This debate is purely over the types of over-ear or circumaural headphones, which are closed-back and open-back headphones. As you can probably guess by the name, these two categories are based on the difference in their form factor.
Open-back headphones are designed such that the outer shell of the ear-cups is perforated in some way. These perforations are typically horizontal cutouts, but you can find several variations. The purpose is to have a lot of openings in the back surface. What effect does that have on your music? We’ll discuss that later, but right now, let’s talk about the difference in the form factor of these two types.
On the other hand, closed-back headphones, as the name suggests, have a solid construction of ear-cups from edge to edge with no openings. While these terminologies are clear regarding physical design, they don’t indicate what effect does these design changes have on the listening experience, so let’s dive into that.
The biggest upside of closed-back headphones and the main reason why you’d prefer them over the open-back design is that this option gives you excellent noise isolation. Active noise-cancelling isn’t being discussed here; instead, we’re talking about noise isolation which occurs due to the ear-cups entirely covering the ears and ensuring most of the ambient noise stays out.
Closed-back headphones not only use their closed-back over-the-head design for noise isolation, but they also rely on an insulated plastic shell to cover your ears. This provides 10 dB of noise reduction. This noise isolation, combined with music, does a good job of dampening or fully eliminating the ambient noise.
However, that is also the biggest advantage of using closed-back headphones. They provide excellent noise isolation and enable you to enjoy the music in your ears, so when you use them to listen to music in a surrounding where it is important for you to listen to ambient sound such as when jogging, most of the ambient sound will be dampened out or removed entirely.
If the closed back’s strong point is that it isolates the outside noise and keeps the music pure and clear, the job of the open-back design is exactly the opposite. Due to the perforations in open-back headphones that were discussed earlier, air and sound can freely pass in and out of the earcups of the headphones. However, noise isolation in open-back headphones is poor, and that significantly reduces its chances of being used in several applications such as in the studio.
So what’s the benefit of this design? It alters the listening experience and instead of providing the in-your-head listening experience, open-back headphones provide the out-in-the-world listening experience.
If you use open-back headphones to listen to music in a surrounding with ambient light noise, all ambient sound will become part of the music and will be audible. These headphones let the sounds around you bleed into the music and give a more natural and open feel it. When used in quiet environments, Open-back headphones give you the feel of listening to your favorite artists as if they are performing right in front of you.
In the end, it all depends on the application of your headphones and how you prefer to listen to your music. If you prefer to listen to it in your head so that you can hear every little detail of the sound and enjoy a surround-sound experience, closed-back headphones will serve you well.
However, open-back headphones are preferred over closed-back ones in several ways. They can be very useful when you can’t fully isolate the ambient noise or if you prefer the open and natural feel of the music that it offers.
Interested to know which studio headphones are the best regardless of Open-Back or Closed-Back Headphones? Check out our top 7 studio headphones.