Open back vs closed back headphones: Which one Should You Get?

Headphones are a great way of tuning out the outside world. You could go running, study and cancel out external noise, or just jam to your favorite beats. Headphones are the answer.

You’ve probably come across the terms closed-back headphones and open-back headphones. And if you’re just getting your research started you’re most likely unaware of what these terms mean. Plus what’s better? Open-back headphones or closed-back headphones?

Let’s break things down.

What Makes a Good Headphone?

Purchasing headphones is both exciting and tedious. You need to have a detailed understanding of all the different factors that determine the quality of your product. Down below we’ve listed some of the features.

  1. Durability
  2. Sound quality
  3. Size
  4. Compatibility
  5. Comfort
  6. Type of use
  7. Price

Of course, there are many other things you’ll be focusing on before you finally decide what you want.

The Two Types of Headphones

Headphones can be classified in many different ways. What we’re looking at in this article is the open back and closed back headphone types.

But before getting into the nitty-gritty details here’s what truly sets the two types apart.

Open Back Headphones

With an open-back headphone, the sound comes out of the back of ear cups. This happens because as the name suggests, open-back headphones feature open-backs.

Mackie MC Series Professional Monitoring Open-Back Headphones with Leather Headband (MC-450)
  • High-headroom, reference-quality 42mm transducers
  • Premium real leather adjustable headband and conforming ear pads
  • Perfect for mixing, studio recording, critical listening, and personal listening
  • 3 different premium cables with locking bayonet connectors plus gold-plated 1/4" adapter
  • Premium protective case included

Closed Back Headphones

Closed back headphones are essentially the open back counterparts. They feature closed backs and this closed design allows sound to come out the front of the cups. You get great sound quality and superior noise isolation with open-back models.

Mackie MC Series Professional Monitoring Closed-Back Headphones with Leather Headband (MC-350)
  • High-headroom, reference-quality 50mm transducers
  • Premium real leather adjustable headband and conforming ear pads
  • Perfect for mixing, studio recording, critical listening, and personal listening
  • 3 different premium cables with locking bayonet connectors plus gold-plated 1/4" adapter
  • Premium protective case included

All About Open Back Headphones

Open-back headphones don’t come with the traditional sealed ear cups. Each side has an open back and therefore these function much like speakers. You’re essentially carrying portable speakers with your private concert.

Open Back Headphones vs. Speakers

These are two very similar products. But when you consider the little details an open back headphone might be better than a speaker.

They occupy less space, you carry them around your neck and they also give you better sound quality.

Advantages of an Open Back Headphone

There are many people who might be skeptical about the potential open-back headphones have.

  1. Airy sound

All the sound isn’t being concentrated inside the cups and it can spread around your environment. The results you get are a lot different from traditional headphones. This way you can get all the concert feels.

  1. Aware of the Environment

Open-back headphones are not known to provide noise isolation. This is a blessing in disguise. With open-back headphones, your environmental awareness is enhanced. You won’t be cut out of the outside world.

  1. Listening Fatigue

This is another great perk with open backs. The listening fatigue caused by closed-back headphones is non-existent with open-back headphones.

  1. Listening Experience

The overall listening experience of an open-back headphone is relaxing. Since no music is blasting directly against your ears you won’t get tired.

  1. Hearing

Headphones are notorious for causing hearing problems. But not this kind. Open-backed headphones have a much lower risk of causing listening problems.

Disadvantages of an Open Backed Headphone

While open-backed headphones are great for people who live alone. They’re not the best choice if there are other people in the same room as well.

They ruin the quiet environment and you will surely end up disturbing your roommate. But that’s not it. You won’t be able to enjoy yourself in peace either. The outside noise will disturb you.

All About Closed-Back Headphones

The closed-back design prevents sound leaking and provides the best noise isolation one could ask for. This sound isolation will even isolate you from all your troubles and environment.

This is why they’re also called noise-canceling headphones.

Types of noise-canceling headphones

Noise-canceling headphones are typical of the following types.

  1. Active noise cancelling headphones
  2. Passive noise cancelling headphones

Advantages of Closed Back Headphones

  1. Sound Isolation

Closed-backed headphones sit over your ear and provide the best sound isolation. This way no noises enter your ear. All you can hear are the sounds of your favorite music.

  1. Audio Leakage

This is a common problem with both speakers and the open-back design. But with closed-back headphones, there is close to no chance of a leak. Listen to your music without a worry in the world.

  1. Disturbance

To put it simply, you won’t be bothering anyone with your music. Nor will any natural sounds be getting in the way of your music. Everyone remains happy.

  1. Upfront Audio reproduction

Your music plays directly in your ears. This way the clarity and the quality of your music remain superior to other forms of headphones.

  1. Comfort

These headphones are incredibly comfortable for wearing over long periods. A nice pair will always have padding to ensure maximum comfort and minimum pressure on your entire ear.

Disadvantages of Close Back Headphones

Sound bleed and listening fatigue are the two commonly reported side effects of these headphones. Listening fatigue is the only primary concern people voice, but then you shouldn’t be listening to loud music no matter what kind of headphones you use.

What do Music Producers Prefer?

Music producers think that open-back headphones are inferior to their closed-back counter-parts. According to the closed-back headphones work best for the following.

  1. Recording music
  2. As monitoring headphones
  3. Sound sequencing
Mackie MC Series Professional Monitoring Open-Back Headphones with Leather Headband (MC-450)
  • High-headroom, reference-quality 42mm transducers
  • Premium real leather adjustable headband and conforming ear pads
  • Perfect for mixing, studio recording, critical listening, and personal listening
  • 3 different premium cables with locking bayonet connectors plus gold-plated 1/4" adapter
  • Premium protective case included
Mackie MC Series Professional Monitoring Closed-Back Headphones with Leather Headband (MC-350)
  • High-headroom, reference-quality 50mm transducers
  • Premium real leather adjustable headband and conforming ear pads
  • Perfect for mixing, studio recording, critical listening, and personal listening
  • 3 different premium cables with locking bayonet connectors plus gold-plated 1/4" adapter
  • Premium protective case included

Open Back vs Closed Back Headphones: Final Verdict

Closed-back headphones and open-back headphones both have their unique perks. The open and closed-back headphones debate boils down to your requirements.

While one pair gives you natural sound the other works wonder when used with music production software. The only thing that makes one of these a great pair is a personal preference. 

If you want something for casual listening with speaker-type ambient noise you can pick models with open backs. Closed-back headphones are the best experience for critical listening at a home studio or testing vocals.

Think about your interests, google for information and look at the amount of cash you have to spend. At the end of the day, good research will make the difference between a great choice or a poor choice.