Just the right fit to unlock musical transcendence with no apologies.
The “arena show” of headphones. Hands down, the de facto “audiophile” headphone style for music fans wanting to get lost, immersed and swallowed whole by the music. This is the headphone style worn the most by serious audiophiles and music lovers.
In an open back headphone, the backsides of the ear cups are not covered. Instead, ventilation airways, grills or ports on the backsides of the earcups allow the passage of air to move freely around the drivers. Similar to closed-back headphones, open-back headphones come in a variety of styles, including Full Size, On-Ear, Portable, Wired, Wireless, Earphones, and IEMs.
Typically, open back headphones offer a more open, natural and a wider sense of presentation, but with some ergonomic compromises.
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. Because the driver has no back pressure like in a closed-back environment, this means the driver can move faster; proving more sense of detail and resolution, along with tighter controlled bottom end.
It depends on the ergonomics of a user’s listening scenario, the preferences for music genres and the headphone user’s preferred or dominant listening style. 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 everyone listens to music. To learn more about which headphone style is best for you and your ergonomic scenario, read the 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; it provides much better isolation from outside noise. In the same vein, it prevents the noise leakage that open-back headphones are prone to, thus not disturbing those around you.
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/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 the headphone user the widest sense of presentation with the largest 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 musically “intimate,” “taller” as opposed to “wider,” and more “in-the-head,” which are excellent features for bass-heads or for any application where the up-close inspection of more “forward sounding” details are the listener’s end-game.
Yes and No. Open-back headphones offer the widest sense of presentation, but will never provide the out in front soundstage that a speaker will provide. But what it will do in the case of both open and closed is provide attention to detail never heard by speakers. This is thanks to the drivers being so close to your eardrum.
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 and listening applications better than others. Become more familiar with all the ergonomics, first, before purchasing 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 a private office.
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 “closed” 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 private experience with the music.
Headphones leak sound for two reasons:
Note: When a break in a headphone’s sealing condition occurs, this allows sound to leak outside, disrupting 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 a break in the headphone’s sealing condition from occurring.
Yes. This is one of the most important distinguishing features between open-back vs. closed-back headphones. Because the backsides of open-back headphones are uncovered (a.k.a. “open”), this allows the free passage of air and sound produced by the headphone drivers to escape audibly outside of the headphone. This means people in the same room as you will hear the music you’re listening to when wearing open-back headphones. While the open-back design offers the most phenomenal soundstage, this is why open-back headphones arguably fit into fewer ergonomic scenarios compared to closed-back headphones.
In terms of loudness of volume, open-back headphones permit the free passage of air and sound produced by the headphone drivers to escape audibly outside of the headphone. So yes, open-back headphones will sound more audible, naturally, to anyone sharing the same space as the person enjoying music through open-back headphones.
In terms of electrical amplitude signals, high-end open-back headphones generally have higher impedances compared to regular consumer headphones. High-end headphones require a powerful enough amplified signal necessary to “drive” the more difficult to drive transducers or “drivers” used in higher-end headphones. In general, the benefit here is that high-end open-back headphones with higher than normal impedances have increased potential “headroom” to reach louder volumes before distorting simply because the amplified signal is “cleaner,” and the high-end headphone has the wider frequency response to accurately reproduce sound waves more naturally. This allows headphone users to appreciate musical detail at lower loudness volumes overall compared to cheaper consumer-grade headphones.
Yes and no. Regarding reality distorting immersion, if your end-game is to fully immerse yourself in a simulated world, then open-back headphones will help improve the experience. In terms of ergonomics, closed-back headphones may be the best way to enjoy a more personal experience without disturbing others around you.
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.