privately detailed experience with the music.
For headphone wearer’s on-the-go, closed-back headphones are the best way to take your portable audio wherever life takes you next.
Headphones leak sound for two reasons:
Note: When a break in a headphone’s sealing condition occurs, this allows sound to leak outside. When sound leaks outside due to a break in the headphone’s sealing condition, this disrupts the headphone wearer’s perceived sense of presentation. Since headphone “leakage” is undesirable in closed-back headphones, it’s an important feature headphone shoppers need to be aware of when choosing closed-back headphones that fit comfortably and snug enough to create the solid sealing condition necessary to prevent the headphone’s sealing condition from breaking.
The best sounding full-size headphones your hard-earned money can buy are curated conveniently here. To learn more about our thoughts on the best full-size headphones on the market for audiophiles, read our headphone brand guides, including the Connoisseur’s Guide to Focal Headphones to learn why Focal, Audeze, Sony, Fostex, HifiMan, Grado, Dan Clark Audio and MrSpeakers, and many more are the best headphones on the planet.