Today I’ll be barreling towards you like Donkey Kong with a super informative post on Closed back vs. Open back headphones!
Before we get started though, grab a snack, sit back and relax because…
You’ve come to the right place!!
What I will bring you in this article
- Closed back
- Open back
- Some recommendations
Let’s get started!
Way back when I didn’t know a whole lot about headphones, I just kind of assumed all models were basically the same. I recognized the fact that there were better quality headphones out there, but I really couldn’t wrap my head around it. All I knew was what I saw in stores, so buying a pair kind of always turned into a roll of the dice. Are these any good? I hope so! Lol. Even over the last 10-15 years, times have changed dramatically. Yay internet! It’s weird to think that I once had no clue about the many different variations in type, model, fit, impedance, style, etc. It really does become endless! Luckily for you, this website organizes things in a really simple way 🙂
My knowledge was confined to mostly low end Sony, Philips, and other department store brands, and I went through quite a few pairs of the infamous Sony MDR V150, because I liked its sound and build. The problem with those was the headband issue, near the ear cups. They could only withstand so much abuse before SNAP! “Well I guess it’s time to buy another pair”, I told myself. The great thing about them was they were always pretty affordable, and the sound was of a higher quality than low grade dog food. Lol. My other complaint however was that the ear-cups were prone to peeling after sometime, not unlike the Sony MDR 7506, which are made from similar materials.
I used to sleep with them on, but they could never take the pounding. The models I own nowadays can withstand a pretty good amount of wear and tear. Many of them are closed back.
Normally this will be your first introduction to headphones, as most entry level models are closed back, meaning they block out the majority, (if not all) outside noise, while also making it so people can’t really hear what you’re listening to.
Some closed back headphones can be used for mixing to fine effect, but be aware that the sound sort of gets trapped in your head and doesn’t have much room to breathe. This is why mixing over a long session can become exhausting on your brain and ears. If you’ve ever mixed down a track, you’ll know that after awhile, the mix may start to actually sound bad, the longer you tinker with it! This is when it’s a good idea to step away for awhile. It’s also generally better to mix down on studio monitors.
Check out my top recommendation for monitors in my JBL LSR 305 Review!
Closed back literally means that the back of the headphone is closed off, allowing no sound to escape towards the outside world. All of the sound is aimed into your ears, and you can imagine now very clearly why this might become tiresome after awhile.
Closed back headphones also can either rest on your ears (supra-aural), or around your ears (circumaural). With open back, they will almost always be circumaural.
A great example of a popular closed back model would be the Audio Technica ATH M50!
The benefit of using open back headphones is that by contrast, they have room to breathe. Rather than sound getting trapped inside your head, the headphones create an airy, open atmosphere which is conducive to mixing. This also means that the music will sound more realistic, as if it’s actually being played right in front of you! This is also known as Soundstage.
Many people prefer this to closed back. When you hear the term sound-stage, this is precisely what it means: With a really good headphone and amp, it has the potential to feel as if you’re right there, placing each musician in their respective role on stage.
The drawback to open back cans is that the people around you will be able to hear everything you’re listening to, even at a semi low volume. This is why they are less common at lower price points. Don’t let that dissuade you from purchasing a pair. If you’re in an isolated environment and it’s just you and the music, open back is the way to go. In fact, in my opinion it’s almost preferred. The sound is that much clearer, crisper, and more precise.
It means you can comfortably mix on headphones without having to worry about how the song gets translated on studio monitors.
Open back models are also generally more comfortable than their open back counterparts. This is mainly due to the materials used. Closed back headphones usually come with some sort of faux leather/pleather material, which is prone to peeling, cracking, and breaking down over time. What is so exciting about a good pair of open back cans, is that they will usually come with velour ear padding. This is some of the most comfy material in existence. Many have likened it to having to mini pillows resting against your head! Did you just get a boner after reading that? I know I did! 😀
Here I will outline some of my favorite options. Throughout my research, these are consistently sought after and highly regarded by the majority of audiophiles and enthusiasts.
General listening, Closed back
#1 Top Pick:
CHECK OUT MY AUDIO TECHNICA ATH M50 REVIEW!
Mixing/Reference, Closed back
#1 Top Pick:
CHECK OUT MY AKG K550 HEADPHONE REVIEW!
General listening, Open back (neutral & uncolored sound, great soundstage)
#1 Top Pick:
CHECK OUT MY SENNHEISER HD 598 REVIEW!
General listening, Open back (fun and colored)
#1 Top Pick:
CHECK OUT MY Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro vs. Premium Review!
Absolute best for mixing
#1 Top Pick
CHECK OUT MY SENNHEISER HD 600 REVIEW!
I hope you have enjoyed the article and came away with a better understanding of closed back vs. open back headphones!
Need a different recommendation? Contact me and let me know specifically what you are looking for!! I look forward to speaking with you..
All the best and God Bless,